Our year-round guide to Amsterdam by season
There are so many things I love about Amsterdam, but one of the best is that it truly is a city for all seasons, hence its year-round popularity. Unlike the UK (although with a similar climate) every cafe, restaurant and bar seems to have a terrace. perfect for catching a ray of August sunshine – or even a November one. But colder days come into their own too with cosy fireplaces, outdoor skating and cinnamon-spiced food treats. Check out our guide below to navigating the best of Amsterdam by season (or for more serendipity browse our Favourite Amsterdam Cafe’s and Restaurants here or the full blog here).
Summer in Amsterdam
Amsterdammers like many Northern Europeans make sure they never let a sunny day go to waste. As mentioned above, almost every restaurant and cafe has a terrace, so why not join the locals, and head for some early evening borrel (snacks) and a glass of something chilled at one of the city’s many suntraps. The vistas along the canals are of course beautiful or do like true Amsterdammers and head to one of the man-made beaches scattered around town, many boasting bars and DJ’s in the evening.
Better still, jump on a short train-ride to a real beach. The Dutch coast is spectacular, and if the city feels like tourist-central with barely a local in sight, its because “those in the know” are all out sunning themselves at Zandvoort, Bloemendaal or Scheveningen.
In Summer, don’t miss:
- Open-air concerts in the Vondelpark – July and August
- North Sea Jazz – July. Head down to Rotterdam for headline-grabbing names at this world-class music event
- Gay Pride – August. One of the biggest events of its kind in the world, with the whole city joining in the fun and including floats that really do float (down the canals).
- The Grachtenfestival (canal festival) – August. Another wonderful cultural extravaganza of a very different kind, with ten days of classical music taking place by, or even on, the city-centre canals. Where else could you watch world-class musicians whilst sitting in a rowing boat?
- Artis Summer nights – June/August. Stay at the zoo until sunset for tours, performances, music, picnics and barbecues at one of the city’s finest “parks”
- De Parade – August. An annual travelling theatre festival, funfair, circus and carnival rolled into one which stops for a fortnight in each of the Netherlands’ four key cities, finishing at Martin Luther King park in Amsterdam. The attraction includes tented fairgrounds, rides and foodstands as well as outdoor music and theatre performances.
- Sail Amsterdam. Once every five years, the city hosts an extraordinary and unique maritime gathering. Sail Amsterdam – the biggest nautical event in the world – sees a flotilla of historic and tall ships from across the globe sail into Amsterdam harbour alongside over 600 local vessels. As well as the headline parade which is watched by thousands, there are free events and concerts, performances and fireworks and of course opportunities to climb aboard the ships and explore. Well worth considering booking early for the 2020 event.
In Summer, eat at:
- Stork – stunning warehouse space serving seafood with Ij-candy views over the river
- G’s brunch boat – the only place to hang for weekend brunch with the best bloody mary’s in town
- PLLEK – one of Amsterdam’s most iconic urban beaches packed with local beauties
- De Ysbreeker – grab a coveted terrace table at this iconic grand cafe in a linden-tree-lined street by the Amstel
- Pisa – Italian ice-cream Amsterdam-style out by the convention centre
- Loetje on the Ij – pull up on your boat and dock by the deck (or get there by more traditional means) for a Summer steak in the sunshine
- Westergasterras – hugely popular local spot for parkside drinks and food
- Hanneke’s Boom – Summer with the trend-set at a fairy-lit beachstyle restaurant on a canal-island near Centraal Station where the dock-side deck sizzles with live music and DJ’s on weekend evenings
- CT Coffee and Coconuts – this is the time of year for coconut cocktails, mangos and pineapples in this extraordinary converted 1920’s theatre, now a temple to tropical cool
- Lion Noir – their magnificent “secret garden” courtyard in the heart of the city, makes this an insiders’ top tip
- De Wasserette – unless you arrive early at this hotspot in the Pijp you’ll struggle to get an outside table on what feels like Amsterdam’s most glamorous corner spot
- Strand Zout – head out of town to this Zandvoort beach favourite with it’s whitewashed floors and relaxed vibe
- George No. 5 – the glam and the beautiful make tracks to this beach club to hang with the rest of the Nikki Beach brigade (pictured above)
- Scheveningen – take your pick from the dozens of beachside pavilions, or just grab a herring to go
Autumn in Amsterdam
I love Autumn in the Netherlands and we’ve spent many a happy half term cycling along the canals in the bright sunshine down streets carpeted in red and gold leaves. Things start to get cosy around this time of year – the mornings are dark, days are short and the low Autumn sun makes it the perfect time of year for a slice of cinnamon-rich apple pie and a hot chocomel “met slaagroom” (Dutch hot chocolate with cream) on a cosy terrace.
