Christmas with the kids: 12 wonderful wintry things to do

Photo: Lumina Park Evoluon

Welcome to the busiest month of the year. Here’s a dozen extra things to do if you’ve got a few slots in your diary that aren’t already filled with holiday parties and family get-togethers.

Get lit up
Light festivals take place across the country in December, with plenty to give the Amsterdam Light Festival – which charges €8 for the route map – a run for its money.

The Beekse Bergen wildlife park is offering visitors a “light safari” with more than 3,000 luminous animals, plants and flowers – every evening until February 25. The iconic Evoluon in Eindhoven is hosting Lumina Park with the theme “Back to the Future”. Running until January 7 from 5 pm, the Evoluon grounds will be illuminated by over 150 light artworks which aim to bring to life the golden years of technological discovery.

Dutch farmers are also getting in on the act, with organised walks along Christmas displays all over the country.

Enjoy the royal treatment
The Royal Christmas Fair in The Hague is one of the country’s biggest and best holiday markets. Continuing now through 23 December, you’ll find it along the Lange Voorhout, a tree-lined avenue in the heart of the city. The stalls typically sell everything from Christmas ornaments to vegan coconut cookies.

You’ll find Christmas markets all over the country, and if you are looking for one with a difference, the Valkenburg market in the marl mines takes some beating.

Photo: Kerststad Valkenburg

A festival of lights
Join chief cantor Chaim Stern as he performs for the first time with the Jewish Amsterdam Chamber Ensemble on Monday, 11 December at the Muziekgebouw in Amsterdam. They’ll be celebrating the fifth night of Chanukah with a selection of classical, religious, folk, and contemporary songs. Will they perform Adam Sandler’s “The Chanukah Song”? Probably not, but they will be serving sufganiyot [jelly doughnuts] and kosher wine.

Winter in Efteling
Regardless of what the thermometer has to say, a snowy winter at the country’s most beloved theme park will continue now through 4 February 2024. Along with all the usual roller coasters and other attractions, visitors can also enjoy Efteling’s open-air ice rink and various wintertime treats, activities, and entertainment.

Grab a cup of hot chocolate and/or a rookworst before nabbing a spot by one of the small bonfires around the park.

Head to the Prom
The Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra and conductor Adam Hickox will whisk their audiences away to a winter wonderland of classical music during three performances at De Doelen on 22, 23, and 24 December. Selections during their Proms: Christmas Classics concerts are set to include Humperdinck’s ‘Hansel and Gretel: Dream Pantomime’ and Tchaikovsky’s ‘The Nutcracker Suite.’

It’s never too late for a seasonal shopping spree
Did your Christmas lights just burn out or have you been thinking about assembling a snowy Bavarian village in the middle of your living room? If so, Intratuin has you covered. This chain of jumbo-sized garden centres fills their showroom floors with a mad array of Christmas decorations every year beginning in October.

Amsterdam with mountains? Photo: Brandon Hartley

Many locations have small merry-go-rounds and robotic animals singing Christmas carols for the kids as well as large holiday displays to show off their astonishing selection of miniature wintertime scenes. Those include everything from pint-sized ski lifts and Christmas-themed hot dog carts to intricate candy cane factories and festive beer halls.  If you go though, be prepared to hear Mariah Carey’s ‘All I Want For Christmas Is You’ no less than three times by the time you make it back to the entrance.

Get spirited away with Totoro and his friends
For many, this is the most wonderful time of the year. For others, eh, not so much. If you’d like bask in a bit of non-denominational childlike wonder, or just watch Princess Mononoke kick ass and strike back at humanity with her loyal legion of wolves, aim for Lab 111 in Amsterdam.

They’re hosting ‘A Winter With Studio Ghibli’ throughout the month of December in honour of Hayao Miyazaki’s final film The Boy and the Heron. The cinemas is set to screen over a dozen films from the renowned Japanese director and his animation studio.

Go for a seasonal stroll in Gouda
The houses and buildings around Gouda’s old market square will once again go dark for the city’s annual candlelight festival. This year it will take place on 15 December and break out an estimated 1,500 candles along with a winter fair, musical performances, and more.

Gouda’s town hall. Photo:

Step back in time and experience what things were like before electric lights lit up the avenues. Gouda’s mayor will also share a Christmas gospel message during the city’s annual tree lighting ceremony in the square.

Make merry in Maastricht
Maastricht’s annual wintertime event continues now through 31 December in the Vrijthof in the city centre. This year it will feature a Ferris wheel, chalets, an ice rink with a recreation of the Sint-Servaasbrug, and more Christmas decorations than you can shake a candy cane at. Visit the website for further details.

Have a cool yule
If you enjoy your holiday events on the rocks, aim for Zwolle. IJsbeelden Festival Zwolle will keep things festive and frosty 16 December through 25 February 2024. Ice sculptors from around the world are gathering to chip away at an estimated 275,000 kilos of ice blocks to turn them into a variety of elaborate artworks.

The theme this year is ‘Mythen en Legenden’ [Myths and Legends] and a few of those sculptures will reach heights of six metres. If you go, be sure to buy your tickets in advance. The popular festival is helping visitors avoid long queues with timeslot admissions this time around.

 Go to a Christmas Eve mass
There are several Christmas Eve masses held in churches and cathedrals around the country. The Basilica of Saint Nicholas, located mere footsteps from Amsterdam Centraal, will have two this year. Those who don’t want to stay up until midnight can attend the first at 8 pm. Others who want the more traditional late night experience should head over there for the second at 10.30 pm.

Tickets are required to attend both and are available at the main desk inside with a suggested donation and a maximum of four for each person. The cathedral will also host additional events on Christmas Day and Boxing Day.

Blast your way into 2024
Ringing in the New Year, Dutch style, often results in your ears ringing. If you haven’t already experienced it in years past, or noticed all the loud booms in your neighbourhood lately, New Year’s Eve around here typically involves lots and lots of fireworks. Efforts have been made in recent years to tone things down in many cities, but bans have done little to curb the annual mayhem.

New Year's Eve fireworks in Rotterdam 2019
New Year fireworks in Rotterdam. Photo: Rool Paap/Flickr

There’s no need to buy your own New Year’s Eve fireworks. There’s a good chance your neighbours will give you hours and hours of ‘free entertainment’ with their own arsenals beginning at dusk. It’s better to spend your hard earned euros on oliebollen and Champagne instead. And if you can face the crowds, Rotterdam has an amazing public display on the Erasmus bridge. Amsterdam, by contrast, is offering electric fireworks on the Museumplein.

Looking for more fun things to do in December including the Dickens Festival in Deventer and the annual Christmas circus at Carré? If so, check out our regular monthly round up of great things to do.

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