Need ideas for celebrating the New Year? Dutch Mama Kyra Schiffers is here with the inside story on doing New Year in Amsterdam like a local.
What the Dutch Do
The first time I spent New Years Eve outside of the Netherlands I was surprised by how quiet it was. And for those of you who wonder, “What do you mean quiet?”, you clearly haven’t spent NYE in Amsterdam yet. The Dutch love fireworks, so be prepared to send off the year with a bang.
Whether the Dutch spend NYE at home with their family and friends watching the NYE celebrations on TV, out on the streets, or at a club or bar – at midnight they come together on the streets to watch and light fireworks, drink champagne, and wish each other a happy New Year. Even though the city of Amsterdam organises its own fireworks, it’s small compared to the thousands of fireworks lit by its residents.
Where to Watch the Fireworks
Most people light their own fireworks. At midnight, you can just go outside on the street and join your neighbours lighting fireworks and wishing each other happy New Year.
If you want to be in the action, join the locals and tourists on the streets of Amsterdam. The Nieuwmarkt, Leidseplein, Dam Square and Rembrandtplein are popular places. The partying starts around 9:30 pm and goes on until the early morning. So put on a warm winter coat, bring a bottle of champagne and join the crowd. If you prefer less of a crowd, avoid these areas.
For a spectacular view, the Amstel is the place to be. The Magere Brug offers the most stunning view of this spectacle. The Skylounge on the 11th floor of the Doubletree by Hilton is also an amazing spot to watch the fireworks from.
The main fireworks display, which is also the national countdown, is held by the Maritime Museum. You can watch the spectacle from the Oosterdok with the Maritime Museum and VOC ship in the background. If you want to watch the countdown from the comfort of your sofa at home you can tune in live to Dutch TV from around 11:50 pm.
Wherever you decide to go, look up to the sky and you’ll see and hear the great sound of a city celebrating the new year and saying goodbye to the old.
Buying fireworks in the Netherlands is closely monitored. In Amsterdam, fireworks are only sold three days of the year, leading up to NYE: 29-31 December. To try to contain the chaos and noise, legally, fireworks can only be lit between 6 pm on 31 December until 2 am on 1 January.
Lighting fireworks is not without risk, so be safe and follow the safety instructions. Places that sell fireworks also generally sell safety gear such as protective eyewear.
If you want some sparkle, but with less of a bang, sparklers are sold in various shops such as Blokker and HEMA throughout the city. These are very popular with children and hold much magic and whimsy.
Even though there is an official time frame for when fireworks can be lit, these rules aren’t always followed. Kids are so excited that from the moment they can buy firecrackers, they will surprise unexpecting passers-by with a bang. So don’t be startled!
What to Eat and Drink
The classical NYE food is oliebollen (deep-fried doughnuts) and appel beignets (apple fritters), accompanied by a glass of champagne. Oliebollen come with or without raisins and are topped with icing sugar. During the winter season you can buy them at various stalls around the city, in most grocery stores, or make them yourself with a special bake mix sold at many local grocery stores. My personal favourite spot to buy them is from Patisserie Arnold Cornelis on the corner of Elandsgracht and Hazenstraat. I particularly like their apple fritters as they are filled with almond paste.
If you are invited to a friend's house it is always nice to bring some oliebollen, champagne, and/or fireworks.
Make a Reservation
If you plan to spend NYE with friends and family in a bar, restaurant or club, to ensure you get a spot, do reserve a table or tickets for the night. Otherwise, you might end up wandering around the city knocking on closed doors. Many restaurants, bars and clubs have a special closed evening that requires a reservation or pre-purchased tickets.
A good overview of what is going on can be found here. Whether you are in the mood for a masked ball, a club night, or a cruise, there is something for everyone.
Getting There and Back
If you are planning to use public transport on NYE, note that it runs on a special schedule. On December 31st around 8 pm, all public transport comes to a halt. They start running again around 1:30 am on January 1st, according to the night bus schedule. Ferries to and from Amsterdam North will continue to run. Amsterdam Central Station will be closed to the public from 8 pm. Check the GVB website for details.
Getting a taxi can be a true challenge on NYE. And if you manage to get a hold of one, the prices seem to magically double or even triple as taxi drivers make them up as they go along. If you can, plan ahead, and book a taxi beforehand or, as always in Amsterdam, dress for the weather and take the bike.
What About the Kids?
Whether you want to bring the kids or not depends all on your personal preference. With younger kids, I’d avoid the crowd of the city centre, Maritime museum, and busy squares. Some places organise special NYE events for parents and kids.
As with everything on this date, plan ahead. Most babysitters have their own plans for the evening and if you find someone who is available, expect to pay a special rate for this evening.
New Year's Day
Wade your way through the red mess of firework left-overs for a walk through Vondelpark, a stroll by the canals, or check out the Amsterdam Light Festival. Eat a final oliebol and enjoy the fresh air. If you want to go shopping, shops are open on New Year's Day.
Kyra Schiffers is Dutch and has lived in the US, Spain and Mexico and now calls Amsterdam her home. She enjoys the vibrancy of the city with her man and two young girls. She works as a marketing consultant for the entertainment, film and culture industry. You can find her on Linkedin.
photo credit: Flickr