Lighting Up in Amsterdam: It’s Christmas Time!

For decades, Amsterdam has attracted visitors who want to experience lighting up in a way they can’t light up at home. But there’s another draw in winter, when streets, buildings, bridges, canals and monuments in the Dutch capital are illuminated during the year’s darkest season.

Oliebollen stands are the first harbinger of Amsterdam’s holiday season.

Despite cold, wet, short days (or maybe because of them), Dutchies ramp up the gezelligheid (coziness) in December, when it’s dark before 17:00 and the sun doesn’t shine again until around 9:00 the next morning. At dusk, twinkly lights begin shining, adding sparkly cheer to city streets. Pop-up stands sell oliebollen (“oil balls”)warm, donut-like sweets topped with powdered sugar or flecked with apples and raisins. And ice rinks sprout up in city squares, tempting tourists to stumble around on rental skates and locals to show off, hoping to race on frozen canals as temps drop in January.

Museumplein becomes a winter wonderland at year-end.
Museumplein becomes a winter wonderland at year-end.

As in most countries, Holland’s year-end holidays are wrapped in traditions. Some of the most anticipated—involving light—include these:

Shopping streets sparkle with holiday cheer in winter.
Shopping streets sparkle with holiday cheer in winter.

Turn on the Lights!

A giant Christmas tree presides over Dam Square during the winter holidays.

De Bijenkorf, Amsterdam’s luxury department store, traditionally launches the holiday season with a light show in mid-November, culminating when 600,000 glistening LED lights are turned on. The dazzling facade of the building complements a massive Christmas tree in Dam Square. Elsewhere in town, shopping streets like Haarlemmerstraat, Leidsestraat, Kalverstraat, posh P.C. Hoofstraat, the Spiegelkwartier and the Negen Straatjes all twinkle with holiday lights and window displays. Street musicians, church carillons and roving carolers add to seasonal cheer in the days approaching Kerst (Christmas).

The Amsterdam Light Festival

Shimmering sculptures illuminate the night sky during the Amsterdam Light Festival.

For 50+ days, Amsterdam’s historic center and Plantage neighborhood again transform into a spectacle of light this winter. Themed “A Bright City,” the third edition of the Amsterdam Light Festival includes a canal cruise option and walking route, both showcasing high-tech, energy-smart light sculptures, projections and installations by contemporary artists from around the world. All installations highlight Amsterdam’s charm with light and water as connecting elements.

The boat route, Water Colors, winds past artworks along the canals and Amstel River. The walking route, Illuminade, traces a route through city center. Throughout the festival, light-related activities at museums and other venues will introduce visitors to light art innovations. In tandem with the light sculptures, they demonstrate how Dutchies are leading the way in an LED revolution in the light industry that will translate into future energy savings.

Catch the Amsterdam Light Festival after dark, through January 18, 2015.

The Amsterdam Light Festival is a joint venture of the city of Amsterdam and numerous cultural, educational and business entities. See it after dark, through January 18, 2015.


The Other Side of Light

The Other Side of Light is the theme of this year’s 10th Annual Art in Redlight fair, showcasing the work of 150+ artists. From December 27–30, the multidisciplinary arts festival will take place at Amsterdam’s Beurs van Berlage, where you can join some 10,000 art aficionados, collectors and experts eager to discover the next Rembrandt.

Skaters take to the ice on Leidseplein.
Skaters take to the ice on Leidseplein.

Ring In The New

The skies over Amsterdam will explode with light and color long before midnight on Oud en Nieuw (Old and New), which is how Dutchies refer to New Year’s Eve. Amsterdammers party hard at venues throughout the city on the last night of the year. Indeed, almost every café, bar and club hosts New Year’s Eve parties. Find dance parties, costume gigs and family events at iAmsterdam’s NYE 2014/15. But there’s no need to pop for an overpriced shindig. Late December is the only time fireworks sales are permitted in Holland, so stock up and set them off with the rest of the city on December 31st.

It’s FREE to join the public Oud en Nieuw celebration at the Oosterdok, where thousands will usher in 2015 at a midnight fireworks extravaganza. Throughout the evening, party animals will celebrate on Rembrandtplein, Nieuwmarkt, Leidseplein and Dam Square, where tents of beer and live shows have appeared in past years. Prettige Feestdagen!


  1. WoW💜 That’s a Great information about the festival👌 Miss. Melissa. You just increased my curiosity greatly about Amsterdam. 6,00,000 LED lights turned on by only one departmental store!!!! I can imagine the rest of the city🎆🎇 Thanks for the information about “Oed en Nieuw”, I won’t miss it. Actually I have small confusion that whether to visit the city or not for 2015 New Year Eve😏 But you made me to decided to visit the Am*dam for sure through your blog🙏 That’s really a Great information and good way of description. I literally fell in Love with Amsterdam😘 I am packing my bag and will me there by 31st evening🚢 Can’t wait more to see the Light Festival of Am*dam🚦
    …………………I am coming AM*DAM🚁

  2. Melissa’s perspective and information are fascinating! I was curious about the light festival, and this post answers all of my questions. My sister and I are traveling through Holland and we ran into a very friendly family at a Trappist monastery today. They mentioned some things to do in Amsterdam, especially the light festival. It was difficult to understand the details of it due to the language barrier. Melissa’s collection of information and advice has sold us on the experience for sure!

  3. This information is incredible! I have never been to the area and this explained things with immense clarity. Also as one who doesn’t know the language, the translations and clarifications were immensely appreciated. An avid traveler and explorer, I look forward to reading more from you Melissa!

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