When to go to Amsterdam

It might sound like just tourist board PR, but it's true: any time of year is good for visiting Amsterdam. However, there are clear pros and cons of coming in the different seasons, and specific events you might want to bear in mind when planning. For a detailed calendar of events see www.iamsterdam.nl.

Blooming in spring

Come March, things usually start to warm up a bit after winter, and cafés and bars start putting their tables and chairs out on their canal-side terraces. Mid-March through to May is also the time of year to gawp at the blocks of intense colour to be seen in the bulb fields a short drive south-west of Amsterdam, and the famous Keukenhof gardens (www.keukenhof.com) - best time to visit for tulips is normally mid-April.

Back in the city, 30 April (and the night before) is Amsterdam's biggest annual knees-up. It's Queen's Day - a  raucous, vast, orange-hued street party that envelops the whole city.  Bear in mind that accommodation around Queen's Day can be hard to find (and overpriced).

Festive in summer

Amsterdammers really make the most of warmer weather. On fine weekends and evenings in summer, they can be seen chugging round the Grachtengordel (the Canal Ring) in their battered old boats with beer in one hand, tiller in the other, and socialising out on the decks of their houseboats and on the steps of their gabled homes. They also head out to nearby beaches - Bliburg (www.blijburg.nl) is just 15 minutes by tram from Centraal Station, the resort of Zandvoort half an hour. And they hang out in Amsterdam's main green space, the Vondelpark, whose summer attractions include free music and dance and performances for children in an open-air theatre (www.openluchttheater.nl), and outdoor movie screenings courtesy of the EYE Film Instituut Nederlands - see more on my Amsterdam nightlife page.

Annual cultural events come thick and fast during the summer months. There's the high-brow Holland Festival (www.hollandfestival.nl) - Amsterdam's version of the Edinburgh Festival - in June, followed by the outrageous but inclusive Amsterdam Gay Pride (www.amsterdamgaypride.nl) on 4-7 August 2011. The classical music Grachtenfestival (www.grachtenfestival.nl) is scheduled for 12-21 August 2011, while the annual Uitmarkt (www.uitmarkt.nl) - a host of music and dance performances, most free, in venues all over the city previewing the upcoming arts season - is happening 26-28 August 2011.

The summer does have its drawbacks, however. Think crowds, mozzies - they breed on the stagnant canal waters - and the fact that hotel rooms on the upper floors of the old canal buildings can get stiflingly hot. You may want to stick to staying somewhere with air-conditioning.

Thinning crowds and cultural nights in autumn

September is a good month to visit Amsterdam. If you're lucky, it will still be nice and warm, and at the same time you're likely to have a bit more elbow room in top attractions such as the Van Gogh Museum than in the peak summer months. Go the third weekend in September (16-18), and you'll be around for the Jordaan Festival (www.jordaanfestival.nl), a jolly street festival in arguably the city's most enticing neighbourhood.

Another date to bear in mind is the first Saturday in November. It's Museumnacht or Museum Night (www.n8.nl), when many of the city's museums stay open until 2am, and lay on off-beat events such as jazz concerts and poetry readings. 

Affordable and snug in winter

November to March are low season months in Amsterdam. That means hotel rates - and airfares - are at their cheapest (particularly on weekdays), it's easier to bag a room in the city's most desirable canal house hotels, and the queues to enter top attractions are at their shortest. (Though even in the depths of February, at weekends still expect a wait to get in to the most popular places such as the Anne Frank Huis and Rijksmuseum).

The downside of visiting in winter is that it can be very cold, and with much of the city below sea level, that can often mean a bone-chilling, misty dampness. Yet on the plus side, every so often the canals freeze over to a thickness that allows you to skate along them - it happened in January 2010 for the first time in a decade - and those icy blasts off the North Sea are the perfect excuse for holing up in one of the city's many unimprovably snug bars.