In Autumn, don’t miss:
- The Amsterdam Marathon – October. An event that begins and ends in the 1928 Olympic Stadium and takes runners under the Rijksmuseum and through the glorious Vondelpark. A perfect activity for active hill-phobics.
- Museumnacht – November. An amazing cultural happening with 50 museums open until 2.00am, enhanced by concerts, workshops and late night drinks. A uniquely Amsterdam experience.
In Autumn, eat at:
- Winkel 43 – head to this terrace in the Jordaan for the definitive Dutch apple pie – the one by which all others are measured
- Bar Moustache – if the sun’s still out then enjoy a window spot in this local favourite, but as the days shorten head inside for candle-lit cosiness and comfort food
- The Pancake House – enjoy breathtaking Autumn leaves in the woods and finish off with a classic pannenkoek
- Hotel de Goudfazant – one of our favourites, a year-round must
- Foodhallen – if its rainy outside, head indoors and take your pick from the city’s foodie finest
- Mook – American pancakes tick, fresh squeezed juice tick, hip hop on the sound-system tick. Hang out with the Instagrammers at this hotspot in the West
- Gartine – seasonal food abounds at this magical hotspot so expect root vegetable salads and spiced Autumnal cakes at this time of year.
- Blauwe Theehuis or Groot Melkhuis in the Vondelpark – go for a brisk walk through the park but find time to stop and enjoy the terraces of these classic Amsterdam faves
- Cafe t’Smalle – head to this unpretentious cafe with one of the most beautiful tiny canal-side terraces near the Anne Frank House (pictured above)
Winter in Amsterdam
It’s hard to spend time in The Netherlands without encountering the word gezellig (click here for more info), and it’s easy to understand why. The Netherlands can get very VERY cold. Although it’s on the same latitude as the UK, in Winter the wind can blow ferociously across the North Sea, and with a pancake-flat landscape from coast to city, you can be hit by sideways sleet if you’re braving it on a bike. So the Dutch, who are robust and happy to cycle in all weathers, need places that are cosy and warm to recover, and Amsterdam caters marvellously. In the past, the traditional pubs or “brown cafes” (the name comes from the dark wooden interiors, and nicotine stained ceilings) were the obvious choice, and there are many to discover especially around the Jordaan. Nowadays, there are also more contemporary cosy restaurants and bars with fireplaces to while-away an afternoon over an apple pie and a koffie verkeerd. Christmas markets do exist in Amsterdam, although these aren’t a core part of Dutch heritage and are nothing like the historic markets run by their German and Austrian neighbours. Still, hunt down the olliebollen trucks and enjoy the smells of speculaas-spiced pepernoten or buy chocolate letters to celebrate the extraordinary and at times controversial festival Sinterklaas.
In Winter, don’t miss:
- The Sinterklaas “intocht” – November. Sinterklaas sails “from Spain” down the canals into Amsterdam with hundreds of (controversial) black-painted assistants known as Zwarte Pieten and plenty of small-spiced pepernoten.
- Ice Amsterdam – November. The skating rink opens in front of the Rijksmuseum and non-skaters can enjoy the WinterMarket that runs down Museum Square.
- Light Festival – December/January. For the last five years, Amsterdam has hosted a wintery light festival in which over 50 attractions and hotspots are transformed with illuminated installations. Why not follow the Illuminade walking route or better still hop aboard one of the Light Festival tour boats. For the adventurous and/or romantic the most unique experience of all is undoubtably renting a private boat and snuggling under blankets with a cup of hot chocolate or gluhwein whilst floating under magically illuminated bridges.
- Canal skating – infrequent but most likely to occur in January/February. It’s unusual for the Amsterdam canals to freeze over but when they do (about once a decade, with a rare double occurrence in 2010 and 2012) it’s a magical experience to see people skating through the city centre like characters in a Dutch Masters painting. Skating is like a religion in The Netherlands – not only a quintessentially Dutch sport, it is deeply rooted in national history, art and culture. So, if the temperature drops signficantly and a big-freeze looks like a possibility, authorities will stop motorised canal traffic to help the waterways ice up. That said, temperatures have to drop to about -10, so perhaps don’t wish too hard for this on your next visit.
- New Year’s Eve. Scared of loud noises? Of a nervous disposition? Travelling with young children? In that case, make sure you avoid The Netherlands on NYE which becomes a pyrotechnic free-for-all. Dutch teenagers absolutely delight in making it their mission to frighten the hell out of the unsuspecting by throwing a barrage of bangers and small fireworks at passers-by and this controversial tradition often starts several days before the big event. Towards midnight on the big night, the bangs get louder and more frequent until the cacophony reaches an ear-splitting crescendo. There are of course parties and organised displays too for which you’ll need to book ahead.
