Honestly, I have been freezing this week. Temperatures are dropping rapidly now that December has come and we Dutchies are getting ready for Sinterklaas and Christmas. Don’t let the cold keep you away from The Netherlands, however, as there is lots to see and do in The Netherlands in winter. We love our Christmas markets and festivals. So, bundle up and don’t miss these 7 winter festivals in The Netherlands when you come over.
Christmas markets in The Netherlands
For me, Christmas markets are just so German. And in all honesty, the Germans do it best. From The Netherlands, you can easily hop on over to lovely Christmas markets in German cities like Cologne and Düsseldorf. However, Christmas markets are getting more and more popular in The Netherlands, so you might as well just stay here. These are 3 Christmas markets to visit in The Netherlands.
- Knüss in Utrecht
Of course, I can’t help but tell you to come on over and visit my beautiful Utrecht. The second weekend of December the entire city centre will be absolutely Knüss (which is the name of the Utrecht Christmas market). You can find stalls with Christmas gifts, food and drinks all over the city centre. It’s the perfect excuse to explore the city while you’re at it. Plan your visit with my city guide Utrecht.
- Valkenburg: Christmas markets in caves
The Christmas market in Valkenburg is probably the most special one in The Netherlands, as they’re set in a unique location. Valkenburg hosts the Christmas markets in the beautiful caves of the Cauberg. A very special atmosphere. Tip: if you stay in Maastricht, you can easily visit Valkenburg as it’s just around the corner.
- Floating Christmas market of Leiden
A Christmas market, floating on the canals of Leiden. It really doesn’t get more Dutch than this, does it? The floating Christmas market of Leiden was voted best Dutch Christmas market last year, so it really shouldn’t be missed. You can visit from December 15th – 27th and that’s easy because Leiden is less than 30 minutes by train from Amsterdam.
Read about more Christmas markets in The Netherlands
Amsterdam light festival
Twee weeks ago I visited GLOW light festival in Eindhoven. But Amsterdam Light Festival is probably more famous and easier to visit when you’re based in Amsterdam during your trip. National and internal artists come together in Amsterdam in December and January and create the most beautiful light installations on water and on land. If you have the chance, book yourself a canal tour during the Amsterdam Light Festival, as the installations are so beautiful to look at from the water.
Planning a trip to Amsterdam? Read my Alternative guide to Amsterdam. Check out 14 things to do in Amsterdam in winter.
Candle lit Gouda
On December 15th the entire city centre of Gouda is lit by candles. A unique festival in The Netherlands and a unique thing to see. From noon until midnight the beautiful central square of Gouda is beautifully dressed in candlelight. All the shops and restaurants in town are decorated for Christmas and the candlelight festival is a great excuse to visit Gouda.
Light route in Maastricht
I can’t stop raving about Maastricht and I think you should absolutely visit this most southern city of The Netherlands when you come to The Netherlands. It’s only a 2-hour train ride from Amsterdam, so why not? And in winter, Maastricht is particularly pretty as the city is beautifully lit. This is done so well, that you can even take a light route walk, which takes you along the most famous squares, historical quarters, cobblestoned streets and lots of independent shops. Along the route, you can buy refreshments at one of the many Christmas markets in Maastricht.
Also read my article: Maastricht, where to shop, eat and sleep.
Fireworks on New Year’s Eve in Rotterdam
It’s a Dutch tradition to set off fireworks as soon as the clock hits midnight on December 31st. We are allowed to light fireworks ourselves (but I am not a big fan of this, to say the least). And more and more cities prefer firework festivals over people setting off fireworks themselves. Rotterdam puts on an amazing firework show every year at New Year’s Eve and this is the perfect reason to spend New Year’s in Rotterdam (though you may want to book your hotel well in advance). It’s best to watch the fireworks along the river Maas facing the famous bridges in Rotterdam.
Plan your trip to Rotterdam and see some street art while you’re there.
