Knowing how to prepare for a Dutch winter can be daunting, especially if you’re completely unfamiliar with the weather here. But adjusting to your new climate needn’t be so scary.
I arrived here from South Africa, so I had time to ask locals for advice and to stock up on winter clothes before the sun cursed us all and disappeared for a few months.
Even so, my first winter here was incredibly tough, and there were a lot of simple mistakes that I made, which could have prevented a lot of icy misery.
So, don’t make the same mistakes that I did! If you keep the below things in mind, you can make your first Dutch winter a lot less of a shock to your system (although for my fellow sun-babies, your first winter will be an adjustment regardless).
What to expect from a Dutch winter
You’ll know the cold season is on its way when the days get shorter, greyer and chillier. By the time winter is in full strength, the sun will be coming up around 9 AM and going down around 4 PM.
Although, when I say the sun comes up, I mean that the sky changes from darkness to grey.
Average temperatures will be around three degrees Celsius (37.4 F), dropping to zero (32 F) (and below) at night and rising to a max of about six degrees Celsius (42.8 F) during the day.
So with those almost-freezing temperatures, will our spirits at least be lifted with some drifting snow? Well, in the past, it wasn’t uncommon for it to snow for a couple of weeks every year in the Netherlands, but this is becoming increasingly rare (thanks, global warming).
Sound depressing? It quite literally can be. But the Dutch are experts at making the wintertime a bright, festive delight, complete with sugary comfort foods and cosy evenings inside. Knowing how to dress and have fun during this time is key to surviving a Dutch winter.
What to wear to survive winter in the Netherlands
Having the right clothes for the season is arguably the most important thing you need to prepare. Luckily, you’ll have plenty of choices when it comes to picking out garments in the Netherlands.
My biggest tip for winter clothes is to buy things here, and not before you arrive — unless you come from a cold country. What looks and feels warm enough at home simply won’t be the case when you get here.
Be sure to stock up on your winter gear before November hits. Even though winter technically only starts in December, if you come from a hot country, you’ll really start to feel it around the end of October, which is when you’ll see coats popping up in all the stores.
Follow the tips below to know exactly what to consider when shopping for warm winter clothing.
The art of layering
This might sound obvious to those from colder climates, but to beach babies like me, this was not. Staying warm in the winter is all about layering. You will constantly be moving from heated interiors to the freezing outdoors, and you need outfits that can accommodate both.
Outside, you’ll need your coat, sweater, shirt and maybe even an under-shirt, but inside, you’ll want something suitable for around 19 degrees, so maybe just a shirt and sweater. Having sweaters and cardigans of different thicknesses is also key, depending on how deep into winter you are.
You might be tempted to buy thermal layers, but personally, I never wore mine because I quickly realised they made me too hot when I was inside. Of course, if you think you’re particularly sensitive to the cold, then you may find these handy.
Jackets and coats
Okay, this point is critical.
Do not do what I did — buy a €50 polyester coat from H&M. You have to accept that if you’re going to keep yourself properly warm in this country, you’ll need to invest in quality.
A decent new coat will cost somewhere around €100 or more, and spending the extra money will be worth it for your health and sanity. But buying second-hand is always a great option if you need to save money.
Before you make the investment, make sure your potential coat or jacket passes the following tests:
First and foremost, check what the coat is made from before you buy it. I don’t care how fluffy it is, polyester will never keep you as warm as wool, cotton, or down feathers (around 800 fill is good for winter).
Any of the ski brands with fancy technologies are also quality options. Look out for insulation technologies like 3M Thinsulate, PrimaLoft and ColdGear Infrared. Coats made from these materials are often used for ski jackets because they are more compact, lighter in weight, and keep you warm in snowy weather.
In a pinch, nylon, flannel, cashmere and hemp will also do the job, but aren’t as popular.
Your jackets and coats need to be cycling-friendly, which means turning yourself into a walking sausage is not going to work.
Either buy a coat that goes down to your jean pockets (mid-length), or a longer coat with a reverse zip or buttons that you can open up when cycling.
Rain and snow proof
Make sure the coat is waterproof and not just water-resistant. If the rain decides to bucket down, a water-resistant coat will simply not be enough — and you’ll quickly find there’s nothing worse than getting wet in the cold.
A waterproof coat will also prevent you from getting wet in the snow (should the snowflakes decide to grace us with their presence).
