Amsterdam: 5 tips to navigate the city when temperatures drop

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Amsterdam Winter
Winter in Amsterdam can bring peaceful streets and a few challenges. Photo: Ksenia Novikova

Winter is officially here, and that means Holland can get hit with a heavy punch of ice and snow that means slick city streets and challenging travel situations. Amsterdam was built for chilly weather, but it is not entirely foolproof. If you’re headed to Amsterdam for a Winter Wonderland, here are some tips to keep in mind:

Winter biking is not for tourists

Amsterdammers are glued to their bikes. Come rain or snow, the Dutch will push pedals through the worst of weather. It’s impressive, it’s admirable…BUT it’s not for first timers! Not all of the snowy bike paths in Amsterdam are shoveled, and at night they can turn into ice sheets with just a few inches of wiggle room for bikes. In winter conditions, walking might be the better way to get around for new visitors to the city.

Leave the biking to the local experts who know how to handle the slick streets. Photo: Marc Van Woudenberg

Leave the biking to the local experts like these two who know how to handle the slick streets. Photo: Marc Van Woudenberg

Seriously, be careful on a bike

Just like a car in harsh winter conditions, bike brakes freeze, bells break, locks bust, and chains snap. Unless you’re geared up like the locals and prepared for winter biking, the slightest turn can send you sailing down to the ground faster than your head can register the fall. By day you’ll deal with dirty slush up to your knees, while night time can bring a thick layer of ice suitable only for skaters. Gravity always wins, so instead of dropping like a wet snowball, you probably want to opt for walking.

Canal Bridge in Amsterdam

Be careful on canal bridges that can get very slippery during winter. Photo: Stijn Nieuwendijk

Slow and steady on canal bridges

Much of the downtown walkways are shoveled, but sidewalks can be at their slickest on the canal bridges. These bridges might be classic Amsterdam icons, but when winter comes, they present a challenge. You might even see a police officer stationed at a corner, ready to assist when someone takes a tumble. Make sure to take your time and walk heavy-footed over bridges. Still not sure? Stay close to the rails, and slowly scoot your feet across black ice patches. Those on two wheels should walk their bike (although you really shouldn’t be on one!).

Be ready for delays on national trains…

Dutch rail services are notoriously known to freeze up when snow hits train tracks. Delays are a given, and they can range from ten minutes to ten hours. And although everyone agrees how frustrating this can be in the modern world, at least it’s also totally acceptable to complain about it to any fellow stranded strangers. If you’re lucky, the station you’re stuck at will be giving away free coffee and tea at the kiosks to make up for it. Time to make some new friends.

Amsterdam Tram in Winter

Trams do run during snow storns, but don’t expect on-time performance. Photo: Bauke Karel

…And on city trams

City trams aren’t much better with keeping to a schedule. In fact, forget any timetable posted at a tram stop when there’s snow. Do as the transportation does—show up when you can. And get ready for a tight squeeze when the tram arrives…you’ll be joining the moms with strollers and city seniors who are trying to avoid walking on ice.

About the author

About the author: Audrey Sykes hopped across the pond from the US eight years ago for a Masters degree in global journalism. Since then, she’s lived all over Europe, reporting and editing for music sites, snowboard mags, and travel media. She’s also the Amsterdam author for Party Earth, a guide to nightlife across Europe.

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One thought on “Amsterdam: 5 tips to navigate the city when temperatures drop”

  1. In my experience the best way to get around in Amsterdam, both in summer and winter is by foot or trams. Biking is not for tourists – not even in the summer. The locals are so touchy when it comes to all there (un)written rules about biking. I lave Amsterdam but have will never rent a bike there anymore.


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