Amsterdam Light Festival

Best Ways To See The Amsterdam Light Festival

By Julian Canlas - 7 MIN READ

Every year, during late fall and early winter, Amsterdam celebrates the wonderful light festival. What first began in 2012 has now grown into a great tradition that lights up the whole Dutch capital during the night.

Out of 650 entries, 20 established and rising artists from 16 countries have been selected to represent the theme: DISRUPT! In the words of the organizers, disruption…

…or sudden disturbance, usually comes at an inconvenient time and has to do with conflict, chaos or even danger. Think of an earthquake or a financial crisis. We, therefore, try to avoid disruptions as much as possible. … However, disruption is able to provide a positive, vital impetus for change too. It questions fixed assumptions, provokes new discussions, encourages people and organizations to take action, and makes previously unknown possibilities visible.

In a sense, the Amsterdam Light Festival exemplifies the essence of disruption in its most visual sense. The exhibitions literally show Amsterdam under a different light. In this article, I will share the best tips to visit the Light Festival, and its very recent but exciting history.

Amsterdam Light Festival 2015

Amsterdam Light Festival 2015. Source:


The route of the festival in the previous years would always lead to the city center, but 2019 is a bit different. For the first time ever in the history of the festival, the 8th edition of the Amsterdam Light Festival will have a different route, through the eastern part of the city center.

Amsterdam Light Festival map


Stromma provides a nice route of the exhibitions, so I suggest that you follow their map to create your own itinerary.


Throughout the two months of the festival, there will be a variety of adjacent events and talks around the theme of disruption and the exhibitions taking place. From a variety of kids events to an immersive light installation experience by SKALAR, the Light Festival website lists the events happening throughout.

Best Ways To See The Amsterdam Light Festival: Tips And Tricks

There are three main ways to travel across Amsterdam and see the light exhibitions: by foot, by boat and by bike. And within these methods there are many tour guides that offer different experiences of the same exhibition path.

It may be easy to take the path of least resistance and get the most popular tours, but I really recommend against doing that. I’d argue that the best tours aren’t the most popular ones. So here are my main tips to see Amsterdam’s Light Festival depending on how you want to travel.

Browse On Meetup For Some Walking Group Tours

My personal favorite. Walking by the canals is a great way to see the projections. For one, walking, most of the time, is completely free, and it’s particularly nice to have a stroll across Amsterdam’s cobblestones.

Meetup groups are great, when it comes to walking along the projections. It’s free. It’s also helpful if you don’t know anyone in the Dutch capital, and want to make friends in the process.

And the best part about walking? You can do it at your own leisure and linger a bit longer if something catches your attention more than the rest.

Look Through The Different Canal Cruise Boat Tours

The light exhibitions take an entirely different form when viewed from the water during the evening. Most boat tours for the light festival start at 5:00 pm. There are so many boat tours to choose from, so here are some options. I’ll start with the open-boat tour by Stromma, which is my favorite.

Amsterdam Light Festival Open Boat Tour
Price: €25.00
Duration: 75 minutes
Meeting points: Damrak Pier 6
Online booking: Available

This open-boat tour is the best, if you want an immersive experience that’s coupled with extensive commentary from the captain, with an expansive knowledge of the festival, the art pieces and the city itself.

The tour is also cozy, in a good way, as the boat is small and can only seat 12-15 people max.

At the same time, you can get great full-view photos, without the added restraints of windows. You can also ask the captain to slow the boat a bit, so you can take nice photos.

You’ll have to battle the elements, but you can do that with a glass of hot chocolate or mulled wine in your hands, while you’re wrapped in a blanket.

Amsterdam: Lovers Light Festival Cruise

Price: €24.50
Duration: 90 minutes
Meeting points: Central Station and Leidsekade
Online booking: Available
Cancellation policy: Free cancellation up to 24 hours before activity starts

This is the cheapest, no-frills canal cruise tour option that only offers an audio guide in either Dutch or English. It’s free for children 3 years old and below.

Disclaimer: as this is one of the more popular options, waiting times can get particularly long, especially on the weekends, so try to come at least an hour earlier.

