Winter on the Amsterdam canals
17 November 2023
Winter might actually be the best time of year to visit Amsterdam. You might not be guaranteed good weather but that isn’t guaranteed at any time of year in the Netherlands. The streets and attractions will be less crowded and the city atmosphere is just lovely at this time of year.
The season of sparkling lights
Like most western cities, Amsterdam is lit up by Christmas decorations throughout the holiday season, this includes everything from the streets and squares to the canals. But in the months of December and January the city centre is brightened further by the Amsterdam Light Festival. Each winter a section of the canals is decorated with light art and light installations by international artists, designers and architects. This year there will be 24 works of art along the route.
The best way to enjoy the festival is with a canal cruise, especially so because the light art is not only along side the canals but also above and in the water. This means that from the canal boat, you’ll have a first-class view of the light art while you can relax and look around. There is even a special audio guide to tell you all about the artworks and the artists who made them.
Warm and comfortable
Just because the winter weather is cold, doesn’t mean you’ll be so throughout your visit. Especially not when you step on board of a canal boat. During a LOVERS Canal Cruise you’ll be sat inside a comfortably heated boat. The windows might be a little foggy at the start, due to condensation but that will go away quick enough for you to properly take in the sights along the route.
Every canal cruise can follow a different route because the captain decides where to go based on the amount of traffic on the canals. From the UNESCO World Heritage listed Herengracht, Keizersgracht and Prinsengracht to the Amstel and IJ rivers. The audio guides on board use GPS so that what you hear is always about what you can see outside the window, no matter where the boat takes you in the city.
Though it doesn’t happen as often as it once did, the Amsterdam canal ring does still freeze from time to time. When a period of freezing cold is expected, the city closes of certain sections of the 17th century canals so that there is no current there, boats can’t enter and the water can freeze over.
On these rare occasions, you can skate on some of the Golden Age canals (it was last possible for a couple of days in February 2021 and March 2018). Because the city blocks off certain parts of the canals for these special occasions, the rest of the canals remain open to canal boats. Which is why, even when you can skate on the canals, you can still enjoy a canal cruise even in the heart of winter.
National Tulip Day
In the middle of winter, the Netherlands starts looking forward to spring. With the third Saturday of January being National Tulip Day, celebrating the national flower and the start of tulip season. This is the best time of year to visit Amsterdam for tulips, as on this day Dam Square is usually turned into a pop-up tulip picking garden, where everyone can pick flowers for free.
From this day onwards tulips start popping up al over the city including along the canals. The Netherlands produces and sells most of the tulips in the world. And every year from the third Saturday in January, 1,7 billion tulips travel around the world to brighten up tables, window sills and gardens.