In Winter, eat at:
- The College Hotel – almost nowhere more “gezellig” to head for coffee and cake
- Cafe Loetje – the original and cosiest of all the branches, truly Dutch in feel
- The Duchess – glamorous, dark and seductive, a perfect place for Winter dining
- Red – draw back the velvet curtain that keeps out the wind and step inside this romantic spot for steak or lobster
- The Lobby – with a roaring fireplace on chilly days, there are worse places to shake the cold out of your fingers
- Pompadour – “MittelEuropean” cakes and chocolates in the 9 streets
- Lion Noir – dim-lighting, dark-wood, deep-green walls and stuffed animals from the owner of the hip Jimmy Woo nightclub. The hidden courtyard garden is also a Summer fave.
- De Ysbreeker – sink into an armchair by the fire in the billiards room at the back of this historic Grand Cafe and you’ll never want to head back into the cold
Spring in Amsterdam
Springtime brings tulips and the ramping up of the tourist season. It’s a time when the terraces open up and the sun starts to appear more often.
It’s also the season of King’s Day – one of The Netherlands’ most unique and special occasions. If you can (and you’ll have to book a hotel far in advance) put an Amsterdam King’s Day visit at the top of your bucket list. It’s a day when everything and everyone turns orange and it claims to be the world’s biggest street party. The fun starts the night before on Koningsnacht, celebrations begin in earnest with traditional Amsterdam singers and bands holding impromptu gatherings in public squares. The night also sees locals getting ready for the vrijmarkt or free market which allows anyone to set up a stall and sell off their unwanted items on the streets of the city . Early in the evening, you’ll see people claiming the prime spots with masking tape and protecting the best locations ferociously.
On the day itself the whole city, indeed the whole country hosts a huge party. At 6.00am the vrijmarkt begins, and the most serious bargain hunters and traders are out in force – don’t be surprised to see locals cycling home through the crowds with a pram or cot under their arm. The Vondelpark is particularly special and hosts a children’s market, with young entrepreneurs selling off pre-loved toys, flogging home made cookies and hosting performances and contests.
Across town, you’ll find a huge variety of entertainment and activity. Professional bands stand alongside children earnestly playing their clarinet for a euro and teenagers spitting their best hiphop beats. Bigger concerts have been moved to the outskirts of the city in recent years due to the overcrowding they used to cause in the small city centre. You’ll find food on every corner, often manned by enterprising Amsterdammers with a toastie machine, although restaurants and food trucks make sure they also get in on the act.
And then there are the canals. Anyone lucky enough to get space on a boat is in for a treat. Bands play on board, the dancing goes on well into the night, and if you can’t get a spot, find space on a bridge and watch the festival sail beneath you.
King’s Day is VERY crowded and there’s no public transport at all in the city centre, so put on a pair of comfy shoes, dress in your most ridiculous orange outfit (everything you need is available at my favourite Dutch store HEMA) and get out on the streets ready to celebrate.
In Spring, don’t miss:
- King’s Day as above – 27th April
- Amsterdam Coffee Festival – March. Roasters and Baristas having fun at the Westergasfabriek
- Tulips in the Keukenhof – third week of March. Its touristy, touristy, touristy but hard to deny the beauty of the world’s biggest flower-garden
- Remembrance and Liberation Day – 4th and 5th May. The Dutch pause en-masse to pay their respects and then celebrate the end of Nazi liberation
- Food Truck Festival – May. Head to the wonderful Amstelpark for TREK, an excuse for music, entertainment and of course food trucks.
In Spring, eat at:
- Loetje on the Amstel – Spring is the time to head out to this glorious picture-perfect location for “Loetje with the locals”
- Scandinavian Embassy – when the sun peeks out, so do Amsterdam’s beautiful people, making the most of the early morning rays on the bench outside this temple to coffee
- Corner Bakery – grab a spot on the bench and Instagram your breakfast at this sweet local cafe
- Buffet van Odette – enjoy great food on the small terrace at this picture perfect spot on the Prinsengracht
- Cafe Amsterdam – sit inside in the airy factory interior or head onto the lovely terrace if the sun appears
- De Kas – Spring-fresh seasonal food in Amsterdam’s beautiful luxury greenhouse
- IJ-kantine – enjoy the Spring sunshine through the huge windows on the North side of the river Ij
- Cafe George, George Bistro, George WPA – each (unique) branch of Amsterdam’s “French brasserie in New York…in Amsterdam” delights with reliable modern classics from its menu of accessible favourites. Think Soho House dining without the membership. The latest addition to the empire is San George offering easy, quality Italian.