Dickens festival in Deventer
The Netherlands don’t have big Christmas traditions. But the ones we have, are very good. And one of those traditions is the Dickens festival, which takes place 3rd weekend of December every year in Deventer. The historical heart of Deventer, in the east of The Netherlands, is the perfect setting to have all the characters by Charles Dickens come to live. Take a walk through the ancient Bergkwartier and meet Oliver Twist, Scrooge and Mr. Pickwick.
In my not so humble and not so modest opinion, Dutch theme park Efteling is the best theme park in the whole world. It combines Dutch folk tales, famous Grimm fairytales and blood boiling rollercoaster rides and is set in a lovely wooded environment, making all rides just that bit more magical and mysterious. In winter Efteling has special opening hours and festivities between October and March during Winter Efteling. Some of the outdoor rollercoasters won’t be open, but that shouldn’t discourage you. Lots of rollercoaster and rides are indoors and the fairytale forest in enchanting for both small and big children. Hint: if you buy tickets online you will save a few Euros and you skip the long lines in front of the entree.
Plan your winter trip to The Netherlands
You can visit a lot of Christmas markets and winter festivals in The Netherlands, while based in Amsterdam. To most places named in this article, you can simply catch a train to go and check it out. You need an OV Chip Card, which you can charge as you go, to travel on all Dutch public transport. You can check the Dutch train timetables here. But you can also rent a car if you prefer. Read my page Plan your trip to plan your perfect trip to The Netherlands.
Have you been to The Netherlands in winter? What did you do?
Or what would you love to do?
AnnaDecember 2, 2017 at 10:36 am
Christmas is my favorite time of the year. I´ve been to so many of the European Christmas markets (especially in Germany), but had no idea of these amazing fireworks and lights festivals in Netherlands. Thanks for sharing! Especially, the one in Amsterdam seems like the easiest one to visit. Would like to take my little daughter to the Dickens festival in Deventer.
AnisaDecember 2, 2017 at 11:01 am
All these festivals look like so much fun, definitely gets me in the Christmas spirit. I am going to my first European Christmas market next week in Riga, so I can’t wait.
EstherDecember 4, 2017 at 9:02 am
Oh, I’d love to visit Riga. That must be very special in winter time. Have fun!
MicheleDecember 2, 2017 at 11:41 am
Being home in Australia for the first time in years I am really missing the Christmas Markets of Europe. The event’s you have shared look amazing….maybe I need a winter visit to enjoy them.
EstherDecember 4, 2017 at 9:03 am
Oh, but I’d love to spend Christmas in a warm climate!! The glühwein can wait 😉
LisaDecember 2, 2017 at 1:23 pm
Wow, that light festival in Amsterdam looks so awesome!!! And the New Year’s firework in Rotterdam does too. Guess I know where I’ll spend my winter vacation next year. 😀
Nicole RuglessDecember 3, 2017 at 1:34 am
The Christmas markets look beautiful, I would love to see the floating market and the markets in the cave. The light festival looks beautiful too. Thanks for writing about them, I didn’t know about the Christmas markets in the Netherlands, The transport tips are very useful too!
LynDecember 3, 2017 at 6:30 am
I don’t think I will ever make it to the Netherlands in winter, but it is fun reading about it.
Deborah RegenDecember 3, 2017 at 3:15 pm
Oooh, I want to visit Maastricht one day. I have heard so much about that city. Now I have learned what it is like during the winter holiday season that makes it even more special.
EstherDecember 7, 2017 at 1:32 pm
Oh, I really like Maastricht. I think it’s a lovely place to visit if you come to The Netherlands.
SherrieDecember 4, 2017 at 8:23 am
A floating Christmas Market? That sounds amazing! The light shows look wonderful as well. Looks like the holidays are a great time to visit the Netherlands!
EstherDecember 4, 2017 at 9:03 am
I think it has gotten better in the last decade, Sherrie. When I was growing up I thought the holiday season was always very boring. But nowadays, there’s lots to do!
