A Perfect (Cheap) Weekend in Amsterdam

Three StayOK Hostels in Amsterdam offer free breakfast. Photo credit: Ken Francis

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.

Save money  through Couchsurfing.
Save money and experience the city as a local through Couchsurfing.

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.

Breakfast at StayOK Hostel.
Breakfast at StayOK Hostel in Vondelpark. Photo credit: Ken Francis

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.

Get a 25% discount with your valid student ID at Skek.
Get a 25% discount with your valid student ID at student-run Skek.

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.

Lightly brined herring, sold at stands throughout Amsterdam, is a popular Dutch snack.
Lightly brined herring, sold at stands throughout Amsterdam, is a popular Dutch snack.

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.

Museumplein is great spot for a picnic in Amsterdam.
Museumplein is great spot for a picnic in Amsterdam.

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.

Hanneke's Boom offers beer with a view near Central Station.
Hanneke’s Boom offers beer with a view near Central Station.

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.

Sandeman's Free Walking Tour provides a good city overview. And the price is right!
Free Sandeman’s Walking Tours provide a good city overview. And the price is right!

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/Haarlemerstraatwhere you’ll find one-of-a-kind boutiques, galleries and cafés.

Looking for free WiFi or an English-language newspaper? Visit the library! Photo Credit: Amsterdam Marketing
Find English-language newspapers at Amsterdam’s public library.
Photo Credit: Amsterdam Marketing

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.

Find more tips for exploring Amsterdam in my AFAR Guide.
Find more tips for exploring Amsterdam in my AFAR Guide.

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.

A free ferry takes you across the Ij, from Central Station to Amsterdam-Noord.
A free ferry takes you across the Ij, from Central Station to Amsterdam-Noord.
Opened in August 2013, Waterkant is a hugely popular bar/restaurant.
Opened in August 2013, Waterkant is a hugely popular bar/restaurant overlooking Singlegracht Canal.

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?

Norderlicht serves beer and casual fare on an urban beach overlooking the Ij.
Noorderlicht serves beer and casual fare on an urban beach overlooking the Ij.

13 comments

  1. This is so useful, thank you! For me is very important to find a compromise between travel and save money, and i’m glad to know that visit Amsterdam is possible even with a low budget 🙂

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  2. Another really helpful and great to read article. Since we are students travelling on a pretty low budget we can definitely use any help we can get with managing our finances 😀 Thank you for the good advice!

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  3. Thanks for the article, it’s really helpful! I am going to spend New Year’s in Amsterdam and am super excited to try things out. The Street market sounds amazing and I plan on trying as much of the food as possible 😊 Maybe we can even see other travelers like us who don’t have much experience either.

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  4. Love how you can use your experiences to help other people! It’s extremely helpful, especially because many of the tips include specific places or specific directions. Also love how although you are not a student yourself, you can offer tips like bringing a student ID and getting a discount, it’s thoughtful! These tips are very noteworthy and will be very handy for my upcoming trip. This post deserves a big thank you!

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  5. i’ve booked my trip to amsterdam for the end of march and have been stir crazy with anticipation ever since! as a (very) broke college student trying to make the most of studying abroad in the cheapest ways possible, i’ve already snapped a photo of this article on my phone so i have it handy in my pocket the second i land in amsterdam. the tips about cheap (yet still good, and local) food and the free walking tour/other cost-effective activities are at the top of my list. now my only problem is finding enough time to do all of it!! thanks for the awesome article. super glad i clicked on it!!

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  6. Wow! With all the things you list on your blog it seems more and more that only 2 or 3 days is not enough! But that’s a good start at least 😉 Thanks so much for all the info!
    – Annika

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  7. This is one of the reasons, why I love internet: you can literally plan a trip across the continent, book you flight, arrange your stay and then find a blog where you can get extensive information about the best the city has to offer and all this while not leaving your sofa.

    The only downside is, now I can see that three days won’t be nearly enough for this city 🙂

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    • Thanks for the kudos, Leo. I’ve lived in Amsterdam for 6+ years, and I’m still discovering new things. You can’t see this city in a lifetime. But you can have lots of fun trying!

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  8. Useful guide for those who plan to visit Amsterdam. A lot of good advices, where to stay, to eat and so on. Specially thanks for these places with vegetarian food, as it is usually difficult to find one.

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