35 Tips for Seeing Amsterdam on a Budget

Avoid the inevitable line at Anne Frank's house by reserving online.
15 million tourists descend on the Dutch capital daily in high season, resulting in long lines at popular attractions.

Popularity can be a double-edged sword. In Amsterdam’s case, the sharp side is 15 million tourists descending on the Dutch capital daily in high season, found in long lines and crowded museums in spring, summer, and holidays like Koningsdag and Gay Pride. Drawn by cheese, tulips, windmills, world-class culture, and the city’s tolerant attitude toward sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll, most are seduced by Amsterdam’s fairytale landscape, Golden Age mansions and edgy vibe. Indeed, in a global village encompassing 180+ nationalities there’s something for hipsters, culture vultures and history buffs. From museums to marijuana and canals to nightclubs, the Dutch capital is a tourist magnet, making it one of Europe’s most expensive cities.

Amsterdam's 17th Century Canal Ring was named a UNESCO Heritage Site in 2010.
Amsterdam is a tourist magnet, making it one of Europe’s most expensive cities. Photo credit: Amsterdam Marketing

With a dearth of beds for so many visitors, even hostels run 40+ in high season. Many museums charge a whopping €18 entry fee, and few student discounts are available. The 2015 Europe Backpacker Index ranks Amsterdam more expensive than Rome, Paris, and even a few Scandinavian cities. Its $95/day index is less those of Venice, Helsinki, London, Bergen and pricey Zurich. But far ahead of more affordable cities like Budapest and Istanbul.

Yet there are ways to see the home of Rembrandt, Van Gogh and Anne Frank on a budget. Most are in Free Things to Do in Amsterdam, Part I and Free Things to Do in Amsterdam, Part II. But here’s a recap: 35 tips for seeing Amsterdam like a local, for little or no cash:

  1. Couchsurfing is as much about cultural exchange as it is about saving money.
    Couchsurfing is as much about cultural exchange as it is about saving money.

    Couchsurf. But not just for the free digs. Staying with a local through this alternative accommodation network is as much about cultural exchange as it is about saving money.

  2. Stay in a world-famous hostel. Popular joints like Meeting Point, Winston and the (in)famous Flying Pig offer an energetic vibe and spaces to meet fellow travellers. For value and a killer breakfast, check out Stay OK Hostels.
  3. Camp. Cabins and wagonettes at Camping Zeeburg run about €35/night—a deal at this funky campground in Amsterdam’s eastern docklands.
  4. Rent an apartment. Visiting with three or more friends? An AirBnB apartment or short-term rental will reduce your nightly per person rate and help you save by cooking and eating on your own.
  5. Featured Image -- 2222
    Amsterdam’s 400-year-old canals, which outnumber those in Venice, are a UNESCO World Heritage site.

    Roam a free, outdoor museum. Just getting lost in Amsterdam’s 400-year-old canals, which outnumber those in Venice, means discovering a UNESCO World Heritage site.

  6. Tour city highlights. Both Sandeman and 360 Amsterdam offer free wanders covering Amsterdam’s history and highlights like the Red Light District, Jewish Quarter, Jordaan, widest bridge, narrowest house and other landmarks. Tips only.
  7. Stroll the Rijks gardens. There’s a fee to enter Amsterdam’s famed national museum, but no charge to wander through five centuries of Dutch architecture encompassing salvaged Gothic pillars and 17th century gates in the Rijksmuseum’s Baroque and Renaissance Gardens.

    Wander through five centuries of Dutch architecture for free in the Rijksmuseum gardens.
    Explore 5 centuries of Dutch architecture in the Rijks gardens.
  8. Investigate history. At Amsterdam’s City Archives, ferret out historical letters, photos and movies about Amsterdam and such famous inhabitants as Rembrandt, Charles Darwin, Karl Marx and Anne Frank.
  9. See the future. At ARCAM, browse exhibits of uber-cool contemporary design at no cost. Staff at the Amsterdam Architecture Foundation also offer free resources about Amsterdam’s eclectic mix of architectural styles, and digital guides to architecture along city tram routes.
  10. See 17th century art in the street at the Civic Guard Gallery off Kalverstraat. Photo credit: outofthedoor.com.
    View the Civic Guard Gallery off Kalverstraat for free. Photo credit: outofthedoor.com.

