Covid isn’t quite defeated, but Amsterdam is open! Whether you’re from Barcelona or Bergen op Zoom, your QR code or proof of vaccination is required for most indoor places like restaurants, bars, seated attractions and clubs. Come and visit the Dutch capital with confidence! Here are the Top Ten December Tips for a visit to Amsterdam during the 2021 Holidays.
1. Enjoy The Amsterdam Light Festival (Four different ways)
Like every year, the 10th edition of the Amsterdam Light Festival is a big winter highlight. The only question is how to best see the visual attraction. All four ways – by foot, bike, closed boat or open air boat — have benefits and drawbacks. What is most important to you? A closed boat (pictured, €26,50) is warmest and with a bar, but a little lame. An open-air boat (also €26,50) is coolest – and the coldest, and you can’t hear the explanation so well. But it’s fun. Walking with the audio tour (€15) is the best way to actually appreciate the light installations and walking goes well with drinking (and smoking). But the 6.5km length was made for boats, so you might bail after half if you are on foot.
We say bundle up and take your bike. Cycling gets you to the next art piece quicker and then dismount. The audio tour with digital map (the same €15) supports the organization and gives you more interesting info. There are plenty of bars on the route although It’s harder to bike and drink than it is to walk and drink. Decisions, decisions…
December 2 – January 23, nightly from 16:30 to 23:00. Dec 31 only to 20:00. Book boats or an audio tour and digital map at amsterdamlightfestival.com. See our in-depth article about the Amsterdam Light Festival here
2. Go to Miracle at Boom Chicago: Amsterdam’s Pop Up Christmas Cocktail Bar
Boom Chicago, the Amsterdam comedy theater that launched the careers of Seth Meyers, Jordan Peele and Jason Sudeikis premieres a highly anticipated pop-up bar concept this year: High quality, shaken holiday cocktails served in wonderfully themed glasses. It all takes place in a very festive environment that is over-the-top Christmas all December long. Scrooges and Grinches need not apply.
Entrance is free or pay a small fee to guarantee your table at boomchicago.nl. Rozengracht 117, every day from Nov 26 – Jan 3. Opens daily at 16:00 (Sat-Sun families and strollers welcome 12:00 – 16:00). Dec 4: Ugly Xmas Sweater Party. Open Dec 24, 25, 26. Dec 31 open only until 20.00. Jan 1 opens late at 16:00.
While you’re there, grab tickets to Boom Chicago’s excellent Sitcom. The sketch and improv show about the 90s is currently playing in their big theater. In December they rebrand it Sitcom: The Holiday Special with an extra festive flavor. Highly recommended!
Rozengracht 117. Tickets at boomchicago.nl. No show December 25 or 31. Hangover Show Jan 1 at 20:00)
3. Eat a Winter Brunch at Dignita Hoftuin
All three Dignita locations are good, but the one behind the Hermitage Museum is truly lovely. Nestled in the garden is a boozy breakfast-lunch restaurant that serves delicious brunch seven days a week. Good coffee and cakes too plus a true belief in doing good and eating well. It’s even in the URL.
At Christmas time, the lights in the garden are even more festive and lunch or brunch tased even more delicious. Open daily 9:00-17:00. Closed December 25 and Jan 1. The powerful National Holocaust Names Monument is also next door.
4. Adopt a Christmas Tree and Make it Your Annual Tradition.
Here’s something you never considered… If you live here, Tuinen van West will let you adopt a tree, take it home for the month of December and then return it to the ground to grow for another year. Next year you get ‘your’ tree back one year taller. Because you get the roots too, 90% of their trees survive the warm season, and none get burned or reduced to wood chips! One of our team has been doing it for years and (of course) her tree has a name. Now Wilma is part of her family!
AdopteerEenKerstboom.nl Pick up around Dec 6. Return in Jan.
5. Explore New Experiences across the IJ (EYE)
Let us be the thousandth person to tell you how hot Noord is. In addition to cool bars, restaurants and creative spaces, you can also explore trippy new worlds in Amsterdam North.
