A guide to Dutch winter events
Our guide to Dutch winter events includes Christmas markets and seasonal events such as Gouda by Candlelight, Dickens Festival and Magical Maastricht.
Use our guide to add sparkle to your Christmas in the Netherlands.
Gouda by Candlelight
The second Tuesday in December sees the annual lighting of the candles in Gouda (South Holland) known as Gouda bij Kaarslicht ('Gouda by Candlelight'). This magical celebration takes place in the medieval town of Gouda, a short train ride from Amsterdam or The Hague. (We strongly recommend that you go by train, as the centre of town is closed to traffic that day.)
Literally thousands of candles will be lit in one breathtaking instant as the main square (Markt) lights up for Christmas. It's not hard to imagine that you're in the 16th century as the lights are first completely extinguished around the square, and then the darkness is driven back by no less than 1,500 candles in the City Hall (Stadhuis) with thousands more glowing throughout the town. The gorgeous stained-glass windows of the nearby St Janskerk are also specially illuminated for the event and a concert is given there.
The all-day event features a full schedule of activities for the entire family – including a typical Christmas market on the Wilhelminastraat – and runs from 10.00 to 22.00, with the candle and Christmas tree lighting ceremonies beginning around 19.00. See www.goudabijkunstlicht.nl (in Dutch) for a complete schedule and details.
The Winter Efteling
The Winter Efteling offers visitors a phantasmagorical winter atmosphere in this celebrated almost-60-year-old theme park. Fairytale lighting, a covered ice skating rink with cosy ski hut, a 385-metre langlauf slide, crackling campfires, extra entertainment and fun for all. See www.efteling.com.
In Deventer (Overijsel) the 19th century English city of Charles Dickens will be revived in full glory during the Dickens Festijn held for the 19th consecutive year. In the historical Bergkwartier, some 750 characters from the celebrated books of this English writer will come to life on Saturday 17 and Sunday 19 December. Costumed towns people portray them all, from Scrooge to Oliver Twist, Fagin, David Copperfield and Uriah Heap, to the distinguished Mr Samuel Pickwick and Miss Havisham. Even Queen Victoria attends, along with the Christmas Carol Singers, orphan children, drunkards, office clerks and distinguished citizens.
The Dickens Festival is visited each year by more than 100,000 visitors. Access is free. The festival takes place in the picturesque living and shop streets in the city centre. The stores, cafés and galleries are open with delicacies in abundance, from fragrant English punch to roasted chestnuts and freshly baked waffles. Thousands of small lights and Christmas trees as high as the houses, along with the atmosphere in the shops and the antics of the characters form the nostalgic Dickens setting. There is also a Christmas market on the de Brink square on 17 and 18 December with around 200 stands as well as a Christmas market in the Grote of Lebuïnuskerk from Thursday, 15 till Saturday, 17 December. See www.dickensfestijn.nl.
Christmas in Palace Het Loo (“Kerst op Het Loo”)
From 17 December through 8 January, the Royal Palace Het Loo in Apeldoorn (Gelderland) will celebrate three centuries of Christmas with the 'Oranjes', the Royal family. The entire palace is beautifully decorated with garlands, greens and flowering plants from the palace's Orangerie greenhouses. Victorian Christmas trees are decorated with ornaments formerly belonging to Queen Wilhelmina and Prince Hendrik; other trees feature themes and antiques. The lavish tables are decked out in authentic style with beautiful damask, gleaming, crystal, polished silver candelabras and colourful fruit. This annual event draws many curious visitors. See www.paleishetloo.nl.
Mirakels Kerstland Brederode
An ideal family day out complete with big wheel, Santa sleigh rides, kids’ activities and covered Christmas market stalls in the picturesque setting of Brederode ruins. An easy train ride from Amsterdam; Mirakels Brederode is only a ten-minute walk from train station Sandpoort Zuid. You only need to pay entry once—EUR 2.50 for children (children of 2 and under are free) and EUR 7.50 for adults, and if you hang onto the tokens, you can use them throughout the running of the event, daily from 10:00 – 22:00 from 6 up until 19 December and on the alst day, 20 December, the Fair closes at 16:00 . The website at www.mirakels.eu hasn't been updated for 2011 but you can find the programme here. Read Expatica's review.
Markets and music
During December you will find various Christmas markets throughout the country. For listings, see
Shopping in the Velvet Cave of Valkenburg with fairytale décor and seasonal music (from 18 November to 23 December) and a visit to the covered and heated Winter Wonderland on the market square in Maastricht (Limburg) (from 28 November to 3 January) are both fun for shoppers. See www.kasteelvalkenburg.nl.
Midwinterhoornblazen, the traditional sounding of the midwinter horns, takes place from 28 November till 6 January in Denekamp, Ootmarsum, with its 18th century wood. The two metre long horns have five notes that carry far and wide. Horn-blowing takes place from the first Sunday in Advent to Epiphany.
Christmas concerts are performed in many churches and special event concerts also take place in many cities. Check with the local VVV's for listings.
Magical Maastricht (formerly Winterland)
The city centre of Maastricht is a delight for shoppers and once again will be transformed into a magical Christmas shopping village with beautiful lighting throughout the historic shopping streets and shop windows. From 2 December - 8 January 2012, the Vrijthof Square will again be transformed into a Winter Paradise: Magical Maastricht, with a great many attractions, including a large skating rink, a big wheel, and a variety of interesting Christmas stands. You can download an informative brochure in several languages including English from www.vvv-maastricht.eu/winter.html
Ice-skating in the Netherlands
Our guide to skating in the Netherlands introduces you to the world of skating Dutch style and shows you where to go to get your blades on ice!
Here's Holland/ Expatica
Part of this article is excerpted in part from Here's Holland – "Simply the best all-in-one guide to travel and life in Holland." By Sheila Gazaleh-Weevers, Shirley Agudo and Connie Moser. Available in bookshops and via www.heresholland.com.
Updated November 2011 by Teodora Todorova/Expatica
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