The 7 best Christmas markets to visit in the Netherlands
Love them or hate them, December in northern Europe means Christmas markets. Although the general consensus is that the Germans do it best, there is an ever increasing number of Christmas markets happening right here in the Netherlands.
However, as many who have visited can attest, the quality of Christmas markets is quite volatile. While fond memories are made at one, holiday cheer is assaulted by a mix of crowds and kitsch at the other.
In an attempt to drown out the shabbier variants, the following list presents the best seven bets for finding yuletide cheer amongst the many Christmas markets taking place in the Netherlands this year.
The top Dutch Christmas markets
Although diverse, the top three represent the best Christmas events combining quality markets with a festive atmosphere.
- Dates: December 12-14
The top spot goes to the Christmas market in Dordrecht. On its own, the small city is a charmer: home to just over 100.000 people, a well preserved medieval quarter and a massive 13th century Grote Kerk acting as a beautiful Gothic centrepiece.
Although it only lasts a weekend, Dordrecht spares no expense and features over 200 stalls arranged in practical categories that include a hobbyists square, winter themed gifts and music, art and antiques and various charities offering information about their fundraising efforts.
Add to this already impressive list the small stages for performances and a "pop-up market within a market" on Sunday and we’re talking a quality Christmas experience.
What’s more is that the stalls are well dispersed throughout the inner-city in a route that serves two functions: to showcase the sights and to manage the crowds.
Maybe the best part of Dordrecht’s market is the length. Concentrating the fair and events around just one weekend imbues it with a collective feeling that it is something special, with participants appear a bit less jaded than their peers working a month of more in Limburg.
- Dates: November 17-January 4
Nestled between Maastricht and Heerlen, the small city of Valkenburg has made Christmas celebrations its forte. Extended over a month and half, the city features seven activities meant to draw visitors from near and far.
The major events include a culinary walking tour, a Santa’s Village, weekly Christmas Parades and "the Largest Underground Nativity Scene in Europe."
The main attraction is, however, the multiple underground Christmas markets. Set in the Cauberg, the most popular caves are the municipal and Velvet Cave. Combined, there is actually quite a diverse product mix to be found; from Polish crafts to more typical ornaments, the stalls are festively decorated with approachable service.
Yet, with popularity comes crowds. Lots of them. A major destination for day-trippers and bus trips from both the Netherlands and abroad, the caves of Valkenburg can get very busy, very quick. In addition, the shopping to be had comes closer to commercial than unique market finds.
- Dates: December 20-21
The yearly Dicken’s Festival is a massive Victorian Era re-enactment in the heart of Deventer featuring the characters of Charles Dicken’s most famous novels.
The best thing about the event is that the many costumes and characters (over 800!) are very well done, with attention to detail making the effort feel authentic. Along with a range of actors that include drunks, vagabonds and aristocrats are well-known icons from The Chimes, Great Expectations, The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club and other classics.
Additionally, the Christmas market around the Grote of Lebuïnuskerk is substantial in terms of numbers of stalls, but the variety isn’t stellar. Compensating for the lack of variety are the groups of Christmas carollers and musicians playing pleasant tunes in period style garb.
Yet, the Dicken’s Festival suffers from its own popularity. With over 150.000 visitors in just a single weekend, the entrance queues that form can be a bit of a buzz-kill.
Classic markets in the Netherlands
These events take a more classic approach to the holiday market and are certainly worth a visit!
- Dates: November 29-December 30
Every winter, the city of Maastricht gets a bit more magical to kick-off the holiday season. Taking up the entirety of the central Vrijthof square, the month long event features over 75 stalls, a Ferris wheel and a beautiful ice skating rink that, unlike some more novel attempts, is actually large enough to enjoy.
A good portion of the stands and stalls are run by local entrepreneurs selling some quality items, including local foods, handmade crafts and some smartly designed accessories.
However, in terms of Christmas markets, the one at Maastricht is a bit too long. Staying cheery for an entire month is a lot to ask and it shows come late December. The saving grace? Everything is set in Maastricht’s delightful centre with the shopping streets and cafes in the Jekerkwartier just a street away.
- Dates: December 13-14
In terms of Christmas markets in the vicinity of Amsterdam, this is the one to visit. Haarlem is particularly well suited to host a market due to its compact size and pedestrian friendly streets.
The main market takes place on the central square, but it would be a mistake to miss ducking into the small side-streets and enjoying the variety of stalls and eateries offering delectable snacks.
While not as large as the others, the quality of the items being sold is quite high with vendors coming from various provinces for the weekend. Handmade crafts and artisanal foods are especially prevalent.
Small & charming holiday markets
Due to their unique layouts, these smaller markets are oozing with Christmas charm!
- Dates: December 19-21
For those located in the north (or willing to travel), the WinterWelVaart in Groningen is a nice mix of market and Christmas events using the water ways.
Taking place along the Hoge en Lage der A, small wooden stalls sell everything from handbags to ornaments and small furniture pieces. The distinguishing feature of the WinterWelVaart experience is its use of some 15 tall ships as stages and venues for a variety of performances, small exhibitions and tastings.
Combined, the WinterWelVaart is a special chance to rediscover the charms of Groningen with a bit of shopping on the side.
- Dates: December 13-21
One of the newer Christmas markets in the Netherlands, the event in Leiden is unique due to its layout. With temporary scaffolding set over the central Nieuwe Rijn, the entire market literally takes place on the water.
Combine the unique construction with a good amount of sellers and some worthy holiday food stuffs and this market looks to become a perennial favourite for those looking for a cosier holiday experience.