10 Fun Things to Do from September–November in the Dutch capital
Autumn is an awesome time to visit Amsterdam. The tourist onslaught has thinned, airfares have dropped since summer, and lines at landmarks and popular attractions are shorter than in spring, summer or the year-end holidays. The cultural season is well underway and locals are starting to reclaim the town before winter’s chill descends.
As temperatures begin to drop in late September, the leaves of 400,000+ trees turn from lime green to vibrant shades of gold, orange and rust. By late November, a crunchy carpet of fallen leaves replaces summer’s lush foliage. Eighteen hours of daylight gradually shrinks to less than nine, with dusk by 5pm at the end of November.
But bare trees and short days do nothing to mar the gezelligheid of Amsterdam in autumn. Temps that typically hover in the low-teens (low-50s Fahrenheit) means it’s hat and down-jacket weather, but you can usually spare the mittens until December. To compensate for gray, rainy days, Dutchies ramp up the coziness in bars and cafés. Holiday lights appear on streets and bridges, and cinnamon aromas waft from pop-up stands selling olieballen—seasonal treats reminiscent of fried donuts, but without the hole.
Autumn is also cultural season in Amsterdam, when new programs debut at world-renowned concert halls and theaters, as well as smaller, more intimate venues. Musicians return to the circuit with new gigs, museums host major exhibitions, and cooler temps lure both tourists and locals indoors to absorb some culture. All of Amsterdam anticipates Sinterklaas’ arrival in November. The Dutch St. Nicholas chugs into town on his steamship from Spain with his controversial Zwaarte Pieten helpers on board, ushering in the end-of-year holiday season.
To make the most of the season, here are 10 fun things to do in Amsterdam from September through November:
- Find Your Funk at the Amsterdam Fringe Festival. The wild child of the more serious Dutch Theatre Festival showcases avant-garde drama, dance and musical theater by Dutch and international artists at venues throughout Amsterdam. Over 11 days in September, the quirky festival brings an eclectic array of experimental theater, music, monologues, cabaret, and visual poetry to town. About half of the unorthodox productions pose no problem for non-Dutch speakers.
2. Get High on Cinema at the On the Roof Film Festival. The top of the VU University Amsterdam is the setting for this high-flying September film festival that mixes cinematic favorites with panoramic city views. The university’s roof opens at 5pm for filmgoers who want to add dinner and drinks to the equation. An introductory talk (in Dutch) typically precedes films that screen at 9pm. Close to the date, check the website for tickets and movies.
Dive into Dutch Heritage Days. On the second weekend in September, nearly every Dutch monument in the Netherlands is open to the public, free of charge, for Heritage Days. Formerly called “Open Monument Days,” the annual event provides historical context through the architecture and interiors of significant Amsterdam buildings and monuments. A range of special activities includes exhibitions, music programs, walks, boat and cycling tours, and lectures for history buffs of all ages.
4. Run (or watch) the TCS Amsterdam Marathon. Even for non-runners, the excitement of joining 45,000+ racers and supporters from some 120 countries, is contagious. The TCS Amsterdam Marathon offers five race options on the third Sunday in October, all with flat, scenic courses that begin at Amsterdam’s Olympic Stadium, where the Olympic flame was lit for the first time in 1928. The marathon course leads through the famous Rijksmuseum passage, along the Amstel River, and through Vondelpark. There’s also a half-marathon, 8K run, kids’ run, and mini-marathon.
5. Party Hard at Amsterdam Dance Event (ADE). One of the world’s biggest electronic music extravaganzas features 2,500 artists performing in 140 of Amsterdam’s finest music and nightlife spaces. For five days, top DJs from around the world spin tunes at renowned music venues, as well as on rooftop terraces and at museums, clothing shops and cinemas. Day programs are geared for music professionals, aspiring DJs and musicians, and marketing managers, with art, film, gear, live music, photography and technology events throughout Amsterdam.
6. Hear London Calling. New bands from Britain and America perform at the fall edition of this annual weekend festival that’s been launching musical careers since 1992. The two-day event is hosted by Paradiso, a former 19th-century church that’s now one of Amsterdam’s top music and nightlife venues.
7. See Art After Dark. On the first Saturday of November, 50+ Amsterdam museums and cultural institutions open their doors from 7pm to 2am for Museumnacht. Since 2000, the annual event hosted by N8 (Museum Night Amsterdam Foundation) has given art lovers a chance to see their favorite Dutch masterpieces in a new light—after dark. Live music, DJs, dance, film, fashion, theater and special tours add to the viewing experience. Along with entry to multiple museums, a Museum Night ticket offers a discount on after-parties and a free repeat visit in one of the participating museums (with a few exceptions) through the end of the year. Geared for a young, local crowd, the event typically sells out before November.
8. Kick-off the Holidays. Turn on the Lights, a lighting ceremony in Dam Square, launches Amsterdam’s year-end holidays in earnest. Presented in mid-November by de Bijenkorf, the free event kicks off at 7pm with a festive show. It culminates with the illumination of 600,000 energy-efficient LED lights on the façade of the luxury department store, followed by fireworks in the night sky. For those eager to get a jump on holiday shopping or to enjoy a post-fireworks meal or snack, the upscale store is open late, after the event. On the opposite side of Dam Square, a giant Christmas tree lights up in early December.
9. See the Light. From late November through mid-January, the Amsterdam Light Festival puts the city and its canals in the limelight with unique light sculptures, switched on daily from 5–11pm. Since 2012, the annual festival has showcased the installations on a self-guided walking tour, as well as numerous boat tours that allow visitors to see them from the water. Special exhibitions, concerts and film screenings bring context to the light-art. Throughout the festival, Dutch railways (NS) offers a 20% discount on a daily return ticket from any station in the Netherlands to Amsterdam Central.
10. Welcome Sinterklaas. In mid-November, Sinterklaas steams 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. parade through town, tossing pepernoten to expectant children. The merry band remains in the Netherlands until December 5 (Sinterklaasavond), when they distribute goodies to good Dutchies and haul naughty ones back to Spain for a warm winter.