With a little planning, it’s easy to see Amsterdam on a budget. If you don’t fritter away money on overpriced accommodations, Michelin-star restaurants and expensive tourist attractions, you can have a blast in the Dutch capital for €50 euros a day, or less.
Here’s how to see Amsterdam on a budget over a perfect two-night weekend:
Accommodations: If you’re a party animal, bunk up at Winston or Meetingpoint on Warmoesstraat, or stay at the uptown, downtown or beach Flying Pig hostel. Three StayOK Hostels offer outstanding value, with generous buffet breakfasts that include organic bread, meats, fruit, juices and yogurt. Alternatively, find a couchstsurfing host willing to offer free digs in exchange for your enchanting company.
You need not rough it in one of three campgrounds just outside city limits, all with excellent facilities. At Camping Zeeburg, options include comfy eco-cabins and colorful wagonettes. In high season, there’s also live music and film screenings at this hospitable facility.
Cheap Eats: Inexpensive options include Skek, a student-run café on the edge of the Red Light District that offers a 25% discount to those with valid student IDs. Carnivores can fill up at Burgermeester or Burger Bar, both with outlets throughout the city. Vegetarians will find a healthy, inexpensive feed at Maoz, where €5 buys a pita bread stuffed with three falafal balls, re-fillable on multiple trips to the salad bar.
Street Food: For less than €3, munch on Belgian fries doused with mayo, saté sauce or other toppings. Go Dutch and try lightly brined herring topped with onions, pickles and a little Dutch flag for spearing the fish.
Have a Picnic: At street bazaars and supermarkets like Amsterdam’s ubiquitous Albert Heijns (there’s a subterranean one by Museumplein), pick up a baguette, salami, sliced cheese, 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.
Free and Low-Cost Fun
Friday Night: For active fun, join the free Friday Night Skate, held year-round (except in inclement weather). The 20km, three-hour adventures begin at 20:00 in Vondelpark. Bring or rent skates or just meet the group afterward at their final destination—inevitably a pub. End the evening on Warmoesstraat or at a local dive like Hanneke’s Boom near Central Station or Sound Garden, on the western edge of the Jordaan.
Saturday Morning: Make oatmeal or scramble eggs in your hostel, campground or your couchsurfing host’s kitchen. If the weather’s nice, pick up bread, cheese and fruit or yogurt at the nearest Albert Heijn or street market and take it over to Museumplein, Vondelpark or any of the city’s green spaces for a morning picnic. Coffee Company outlets and bakeries throughout town offer continental breakfast—coffee and a pastry—for about €5.
Saturday Afternoon: Get an overview of the Dutch capital and learn about Amsterdam’s evolution into Europe’s most powerful trading city on a free Sandeman’s Walking Tour. Guided by students who work on a tip-only basis, the three-hour adventures cover the Red Light District, Jewish Quarter, Jordaan District, widest bridge, narrowest house and other landmarks. Daily departures in English and Spanish are at 11:15 and 13:15 from the National Monument on Dam Square.
After lunch, spend the rest of the afternoon exploring neighborhoods, landmarks, markets and museums that interest you. Amsterdam’s Grachtengordel (canal ring) was added to the World Heritage List in 2010, so 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.
A plethora of FREE options are listed in Free Things to Do in Amsterdam, Part I and Free Things to Do in Amsterdam, Part II. Highly recommended is an aimless wander through the Negen Straats (Nine Streets), Hazenstraat (Amsterdam’s “Tenth Street”), or along Haarlemerdijk/Haarlemerstraat, where you’ll find one-of-a-kind boutiques, galleries and cafés.
Sunday Morning: Have breakfast while people-watching in Leidseplein, Rembrandtplein, Vondelpark or Westerpark. Afterwards, visit a street bazaar, pick up some bulbs at the Bloemenmarkt, or visit the Openbare Bibliotheek Amsterdam (OBA/Amsterdam Public Library), a sunlit temple of print and electronic media. Alongside books and multimedia, the seven-story structure overlooking the Ij River houses a 250-seat theater, radio station, meeting rooms, exhibition space, music department, study pods and readers’ café. A restaurant with an outdoor terrace provides panoramic views of the city.
Visitors can use any of 600 Internet-connected computers, 50 multimedia workstations, 110 reference terminals and 11 print stations. Or browse newspapers and magazines from around the world at no charge. If you’re lucky, someone will be showcasing their talent on the lobby piano or a special exhibit, film showing, reading, concert, lecture or workshop may be scheduled. Need to e-mail Mom, book a hostel or check Facebook? It’s possible seven days a week in Amsterdam’s public library.
While in the neighborhood, board the free ferry to Noord-Amsterdam, one of the city’s most creative up-and-coming neighborhoods. Have lunch at Pllek or Noorderlicht, both with urban beaches overlooking the Ij, where bonfires are lit on summer evenings.
Sunday Afternoon: Enjoy beer with a view at Hanneke’s Boom near Central Station or Waterkant, a popular waterside bar/restaurant that opened in August 2013 on Marnixstraat, overlooking Singlegracht Canal in the Jordaan. If you’re heading for Schiphol, catch bus #197, which runs directly to the airport from the Q-Park behind Waterkant, on Marnixstraat and Elandsgracht.
Now let’s turn the tables. What’s YOUR best tip for a cheap weekend in Amsterdam?