Lights, markets and Dutch traditions

Looking for the holiday spirit on a trip to Europe this season? Make your way to the Netherlands and you’ll be delighted with the vast array of festivities, from twinkling lights and holiday markets to unique Dutch traditions.  

Twinkling lights, everywhere 

Wintertime here is always sparkly, no matter what part of the country you’re visiting. Feel the warm glow of the season: see a Christmas light show, from small candlelight processions to larger spectacles such as the Scheveningen Light Walk (a unique nighttime walk near The Hague), the Magical Light Route Maastricht, and Gouda by Candlelight. 

At Utrecht Lumen, admire the city’s beauty while taking in a series of light art on a pleasant three-kilometer walking route. In Zwolle, head to the Nederlands IJsbeelden Festival to see an impressive display of ice sculptures glowing against a wintery backdrop. Of course, the famous Amsterdam Light Festival is always worth a visit. Book a boat trip to see the installations from the world-famous canals. 

Skate your way through towns and cities 

Ice skating is a favorite pastime in the Netherlands. Perhaps no one captured this better than the Dutch painter Hendrick Avercamp (1585-1634); he became famous for portraying people skating on frozen lakes and rivers. If you’re lucky enough to visit when frost descends, you may see one of Avercamp’s wintery scenes in real life. Sadly, this doesn’t happen every year, yet most Dutch people have skates just waiting to be used! If you’re visiting during a particularly cold spell, look to the canals and waterways to see if people have taken to the ice. Many small ice rinks are also set up, often near landmarks or at Christmas markets. Skates are usually available to rent, so if you feel brave, have a go yourself! 

Something very special when the conditions are just right is the Elfstedentocht, an epic 200-kilometer skating event that takes place through Friesland’s 11 cities. Truly a sight to experience when it happens! 

Sample Seasonal Goodies 

A trip to the nearest bakery should be high on your list in the Christmas season. In December, a host of delicious seasonal baked treats return to the menu. For fans of fruit cake, kerststol is a must-try. This sweet bread filled with almond paste is a staple on the Dutch Christmas table. There is also a selection of traditional cookies, including speculaas (spiced cookies) and kerstkransjes (crunchy, lemony cookies in the shape of a Christmas wreath). As New Year’s Eve nears, you will see stalls selling oliebollen – a kind of doughnut traditionally eaten around the turn of the year – pop up on bridges and along canals. Finally, if you lack a sweet tooth, you can always try the well-loved ritual of gourmetten, when friends and families gather around the table to cook their own food on a shared grill plate. Usually, there are bite-sized pieces of meat and vegetables. 

The Netherlands are like a fairy tale during the festive holiday season, and there are countless ways to enjoy it.  

Join locals at a picturesque ice skating rink in Maastricht, the Netherlands
Join locals at a picturesque ice skating rink in Maastricht, the Netherlands ©

Things to consider before traveling

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Some tips to consider while traveling

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