    Admire Golden Age art. There’s an entry fee for the Amsterdam Museum, but none to view 15 giant portraits of the 17th century city guard in the Civic Guard Gallery in an adjacent outdoor arcade where Napoleon presides. Life-sized David and Goliath replicas bookend the collection off Kalverstraat.

  11. Amsterdam's beloved Begijnhof is a great place to escape the maddening crowd.
    Escape the maddening crowd at Amsterdam’s beloved Begijnhof.

    Discover a secret courtyard. In Amsterdam’s bustling center, there’s an oasis of 14th century calm at the Begijnhof, a cluster of houses, gardens, and relic-filled churches. Once a residence for the Bengijntjes, a Catholic sisterhood of women who took no monastic vows but dedicated their lives to educating the poor and caring for the sick, it’s where people still gather to worship, marry and reflect.

  12. Ditch the tourist horde. Amsterdam’s lesser known places of refuge include Zon’s Hofje, where you can picnic in the small garden of a former Mennonite church; the Van Brienenhofje, a former brewery with intact old-school water pumps and a clock tower; and the Karthuizerhofje, the largest, built in 17th century for widowed women.
  13. Get 50% off. At Last Minute Ticket shops on Leidseplein, and at the Amsterdam Tourist Office and Main Library, buy last minute tickets for same day/night shows. Don’t speak Dutch? Not a problem at Boom Chicago, which almost always has last minute tickets for its comedy improv shows.
  14. The National Ballet performs at Amsterdam's Muziektheater.
    The National Ballet performs at Amsterdam’s Muziektheater.

    Dance for lunch. On Tuesdays during cultural season (September–May), The Dutch Philharmonic and Opera stage free lunchtime opera and ballet at the Dutch National Ballet & Opera (formerly the Muziektheater) on Waterlooplein. Young musicians and Amsterdam Conservatory students also perform at Muziekgebouw aan ‘t IJ at free lunch concerts.

  15. Savor the food of love. Amsterdam’s renowned Concertgebouw presents lunchtime classical music concertsoften rehearsals for musicians playing that evening—on Wednesdays during the cultural season.

  16. Jazz it up. All instruments, including voice, are welcome at free Tuesday night jazz improv workshops at Bimhuis, followed by live jazz played by Conservatory students.

  17. Amsterdam-Noord is accessible via a free ferry takes you across the Ij.
    Amsterdam-Noord is accessible via a free ferry takes you across the Ij.

    Explore Noord. Walk through Central Station, turn left and hop on the free ferry to NDSM Wharf. On the ride across the Ij to what was once a derelict shipyard, view the low, village-like skyline. In 15 minutes, you’ll arrive in an artsy hotspot peppered with funky restaurants like IJ-Kantine, Noorderlicht and Pllek.

  18. See the EYE. Once headquartered in Vondelpark, this homage to international cinema now perches like an ivory spaceship on the Ij River. Its movies and main-floor exhibitions have entry fees, but there’s no cost to browse the interactive film displays in the basement.

    The Eye Film Institute perches like an ivory spaceship on the Ij River.
    The Eye Film Institute perches like an ivory spaceship on the Ij River.
  19. Find free WiFi 7 days a week at Amsterdam's Openbar Bibliotheek. Photo Credit: Amsterdam Marketing
    Find free WiFi at Amsterdam’s Main Library. Photo Credit: Amsterdam Marketing

    Find Panoramic Views. Overlooking the Ij east of Central Station, the Openbar Bibliotheek (Main Library) offers free access to WiFi, as well as print and electronic media. Open seven days a week, the top-floor cafeteria boasts panoramic city views.

