If you splurge on five-star hotels, Michelin-star restaurants and extravagant nightlife, you’ll spend a fortune in the Dutch capital. Worse yet, you’ll be surrounded by tourists just like you in upscale establishments brimming with European style but lacking much sense of how locals live, eat and play.
Alternatively, have boatloads of fun in Amsterdam for less than €25 a day without compromising either your budget or the chance to immerse yourself in Dutch culture. Beyond the ten FREE activities listed below, start with these simple tips:
- Accommodations: Bunk up with couchsurfing hosts or at one of Amsterdam’s renowned hostels, e.g. Flying Pig, Winston or Meeting Point, all in the center of town. For bare-bones budgets, numerous campgrounds just outside city limits offer excellent facilities.
- Eating Out: Fill up at student cafés like Skek; local burger joints like Burgermeester and Burger Bar; falafel bars like Maoz, serving vegetarian fare topped with Mediterranean salads; and shoarma/kebab stands all over the city that reflect Amsterdam’s Indonesian ties.
- Have a Picnic: At street bazaars and supermarkets like our ubiquitous Albert Heijns (there’s a subterranean one by Museumplein), pick up a baguette, sliced salami, a hunk of young cheese (jonge kaas), hagelslag and stroopwafels for dessert. Pack in a few cans of Heineken and head for Vondelpark or any of Amsterdam’s green gems for a picnic.
- Street Food: Munch on a cone of Vlaames Frites (Belgian fries) doused with mayo, saté sauce or other toppings. Go Dutch and try herring topped with onions, pickles and a Dutch flag for spearing the fishy tidbits.
- FREE FOOD, FUN & CULTURE:
- Amsterdam’s Grachtengordel (canal ring) was added to the World Heritage List in 2010. Just getting lost in the 400-year-old waterways, which outnumber those in Venice, is like roaming around in a free, living museum that’s also a UNESCO World Heritage site.
- Sandeman’s Free Walking Tour: Get your bearings in a sometimes confusing city and gain insight into Amsterdam’s its evolution from a muddy village on the Amstel into Europe’s most powerful trading city on this three-hour, whirlwind adventure. Tour the Red Light District, Jewish Quarter, Jordaan District, widest bridge, narrowest house and other top sights. Daily tours in English and Spanish are given by entertaining guides who work on a tip-only basis. Tours depart at 11:15 and 13:15 from the National Monument on Dam Square.
- Civic Guard Gallery: It costs €11 to enter the Amsterdam Museum on Kalverstraat, a repository of Golden Age art and more contemporary collections. Outside, in the arcade by the museum entrance, view a slew of Golden Age portraits—peers of Rembrandt’s Night Watch—for nada.
- Nieuwe Kerk (New Church): Built in 1408, this soaring church has been the stage for royal weddings and coronations, including King Willem’s marriage to Maxima and his crowning as Holland’s first king in a century in 2013. Now used for major art exhibitions, it has a gift shop that leads to a free display about the church’s turbulent history.
- Chess on Max Euweplein: From 10‒21:30 daily, meter-high chess pieces appear on a giant board on Max Euweplein, a square bordered by touristy shops and cafés including the always buoyant Hard Rock. Named for a world champion Dutch chess player of the ’30s, this is where you can challenge the locals in a free game or just watch the action from the sidelines.
- Ferry to Amsterdam-Noord: Walk through Central Station, turn left and hop on the free ferry to NDSM Wharf in Amsterdam-Noord. On the ride across the Ij to what was once a derelict shipyard, take in the low, village-like skyline. In 15 minutes, you’ll arrive in an artsy community and cultural hot spot peppered with recycled-junk sculptures, a giant tiki head, and numerous funky restaurants and night spots. Throughout the year, festivals, performances, exhibitions and IJ Hallen, Europe’s largest flea market, are held in Amsterdam-Noord.
- Classical Concerts: On Wednesdays during the cultural season (mid-September–June), Amsterdam’s renowned Concertgebouw presents lunchtime shows—often rehearsals for musicians playing later that evening—from 12:30–13:00. Queue up early if you want a seat.
- Opera & Ballet at Muziektheater: On Tuesdays from 12:30–13:00, performers from the Dutch Philharmonic and Opera stage free lunchtime gigs in the foyer of their contemporary venue on Waterlooplein. The concerts take place during the cultural season, September–May. Guided tours of the National Opera & Ballet are sometimes offered.
- Jazz at Bimhuis: Also on Tuesdays, September–June, Bimhuis, core of Amsterdam’s jazz scene, hosts a rollicking jam session at 22:00. Join the festivities or just be entertained at no cost.
- Friday Night Skate: Year round, at 21:00 on Fridays, skating enthusiasts gather at Vondelpark to roll through town on a 20km, three-hour adventure. Bring or rent skates or just meet the group afterward fat their final destination—inevitably a pub.
COMING SOON: More FREE Things to Do in Amsterdam. Follow Unclogged in Amsterdam to make sure you don’t miss it!