When the days start getting shorter, the skies become dramatically picturesque and the trees along the canals turn fire orange, it’s a sure sign that the cultural season in the Netherlands is heating up

If it’s arts and culture you’re after, this is the time to pack your bags and head to the Netherlands. A lot is going on between October and March, so here we take a look at a few of the cultural highlights that keep us entertained throughout the winter.

1. Put on your fancy shoes, it’s the openings season

It’s true, art museums are open all year round, but seasoned art connoisseurs know that the Dutch cultural season starts in Fall. The big bang – the announcement and a teaser of the season’s highlights, known as Uitmarkt, takes place in Amsterdam on the last weekend of August, but the real thing starts much later.

In the fall months, exhibition openings at both independent galleries and larger museums seem to be the pastime. Traditionally happening on Thursday nights, and often coordinated to include multiple galleries, these are a great way to kick-start a culture weekend. Put on your fancy shoes and join the artsy crowd strolling the independent galleries in the heart of town.

During the Amsterdam Museum Night, held early November, over 50 museums big and small hold special presentations and extravagant events, staying open until the small hours of the morning. Amsterdam Art Weekend in late November follows, with cutting edge shows, performances and screenings put up by over 100 galleries.

2. Film, film, film!

Film lovers from all over the world flock to Amsterdam for the International Documentary Film Festival IDFA and the animation festival KABOOM both held in November, or come to Rotterdam for its renowned International Film Festival that takes place at the end of January.

3. Light up the night

During the darker months of December and January, the city of Amsterdam lights up all over with the Amsterdam Light Festival. For 53 days, artworks by international artists brighten up the historic city center of Amsterdam. Follow a walking route, take a boat tour or enjoy the pieces sporadically as you pass them on your city stroll.

4. The sound of holiday

Contemporary culture is all well and good, but what about the winter holiday spirit, you may ask. There’s no lack of that either. The Amsterdam Concert Hall (Concertgebouw) hosts a beautiful Christmas service with classical music. The entrance is free as long as seats are available. Tickets are handed out 30 minutes before the start to everyone queuing in the hall. But if you are not willing to risk seeing the doors close before you, you can always purchase a ticket online.

The Netherlands is predominantly a secular country with many churches used for a variety of purposes. But you’d be surprised by the number of beautiful organ concerts held yearly during Christmas time all over the country. Amsterdam, Haarlem, Leiden or Delft, there are plenty of places to enjoy Bach’s majestic Mathews Passion.

5. It’s show time!

Some days you just want to put on your fancy attire and head to a theater. The Dutch public may be somewhat informal, but don’t let that discourage you. The three Amsterdam theatres boast world-class shows absolutely worth dressing up for.

For international dance, theatre and performances check out the Amsterdam International Theater. For opera and ballet, the Dutch National Opera is the place to be. Just make sure to enter the right door, as they infamously share their building with Amsterdam Municipality. For the best of Jazz, Impro and World Music, check out the program of the Bimhuis. The acoustics and the view of the IJ river from this music hall are just breathtaking.

6. Good food, good spirits

When in Rome, do as the Romans do, and when in the Netherlands, head to a brown bar (or kroeg in Dutch). Known for dark wood and smoke-stained walls, these watering holes are the quintessence of Dutch gezelligheid – an essentially untranslatable term for coziness, hominess and fun.

The walls of these bars are often layered with many inches of posters advertising concerts, theatre plays and exhibitions. Their staff is friendly and familiar and some of the regulars impressively outstanding to say the least. All brown bars will have a selection of local beers and spirits including the Dutch Jenever, a predecessor of contemporary Gin.

Some places will also serve simple and heartful dinner and homemade apple pie. Since there can never be a consensus on the place that has the best apple pie, you might just need to try them all.

A brown bar is not a place you have to rush in and out of. There will often be a selection of board games to keep you entertained as you slowly sip your beverage and prepare for the next dose of culture. And since they are quite traditional establishments, during the winter holiday season, many places will often be lavishly decorated.

Warm up with a dose of culture

Whatever the weather, the Lowlands have much to offer a culture-oriented traveler. Yet the colder months may be even richer in refined entertainment. Not to mention the food heartier and the warm jacuzzi even more enjoyable on the deck of your cultural cruise ship.