  20. Challenge the locals at chess. Beat the Dutchies at their own game on a giant chess board on Max Euweplein, a square named for a world champion Dutch chess player of the ’30s.

    Max Euwplein
    Challenge the locals on Max Euwplein.
  21. View where King Willem wed Maxima. The 15th century Nieuwe Kerk (New Church) has been the stage for royal weddings and coronations. Now used for major art exhibitions, it has a gift shop that leads to a free display about the church’s turbulent history.
  22. Bling it. Both Coster Diamonds and Gassan offer free tours covering the art of diamond cutting and polishing. Buying is optional.
  23. Smell the roses. A bag of bulbs will run you a few euros, but there’s no charge to stroll through the fragrant Bloemenmarkt, set on moored boats lining the Singel Canal between Muntplein and Koningsplein.

    The fragrant Bloemenmarkt is set on moored boats lining the Singel.
    The fragrant Bloemenmarkt is set on moored boats lining the Singel.
  24. Learn about weed. From its Red Light District base, Amsterdam’s Cannabis College dispenses advice about safe marijuana use. Free guided tours cover marijuana cultivation and stages of growth, drug paraphernalia, and coffeeshop etiquette.
  25. Hear a story. Or tell one, at free monthly storytelling sessions at Mezrab in Amsterdam’s eastern docklands. Donations welcome.
  26. See an architectural potpourri. On Roemer Visscherstraat, the Zevenlandenhuizen (Seven Countries Houses) showcase architectural styles from seven European countries on a single street. Designed by Dutch architect Tjeerd Kuipers in 1894, they encompass a German chalet, French castle, Spanish villa, Italian palazzo, English cottage, Dutch Renaissance mansion and onion dome-topped Russian residence, all lined up near the entrance to Vondelpark.
  27. An outdoor terrace makes Brouwerij 't Ij a great place to chill in the shadow of an urban windmill.
    An outdoor terrace makes Brouwerij ‘t Ij a great place to chill in the shadow of an urban windmill.

    Tour a beer brewery. Marked by a giant windmill in Amsterdam East, Brouwerij ‘t IJ turns out excellent craft beers. Reach it via bike or tram 10 or 14 for free tours, tastings and a great outdoor terrace.

  28. Sample Jenever. Open tastings are offered Saturdays from 14:00–15:00 at Wynand Focking, a distillery in an alleyway near Dam Square where a Dutch drink similar to gin is produced. The bar is open daily from 15:00, and you can also tour the old distillery.
  29. Taste local cheese. De Reypenaer, along with many other cheese shops around Amsterdam, may be run for a profit, but wandering in to sample some of their offerings costs nothing thanks to the customer-friendly guillotine tasting setup.
  30. 7bridges2-1
    Stand on the odd-numbered side of the bridge at Reguliersgracht and Herengracht to view 15 bridges.

    See 15 bridges from one. Standing on the bridge at Reguliersgracht and Herengracht, glimpse 15 bridges—spectacular at night, when they’re all illuminated.

  31. Visit a national equestrian school. Housed in a neoclassical structure in Amsterdam’s Museum District, the Hollandsche Manege features ornate architecture inspired by Vienna’s Spanish Riding School. Watch the regal trotting from its elegant café.
  32. DamEntertainment
    You’re bound to see street performers on Dam Square, Leidseplein and Rembrandtplein.

    Catch a street show. Hang around Dam Square, Leidseplein or Rembrandtplein long enough and you’re bound to be entertained by talented musicians, jugglers, mimes, break-dancers and comedians who come from around the globe to perform for free. For many, this is their livelihood, so throw a few euros their way if they’ve inspired a laugh.

  33. Work out in a park. Rembrandtpark’s outdoor gym means you can exercise for free, on your own schedule.
  34. Practice morning t’ai chi. Find Sifu Chan in Oosterpark every morning at 10, rain or shine.
  35. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
    Friday Night Skate takes place year-round, weather permitting.

