Benelux in winter

Five reasons to visit Benelux in winter.

Eat something that you cannot find in the warm season

As it doesn’t even occur to us to cook cold soup, in winter, the inhabitants of the Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg have their own seasonal dishes, and a number of them are prepared exclusively for one or another holiday. Thus, the Dutchman will take you for a madman if you prepare a thick pea soup Snert in April, while in January it is the king of the table due to its nutritional value and warming effect. You can eat your magnificent oliebollen (big donut) or its variations only from early November to early February. Spiced small cookies Pepernoten - a sure sign of the imminent arrival of Sinterklaas, the local Santa Claus. Slem, a drink made from hot milk with sugar, tea, lemon zest, cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon and saffron, Dutch prepare only for the festive table. In Belgium, only on Christmas Eve, Kerstbrood is baked - buns in the form of biblical characters, glazed and sprinkled with icing sugar. You need to wash them down with hot chocolate (where else, if not in Belgium?) or with hot wine with spices. And only on New Year's Eve you will see at the checkout in Dutch supermarkets lines from local residents buying Appelbollen - apples wrapped in puff pastry with cinnamon-sugar powder. It is delicious and unique at other times of the year!

Get on skates

If you are lucky, you can catch canals being frozen and join the mass skating at the place where the rest of the time famous boats float. However, even in usual winters without frosts, the choice of ice rinks is amazing. There are dozens of them in the capitals, including cities’ central squares. Skates are taken on the spot, and even children from 3 years old can get on them: for such tots, there are special skates with two blades, which you fasten on top of the shoes. Around the skating rinks there is everything for festive and cosy atmosphere: tents with fondue, desserts, mulled wine and punch, tea and hot chocolate, music, magic illumination and even plastic figures to support unconfident skaters. Even the Olympic Stadium in Amsterdam turns into an ice rink and temporarily becomes a place for celebration, not sports.

Participate in a carnival procession

One of the brightest holidays in the Netherlands is the traditional carnival preceding the Great Lent. This is a local analogue of Pancake week of Eastern Slavs, and the date changes every year following a single rule - 40 days before Easter. In 2020, it will be held from the 23rd until the 25th of February. Southern provinces of Limburg and North Brabant are considered to be the birthplace of the party. Therefore, the flashiest carnival processions take place in the “capital” of Limburg, Maastricht, and in the main city of North Brabant, Den Bos, the main carnival city of the Netherlands.
Carnivals are also usually divided into 2 groups: Rijnlands Carnaval (Limburg and the east of Brabant) is characterized by painted faces, big imagination for costumes, official colours, and at Burgundian Carnaval people love to dress up in celebrities and play in power game. The holiday begins at the moment when the mayors publicly pass the symbolic keys to their cities to the princes and princesses of the carnival, selected in advance. Throughout the carnival period, cities are not ruled by the burgomaster, but by these jesters from the Kingdom of Fools. A brass band opens the carnival procession, followed by various platforms with giant noisy dolls, theatre troupes, fairy tale characters and mummers. Actually, everything that can be put on wheels goes into procession: carriages, cars, wagons and carts. Citizens dress up, paint their faces and come to sing songs and drink beer. Beer is the main drink of the event: it is brought in barrels! Unrestrained fun, performances, theatrical scenes, costume shows, dances and songs which accompany the entire carnival, but with an important implication. Through humour, residents draw public attention to the cities’ problems. The fun ends at midnight on the last day of the carnival by eating herring dishes. And on “Ash Wednesday” the post begins.
In Belgium, the same carnival has been held in the city of Binche since the 14th century, and in 2003, UNESCO included it in the list of intangible heritage of mankind.
There are several carnivals in Luxembourg starting in mid-February (each year a different date). But a unique tradition is Buergbrennen, which is held on the weekend after the carnival and has long been synonymous with the end of winter. The traditional bonfire lit this night should put an end to the cold season and foreshadow the spring. Therefore, on this day Luxembourg is lit up first with torchlight processions with music and mummers, and then with giant crosses on fire.

See unique light installations

Since 2012, the Amsterdam Light Festival (“Amsterdam Light Festival”) has become a tradition that attracts tens of thousands of tourists. Each year, the jury selects only a several dozens of the best works that fit into the city landscape from thousands of artists’ applications. At this time, you can take a special tour on boats “Water Colours” to see the light installations from the water, or a walking tour for the views from the land. From November 28 to January 19, this beauty is available to everyone for free. Isn’t it a great reason to fly in?

Get a tangerine and a cookie personally from the hands of the local Santa Claus

Sinterklaas - Saint Nicholas who takes care exclusively of Belgium and the Netherlands. He is different from all the Christmas and New Year characters in the world, and his arrival turns the country into a holiday for 2.5 weeks! Sinterklaas is sailing from Spain, where his permanent residence is located. It is believed that his modern appearance was created according to the description of the character in the book of Jan Schenkman, “Sint Nikolaas and his Servant” published in 1850. Sinterklaas is met by city mayors, people go out on the streets to greet an important bearded man, children dress up in the costume of Pete, a Sinterklaas’ assistant, who distributes tangerines, pepernoten and gifts. Sinterklaas rides through the streets on a horse, called Amerigo in the Netherlands, and Bad-Weather-Today in Flanders. All the country's stores sell large chocolate letters and bags with other sweets, which are characteristic only for the Sinterklaas holiday. You will definitely see a kid's shoe with a carrot and a piece of sugar on a doorstep of every house: this is a treat for the horse Amerigo, which children exchange for gifts. Of course, gifts are put there at night by parents, neighbours or just strangers who want to make children happy. Why not to do it yourself?

Happy winter to everyone!