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Christmas: Zurich or Amsterdam?

My wife and I plan to take the Rhine River Cruise on AmaWaterways in December 2021. One itinerary ends in Amsterdam; the other ends in Basel. We want to disembark and then spend the next 4 days or so for Christmas. So that means I can disembark in Basel and spend Christmas in Zurich - or get off in Amsterdam and spend Christmas there. I have never been to Zurich or to Amsterdam. Looking for some insight into which would be better for spending 4 days at Christmas-time: 23-27 December.
Thank you for your assistance.

Posted by
646 posts

We've done this cruise. We love Amsterdam and think the Anne Frank house is a DO NOT MISS! Arrive in Amsterdam a day early, get your tickets online at least 8 months early and go. It is one of the best things we have seen in all of Europe. Most of the Xmas Markets close down Dec. 23, so they most likely won't be open on your dates. We found Amsterdam very UNDERwhelming as far as Xmas, but we loved the town. Definitely take a canal cruise. Basel does have several LARGE Xmas markets, but they may be closed down - you can google and see. Zurich is a big city, lots to see and do, but Amsterdam has great character and feel to it. I would caution booking anything where you don't get a full refund. We had a Danube Xmas Market cruise booked -- we take one every other year and we have already canceled ours and rebooked for 2022 as we don't feel like this year will be a good year to travel to Europe. Even if it does open, there will be way too many restrictions for us to enjoy. Europe is way behind on vaccinations - many travel magazines, AAA, EU papers aren't sure the border will open to us this year.

Posted by
808 posts

We've been to Amsterdam twice and Basel once as part of river cruises - though not in Dec. Basel is a nice city though not a lot of sights to see - museums and such. But you could use as a base to visit places like Luzerne which is lovely. It's also gives hotel guests free city transport on trams and buses so easy to get around.

Lots to do in Amsterdam itself. In addition to the Anne Frank house there are set museums like the Van Gogh and Reijsmuseum. We really enjoyed the Maritime museum. Very well done and excellent restaurant. Rick Steves has a handy pocket guide to the city worth buying.

Recommend confirming opening hours over the holidays.

Posted by
2149 posts

I would suggest starting in Basel, but coming in a few days earlier, and going to the xmas markets in Strasbourg and Colmar, France, which are an easy train ride away. I have never seen a town doing xmas like Strasbourg - except for Esslingen, Germany, outside of Stuttgart.
Don't know when it shuts down.

Basel has two main markets- again, check when they close. Europe is very serious regarding folks being home on Xmas Eve, xmas, and the day after .
Safe travels!

Posted by
118 posts

I've never been to Basel or Zurich so I can't comment on that, but I have been to Amsterdam, in every season, and love it dearly. Most recently, we visited in early December of 2019 for four nights - part of a longer trip spent visiting friends and Christmas markets in Vienna, Münster, Essen and Cologne. We loved it so much, we plan to return next Christmas - if possible.

Amsterdam doesn't have any Christmas markets like you'd see in Germany or Vienna, but it is lovely nonetheless. And yes, the Anne Frank House is an absolute must. I also recommend visiting the Rijksmuseum - the Night Watch was just recently restored and is marvelous. Two things I love most about Amsterdam: (1) it's small; therefore, easily enjoyed via walking, tram and canal boat, and (2) the canals & canal houses make the city - in my opinion - one of the prettiest in Europe. We especially love the Jordaan district and have stayed there on every visit (four and counting). In December 2019, most streets had Christmas lights and decorations - nothing over the top, but tasteful and pretty. The Saturday morning market located at the Noorderkerk was delightfully festive; a person with a Dutch street organ was playing Christmas songs for small tips, and vendors were selling Christmas trees, garlands and wreaths - in addition to the normal offerings of cheese, fruits, vegetables, bread and baked goods.

One thing too keep in mind is that it gets dark very early, but the twinkle lights reflecting on the canals makes it that much more festive and atmospheric. Each evening, we'd loved stopping into our favorite brown cafe to soak up the cozy atmosphere with a beer or warm beverage. There are some wonderfully unique, small independent stores in the "Nine Streets" neighborhood (part of the Jordaan) where we did a bit of Christmas shopping, and a lot of window shopping. If you have young children, grandchildren or are a child at heart: don't miss The Mouse Mansion Shop & Studio located at Eerste Tuindwarsstraat 1HS, 1015 RT Amsterdam (plug that address into Google Maps and save the location). This delightful shop is an absolute one-of-a-kind gem for children of all ages. A few of their books are in English and made wonderful gifts for our young nieces and nephews.

