Amsterdam is a fascinating destination for a city break at any time of the year and a great choice if shopping is high on the agenda. With a vast array of markets ranging from artisan to antiques, interspersed with modern, high-end boutiques, it’s the perfect place to stock up on unusual gifts, especially for those friends and relatives who are notoriously hard to buy for. In the run up to Christmas, this already magical city embraces the winter season with a truly festive spirit, as ice rinks, lavishly decorated giant fir trees, seasonal stalls aplenty and a buzz of excitement light up the city with celebratory cheer. Amsterdam’s festivities start mid-November when the iconic Bijenkorf centre switches its lights on. Then, take your pick from a number of seasonal shopping hubs, located both inside and just outside of the city’s canal belt.
Ice Village, Museumplein, 20-30 December
For 10 days in December, Amsterdam’s Museumplein becomes a winter wonderland, complete with an ice rink, live entertainment, market stalls and plenty of festive treats and mulled wine to keep the chills at bay. If you weren’t in the Christmas spirit before visiting, you surely will be when you leave.
Funky Xmas Market, 16 December
Every Sunday, designers and artists tout their wares at the Westergasfabriek. However, on the 16 December, things will take on a seasonal twist. This is the place in Amsterdam to pick up truly unique handmade gifts and artwork.
Rembrandtplein – open daily, November to January
The site of another ice rink, Rembrandtplein is a good spot for local delicacies, with pop up restaurants dishing out tasty olibollen (speciality dumplings), waffles and sausages. A classic Dutch winter experience, the rink is open from mid-November while the stalls and decorations stay put here until 6 January.
Flower Market, open daily
The flower market, centrally sited along one of Amsterdam’s prettiest canals, sells Christmas trees of all shapes and sizes throughout December and it’s a pleasure to stroll through the cobbled streets, taking in the aroma of fresh pine. This area is also home to the city’s famous Christmas Palace, which is open all year round, selling a range of festive trinkets. The merchandise may be of questionable quality, but anyone who loves Christmas will be in their element here.
Castle Christmas Fair, Heemskerk,7-10 December
Located around half an hour outside the city is the Castle Christmas Fair in Heemskerk, which is worth the trip just to behold the sight of the illuminated fortress setting. You can join in a range of workshops and enjoy browsing quaint market stalls which specialise in handmade goods.
Haarlem Christmas Market, 8-9 December
A little further afield but an easy ride away is one of the Netherlands’ most iconic Christmas markets at Haarlem, now in its 25th year. Three hundred festive Christmas stalls pitch their wares in and around Grote Markt square and the surrounding streets. With fewer tourists venturing this way, it has a more traditional and authentic feel. The atmosphere is instantly uplifting, with several choir performances taking place in stunning, historic locations, including the town hall.
If you fancy a break from all things festive, then you can always retreat to the luxury enclave of De Bijenkorf, a premium shopping centre which houses a range of designer outlets. From established brands through to the up-and-coming, this is the perfect place to browse in comfort for clothes, shoes, accessories, cosmetics and beautiful items for the home.
Amsterdam Light Festival
From the end of November through to mid-January, a number of illuminated art installations add an alluring touch of sparkle to Amsterdam’s romantic canal district. The best way to appreciate the artwork is from the comfort of a boat – the perfect way to unwind after an afternoon of shopping. Cruises depart from various points around the city.
Dine and recline
If you haven’t filled up on dumplings and waffles from the markets, then Amsterdam’s culinary scene is well worth exploring. Tucked away in the Red Light District is the reassuringly salubrious Bord’Eau, which boasts three Michelin stars. Enjoy beautiful views of the Amstel canal, impeccable service and inventive presentation at this gastronomic institution.
The Dylan is my personal favourite of Amsterdam’s many beautiful hotels. Built on the site of a 17th century theatre, the ever-accommodating staff will take you through the hotel’s winding staircases to one of the 40 gorgeous rooms and suites, each individually designed while retaining their historic character.
The Waldorf Astoria is another excellent choice. Set across six 17th century canal side palaces, guests can enjoy a number of luxuries, including the grand staircase designed by Louis XIV’s architect, Daniel Marot, and a range of 18th century art in the Maurer dining room. Each guest is assigned a personal concierge and access to private museum tours and theatre tickets.