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Amsterdam: 10 ways to celebrate the holidays

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Ice skate on the Leidseplein through January 13. Photo: Dutchamsterdam.nl
Ice skate on the Leidseplein through January 13. Photo: Dutchamsterdam.nl

Compared to the shop-til-you-drop chaos that surrounds North American come Christmas, Amsterdam’s holiday habits are easygoing, painless, and mellow. But while the Dutch stay modest with the wrapping paper, they still indulge in outdoor illuminating settings and sounds.

Here are 10 ways to get into Holland’s holiday spirit, EuroCheapo-style:

1. Ice skating
Through January 13, 2013

Head to Leidseplein and Museumplein and glide around the real ice rink set up until January 13, 2013. The best time to go is at night, as the holiday lights swirl around as you skate, or hold on to the railing and try not to slip on the little ones (or the locals; Dutch are great ice skaters!). Afterwards, head to the cafes or Christmas stands nearby for powdered sugar poffertjes and hot chocolate.

2. Christmas markets

Unlike Germany, Christmas markets in Amsterdam are a one-day thing. Here are some dates that might coincide with your Holland holiday:

• December 22 and 23: Funky Christmas Market: Everything Christmas to help spread the season spirit at Westergasfabriek.

• December 23: Pure markt again at Park Frankendael.

• Until end of December: Maastricht and Valkenburg are home to ongoing Christmas markets where you can indulge in chestnuts, spiced wine, and Christmas entertainment à la Dutch style.

The big old tree in Dam Square. Photo: martin_vmorris

3. Oh, Christmas trees

Love standing under the glow of a gorgeous holiday tree? Dam Square holds an impressive, merry monster tree that’s great for photos. And the floating flower market will be packed with pretty, peculiar, petite or paunchy pines from start to finish. Shopping streets that surround the “Bloemenmarkt” are Kalverstraat and Leidsestraat – two safe bets for those looking for apparel.

4. Apres Amsterdam

Rembrandtplein hosts a maze of Austrian “apres-ski”-style huts blasting cheerful tunes and offering all the delicious seasonal staples with a Bavarian twist. Warm waffles, sausages, spiced wine and apple cider with a shot of schnapps. It’s got what you need for a fun night fill downtown.

5. Pink Christmas
December 19-31

Throughout Holland, Pink Christmas is the official program for events collectively known as the Winter Gay Pride. Anything and everything is on the agenda, from theater to clubs and ice skating, naked bars to Christmas bingo, erotic exhibitions to a winter Olmypics in drag. Get involved from December 19 to 31.

6. Winter Parade Dinner
December 22 to 26

Amsterdam’s Winter Parade in the Red Light District’s Oude Kerk hosts poets, musicians, actors and dancers who perform literally on a large and long dining table (while you eat!). The show is a three-hour interactive performance where guests get involved with the show as they dine, before leaving the church to begin the winter parade through Amsterdam. It wont’ be the cheapest night out, but for €35 per person you can be a part of a traditional Dutch experience.

7. Winter Parade Watching
December 22 to 26

Don’t want to dish out the dough? Grab some hot drinks to go and watch the parade from the sidelines. The parade itself can be viewed around the perimeter of the Red Light District and Old Center, on the southern end of Dam Square beginning around 8pm. (More information in Dutch, and the route in Dutch.)

All lit up for the Amsterdam Light Festival. Photo: Udo Geisler

8. More saving while shopping
December 23 (and ongoing)

Amsterdam has over 20 outdoor markets, and all hang up festive lights and shift to seasonal offerings of sweet almonds, gingerbread cakes and sugar raisin breads to name a few.

On Sunday, December 23, the popular Albert Cuypmarkt will host the one-day holiday market, but throughout the month you can find small ornaments and Christmas trinkets for a low price and that are easy to pack in your suitcase.

Aside from Albert, Dappermarkt in the East and Ten Katemarkt in the Old West neighborhoods will be your hidden gems for cheapo gifts, from clothes to cute souvenirs.

9. Classic Christmas
December 26

Churches like St. Nicolaas, Nieuwe Kerk and a dozen others offer classical music ensembles and performances throughout the holidays season. Paradiso, one of Amsterdam’s most famous concert venues, will host a holiday hangover cure December 26 with Christmas classics, sing-a-longs, and original music by Paradiso Orchestra.

10. Amsterdam Light Festival
Through January 20, 2013

No Amsterdam Christmas is complete without the Amsterdam Light Festival. Running until January 20, the Amstel River and it’s beautiful houseboats, bridges and canal cruises team up and deck the waterways with a glorious glow. The Boulevard of Light is an enchanting walk along historic buildings between Muntplein and Amstel Hotel.

About the author

About the author: Audrey Sykes hopped across the pond from the US eight years ago for a Masters degree in global journalism. Since then, she’s lived all over Europe, reporting and editing for music sites, snowboard mags, and travel media. She’s also the Amsterdam author for Party Earth, a guide to nightlife across Europe.

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