Sarah ChristieDecember 4, 2017 at 9:59 am
We visited Rotterdam at Christmas for our honeymoon, and I loved it there, but we haven’t been back since and that was nearly 25 years ago ! Its time we took a trip and some of these look just amazing x
EstherDecember 7, 2017 at 1:32 pm
I bet you don’t even recognise Rotterdam anymore, so much has changed!
AllisonDecember 4, 2017 at 12:35 pm
Wow it looks like there is something for everyone. I love Christmas markets and my kids would love the light festivals. The Dickens festival sounds really interesting, too.
VanessaDecember 5, 2017 at 4:04 am
I love holiday festivities in any country, but the Netherlands looks like it has some pretty impressive displays. I’d love to make it there in the winter.
Ava MeenaDecember 5, 2017 at 2:37 pm
I’m trying to plan a Christmas Market tour of Europe – hopefully for next year but if not then the year after – so I got really excited when I saw your post on Monday Escapes! This is great info; I’d love to see the floating market and the one in the cave, wow! I hadn’t heard of the light festival in Amsterdam, either – it looks so beautiful! Thanks so much for sharing this. 🙂
EstherDecember 7, 2017 at 1:33 pm
A Christmas Market Tour of Europe sounds like an amazing plan for a winter trip. But there’s so much to chose from! Have fun planning your trip.
LisaDecember 5, 2017 at 11:23 pm
Ooh I love the idea of the floating markets! I’ve been to the xmas market a long time ago in Rotterdam when cruising around the Baltics. It was a fun experience but tbh like you said, the Hamburg Christmas in comparison was magical.
ClaireDecember 6, 2017 at 9:15 pm
I love Christmas markets and winter festival so The Netherlands sound like a great destination at this time of year. Light shows are a particular hit with us and our girls. Thanks for the recommendations.
StephanieDecember 6, 2017 at 9:17 pm
The holiday festivals in the Netherlands look amazing. I would love to see New Years in Rotterdam and the Amsterdam Light Festival. I must visit Europe in winter and visit these festivals. Pinned for later use.
EstherDecember 7, 2017 at 1:34 pm
Winter in Western Europa maybe doesn’t sound like a logical choice, but the last few years there’s so much more to do then, for example, a decade ago. And, there won’t be so many tourists around, so wandering around more quietly is also quite the advantage.
KatyDecember 9, 2017 at 11:29 am
Esther, as I write this I am sitting next to my sister in law who is Dutch and went to university in Maastricht. It looks like such an amazing city and she’s always encouraged me to go. I would love to visit there and see a bit more of Utrecht one day
HilaryDecember 9, 2017 at 5:08 pm
We visited The Netherlands last year, and loved our time there! Reading your post makes me want to get back in a hurry, so I can experience those amazing Christmas lights! Simply stunning!
KanaDecember 12, 2017 at 1:06 am
Wow those are some GORGEOUS winter festivals! My eyes are hearts right now from your photos. I really need to get to Europe for the holiday season; it just seems so much better there 🙂
EstherDecember 14, 2017 at 8:53 am
Oh yes, a Europe Christmas tour! That would turn out quite good I’d say!
CoreyDecember 12, 2017 at 1:17 am
The floating Christmas market sounds amazing, as does the Dickens festival and the theme park. I love reading about Christmas traditions from around the world, as Xmas has always been my favorite holiday!
janineDecember 12, 2017 at 1:32 am
These all look wonderful! I would love the Dickens festival! The christmas Carol is one of my favourite stories of the season.
ClareDecember 13, 2017 at 3:33 pm
I never read any of your posts without feeling totally inspired to visit the Netherlands, Esther! I just love this post about all the winter festivals and that’s a fantastic tip about seeing the Festival of Light from the water.
EstherDecember 14, 2017 at 8:54 am
Thank you Clare!
AgnessDecember 13, 2017 at 5:42 pm
Wow! The Christmas markets in the Netherlands seem truly charming, Esther. I fell in love just from seeing your pictures. The Netherlands are definitely a winter wonderland.