(Editor’s note: As of late November, these winter festivals are a go, though COVID-19 infection rates are rising dramatically. But be sure to consult the official rules on the Netherlands’ coronavirus measures page here. The situation, and the rules about when stores and events must close, are changing frequently as we approach the holidays. Terry Boyd also contributed to this post.)
Christmas markets are a tradition of northern Europe, and most large Dutch towns host their own markets (restrictions withstanding). But what else is there on offer in the Netherlands to get you in the festive mood?
The Efteling is the Netherlands largest theme park and holds a special place in Dutch hearts. Located near Tilberg, its woodland setting is perfect for a winter wonderland and offers the opportunity to stay in a hotel or holiday rental on-site. Decorated to instill a festive flutter in even the most Scrooge-like hearts, the Efteling offers warm gluhwein sat around fire pits, rides on many of the attractions for kids big and small and walks through enchanted winter forests. This place is guaranteed to fulfill your festive yearnings!
The Dutch love a good Dickensian Christmas and Deventer offers a walk into 19th century England every year. This year (9 thru 19 December) will see a scaled down version as normally the event attracts thousands of visitors. Nevertheless, a guided walk with audio (unfortunately in Dutch only) will take you back to Dickensian times with Charles Dickens stories and the town decorated in the Victorian style. Deventer organizers hope 2022 will see the event back to its full experience.
Drunen, near Den Bosch, also holds its own Dickens Festival (18-19 December) on a smaller scale, turning back time to 19th century England. Dickensian characters stroll past and the streets are scented with roasting chestnuts and warming punch. Access will require the 21st century CoronaPass.
The White City of Thorn also has a Dickens event during its annual Christmas Market, but the market is cancelled for 2021. You can see a post here in the Dispatches archive … and put it on your calendar for 2022.
This is the 10th year for the light festival, and this year (2 December thru 23 January) celebrates “light” with 20 installations. To see the lights, you can either walk the route with a downloaded app, complete with route and artist info, or take a cruise with many of the boat companies. The cruises will require the EU Green Pass certifying you’ve been vaccinated.
Designer Christmas Market, Amsterdam
The Museumplein area, where the Rijksmuseum and other museums are located, hosts a designer market every month and the December market is a great place to buy some original gifts. The next two markets are 21 November 21 and 12 December. Both are subject to changes due to Covid restrictions.
Christmas Market Amsterdam
This is Amsterdam’s quirky Ice*Village on Museumplein and includes a skating rink when you get tired of eating fabulous pork belly, drinking craft beers and shopping for hipster jewelry and stuff. This year, it runs from 15 December thru 26 December and is open from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.
We went a couple of years ago and really enjoyed it. But if you’re expecting a German-style mega-market, this ain’t it. It’s small and crowded and fun.
Hortus Botanicus, Amsterdam
If you want to remind yourself that spring is just around the corner during the festive season then the Botanical Gardens in Amsterdam offer such an opportunity (22 December thru 9 January). The gardens are bedecked with sparkling lights and the greenhouses floodlit for your walk around the grounds.
De Lumineuze Nachten at Kasteel De Haar, Utrecht
The De Haar Castle is the largest castle in the Netherlands and was beautifully restored by the architect Cuypers (Amsterdam Station, Rijksmuseum) in the late 19th century. For the price of an 18 euro ticket (17 December thru 9 January) you can wander the illuminated grounds of the castle and be charmed by the seasonal magic, and for a little extra you can visit the castle for a tour before the illuminations begin.
Maastricht is one of the most charming towns in the Netherlands, with ancient architecture, quaint streets and cozy quarters everywhere you venture. So Christmas here is especially lovely here. Maastricht also has the largest Christmas market in the Netherlands, a collection of rides and booths in the Vrijthof square.
The fair is free, but bring your chip card for the treats.
Photographer/writer Jackie Harding was born in the United Kingdom. As a long-time expat, she lived in Boston for 12 years and in the Netherlands for the past 10 years.
Trained as a nurse in the U.K., she worked for nine years in the United States as a special education teacher’s assistant. Since moving to the Netherlands, she has discovered writing and photography.
Contributing to Dispatches since 2016, Jackie has written about her travels around Europe as well as about expat life and issues.
She also covered the Women’s March Amsterdam.
She’s married to British businessman Martin Harding and is the mother of two international adult children.