Amsterdam on a budget
We believe some of the best things in life are free (or very cheap) when it comes to travel and experiencing a new destination. If you know where to look, what to book and a few budget travel tricks, being prepared with some key tips can afford you the chance to find free things to do in Amsterdam, and soak up local culture at extremely affordable prices.
Whatever you may have heard about The Netherlands’ capital, a lively juxtaposition of cobbled streets and pretty canals, with an underbelly of fascinating quirks and hidden joys, you may not have been introduced to just how ‘Dam good value it is.
That’s the pun out of the way: whether you’re in Amsterdam for a weekend city escape, as part of a larger Europe trip or for a stretch of time away, there are many superlatives to describe Amsterdam – and boring is never one of them.
A few free things to do in Amsterdam
Walking or cycling
From a map, you can see Amsterdam’s city centre is a compact warren of heritage buildings, hidden gardens and odd shops, built in 400-year-old concentric horseshoes and structured by its canals. As the defining skeleton structure of the Dutch capital and flanked by boats and barges, the banks of the canals are pretty public pathways, studded with offbeat shops and bars, and ripe for exploration by foot or by bike.
Walking is, of course, a happy cost-free experience. Cars are unwelcome in this city, but biking around is both authentic, cheap and reflects the Dutch eco-spirit: you can rent and store bikes at our Amsterdam hostels, which all offer 10% off cycle hire with HI membership.
If you want to ride your bike like a real Am’dam local, don’t ride on the pavement, stay on the right, and don’t ring your bell.
We’re just kidding about the bell – but that’s a valuable heads up to the unwary pedestrians walking on the cycle path.
Budget-friendly boat rides
The St Nicolaas Boat Club, a charitable group that preserves old boats and barges, offers free rides.
Gardens and galleries
Fine art, antiques and outside breathing spaces are accessible even if you’re down to your last cent. The Spiegelstraat, leading up to the main door of the Rijksmuseum, hosts a swath of contemporary art several times a year when Dutch artists come to showcase exhibitions in their studios at weekends. Tucked behind a door on the Spui Square, The Begijnhof is a grassy courtyard and oasis of calm surrounded by 14th century cottages. At the heart of the city, Vondel Park houses one of our Amsterdam hostels, holds free concerts and is a popular hangout for the city’s young folks, who set up camp during the day with picnics and bottles of wine.
Keep your radar switched on for free Amsterdam festivals such as King’s Day, Gay Pride, the Uitmarkt, Amsterdam Heritage Days, National Windmill Day, National Museum Weekend, the Canal Festival and the Amsterdam Light Festival.
Some budget tricks
Secret shopping lanes
Wending from the fringes of the well-trodden shopping lanes are the lesser-known side streets, perfect for seeing Amsterdam on a budget and worth searching for bargains and undiscovered boutiques. Nine Lanes has a handmade soap shop, a museum of spectacles and a toothbrush store. The Jordaan,once overlooked and dilapidated, has been revamped with tapas bars and a diverse cluster of eateries.
I Amsterdam card
If you’re looking for free things to do, in Amsterdam most of the big museums such as the Gothic Rijksmuseum, Van Gogh Museum and The Anne Frank House come with a charge, but you can curb this considerably by buying an I Amsterdam city card. Valid for 24, 48 or 72 hours, this will save you on several major museums, provide hop-on hop-off canal boat rides, and grant you access to unlimited public transport.
Head to MKZ for a €5 three-course Vegan meal cooked by a bunch of cool people in a neighbourhood house. Seek out local haunt Café De Groene Vlinder for a genuine Amsterdam café – Dutch, direct and always with a daily special. Drop into Hartog’s Volkoren Bakkerij on Wibautstraat for freshly baked bread just the way it should be.
Quirky culture spots
Bursting at the seams with culture at little or no cost, the traditional concept of museums involving endless glass cabinets of labelled artefacts from the Neolithic ages, is somewhat challenged here. Along with the Museum of Bags & Purses and the Vodka Museum, Amsterdam wouldn’t be Amsterdam without the Erotic Museum and the Hemp Museum, displaying integral and unforgettable elements of the city’s character.
Set on one of the city’s oldest canals and near to the famous Red Light District, stay at our Amsterdam hostel,
Saving big with Amsterdam hostels starting from €10
Accommodation in the centre of Amsterdam is in fairly short supply, and is expensive as a result. Luckily, we’ve got a handful of top quality, centrally located Amsterdam hostels to keep your wallet and your sleepy head happy during your stay. Genieten! (Enjoy).
Want to learn some budgeting tricks for your Paris trip? Click here