Why winter is a great time for river cruises in the Netherlands

Who says you can only have fun if you travel in summer? With an open mind, good company and a warm coat you can have incredible life-changing experiences in the most wintery of places.

What’s more, for the Dutch winter is the season of traditions. The end of the year is rich with cultural heritage and rituals to warm the spirit and enjoy the most untranslatable of Dutch words: gezelligheid (we’ll get to that later).

So instead of hunkering down and hibernating through fall and winter, spread your wings and choose for something different: like a cultural river cruise through the Netherlands. Here are three reasons why it’s a great idea to explore the Netherlands during these cold months:

Experience Dutch gezelligheid

With the cold setting in, it’s all about getting cozy and snuggling up with your loved ones. The Dutch have a word for that: gezelligheid. This unicorn of words stands for coziness, conviviality, good company, comfort and pleasure all at once. 

This could mean dreaming away over hot cocoa and a generous slice of appeltart in a centuries-old café in Amsterdam’s Jordaan neighbourhood, or it could be having a good laugh with your travel companions as you try walking in klompen or practicing your pronunciation of Dutch words like schatje, goedenavond and Scheveningen.

On a river cruise in the Netherlands gezelligheid also means a warm welcome back onto your luxury barge hotel, accompanied by an aperitive, a hearty dinner and good conversation after a day exploring the local museums and historic sites.

’Tis the season

Sick of Christmas with the relatives? Take off this year and dive into the winter traditions of another land. There’s lots going on in the last months of the year in the Netherlands. If you’re here in November you may have the chance to witness a uniquely Dutch phenomenon: the arrival of Sinterklaas. 

Traveling all the way from Spain to deliver gifts to all the good Dutch children on December 5th, throughout November he visits the biggest Dutch cities and towns making a spectacular arrival on a real steamboat or white horse, accompanied by his cheery Piet helpers. The lively processions, crowds of enchanted families and overall festive atmosphere are a sight to behold!

Then there’s Christmas, which is marked by twinkling lights that brighten historic shopping streets and –  best of all – Christmas markets, in particular in the Dutch cities of Maastricht, Valkenburg and Heemskerk. Mid-December the Hanseatic city of Deventer not only hosts a Christmas market, but also an annual Charles Dickens festival, complete with hundreds of Dicken’s characters brought to life in costume, parading around town.

New Year’s Eve calls for Champagne and oliebollen – sugar-coated doughnut-y delights that are fried and filled with currents, candied fruit and a hint of rum. It’s also a great moment to eat classic Dutch dishes like the slow-cooked hachée stew, made with beef and onion, or a classy version of hearty stamppot, mashed potatoes and vegetables generously topped with melted butter and delicious smoked sausage.

 Dutch cultural season takes off
Last but not least, fall is when the cultural season in the Netherlands really gets going. Museums put on their blockbuster shows and the Dutch National Opera and Ballet launch their new seasons. Whether you attend a classical concert at Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw, jazz in Rotterdam or a show at any of the great venues throughout the country, the Netherlands is home to a thriving international music scene, especially when it gets cold outside.

Plan a winter adventure

Want to experience gezelligheid for yourself? Whether you’re interested in the food, the music or the cozy traditions, plan a fall or winter trip with a river cruise in the Netherlands to see what all the fuss is about!


Clare Louise

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