Edition 30 November 2017, by Juan Álvarez Umbarila
Winter has begun. Warm, bright days are now far behind us. In addition to cold temperatures and little sunlight, Dutch winter also features a windy, foggy, rainy landscape. Yet at the same time the season evokes cozy sentiments and offers opportunities for special, season-unique experiences, which are indeed rich and abundant in The Netherlands. Dutch winter events for the 2017-2018 season are plentiful. At The Holland Times We have curated a small selection of major events taking place throughout the country, with a diverse range of activities for discovering, exploring, and sharing with loved ones.
Far south from the Randstand, in the Limburg Province, stands the town of Valkenburg. Popular as a touristic destination since the 19th century, this picturesque location is transformed between November 17th and January 7th into the “Christmas town of The Netherlands.” Its main attractions are the world-famous underground Christmas markets, including the largest and most visited in Europe, and the Christmas parades held every Wednesday and Saturday. This green, hilly town creates a fantastic environment for Christmas and winter sentiment in general, featuring also the Valkenburg Castle ruins, the Fairytale Forest and the village of Old Valkenburg by the river Geul.
Paleis Het Loo
The residence of late queen Wilhelmina in Apeldoorn —historically linked to the House of Orange Nassau since the 17th century—, this symmetrical baroque building has since the 1980’s been a museum open to the general public. For the winter season, the palace, museum and gardens dress for the last time in their Christmas garments prior to a three-year restoration period, with specially laid Christmas dining tables and decorated Christmas trees in the palace. Shortly put: a savory winter experience with a historical taste in a Top 100 Dutch Heritage Site. The ice rink at the Stable Square is not to miss (skates are available for free with entrance ticket).
Dutch Ice Sculpture Festival
It is Europe’s largest ice sculpture exhibition and this year will be held in Zwolle between December 23rd and March 4th. Over 100 ice and snow sculptures up to 6 meters high, made by the best ice artists in the world, will be put together on display. This year’s theme is “Worldfamous Stories,” an interpretation over universally known stories like Alice in Wonderland, Gulliver’s Travels, Don Quixote, Romeo an Juliet, and many more. It is well worth appreciating the fugacity of ice art at this major exhibition below zero, warmly dressed and with a hot chocolate.
Christmas Fairs and Markets
Traditional and nostalgic; fit for family, friends and couples; gluhwijn, sweets, meats and handcrafts, it is very hard to go wrong with one of these. They are all over the country during November and December. Each city holds its own or several versions, sometimes during a night, a weekend or longer. Here is a short selection of Christmas fairs and markets worth visiting during the 2017 wintertime:
• Valkenburg underground Christmas markets (17th November – 23rd December).
• Den Haag Royal Christmas Fair (15th – 24th December).
• Soest – Warme Witte Winter Weken (18th November – 23rd December).
• Magical Maastricht (1st December – 1st January). • Dordrecht Christmas Market (15th – 17th December).
• Leiden Christmas Market (15th – 27th December).
• Haarlem Christmas Market (9th – 10th December).
• WinterWelVaart Groningen (15th – 17th December).
Efteling opened in 1952, three years before the original Disneyland in California. It is the largest theme park in The Netherlands, and the 3rd most visited in Europe. Set as a fantasy realm after various myths and legends, the wintertime ambience in Efteling is carefully put together to create an effect in the audience. Lights, snowy pines and bonfires decorate the vast open spaces; winter treats, winter shows and an indoor ice rink complete the charm. All this in addition to its traditional rides, games and rollercoasters.
Amsterdam Light Festival
Figurative and abstract art in public spaces gives us an artistic interpretation of the world. Light art during winter gives us an additional layer of meaning of where to look at when it is darkest. That’s what the Amsterdam Light Festival does again this year with great curation, featuring 35 artworks developed by artists, architects and designers from all over the world. Displayed throughout the canals of the city, and on the Marine Terrain within walking distance from the central station, this open dual exhibition is free to visit by walking, boat or bicycle, with several customizable guided tours, or without them. It will open between November 30th and January 21st.
A tradition in The Netherlands, Christmas circuses bring together seasonal themes, physical dexterity, humor and magic subjects in a representation on stage. There are several festivals throughout the country, varying from year to year. For the 2017-2018 season, we recommend these three:
• World Christmas Circus – Royal Theatre Carré, Amsterdam (21st December – 7th January).
• Kerst Circus Ahoy – Rotterdam Ahoy (23rd – 30th December).
• Groot Kerst Circus – Den Haag (22nd December – 7th January).
Although not an event in itself, winter hiking is quite a seasonal experience, not to be missed in the rich Dutch natural parks and reserves. It confronts the hibernation urge with full-frontal outdoor physical exercise; a hike of several kilometers length through nature, coated with the unique self-immersive winter setting. It is worth it to find oneself within the staggering natural beauty surrounding us. Three especially good spots to winter hike, with forests, meadows and dunes, are:
• Weleuwezoom National Park
• Utrechtste Heuvelrug National Park
• Amsterdamse Waterleidinguinen Natural Reserve
Scheveningen New Year’s Dive
This is a relatively new New Year’s tradition, dating back from the 1960’s. Many are held alongside the coast, and even in lakes and ponds throughout the country, but the biggest is certainly the one on Scheveningen’s beaches. On January 1st, thousands of people throw themselves into the water to celebrate the coming of the New Year. Be it by doing it or by watching it, this event brings a beautiful symbolic weight: leaving something behind, getting oneself into something new, through the harshness and beauty of winter’s cold.