Take your bike on the frequent, free ferry F3 across to Buiksloterweg (or walk). See if bar/venue Tolhuistuin is worth a stop on your way to EYE Film Museum/Cinema for local heroes Ivo van Hove and Jan Versweyveld’s exhibit all About Theatre About Film. Their film-to-stage adaptations synthesize theater with film, live video and music. Until Jan 9. €15. Kids under 17 are free (but they would be bored). They have a nice café and restaurant with a view. Eyefilm.nl
Then go behind the A’dam Tower (and its nice observation deck) to This is Holland, a flying theater style attraction in the spirit of Disneyland’s Soaring. Don’t be snide. This tourist attraction is good. €17 or 3 people for €42. Open December 24, 25, 26, 31 and Jan 1. Thisisholland.com
Next, it’s on to Lightning VR, the first big free roam VR operator in Amsterdam. No disrespect to Beat Sabre and other VR arcade games, but to impress us you have to be able to walk around a room to feel immersive. Mini VR games (like Beat Sabre) are included as a warm up to the 20 minute main event. €25 per person. Next generation The Heist launches December 10. Open December 25. Closed December 26, 31 and 1. Asterweg 19. Also a short walk from Noorderpark metro station (line M52). Lighningvr.com
Finally, a block farther is NXT Museum (pronounced Next), dedicated to new media art with large, multi-sensory exhibitions. Their first production is Shifting Priorities a loose collection of eight separate works created by artists, designers, scientists, musicians and techologists, whatever they are. But you can be sure they will ‘seek, show and question, what’s next.’ Deep. Tickets €24,50 or less. Open 10:00 – 20:30 or longer. See nxtmuseum.com for details. Asterweg 22. Also a short walk from Noorderpark metro station (line M52).
6. Enjoy Hip Eating and drinking in in Noord
After the fun, it’s time for food and drinks. Next to NXT, hidden in an industrial area is Bacalar, a delicious Mexican place that is so cool they don’t have their menu on the website. Chrysantenstraat 4. Bacalar.amsterdam
A 15 minute walk or a short bike ride away is a bunch of great places in the creative, but still lightly industrial area further north. Our favorite is the Corner Store (not to be confused with The Corner in Zuid). It has modern food and affordable wines in an industrial–sober décor. DJs spin vinyl on real record players. Papaverweg 11. csnoord.com
Nearby is De Ceuvel (Korte Papaverweg 2, deceuvel.nl), which to be fair is more of a summer place on the water, but it’s still cool and creative in the winter. And around the corner you’ll find Taverno (Papaverhoek 31, taverno.nl), a German restaurant that straddles the line between kitch and real. Of course anything German outside of Germany is somehow a little funny.
The last three are a ten minute walk from Noorderpark metro station (line M51) or take Connexxion buses 391 or 394 from Centraal Station to Mosplein. GVB tickets not valid on Connexxion buses.
7. Try High Tech Thrills near Sloterdijk
Back in my day, Sloterdijk (slo-ter-DIKE) was a bland office building neighborhood where you reluctantly stayed to save money at a B-brand hotel. Holiday Inn Express anyone? But thanks to the glut of office space, more buildings have converted to (slightly) nicer hotels and now… Here come the attractions!
The official Holland Casino opened up a satellite location so the Noord Holland rubes didn’t have to drive all the way to the city center for their table gambling. Unsurprisingly the Sloterdijk outpost does not have the same atmosphere as the Leidseplein flagship.