Top Tip: Read the labels on how your coat should be cleaned! I once ruined a coat by throwing it in the washing machine. Not fun.
Shoes to wear during winter in the Netherlands
In the lead-up to winter, you’ll need light, waterproof shoes like sneakers or leather boots.
But for winter, get some thicker boots (fluffy insides are great!) which should also be waterproof. Thick soles with good grip are important, so if there’s any ice, you don’t slip and fall.
Accessories you’ll need in a Dutch winter
The cold air creeps into every opening it can find, and any exposed bits of skin will feel like they’re falling off if you don’t protect them. Hence, you will likely need the following to survive winter in the Netherlands:
Extra thick or woolly socks will be your new best friends during winter. That, or you can layer your regular socks or stockings.
You can have the warmest coat, but you’ll still be freezing if your head is exposed. Beanies with a thermal layer or wool are the best for keeping your head toasty.
In this country, having warm, waterproof gloves is quite important. If they’re touch-screen friendly, that’s an added bonus!
As you’ll likely be wearing a scarf on a daily basis, I’d say you need to start off by buying at least two. Again, stay away from polyester and go for cotton or wool.
If you’re feeling a little extra, you can buy yourself some beenwarmers (leg warmers), which remind me of 80s exercise costumes. Essentially, they’re footless socks for your calves, but I find wearing stockings or long socks under my trousers does the job too.
This one is not so necessary, especially if your beanie is large enough to cover your ears. But it can be a nice addition to your winter accessories if you find your ears are always cold.
Preparing for rain in the Netherlands
If you thought a waterproof coat was all you needed, think again. Regardless of how you prepare for Dutch rain, you’re going to get a little wet, but there are ways to help keep yourself as dry as possible.
I can’t tell you how many of my umbrellas have died miserable deaths at the hands of strong winds.
If it looks flimsy in the store, it ain’t gonna last, so don’t buy it. Get yourself a storm-proof umbrella. They look like odd pyramids but make for a more aerodynamic design that won’t bend and break away in the wind.
A very particular area of your legs takes the brunt of the rain when you are cycling — your lap. But depending on the rain, your legs could get entirely drenched, and having cold, damp trousers for a while is never fun.
The simple solution: rain pants. You can get these in different lengths (upper legs or full length), and they are basically raincoats for your legs that you can strap over your trousers. Trust me, they make a difference.
At the end of the day, if you have the right clothes, your entire winter experience will be warmer, dryer, and significantly more comfortable.
How to avoid seasonal depression
The lack of sunlight during winter can affect your health in various ways, but one which is important to be aware of is Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). In short, this is a depressive disorder triggered by a lack of light.
If you show any symptoms of SAD, consulting your GP is, of course, important. But there are some simple things you can do to help prevent this from happening in the first place:
- Try to get as much sunlight as possible. If the sun breaks through and you have a lunch break or a moment to spare, put on that coat and head out there!
- Physical exercise. Anything from walking, dance classes, gym or yoga will help.
- Light therapy. You can buy SAD lamps which mimic sunshine that you can have at your desk as you work through the day.
- Get into a sleep schedule and follow it. This will help your body adjust to waking up in the dark and feeling tired at the right time.
- Vitamin D supplements help replace the vitamins you would have otherwise been getting from the sun.
- Socialise and stay connected. Calling family and friends back home really helps, but making new friends here will also help you through the colder months.
How to make the most of a Dutch winter
Don’t be afraid, your first Dutch winter may seem daunting but it can actually be a lot of fun!
If you have kids, the Dutch have mastered many family-friendly winter activities. Outdoor ice rinks pop up all over the country which are great fun regardless of your age — and sometimes the Dutch canals freeze for ice-skating too!
The Dutch are pros at staying inside in the winter, so it’s the perfect time to embrace the Dutch concept of gezellig. Put up that Christmas tree, light candles, bake cookies or munch on pepernoten, and snuggle up under the blankets with a good book. Now that’s gezellig!
Of course, coronavirus may be changing some of the Christmas fun this year, but don’t let that stop you from admiring the lights, sipping some gluhwein (warm spicy red wine) and making the most of what can be a very cosy Dutch winter indeed.
What would you recommend for surviving the Dutch winter? Share your tips in the comments below.
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in November 2020 and was fully updated in December 2022 for your reading pleasure.