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