    Skate late.Year-round on Friday evenings, skaters gather at Vondelpark to roll through town on a 20km, three-hour adventure. Bring or rent skates or meet the group afterward at their final destination—inevitably a pub.

Now it’s your turn. What’s YOUR best tip for seeing Amsterdam on a budget? Leave it in the comments below!

36 comments

  1. This is what i looked for.. architecture, panoramic views, work out in the park and tai chi every morning? Oh common its gonna be beautiful day 😀 Thanks for the tips!

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  2. So much useful information in a tight package – I like! Will check at least Begijnhof, Rijks gardens, Dutch National Ballet lunch dancing, Concertgebouw lunch concert, Bimhuis jazzing, free ferry to NDSM Wharf, library cafe, Brouwerij ‘t IJ, Dam Square street shows and Oosterpark morning Tai chi.
    I copied the whole page in my phone to make it easily available also offline when wandering around the canals. Adding stars for the locations in my offline map will make it easy to locate these places.
    Thanks Melissa and much sunlight from Morocco. 🙂

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  3. I have ridden bikes around Amsterdam every time I visited. It is a great open city just made for fresh air and exercise.

    You will find amazing secret bars and cafes, beyond the Leidseplein and Dam square hustle and bustle.

    Past the opera house, through the vondelpark and out to the Olympic stadium, or around the inner rings, seeing the calm canals at dawn, or the ferries coming in with the workers.

    And the bike parking at Amsterdam central is a photo waiting to be taken.

    Get clever. Get a bike. And remember – bikes rule in Amsterdam so if you’re walking – get out of the way!

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    • Hahaha! I’m not so sure it’s wise for tourists to ride a bike in this mad cycling city. The bike paths are filled with Dutchies who’ve been cycling since before they were born. Indeed, most start peddling themselves shortly after they can walk. Add tram tracks, inexperience and not knowing where you’re going, and you have disaster waiting to happen. Even though I was a recreational cyclist in Southern California, and have toured the Dutch countryside on a bike, I prefer to walk in Amsterdam, where you can get anywhere by foot in a city the size of a postage stamp.

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  4. Love the post I always find more interesting to walk around the city and enjoy the architecture and the people that going in every museum, because that is expensive and you stop looking at the beauty of the city. There are always cheap and even free way to enjoy.

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  5. I can’t wait to see the view from the bridge at Reguliersgracht and Herengracht. Of course, I have to say that my favorite tip would be the Friday Night Skate. Traveling on a budget is a must as a student, so it’s wonderful to have this article as a reference on my trip to Amsterdam!

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  6. Very good article for anyone on a bugdet in Amsterdam. I particularly like the suggestion no 30 – See 15 bridges from one. I will definetly look out for this part of Amsterdam, I hope I can get some good pictures. The same with Openbar Bibliotheek – any panoramis views should make for good photos. Free wifi at the Biblioteek is more tham welcome 🙂

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  7. thank you very much for great suggestion, we will be in Amsterdam next month and I am sure that your article will help us to enjoy our trip. thanks again

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  8. I visited Amsterdam with some friends about three years ago & would have loved to know all of these tips beforehand. Traveling on a budget is very important for students like me who are studying abroad. I hope I get to visit as many places as possible. Thank you so much Melissa for all of the valuable information; I’m sure it will come in handy.

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  9. Thank you so much! Super helpful and fun post, so excited to explore this incredible city and will definitely keep all these tips in mind 😊 -Julia

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  10. Thank you for posting this! It’s always so refreshing and wonderful to see someone who loves a place so much they share the ins and outs for the wanderers of the world. I’m new to couchsurfing and I’m excited to see the people I’ll meet and hopefully cross a few things off this list!

