Amsterdam’s canals – all 165 of them – are stunning in spring and awe-inspiring in autumn. But winter is when they really shine, thanks to the annual Light Festival, which runs through 21 January 2018. During the festival, the waterways and surrounding streets become an illuminated art gallery, with sculptures, rainbow-hued laser beams and neon lights transforming the city’s most famed feature. Here, we’ve rounded up the top ten reasons to head to the glittering Dutch capital for this winter’s Light Festival…
1 You can watch from the water
Not surprisingly, the festival’s water exhibition is best seen by boat. Hop on a cruise and see installations glowing from bridges, illuminated off the banks and even floating on the water’s surface. There are a number of operators that work with the festival – some even offer unlimited mulled wine and three-course meals.
2 The fest is totally walkable
If you don’t feel like setting sail, there’s a land component to the fest that takes place at Marineterrein, which is within walking distance of Amsterdam Central Station. At the indoor exhibition, you can check out land-based light art and sit in on an artist talk.
3 You may learn a new word
This fest is totally gezellig (pronounced heh-sell-ick). Similar to Denmark’s hygge, the word gezellig refers to an atmosphere of cosiness and happiness. Throw it around enough and you’ll sound like local in no time. Other examples of gezelligheid: snoozing by a roaring fire, newborn puppies, fondue, teacup pigs and mulled wine.
4 There’s street food galore
Speaking of cosiness and happiness, be sure to enjoy the festival’s unofficial snack, oliebollen – deep-fried dough doused in icing. Or, warm up with a hearty bowl of snert. Don’t let its name or murky-green appearance put you off: snert is a deliciously thick pea-and-ham soup. There’s also stamppot – a peppery mash of potatoes, kale, carrots and endive, served with a hot rookworst (smoked dutch sausage).
5 Canal-side cocktails are creative
After an evening of heavy art-stagramming, head to the glossy, ebony-accented Tunes Bar at Conservatorium to sip delectable cocktails. We like the Sakelicious – a mix of sake, orange, elderflower and Shiso bitters. While there, nibble on Asian-inspired bar snacks, such as black truffle sashimi and soft-shell crab sushi rolls. For night owls, the hotel’s resident DJ keeps patrons partying from Thursday night ’til Sunday morning.
6 Brunch is big here
Bright lights and hangovers don’t mix. Nurse a sore head at Staring at Jacob and try the Not So Kosher Benny – a packed plate of poached eggs, toasted challah, smoked salmon, bacon, cream cheese, caviar and dill hollandaise, home fries, and autumn salad. Wash it all down with a hangover-busting Dirty Dirty, a mix of pickle juice, vodka, bacon, tomato, and vegetable juice.
7 The city is fit for free wheelin’
Explore the art-embellished canals on two-wheels: Sir Albert hotel has ten bikes for guests to borrow. Check out the historic townhouses and petite bridges of the Unesco-protected Canal Ring. Or, if it’s frosty out, head over to Vondelpark to practise your snowball-making skills.
8 The nearby markets are magical
Head to the traditional Dutch Christmas markets, where the light show is cast by fairy lights and flickering hand-cut lanterns. There, you’ll find bustling stalls of candied goodies, wood-carved trinkets and foodie gifts. Thirsty? Sip glühwein, spiced hot chocolates or whisky-spiked warmers. Totally gezellig.
9 You’ll find action in addition to art
Busting out the winter bod a little too soon? Never fear: pack your cosiest jumper and woolly hat for a chilly stroll on one of Amsterdam’s urban beaches. Or, break our your blades and go ice skating on the light-strewn Museumplein, with the towering red-brick Rijksmuseum in the background.
10 Stay at a museum-worthy hotel
If you haven’t had your fill of art, hole up in the decadent Art Collector’s Suite at Pulitzer Amsterdam, where you’ll find a collection of unique sculptures and eclectic paintings. Or, take a final cruise on the art-spangled canals in the hotel’s grand salon boat.
Feature image by Arjan Broek