Christmas in Amsterdam: Bikes, Gluhweïn, and Bitterballen
January 1, 1970
by Jess Vandenberg
This past Christmas was spent in the beautiful city of Amsterdam. My boyfriend, John, and I reunited in the grand hall of Amsterdam central station after five months of long distance (him in Sweden and myself in Australia). Our reunion genuinely felt like a moment from a corny rom-com. I was lost, disheveled and anxiously scanning the crowds for him. There was a grand piano in the corner of the room and some guy walked over to it and began playing and singing some pop love ballad. The hall filled with sweet sounding music and of course a few moments later I locked eyes with John, ran towards him, jumped in his arms, and began to kiss him profusely. We grabbed my bags and headed to our AirBnb flat along the canals, which were glittering with reflections of Christmas lights. And so began our European holiday/ living abroad. A few days later my parents flew in and joined us for a lovely week of gourmet food, museum strolls, and bike adventures.
Where to Stay
Amsterdam is a relatively small city. The tourist centre is concentrated in Dam Square. I would recommend not staying this area. It is extremely crowded with tourists and restaurants are expensive and not the best. There are some really cute little neighborhoods just outside the town center that have great restaurants, bars, and boutiques. Below I have listed a couple of my favourites.
1. The Jordaan
On this trip we stayed in an AirBnB flat in the Jordaan. I recommend looking into AirBnB flats rather than a hotel room. There are some really nice and affordable options in the city and I always appreciate having a kitchen handy.
This district is arguably the most charming in the city and the quaint narrow streets are filled with great food, drink, and shopping options. It is still walking distance to a lot of the attractions but it has much more relaxed and local vibe then the city centre. There are also some great local art galleries to check out.
2. De 9 Straatjes (“The 9 Streets”)
The 9 Streets is actually a sub-neighborhood within the larger western Grachtengordel (“Canal Belt”). You will know when you have entered the 9 Streets as there are large light banners hanging across all of the narrow streets displacing the #9. It is a hip area boasting several great vintage and antique stores as well as a plethora of great restaurants, cafes and bars. Because the 9 Streets is located within the Canal Belt it is very close to all the attractions; however, it is a bit busier then some of the other neighborhoods just outside the belt.
What to Do
Amsterdam during the Christmas season is absolutely buzzing and beautiful. The canals are lit up with elaborate Christmas light installations and there are numerous holiday markets and festivals. Below are a few things that are great options to do during the holidays and also during other times of the year.
1. Christmas markets
Amsterdam is a vibrant city with multitudes of attractions and events, especially during the Christmas holidays. One must do thing during this time is to visit one of the many Christmas markets. They have a great festive atmosphere, delicious street food, and live musical performances. If you do find yourself in the city during the holiday season, heading to the markets will definitely get you into the Christmas spirit.
2. Ride a bike
Another must-do in Amsterdam is to explore the streets and canals by bike. Amsterdam is an extremely bike-friendly city. I have never seen more bikes in my life. There are literally parking garages solely catering to bikes. Bikes are such a great way to explore a city because you cover much more ground than walking and you see much more than in a taxi or train when travelling from point A to B. There are several bike rental options in the city. We rented from Bike City in the Jordaan. The bikes were in good shape and the shop-owner was very friendly.
The first bike day we explored several neighborhoods. We explored the Noord, an industrial area that has some hidden gems- industrial warehouses and boat yards that have been converted into opportunities for art installations and creative spaces. We also explored the historic city center and sampled some ‘food in the wall’ (croquettes & ‘war’ fries). We ended the day riding along the river to a brewery built inside an old windmill (Great beer and lovely views of the Ij River).
The next bike day we rode all the way to Haarelm. I really enjoyed this. Its about a 1.5 hour ride there. Some of the stretches are nice and rural with pasture land and old farm houses. Other parts are a bit more industrial. But it was great to be able to ride into a different city and Haarelm is worth checking out. The old town centre is beautiful and there are some really cute cafes and restaurants in the main square. After exploring the town center we decided to train back, which is great to have the option. The trains are very bike friendly and we were back at Amsterdam central in 20 minutes.
3. The Museums
Amsterdam is home to several great museums. I am a fan of modern art so I really enjoyed the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam. The Rijksmuseum is also impressive and I would recommend having a few hours to explore this museum as it is huge. I also highly recommend going to the Anne Frank Museum. The exhibition is really well done and extremely moving. It is VERY popular. The entire time we were in Amsterdam there seemed to be a constant extremely long line wrapping around the building. The trick to skipping the queue is to book your tickets online. There are limited tickets so book in advance.
4. The Noord
We took the ferry (which is free) across the river to the Noord neighborhood. In recent years there has been a art revitalization of this area which was once very industrial. We went to the Ceuvel, an old industrial plot, which has now been converted into an artist/creative workspace where people work in old beached house boats. It is truly unique and worth checking out. There is also a cool little cafe there that serve lovely fresh Farm to Table meals and tasty vegan, raw sweet treats.
After the Ceuvel, we headed for the NDSM wharf, a former shipyard taken over by artists. The enormous warehouses have been converted into creative workspaces and really interesting art installations and graffiti art can be seen on the exterior in inside the warehouses.
Where to Eat & Drink
Traveling with my family is basically just eating our way through a city. We seriously love to eat. Amsterdam was no exception and we found a lot of great places. Below I have mentioned some of my favourites.
Cozy café in the Jordaan that is famous for its apple pie.
Originally built in 1488, the Waag (or Weigh House) is one one of the oldest buildings still in existence in Amsterdam. Once one of the city gates when Amsterdam was completely fortified, the Waag has been well restored into a beautiful restaurant. The restaurant is fully lit by candle light.
2. Mata Hari
Great cafe in the red light district situated along one of the many canals. It boasts an art nouveau interior and is a great spot to enjoy a drink.
3. De Prins
Delicious traditional Dutch fare. Try the pea soup or Amsterdam ‘meat ball.’ During the holidays they have some well-priced and tasty fixed menu meals.
4. ‘t Smalle
Hands down the prettiest cafe/bar I went to in Amsterdam. The dark wood paneling and ornate crystal chandeliers makes this cafe feel simultaneously elegant and cozy. Head here for a glass of Gluhweïn, a traditional Dutch mulled wine.
Great tapas restaurant in the Joordan. It offers share plates of different origins from across the European continent.