The Expat’s Guide: Surviving winter in Amsterdam

There is so much to do when moving to a new place, from finding a rental or buying a home, to getting settled at work, and making a new social network (AKA friendships). It’s easy to miss what you might need for the different seasons. Sean and I are from an area in the U.S. where we have four very distinct seasons and the temperatures get to freezing or below and goes up to uncomfortably high, but what if you aren’t used to true winter temperatures or weather? Maybe even more important, what if you aren’t used to what happens when you don’t get true sunshine for a long time?

No worries! After many winters here in Amsterdam, I’m happy to help by sharing what I’ve learned.

Amsterdam winters are very different to what we knew. Where we are from, it gets cold, it snows, and sometimes it snows a lot. Snowfall has shut down our city many times and we even had 3 blizzards in one winter that could get up to a couple feet high (up to about 60 cm). One was right before our wedding…that was stressful!

The main difference is that we were used to snow and how to handle it. Sure, you might not be able to go anywhere for a bit, but there were plans in place to get roads cleared as quickly as possible. If you were used to that like we were, here’s a big change…it rarely snows! *GASP*

Snow in Amsterdam

A Wanderlust For Life on Instagram

I know, I know! As cold as it gets, you would think we’d get some lovely snow pretty often. Typically, it’s been once, maybe twice a winter and it’s a very small amount that quickly melts away. Unfortunately, there’s not a whole lot of infrastructure in place around snow since it is so rare. So, maybe don’t bike that day (if you are tough enough to bike in the winter!) You’ll see some salt or something like it being placed down in some of the busier areas, which is nice.

Enough about the weather, let’s get to the tips!

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Having the right clothes for an Amsterdam winter

Layers, people. Layers! Head down to Decathlon and get some light winter thermals in the form of long-sleeved shirts and pants. You do not need to get the pieces rated for -15C. Come on…we aren’t in the Arctic! Loose fitting clothing tends to be the style here anyway, so these layers should be able to go right under what you are wearing.

If you’re one of those people who like to keep up with your style year-round and that doesn’t include long-sleeves, then get yourself some tank tops that keep you pretty cozy. They are super easy to layer since they are easier to hide.

Fleece-lined tights are very popular for good reason. Keep on wearing those dresses if you like and stay warm while wearing something you might have to be wearing anyway.

Don’t forget about some good, warm socks! Obviously, wool is best…and Merino wool is the very best. But some good ol’ fashioned thick cotton socks can do pretty well, too. I get the knee-high socks for the extra warmth.

Some type of cardigan, duster, sweater, or whatever you want to call it, is always handy because it might be chilly wherever you are headed as well even though it’s indoors. Always be prepared because being cold is pretty much the most annoying thing ever.

Outdoor winter gear

Sean has this jacket he LOVES because you can take out the thermal inside part and just use the shell for spring and autumn since it’s water resistant. I love the versatility and this jacket has it. If you can have down, I would suggest getting a waterproof down jacket.

Stick with waterproof shoes or at least make sure you get some waterproof spray (like this one) for any other shoes you do have. Feet should stay dry for you to stay comfy and healthy!

Jess on the Amsterdam Canals

Grab a hat that covers your ears well, because when it’s cold AND windy, it’s the most cut-through-your-body feeling. Don’t forget gloves…especially if you’ll be biking. Of course, if you’ve mastered riding and steering your bike with no hands, well then, just put your hands in your pockets and go 😛 Honestly, I don’t know too many people who can do this! I still haven’t found my favorite gloves, so I don’t have anything to link to you. But see what you like best.

Getting your house ready for winter in Amsterdam

The biggest need I’ve seen is the need for weather-proofing with the little strips of foam material. Put them on windows and door jams to help keep the cold out and your heat in!

Get your boiler checked each year to make sure all is good and safe. Also, make sure the water is topped up in it. I had no idea how to do this, but the guy who came for maintenance did it for me. But, I’m sure a friend can help you if you are as clueless as I am!

Check to see if your radiators need to be bled out. Air gets trapped inside and makes it so the water can’t heat all the way through. Getting that air out can mean more heat. Yay!

Amsterdam houses in winter

A humidifier can do wonders in the winter. Waking up with a dry cracking feeling inside your nose, throat, and even on your lips is not just uncomfortable, but eventually, too much dryness can leave you susceptible to illness. I like the electric ones where you can see all the water going into the air. It’s just satisfying! They are in such cool designs nowadays! You can also grab ones you hang on your radiator if you want to go low-tech. Fair warning, though, they do not put out as much moisture in the air.

If you seem like you are going into a winter depression, know that there is something called Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD. Real depression is serious and you should definitely visit your GP, but if you think it’s just the gloomy weather and being indoors all the time that has you down, try a lamp that’s designed to help. I’ve purchased this one from Amazon and I use it while working in the mornings. I don’t get as sleepy during the day, I wake up more refreshed, and I’ve been sleeping better. Also, vitamins are so so important. I just take a multi-vitamin, but you do whatever you think is right for you.

Social life in Amsterdam during the winter

OK, so nobody loves going out into the cold…or worse…the cold with wind and rain. But, there is still plenty you can do in this city. Check out for some great groups that meet regularly depending on your hobbies. Volunteer if you miss doing that from when you were in your home country. Have a potluck, paint night, or wine tasting at your house with some friends. Go bowling or head to a group workout class.

dinner party

Find a pub quiz and grab some friends to have a great time out in the city. Head to someone’s else’s house for dinner and make new friends. Check out the various markets and festivals. You can find a lot to do on the website, and just by searching under events on Facebook. I always have the problem that there is too much going on and we have to be picky!

It’s totally fine to hibernate a bit, too. We tend to head out to a Christmas market or regular market on the weekend and make our home nice and cozy for us to stay indoors for a while. The nice thing is, many other people want to do the same, so you might just get invited over to someone’s house instead of going out for dinner. My advice: always have some wine or cider ready to go 😉

Houseboats in a frozen Amsterdam canal

Do you have any other tips? We would LOVE to hear them. Leave them in the comments below so we can help each other out.

Wishing you a super cozy winter season 🙂

Jessica Cutrufello wearing a green floral dress, glasses and pink lipstick

Hi! I’m Jessica, an American who made Amsterdam her home in 2014. I share European gems through food and memorable experiences. Want to know more? Head to my about page or check out my YouTube channel.