Amsterdam is a city notorious for its hedonism. Perhaps this is why it’s gained a reputation for making a dent in travellers’ budgets as well as on their morals.
But Amsterdam has a lot more to offer than just sex and drugs. Like any capital city, Amsterdam is a vibrant cultural centre bursting with history, art and activities. Learn from the mistakes of those who’ve returned from Amsterdam with heavy hearts and lighter wallets, and indulge in these fun – and free – activities instead:
1. Culture Vulture
The Van Gogh Museum looking too expensive? Then check out the Schuttersgalerij (Civic Guards Gallery) instead. Duck into this narrow alleyway at Kalverstraat 92 to see 17th Century paintings of the city’s voluntary guard.
History more your thing? Then head over to the beautiful Stadsarchief (City Archives). Although most exhibitions cost money, the Amsterdam Treasures collection down in the basement is completely free, and gives you a great insight into the city’s fascinating past.
And, for something a little different, there’s always the Max Euwe Plein, a chess museum complete with giant outdoor chessboard. Or how about Cannabis College, a non-profit dedicated to educating visitors about Amsterdam’s most famous herb, whose slogan is ‘Just say know!’
2. Get your Tour on
Join the Sandemans New Amsterdam walking tour, which leaves from the National Monument in Dam Square every day at 11.15am and 2.15pm. It takes visitors on a three-hour spin of the city that includes the Red Light District, Jewish Quarter, Royal Palace, Anne Frank House and more. Guides work in exchange for voluntary donations.
Of course, if you really don’t want to walk too far, you can always take Brouwerij ‘t IJ up on their offer of a free brewery tour instead. These are held every Friday at 4pm.
3. Explore the Markets
Even if you don’t buy anything, Amsterdam’s plentiful open-air markets make great photo opportunities (plus there are often free food and drink samples). Popular markets include Bloemenmarkt (the floating flower market), the Waterlooplein Flea Market and the Noordermarkt Farmer’s Market – but there are many more to choose from.
4. Go Green
Parks and gardens are always a good bet for budget-friendly fun – simply sit back and people watch. Vondelpark is Amsterdam’s most popular park, and in the summer is the setting for free open-air theatre. Alternatively, Beatrixpark offers a nice, less crowded option, while tucked down an alleyway just off the Spui you’ll find Begijnhof – a secret courtyard hidden behind some of the city’s oldest houses just perfect for getting away from the hustle and bustle. And don’t forget the Vrije University’s botanical garden, which is home to over 6,000 plant species. Lastly, if you really want to get out of the city, there also Amsterdam Bos – an artificial forest that, at 1,000 hectares, is three times the size of New York’s Central Park.
5. Music, Maestro!
Amsterdam has free music events for every taste. If you go to Concertgebouw from 12.30-1pm on a Wednesday during the summer months, you can see free lunchtime shows of classical music. From September through May, head instead to Muziektheater/Stopera’s free lunchtime shows, which feature performers from the Dutch Philharmonic and opera and take place every Tuesday at 12.30-1pm.
If jazz if more your scene then you’re in luck – Amsterdam is a hotbed for it. Check out Bimhuis’ legendary sessions, which begin at 10pm each Tuesday from September to June. There’s also a free music and dance improv event there at 8.30pm on the first Monday of each month.
6. Ride the Waves
Hop on a ferry behind Central Station and head over to the IJ – it won’t cost you a penny. On the other side of the river you’ll find Amsterdam Noord, a historical area of the city that still retains its village feel, and the NDSM Wharf, a former shipyard that’s been converted into an artists’ enclave.
7. Festival Fun
Why not time your visit with one of Amsterdam’s many free festivals? Get your orange on for King’s Day on 27th April; enjoy one of the world’s best pride events in the summer; soak up the best of Dutch culture over three days of music, art, theatre, dance, opera, literature and cabaret events at Uitmart; explore some of city’s most important buildings, monuments and homes over the Amsterdam Heritage Days; visit one of the 950 windmills that open their doors each National Windmill Day; enjoy canal-side classical music at Grachtenfestival; see Amsterdam as you’ve never seen it before during Amsterdam Light Festival; or even pick a free tulip on National Tulip Day!
Do you have any other tips for free things to do in Amsterdam? Share them below.