How I survive the lack of sun in NL

After “why did you decide to come to The Netherlands”, this is probably the question I get asked most frequently. Truth is, despite my immense love for Portugal, I don’t miss living there. The lack of sun in NL, that can indeed be challenging though, and it is probably the main reason for expats from warmer provenances going back to their homelands.

In the beginning, the weather issue was sort of easy-peasy for me. I was so enthusiastic about exploring everything in Amsterdam that weather conditions were just irrelevant but in time things changed a little bit. I must say that I noticed the advantages of living in a cooler climate first thing. I was happy I didn’t feel this sort of desperation to go lay on the beach as I usually felt in Portugal, even in spring time. For me, it was (it is) much easier to focus on work here. However, this is not the end of the story. I do get depressed with lack of warmth and light, so I developed a few strategies to deal with that.

Strategy number one: coffee

(or cappuccino)

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Cappuccino and apple tart at the legendary Winkel 43

I wasn’t big on coffee before I came here but, at a certain point, it was the only thing that kept me going. The coffee moment literally lightens up my day, everyday. I’ve been a big enthusiast of cappuccino the last two years but lately I’ve been trying to go back to the roots so, black coffee it is. Never more than two per day for the lady here.

Strategy number two: ‘gezellige’ cafes

(where I like to read, write and work)

The cafes are the places where I feel the city (definitelly important for someone who blogs about it) and I love working amongst the people. Mornings are perfect for finding tranquility in a cafe in order to work, and nowadays there are a lot of good cafes which are welcoming to the crowd who works on a pc. Some cafes become a bit like co-work spaces, wi-fi connection is usually great everywhere and if there’s good specialty coffee the place is going to be booming, for sure.


Cafe Brecht

‘Gezellig’ is one of those words with no translation to other languages but it is a characteristic you recognize once you live in NL. It means something around cozy, homey, social, intimate, convivial, comfy, and it is one of the nicest parts of the ‘dutch soul’.

Strategy number three: saunas

(do as the locals do)

Saunas are one of the key activities which make people survive through the winter over here. Saunas usually include jacuzzis and swimming pools (there are cafes and restaurants too, for coffee and mealtimes) and, for me, they can be as relaxing as a day at the beach. The logic is the same actually, you get warm and sweaty, and then you balance it all with a good swim or a cold shower. Plus there are no clothes involved and that is in itself a liberating experience.

Strategy number four: physical activity

(by all means, move – cycling to work doesn’t count)

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Yoga at Vondelpark organized by ‘t Blauwe Theehuis

For me Yoga is key to maintain sanity, but any physical activity of your liking will do. The extra benefit of Yoga is that balances body and mind so it’s not just a physical thing. Anyway, going for a run, playing a sport or dancing will revive you and make you produce the endorphins that are responsible for you to feel like the king / queen of the world. This topic arises in every piece of wellness-advice but moving really does change everything for the better. It basically makes you break through your blockades. Important in every sort of climate, in a colder one even more.

Strategy number five: wake up EARLY

(the only time you can have a glimpse of the sun is, very often, in the morning)

Being an night owl was possible back in Portugal but surely not here. I definitely had to work hard on regulating my circadian rhythm. And I absolutely love the mornings and couldn’t imagine missing out on them now. You miss a lot of precious hours of light if you wake up late in NL – especially in the winter.

Strategy number six: travel

(inside and outside NL)

Traveling will help, and what’s great about NL is that it is located in the center of Europe and all flights stop over in Amsterdam. You’ll realize it is not expensive to travel if you plan in advance and travel outside of the high season and busier days. I try to catch a flight to one of the warmer destinations available once or twice every year and this proves to be a real life saver.

As for The Netherlands, nature is lovely over here, especially when there are lakes included. One of my biggest decisions to tackle the city stress and the lack of light is to spend more time within nature over here. This has been a work-in-progress. Have you ever visited Twiske by the way? I definitelly prefer beach lakes over regular beaches in NL and this is a big favourite of mine. Once you’re in Amsterdam North it is just half an hour cycling to the paradise.

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Exploring Noordlaarderbos, near Groningen, NL

Other helpful methods:

Go outside (try to do as much outdoor activities as you can – a raincoat is people’s best friend in this climate – sport or go to walks outside on a daily basis and no matter the weather, you’ll be surprised how this will revive you and you won’t feel the cold after a while moving)

Watch what you eat (same logic as with waking up early – you don’t have sun to energize you and help compensate your tiredness -, so eat more of what makes you feel uplifted and avoid foods which make you feel sluggish. I personally had to change my diet when i moved here.)

Hey, it’s Amsterdam. (This one should come first place. Explore and enjoy the city as much as you can. Amsterdam has so much to offer, all types of cultural events and gatherings, art, monuments and history, sports and outdoor activities, parties of all sorts, people from all over the world. Get your butt out of that couch!)

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Salsa event at Noorderlicht

So good news is yes, surviving the ‘darkness’ is very possible. Bad news is, most of these strategies are quick-fixes. However necessary, it would be better not to depend solely on them. How?

Find a purpose

Or a passion, or your dream-work and commit to it – in other words, do what you love: the only way weather, or a heart-break, or any other difficult circumstance you might find yourself in, might loose relevance.

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8 thoughts on “How I survive the lack of sun in NL

  1. Samuel

    After reading this article (, and being very fond of all Finnish things, I’m not sure what you are talking about when you write sauna… that put aside, I recognize myself in many of your recommendations!
    I’ve learnt last year the value of waking up early, when I witnessed breathtaking sunrises, sometimes in the cold but it was always worth it. Like you say, often the morning is sunny but clouds come later.
    I’ve also traveled to escape Copenhagen, and it was always a great relief. I haven’t been a lot out of the country, but I have toured Denmark extensively (much more than my fellow exchange students, at least).
    Finally, by spending so much time outside in the winter (in quest for sunrise and birds), I’ve realized I had got used to low temperatures. When my parents were freezing in the wind, I often felt just fine. The drawback is that now, I’m boiling when the temperature reaches 25°C…

    I haven’t read a lot on your blog, but I will, it looks interesting and pleasant to read (except for this troubling habit of not writing the “I” in capital letters… why?). Until next time 🙂

    1. Amsterdive

      Hi! Thanks for your comment.

      I always enjoyed my experience in dutch saunas (never visited others) and never experienced the troubles the author of that article talks about. I came to love naked saunas – it’s a very freeing experience for me -, and people were always polite and respectful where i’ve been. Yes, the changing rooms are usually mixed but i don’t have a problem with that. The fact that i read a lot of reviews on the sauna beforehand helps a lot, i guess. I carefully select the ones i visit. In case people don’t feel comfortable with being naked in front of strangers, there’s usually one day a week for swimming suits (and sometimes another day for women only).

      As for the ‘i’, that’s an old habit of mine. When i started writing it in small letters my thoughts were something like, ‘am i that important?’. It seemed a little bit arrogant to me. I understand however that ‘i’ is a noun and according to convention nouns are written in capital letter. Recently i was wondering if i should change this habit, to be honest 😉

      Thanks for your nice words! 🙂

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