Coping with the Cold: How do Australians survive a Dutch winter?

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Hi, I am going to the Netherlands end of next month for 35 days. I am really worried that it will be very cold and that i won’t cope. Do you have any tips? Also if anyone from this community wants me to get them something or drop something off for them while i am over there, i would be most happy to help. I will be staying in Amsterdam and making some day trips. Thanks Andrea

I love receiving mail from the Dutch Australian Community.  Andrea lives in Australia (and has Dutch parents) and is coming to the Netherlands soon.  I’m an Australian trying to survive a Dutch winter right now! So here’s my top 5 tips for coping with the cold, written especially for a short-term traveller here.  For longer-term residents, I’d go more heavy duty – think electric blankets, energy lights and more – I’ll do a separate post.

1.  Layer, layer, layer

I first learnt this when I moved to the UK in my mid 20’s.  I really had trouble trying to adjust from the warm indoor temperatures, to going outside in the freezing cold, then back into the warmth again.  You need to layer clothes so that you can adjust easily to suit.  For example, start with a singlet, then a t-shirt (or long sleeved t-shirt), then a cardigan or light jacket, then a heavy winter jacket over that.

2.  Get a great jacket & boots

If you are only coming here short-term, a jacket may be an investment, but well worth it.  Or perhaps you could borrow one for the month.  I picked up a couple of awesome Esprit winter jackets at an outlet store at Brisbane Airport a few years ago for only about AUD$50 each – as not much use for them for those in Brisbane!  My good ones have feather/down and are water resistant.  If you plan on cycling in the cold/rain, you need waterproof.   You also need a good pair of boots.  I love mine from – this is actually the auto association (like RACQ or NRMA in Australia) but they have some great prices on high quality outdoor gear.  You can order online and have delivered next day if you have an address in NL or they have stores as well.   Keeping your chest and feet warm & dry in winter is a must.

3.  Drink lots

So, when you read that, which drink was your first thought?  Some may go straight for a warm pub and down beer, wine, whisky or even the Dutch Jenever to keep warm.  Personally, I rarely drink alcohol but do love a nice, warm mug of mulled wine.  Hot chocolate with a big pile of whipped cream on top is the BEST!  Unfortunately I recently discovered an allergy to milk and am really missing these, I’m going to have to learn how to make myself a soy or lactose-free version at home somehow.  You’ll find hot chocolates in every cafe and restaurant though….usually made with a pre-packaged stuff which you get used to.  If you really search for it, you may find a super-special hot chocolate, where you get a warm mug of milk and a big chunk of chocolate on a stick.  Combine the two and heaven.  You forget all about the cold.  The other thing you actually often forget to drink in the cold is water.  You may not need quite as much as on a hot summer’s day, but still need to make sure you drink water regularly as the indoor heating everywhere can really dry out your skin and give you headaches – but because you’re not hot, you may not feel thirsty.

4.  Learn how to use your heater

Where-ever you are staying, familiarise yourself immediately with the heating system! Most places have central heating, which will have a temperature control in one location.  For our house and many others I’ve seen, this is in the living room – but the one setting controls the whole house.  But if the living room reaches the set temperature, the heating won’t turn on upstairs!  I still find it all very confusing, but basically don’t wait until you wake up in the middle of the night cold to figure it out.  I have bought myself a little 10 euro fan heater to give me a burst of warm air anytime I need it.

5.  Download the buienradar app

Being cold isn’t great fun – but being WET and cold is almost unbearable.  I was stunned when I first moved here when I had a meeting with someone who, just as we were finishing up, glanced at their phone and said “I have 5 more minutes and then have to go so I can avoid the rain”.  They weren’t psychic, but did what many Dutchies do – Checked the website or downloaded the app that can tell you with pretty high accuracy, exactly when it will rain in your region and for how long!

You may also like to read a post that a friend wrote that was published in the Wall Street Journal online:

How to Survive Winter in the Netherlands as an Expat

That’s my daughter in the nose-warmer my mum made for her!  Again, this post is focussed mostly on short-term solutions, as at the end of the month, you get to go back to Australia and defrost!  Here, it is generally what I consider “too cold” from about October to March.

So, Andrea, I hope that’s helpful!  I’m typing with cold fingers so will finish off here, but would love to hear how you go.  I hope you have a wonderfully warm trip.  And even may get to enjoy the cold!

Does anyone else have any tips to add?  Please write them in the comments!




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