No money? No problem! While its picturesque canals, coffee shops and Red Light District are world-famous, Amsterdam is not exactly known for having plenty of free things for visitors to do. The Dutch are a thrifty people and their reputation for commerce precedes them. Not to worry though. If you’re a little strapped for euros, check out our list of the freebies on offer.
1- The Canal Ring
Fun Fact: More canals flow in Amsterdam than in Venice! The canal belt (Grachtengordel) was built in the 17th century around the old city center, eventually being crowned a UNESCO World Heritage site in August 2010. Taking a walk or biking around these 400-year-old waterways is one of the city’s greatest pleasures. Take in the old architectural designs found on the many canal houses around. Stand at the corner of Reguliersgracht/corner of Herengracht. From here, you have a view of no less than 15 bridges and at night they all light up.
Taking pictures and enjoying the sights is definitely worth a mention on this list of free activities to do in Amsterdam.
2- Explore the secret courtyard Begijnhof
If you’re looking to escape the city noise, Begijnhof is the ideal place for you. Surrounded by cottages, this hidden courtyard is one of the oldest houses in Amsterdam and dates as far back as the 14th century. It was initially built for beguines, a form of lay nun. In 1607, the church at the center of the courtyard was presented to Protestant exiles escaping England. Afterwards, they sailed to America becoming the nation’s founding fathers. The last beguine passed away in 1971, however single women still occupy the houses. Open daily from 9am to 5pm, this is the obvious spot for anyone simply looking to wind down and enjoy some tranquility in this already tranquil city.
3- Museums & Galleries
If you consider yourself to be a culture vulture, Amsterdam is definitely the place for you. There is no shortage of museums and galleries in Amsterdam. Sample some of the city’s finest artwork for free at the Civic Guards Gallery. Amsterdam Historical Museum also has some breathtaking 17th century paintings for you to feast your eyes on. The city’s contemporary art scene is thriving with small independent galleries at the forefront e.g. Radar, KochxBos and Galerie Fons Welters. The EYE museum and Rijskmuseum are also worth checking out.
4- Walking and Cycling Tours
For starters, any visit to Amsterdam is incomplete without the obligatory photo at the ‘I am Amsterdam’ sign. That aside, there are plenty of photo opportunities as you walk around this city. Embark on a free walking tour of the city.
Departing from the National Monument in Dam Square at 11.15am and 1.15pm everyday, walking tours are the most affordable yet fun ways to take in the sights and sounds of the city. Each one lasts approximately three hours.
5- Take a free boat trip
Make your way to the ferries behind Central Station where you can board one of the free ferries. This is your opportunity to see the city in its entirety. The ferries operate from 6am till evening. Hint: If you’d like value for money, board the ‘NDSM Werf’ . This is the longest trip.
6- Street Markets
You will come across many outdoor markets in and around Amsterdam’s neighborhoods. The most famous of them is probably Bloemenmarkt. Breathe deep as you stroll across this flower market. Smelling the lilies and turnips is free, but you might have to purchase a bouquet! If you are looking for some clothes, household goods or souvenirs, then check out Albert Cuypstraat Markt, one of Amsterdam’s largest city markets.
7- Free Concerts
If you know where to look, you just might stumble upon free jazz/classical concerts nearly every day of the week.The National Opera & Ballet ,for example, puts on free concerts every Tuesday at 12:30. The MaloMelo hosts a free session of blues on Wednesday night. The Royal Concertgebouw also holds free concerts at noon on Wednesday…and many more
Festival season in Amsterdam usually kicks off in mid April all the way to January. This means that there is,on average, at least one free concert a month! Gay Pride, King’s Day, Canal Festival, Amsterdam Light Festival , National Windmill Day, National Museum Weekend and National Tulip Day ( remember to pick up a tulip) are just a few of those festivals
9- Garden and Parks e.g. Vondelpark
Complete with patches of forestry, green lawns, ponds, lakes, kilometers of winding footpaths and plenty of picnic space; Vondelpark is a popular choice for those who want to be close to nature. Be it for a morning jog, playtime with the kids or an afternoon breather, Amsterdam’s ‘green lung’ never disappoints. As an added bonus, occasionally there may be free festivals or open-air theater in the parks.
10- Check out the Red Light District
The infamous Red Light District is conveniently located at the oldest part of the city. There are numerous sex shops, gay bars, brothels, peep shows not to mention window prostitutes. This area comes alive at night as lonely men, fascinated tourists and ‘ladies of the night’ go about their business. It is however illegal to photograph the ladies. This area is also pretty intriguing during the day and is worth checking out. There are many bars in this area so if you fancy having a beer, feel welcome.
As long as you’re in Amsterdam, you might want to check out the Condomerie, the world’s first specialist condom shop. A tour of a beer brewery also wouldn’t hurt.