Having moved across the pond—from sunny Newport Beach to soggy Amsterdam—five years ago, I’m a big fan of the Dutch capital. Visit whenever you can, as often as you can, I say. There’s something to love in any season, from gray winter to glorious spring, through long summer days and classic fall culture.
For those planning a trip to the city that lured me from California to Holland, here’s what you can expect throughout the year:
January–February: the coldest months, but tourists are all but gone and locals have reclaimed the town. Holiday decorations typically remain up through early January, and the Amsterdam Light Festival continues through January 19, 2015. Airfares are at seasonal lows and accommodations are plentiful. Popular attractions like Anne Frank’s house and the Rijks and Van Gogh museums have fewer visitors than in high season, making for more intimate visits.
From January 16–26, 2015, Amsterdam Fashion Week brings fashion from the catwalk to the sidewalk with 10 Days Downtown. Over 10 days, 10 events at 10 different venues will showcase Amsterdam as The City of Diamonds while raising awareness of international fashion in The Netherlands.
On January 17, 2015, the Dutch tulip season kicks off with National Tulip Day. For the third consecutive year, Dam Square will transform into a giant “picking garden” bursting with some 200,000 new blooms. Picking your own bouquet near the National Monument is FREE.
March–April: Tulips bloom, ushering in spring, when tourists jam museums and locals celebrate lengthening days. In Lisse, millions arrive to visit Keukenhof, an outdoor garden blooming with seven million tulip, daffodil and hyacinth bulbs planted the previous fall. From March 20–May 17, 2015, see the rainbow-striped fields plus exhibitions on tulip history, 17th-century tulip mania and tulip cultivation. In 2015, the popular attraction will celebrate the anniversary of the 125th anniversary of the death of Vincent Van Gogh.
All of Holland will party hard on Koningsdag (April 27, 2015), a giant national “birthday party” honoring King Willem. With much of the action centered in Amsterdam, there’s high demand for flights, trains and hotels, so plan early if you want to visit during this 36-hour street party, when the entire town erupts with orange-clad revelers.
May–June: Time to head outdoors with a picnic to Vondelpark, Museumplein, Amsterdam Bos or any of the city’s green spaces. During Open Garden Days (June 19–21, 2015), many canal houses open private courtyards for public viewing.
On Remembrance Day (May 4), hundreds participate in the Stille Tocht (Silent Tour) from Museumplein to Dam Square. At 20:00, King Willem will place a wreath at the National Monument and lead the Netherlands in two minutes of silence commemorating fallen soldiers and ongoing peace missions. On Liberation Day (May 5), parties, concerts and the Bevrijdingsfestival on Museumplein will again mark the liberation of Holland from Nazi German occupation.
With longer days and warmer weather, music fans will rock the 5th annual Amsterdam Open Air Festival—a wild summer bash in Gaasperpark, slated for June 6–7, 2015. The collaboration by MTV, Club Air and other names from Amsterdam’s clubbing circuit traditionally reverberates with deep house, dubstep, electro, tech-house and techno music.
July–August: Outdoor concerts and festivals abound, patios spill over with al fresco diners and locals flee to urban beaches for sun, sand and surf. Amsterdam Fashion Week returns, turning canal-side streets into catwalks and local bars into style showcases. The Gay & Lesbian Summer Festival comes back to the Rialto cinema with new films for the LGBT crowd.
At Vondelpark’s Open Air Theatre, dance, cabaret, jazz, children’s theatre, stand-up comedy and music feature at free Friday, Saturday and Sunday programs. In Noord-Amsterdam, Over het Ij brings theater, DJs and eclectic edibles to the summer table in July. Robeco Summer Nights adds performances by the Netherlands Symphony Orchestra, plus pop, jazz and family programs at the Royal Concertgebouw.
Two of Amsterdam’s renowned clubs—Paradiso and AIR—present Milkshake in July: an event that’s as much about respect, freedom and tolerance as it is about music. The summer bash in Westerpark features multiple music stages, hip decor and performance art. Amsterdam Pride kicks off August, bringing LGBT festivities to streets, clubs and canals. On August 1, 2015, the Pride canal parade will conclude a weekend of flamboyant fun.
Classical music aficionados won’t want to miss the Grachtenfestival (Canal Festival), August 14–23, 2015, a 10-day celebration that brings music to canal boats, Golden Age mansions and clubs throughout the city. The annual Prinsengracht Concert concludes the fest with a classical extravaganza on the water. On the last weekend in August, Uitmarkt rings in the cultural season with performances by artists of all ages in venues throughout town.
September–October: As the leaves turn amber and gold, Amsterdammers dive into the cultural season. New shows debut. Visitors come for opera, museums and year-round attractions like nightlife and canal cruises. The Dutch Theatre Festival revisits successful productions while its sister Fringe Festival looks ahead with avant-garde theater, art, comedy and dance.
Nuit Blanche returns in September, bringing underground art fans together for 12 hours of obscure creative experiments and weird fun. In October, the international electronic music scene convenes for Amsterdam Dance Event (ADE), Europe’s leading electronic music conference, meaning 450 events showcasing DJs from around the world over five days of electronic music mania for clubbers.
November-December: Skating rinks and oliebollen stands appear as Dutchies pray for the canals to freeze so they can skate on the icy waterways. Holiday lights decorate bridges and seasonal decorations transform streets. The Amsterdam Light Festival illuminates dark winter days with light sculptures around the city.
On the first Saturday in November, Museum Night (N8 to locals) sheds new light on old masters with after-dark viewing at some 50 repositories of world-class art. Later in the month, the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam (IDFA) treats film fans to the latest arrivals from the documentary film world. In mid-November, Sinterklaas steams into Central Station on his boat from Spain, Zwarte Pieten onboard, re-inspiring rounds of controversy about racial stereotyping.
At Westergasfabriek, Winterparade brings festive spirit to theater, music, dance, film, cartoons and comedy wrapped in a holiday package that includes eating, drinking and making merry. Wereldkerstcircus (World Christmas Circus) continues a two-decade tradition at Royal Theatre Carré showcasing international circus acts with clowns, music, acrobatics and animal capers.
Good little Dutchies receive presents from the beloved Sint on December 5, while their parents and older siblings chide each other with sarcastic poems. Naughty ones are hauled back to Spain for a warm winter. Amsterdam’s holiday season concludes with parties and fireworks throughout town, including an official city display that illuminated the skies over the Oosterdok in 2014, with the VOC ship The Amsterdam and Scheepvaartmuseum forming a historic backdrop. Wherever you are in the city on New Years Eve, you can’t avoid the explosive fun!