With four days, you could easily do a day trip to either Haarlem and/or Delft - both are are just a short train ride away and easily navigated on foot from the train station.

Hope this helps.

Posted by
28121 posts

Going downstream (Basel to Amsterdam) the boat will go faster than fighting the current going upstream.

I think it a shame you are pitting Zürich against Amsterdam. Although I have been to both I have not done a trip to Switzerland at Christmas, but I very much like Basel. Much smaller, but a great ambience and classic architecture.

Posted by
234 posts

If it's just between Amsterdam and Zurich, I would definitely go for Amsterdam. But if you choose Switzerland, why not stay in Basel rather than Zurich? I find Basel more charming and nicer to walk around than Zurich. Lucerne would also be an option.
Keep in mind that a lot of the Christmas markets in Switzerland usually end on or before the 24th (or maybe you will have had enough of those anyway!) and the majority of museums and shops will be closed the days you would be there, with the exception of the 26th when some (but not all) will be open. There may be more things open in Amsterdam, so think about what you might like to do in each place and double check opening hours etc.

Posted by
15 posts

All great information. Thanks very much. This is helpful. To answer some curiosity: why am I restricting the choice to only Amsterdam Vs Zurich (Basel) ? Because the ship will stop at either one of those places depending on the itinerary I choose. Not concerned about missing out on Christmas Markets in Amsterdam - we have been to Christmas Markets in Germany, Austria, Strasbourg, Paris, Budapest, Montreal, . . . . . Based on the responses, it sounds like Amsterdam has a great deal to see and do regardless of the season (which is what I suspected). If everything is closed on Christmas Day, we will use that opportunity for walking the city. That's what we did last year in Paris.

Thank you once again for your insight.

Posted by
808 posts

Terry, our last cruise ended in Amsterdam and we spent 3 extra days at the Kimpton De Witt hotel. Reasonable prices for central Amsterdam. It's very close to the Central train station which is where the river cruise ships dock. You can walk it though we had our cruise director order us a cab so we didn't need to hassle with luggage. It's a funky hotel but we liked it so much we're planning to stay at their hotel in Barcelona next year.

Posted by
300 posts

I've only been to Amsterdam in May (and it was lovely) but I have been to Zurich for Christmas and it was magical. There is a Christmas market in the old town. It closed on Dec 23rd the year we were there (2017). But my favourite was the Christmas market at the main train station, and it was open on Christmas Eve (well, in the afternoon, anyway). Amazing, and indoors so more comfortable. There was a bit of snow on the ground and some many lovely lights all over the city. It felt like a fairytale. Everything is closed on Christmas Day though, so don't expect to do a lot that day. The restaurants were open in the Old Town for dinner.

Posted by
2754 posts

My good friend Youtube has directed me to many Christmas market videos, so you can easily do some searching.

Posted by
138 posts

While there are many things to do in Amsterdam, I really am not a big fan. I would much prefer Zurich or other places in Switzerland. I have never been there in winter but can imagine how magical it would be. If you do end up going to Amsterdam, I recommend taking the short train ride to Haarlem and visiting the Ten Boom home. The Anne Frank house is good, but I enjoyed the Ten Boom tour more.

Posted by
1 posts

Dear Terry,
Keep in mind that you’re traveling during the winter and Amsterdam is more north and its flat, and the cold winter wind/temperatures are an issue, unless you’re coming from Alaska/Colorado :) Exploring Amsterdam by walking in winter is fine, but for 4 days is to much and unfortunately there’s not much to do around.
Basel has much more to offer: 1 day explore the city, 2nd day go to Zurich for some Christmas markets or just for the atmosphere (1 hour by train from Basel, 3rd day go to Luzern, explore the fascinating medieval town, take a cruise on lake Luzern and continue with a train ride to the queen of the mountains - Rigi (1 hour train ride from Basel), 4th day go to Strasbourg/France for the magical Christmas atmosphere (1 hour train ride from Basel). As you can see, being based in Basel you can see/explore 4 totally different places, in Amsterdam you’ll do prett much the same everyday.