Private Boat Tour
Price: €239 for 12 people | €285 for 18 people | €325.00 for 25
Meeting points: City Hall
Online booking: Available

If you have a big group and want to rent a private boat for yourselves, this could be an option for you. This private tour includes a guided tour from the captain and blankets to warm you up. There’s also the option of a bar and some catering.

Bike Tours

Amsterdam also has a slew of bike tours. This could be an option if you want to experience the light festival through the most popular mode of transport in the Netherlands.

In both guided tours below, you bike, and then stop at the exhibition stops for the guide’s live commentary in Dutch or English. During this, you can take photos of the projections. The price also includes the rental fee of the bikes, the tour, and warm tea or coffee afterwards.

Amsterdam Light Festival A-Bike Tour
Price: € 29.95
Meeting point: A-Bike Dam Square, Rokin 105, Amsterdam
Duration: 90 minutes
Online booking: Available
When: every day at 5:00 pm and 7:00 pm

Amsterdam Light Festival Macbike Tour
Price: € 24,50
Meeting point: MacBike Central Station De Ruyterkade 34b (inside the station)
Duration: 90 minutes
When: Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 5:30 pm and 7:00 pm

Now that we’ve got the important tips out of the way, let’s delve deeper into the history behind Amsterdam Light Festival.

Fun to know: Origins Of Amsterdam Light Festival

Now that we’ve got the most important bits out of the way, here’s a quick overview of origins behind this now world-famous festival.

The first Amsterdam Light Festival began in 2012, and back then it only had 20 pieces of artwork. Today, Amsterdam’s Light Festival is one of Europe’s most important light art festivals.

But even before the first festival took place, Amsterdam’s municipal energy company (the GEB) decorated the canals with lightings for decades until the 1990s, when the company was privatized.

This prompted a number of local entrepreneurs to bring back Amsterdam to its former illuminated glory, and these included three very important figures who all worked in the Dutch shipping industry: Vincent Horback, Henk Jan Buchel and Felix Guttmann.

Christmas Canal Parade (2009)

After visiting the popular Winterfest in Florida, USA, in 2008, Vincent Horback came up with the idea of organizing a Christmas Canal Parade. After presenting his idea to Henk-Jan Buchel, they set out a plan and presented the idea to shipping companies and to the Amsterdam municipality for sponsorship.

Seeing the project’s potential to increase tourism during the quiet winter season, the municipality agreed, and some companies decided to give the project a go.

On a shoe-string budget and great public interest, Amsterdam’s first Christmas Canal Parade happened in 2009.

There were 17 decorated boats, each with 30-40 passengers, and onlookers were watching from the bridges. An annual tradition was born.

Winter Magic Amsterdam (2010)

After the wild success of the Christmas Canal Parade, Horbach and Buchel enlisted the help of Felix Guttman to make the event even bigger than the previous year. Guttmann was awarded Amsterdam’s prestigious Entrepreneur of the Year award in 2009 and had strong ties in the shipping industry.

Together and with the backing of larger companies, such as Endemol, a large multimedia corporation in the Netherlands, this festival grew into a three-week winter event in 2010, under the name Winter Magic Festival.

The illuminated Skinny Bridge became the icon of this festival, with the boat parade being the highlight.

Amsterdam Light Festival (2012- Present)

After a break in 2011, the trio expanded the winter festival into an even wider scope and founded the Amsterdam Light Festival – a non-profit cultural festival celebrating the art of light through Amsterdam public spaces.

This yearly festival – on its 7th year in 2019 – has become much more than a Christmas event and procession of well-decorated boats.

The Amsterdam Light Festival is now a city-wide exhibition of creative light projections done by innovative creators from across the world and has numerous events happening across the Dutch capital over the span of 7 weeks.

Final Words

I hope that you enjoyed reading the article as much as I enjoyed writing it. If you want to read more of these kinds of articles, follow us on social media and download TWISPER to get our latest updates!

Julian Canlas
By Julian Canlas

Julian Canlas leads content and community at TWISPER. He is a 20-something content strategist who loves to travel and write about online culture. You can email him at [email protected] for blog collaborations with TWISPER and other partnerships.

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