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  11. My girlfriends and I will be visiting Amsterdam for the fist time soon and we’re definitely on a budget! So I find this article to be very complete, exactly what we needed. Its amazing how here you get tips that go from sight seeing and museums to street art, amazing food, live music and much much more! Thanks for sharing so much cool, innovating and different info about Amsterdam!! Following these tips will definitely make our trip much more exciting!
    Thank you so much! 🙂

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  12. I had no idea about the Zeeburg Camping, so I’ll definitely try to do a reservation. Thank you so much for all the tips! For us the students the really come in handy because of our tight budget.

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  13. Aaah! Reading this article makes me so excited!!! Im so looking foward to go to rembrant’s house, Im an art student so i find this so Helpfully great! Thank you for sharing all these great info it Will help us alot 🙂

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  14. Wow! What a helpful post and such a joy to read! Thank you so much for writing this. My friends and I are beyond excited to explore Amsterdam on a budget.

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  15. This is really a cool guide to Amsterdam (= I have visitted your beatiful city 5 times already (yet more times to come! :D) and I will definitely use a few tips, even if they ont fit into 1 visit 😀

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  16. Thanks for the great Tips (= I´ll definitely also check out your other two posts but this one alone will keep me occupied for quite a while >.<

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  17. I never couchsurfed before but my friend is convinced of it so I agreed to try it in Amsterdam, too. I can’t wait to visit this awesome City and now that I have read your tips, I’m even more excited 🙂 number one on my bucket list is doing a bike tour through the city!

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  18. Thank you for this detailed list! I’ve been to Amsterdam and I was shocked at how expensive everything was. Having just come back from a trip to Romania didn’t help either 😛

    Anyway, I’m looking forward to explore the city once again.

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  19. The city of bikes! I like your take (http://matadornetwork.com/abroad/13-american-habits-lost-amsterdam/) on the beater bike locked up with a hundred pound chain ; ) Fun fact!: “In 2013, there were about 1,200,000 bicycles in Amsterdam outnumbering the amount of citizens in the city.” (source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cycling_in_Amsterdam). In the U.S. it is common to see at least 1 car per person–go Amsterdam! Thanks for these insightful tips on seeing Amsterdam on a budget!

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  20. Very grateful to have found your blog. It has saved lots of hours of searching on Internet to find out about what to do in Amsterdam. I can´t wait to walk around the city and visit many of the different places you mention here, including a session or two of Tai Chi.

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  21. Really useful article (and blog in general) for when you’re used to travel on a student budget like I do. Some of those tips caught my eyes, like couchsurfing (which I recommend to every curious traveler), ARCAM (seems fascinating), the panoramic view from the Open Bar Bibliotheek… I’m planning on going to Amsterdam in two weeks, and I will make sure to check on your blog for more tips. Fortunately I will be back in august to see more of this city which you really seem to have fallen in love with !

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  22. There are so many amazing things to do! I’m looking forward to visit the library and the bridges you mentioned! Actually, everything!!

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  23. I wish I would have found this a month ago! Glad I found it now, new thing on my to-do list
    1.Rembrandtpark’s outdoor gym
    2.Amsterdam’s Cannabis College
    3. Sandeman or 360 Amsterdam tour of the city

    Very informative article I must send to my friend

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  24. This list is just what I needed prior to my trip to Amsterdam on a shoestring. You can’t beat travelling on a budget, the financial limitations only encourage you to explore and get more for your money. This has really informed me and will help me get a more well rounded view of a city. Thanks for the amazing tips – you’re really catering to an audience.

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  25. Great tips!! We’ll definately go check the canabis garden at de wallen. And I’ve been to Noord it’s worth a full weekend visit on it’s own already!!

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  26. Thank you for such a great tips! I’ve already written down some of them in my travel notebook. Can’t wait to come and explore Amsterdam!

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  27. This exactly what I am looking for. The tips is a super important for any economic plan to travel in General and in Amsterdam in specific. The article gives also the philosophy behind every step for instance, coaching surfing is a way of cultural exchange more that a way to find a place. The blog is really a great reference for every one who would like to visit Amsterdam 🙂

    Like

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