Autumn is “shoulder season,” when backpackers return to school, summer vacationers return home, and locals reclaim their towns before winter’s chill descends. In Amsterdam, leaves on tree-lined canals turn from green to gold and rust before disappearing by November. Days gradually shorten, seasonal decorations appear, and Dutchies compensate for colder, rainier days by ramping up the gezelligheid in bars and cafés.
To make the most of fewer crowds, lower airfares and shorter lines at major attractions in the months when the weather is still pleasant, here are a dozen awesome Amsterdam activities to enjoy in autumn:
1. Get lost in the Grachtengordel. Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2010, Amsterdam’s Canal Ring is a free, outdoor museum. Its four main arteries—the Singel, Herengracht, Kiezersgracht and Prinsengracht—are lined with 17th century canal houses, historic landmarks, unique boutiques and waterfront cafés. On a chilly fall day, nothing beats getting lost in the historic semicircle and ducking in for apple pie and hot chocolate at Papeneiland, on Brouwersgracht and Prinsengracht, where 19th century locals consumed the same fare.
2. Party hard at Amsterdam Dance Event (ADE). One of the world’s biggest electronic music extravaganzas, featuring 2,000 artists and 450 events in 100 venues, celebrates its 20th anniversary in Amsterdam, from October 14–18, 2015. For five days, top DJs from around the world will spin tunes at venues like Paradiso, Melweg, Trouw, AIR and Sugar Factory, as well as on rooftop terraces and at museums, clothing shops and cinemas.
3. Indulge in Chocolate Decadence. On October 24, a chocolate-inspired dinner will launch Amsterdam’s Origin Chocolate Event with a main course by Chef Chris Naylor of Michelin star restaurant Vermeer. Purchase tickets online until October 19 for the dinner and/or October 25 tasting event, which will showcase chocolate made of the finest quality cocoa from specific regions. Sample offerings from 14 top patissiers and cocoa gurus in the city with the largest cocoa port in the world.
4. Drink Herfstbok Bokbier. Available from October–February, Bock Beer is a ruby red brew with a warm, caramel flavor—perfect for autumn. While several Dutch breweries produce it, Amstel Bokbier is considered among the best. True aficionados won’t want to miss the PINT Bokbierfestival in the historic Beurs van Berlage building near Dam Square. From October 24–26, sample over 50 varieties of bock beer accompanied by live music at this annual beer festival.
5. Eat Oliebollen. Spaniards have churros, Belgians have waffles, and Dutchies have oliebollen—deep fried balls of dough flecked with raisins, similar to American donuts. By mid-October, they’re sold at mobile stands throughout Amsterdam. Poffertjes are a yummy variation.
6. Hear London Calling. From October 31–November 1, new bands from Britain and America will perform at this annual production. On the Paradiso stage, see newcomers Wild Smiles from the UK and DMAs from Australia, both named new talents of 2014.
7. Spend the night in a museum. On Museumnacht, November 1, 50 Amsterdam museums will welcome evening visitors for art, music, fashion and film events, alongside their regular exhibitions. At The Hermitage Amsterdam’s lavish 5th anniversary exhibit, Dining with the Tsars, view porcelain and creamware services from the Hermitage in St Petersburg in a setting reminiscent of the Tsar’s court. Until January 2015, the Rijksmuseum presents its collection of 20th century photography. On November 28, the Van Gogh Museum will unveil its revamped collection in the spectacular setting opened last year.
8. See a movie. When the weather’s wet, indoor cinematic action is just the ticket. From November 19–30, find some at the 27th annual International Documentary Film Festival (IDFA), when filmmakers from around the globe descend on Amsterdam for some 250 screenings, film discussions and public debates. Venues on and around the Rembrandtplein include the gorgeous Art-Deco Pathé Tuschinski and Pathé de Munt.
9. Embrace High Times. On Thanksgiving weekend, November 23–27, High Times returns to Amsterdam to host the 27th Cannabis Cup. At the five-day fest, attendees can vote for their favorite strain and sample product that’s somewhat more stimulating than turkey.
10. Play Drag Queen Bingo. Every Tuesday evening, local drag queens play bingo at The Queen’s Head, a gay bar on the Zeedijk. Highly amusing no matter what your sexual orientation.
11. Swim in your birthday suit. It’s cold outside, but that won’t bother you at Zuiderbad, an indoor swimming pool near Museumplein that allows nude swimming on Sunday afternoons. Constructed in 1897, the building is now a national monument, and you’ll see why if you visit. Nude swimming in more modern surroundings is offered Tuesday evenings at Het Marnix in the Jordaan.
12. Welcome Sinterklaas. On Sunday, November 16, Sinterklaas (the Dutch Saint Nicholas) will steam into Amsterdam from Spain with his band of helpers, the Zwarte Pieten (Black Petes). After transferring to Amerigo, his white horse, the beloved Sint & Co. will parade through town, tossing pepernoten to expectant children. The merry band will stay in the Netherlands until December 5, when they’ll distribute goodies to good Dutchies and haul naughty ones back to Spain for a warm winter.