This year two new attractions opened up nearby. First VRGH or VR Game House moved to a large space they call the VRGH Arena. With a giant free roam space, they offer more violent shooters and non-violent family games. Their proprietary system tracks the movement of your hands and feet as well as your body with additional sensors. Groups of 2-15 can play at once. €50 per person for the new stuff (includes VR mini games to warm up) €40 for the older stuff. Gyroscoopweg 102, vrgh-arena.nl
The party and festival organizers ID&T got into the trippy-artsy-visual-audio-gallery-museum-attraction-space this year with Amaze. While it’s no Meow Wolf, it is pretty cool. I’m not saying it’s a place to do drugs, but if you were the sort of person who did… €27 per person or less. Elementenstraat 25, amaze-amsterdam.nl
Both VRGH and Amaze are technically closer to Isolaterweg metro stop (line M50 and M51) than Sloterdijk Station (train and metro M50 and M51). Bus 22 goes frequently from Centraal Station (towards Sloterdijk) to Kabelweg. The metro and bus are run by GVB. The train needs an NS train ticket. But who are we kidding? You’re taking an Uber.
8. Shop at Spiegel
The old Spiegelgracht and Spiegelstraat was filled with antique dealers that traded in the shadows of (and supplied) the Rijksmuseum. Today the narrow, bike through-street is changing into a more stylish place and every couple of months another dusty antique dealer falls. Progress or losing our history? I liked biking by antique shops, but it’s not like I ever went in…
One unqualified addition to the street is Spiegel, a great place to buy extra Dutch gifts for the holidays! Everything in the store has a local connection. It was either made or designed in the Netherlands by a Dutch person. Nice hook!
With everything from jewellery to kitchenware to kids toys, this is a place to shop for yourself or to find an unusual gift in December.
Nieuwe Spiegelstraat 2A. Closed Monday and Tuesday. spiegelamsterdam.nl
9. Explore the Museumplein
Forget trying to experience the city like a local. Amsterdammers don’t go to these museums and they’re missing out. The Rijksmuseum and Van Gogh Museum are world class experiences and the Stedelijk (STAY-de-lick) is… well… one of the three best museums on the Museumplein! Let’s not forget the frequently overlooked MOCA. That smaller museum of modern, contemporary and street art adds to the warm, cultural offerings on Amsterdam’s Museum Square.
But in the dark days of December, it’s more than just museums. They set up an ice rink right in the middle complete with a café with heaters and gluhwein. We say get on the beaten track!
10. Go to Winter Efteling
In America we build Amusement Parks in parking lots. Here they built a great one in a forest: Efteling. Although the rides are not as bigger-stronger-faster as those at Walibi, there sense of magic and enchantment of Efteling is hard to escape. And although you might not expect it to be open all year round (warm, dry weather is not one of our strong suits), Efteling is. Winter Efteling is a special joy.
Of course wear layers and long underwear, but if you are warm enough, expect a fantastic day. Rollercoasters in the winter are a rush. The fantasy rides like Dream Fight, Villa Volta and Symbolica delight. And when darkness falls (early), the park turns into a illuminated wonderland with tended fires to warm you up.
If you like amusement parks, you have to go to Efteling.
A peak admission ticket is only €45 and can even be a few euros less on quieter days. Take that Disney! More info at Efteling.nl
Click for the best travel advice and the cheapest Efteling tickets
(Spoiler alert: It’s not some package tour operator)
Life is Better When You Laugh
The Unlikely Success of Boom Chicago
Nothing is better than sitting at a table with your friends and laughing at great live comedy. We missed it in the pandemic, but live is back!
Boom Chicago have been making audiences in Amsterdam laugh for over 25 years. Back in 1993, three great friends fell in love with Amsterdam and started the Amsterdam institution. Click here for that story. Over the years Boom Chicago, launched the careers of many great writers and performers including Seth Meyers, Jordan Peele, Jason Sudeikis (plus the creators of Ted Lasso). Also Amber Ruffin, Ike Barinholtz, Kay Cannon, Brendan Hunt. We could go on… The next generation is on stage right now.
What are you doing tonight? Boom Chicago! The current show ‘Sitcom is their best in years.’ The sketch and improv show about the 90s is now playing in their big theater.
Rozengracht 117. Get tickets here. No show December 25 or 31. Hangover Show Jan 1 at 20:00. Boomchicago.nl