Just like many European capitals, Amsterdam has a bustling tourism industry. The city’s charming look, rich history, and unique “recreational” activities are a magnet for visitors everywhere.
Whether you’re planning to visit tulip season, or are just looking for the best deals, here are some tips on when to go.
Amsterdam in winter. Photo © EuroCheapo.com
Best season for weather and tourist activities
Northern Europe is known to be wet, grey and a bit chilly eight months out of the year. This includes Amsterdam, but our winds keep the weather interesting and unpredictable. Bottom line: Always come prepared with layers and a light rain jacket.
Tulip season runs from about mid March to early May, and marks the beginning of tourist season. April is an ideal time: flowers, medium tourist traffic, and a high chance of good weather. However, make sure to scoot out by Queen’s Day weekend if you want to avoid large crowds and a spike in hotel prices.
The weather during the summer is a mixed bag. Short spurts of heavy rain mix with heat, humidity and sunshine. Locals feel it’s their duty to enjoy as many outdoor days as possible, meaning the city is alive, outside. The parks, beaches, canals and cafes are brimming with relaxing Amsterdammers basking in the sun. It’s a great time for long bicycle rides along Holland’s green countryside, camping in the sand dunes, and the overall attitude in the Netherlands is very “vay-cay”.
But summer is peak tourist season in this tiny Dutch capital. By the end of May, be ready to wait in long lines for top attractions, shuffle about in a congested downtown, and pay too much for too little with accommodation. (Of course, we can still help you find a budget hotel, even during the summer!) Still, if you’ve covered the basics in Amsterdam before, then summer could prove easy going.
Best season for low rates, more locals, and fewer tourists
Spring and summer might be delightful, but they're not easy on the wallet. True budget travelers know that the city is more easily afforded, and experienced more like a local, during the "off season."
My personal pick for an Amsterdam trip would be fall, from late September to late October. As the days grown shorter, autumn leaves drift silently, streets become peaceful, and even the canals calm down. Prices, tourism, and temps have dropped, and it’s the best time to experience cozy cafes, free museums, and small, local happenings.
It’s also the time of hearty local and seasonal cuisines like stamppot and pea soup. Bok bier, a seasonal autumn ale that local brewers pride themselves in creating, also hits the spot. Nightlife and entertainment is generally still alive, pulling in the local and international city dwellers instead of the tourists.
Airfares are at their absolute lowest in November and February, because the weather is dismal and dreary. Still, this city was built for making the most out of a crabby climate, and snowy nights blanket the city with an extra romantic charm. Temperatures stay bearable for outdoor strolls until around November, when the coldest months set in until late February.
But these are the cheapest times to hit Amsterdam. This includes sleeping, as the city's hotel rates drop noticeably during the winter.
If canals freeze over it will happen in early February, and locals will be gliding on ice skates all over the country. The sun is more frequent now, but a harsh cold still lives. (Pack sweaters.) Again, if you’re a returning visitor to Amsterdam, and like the indoors, winter could be your prime time.
Dates to avoid
If you'd rather avoid crowds and high prices on airfare and hotels, you're best off avoiding Amsterdam during a few key dates. Of course, these can be amazing experiences, as well. Just know that you won't be alone!
Queen’s Day and Liberation Day (late April-early May)
The last weekend of April to first weekend of May, and the dates in between, encompass the biggest party week in Amsterdam, celebrating her majesty on Queen’s Day, and the end of WWII on Liberation Day (not to mention a whole lot of soccer tournaments).
Festivals are inescapable, the city is covered with Dutch orange paraphernalia, and the streets are buzzing with activity. Locals seem to leave the hooplah for the 3 million+ who flock in from out of town. Prices soar. Still, it's a hands down fun time and memorable cultural experience!
During the month of August, Amsterdam is just too crammed with tourists and impossible to find deals. Guided tours fill the downtown with swells of crowds, and getting around comfortably is nearly impossible by foot, bike, and tram. You’ll spend ages waiting to see Anne Frank Huis and the Van Gogh museum, while all the good local bars and restaurants will be closed, as the Dutch take August off... all of it.
Unless you love dodging fireworks and paying up the wazoo for a night out, skip Amsterdam for New Years. It’s cold, it’s disorganized, and it’s full of people lighting off anything and everything that sparks and flies. Clubs double their prices, so why pay a lot for staying inside a venue that looks similar to all the others?
A big group of friends could do the trick, but be sure to plan you special night months in advance.
About the author: Audrey Sykes is EuroCheapo's Amsterdam-based correspondent. She also inspects and reviews budget hotels in Amsterdam for EuroCheapo.