Popularity can be a double-edged sword. In Amsterdam, the sharp side is an expected 21+ million tourists in 2020. Inevitably, they’ll be waiting in long lines and crowded museums in spring and summer, and on holidays like Koningsdag and Pride.
Drawn by cheese, tulips, windmills, world-class culture, and Amsterdam’s famously tolerant attitude toward sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll, most are seduced by fairytale landscapes and Golden Age mansions. 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.
With a dearth of beds for so many visitors, even hostels can run €50+ in high season. Many museums charge a whopping €19 entry fee, and few student discounts are available. 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 on a budget, for little or no cash:
1. 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, St. Christoper’s Inn at the Winston and the (in)famous Flying Pig Downtown and Flying Pig Uptown offer an energetic vibe and inviting spaces to meet fellow travelers. For value and a killer breakfast, check out Stay OK Amsterdam Vondelpark and StayOK Amsterdam Oost.
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 on restaurant bills if you cook and eat on your own.
5. 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. 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.
6. 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.
7. Stroll the Rijksmuseum 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.
8. 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.
9. 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.
10. 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.
11. 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 the 17th century for widowed women.
12. 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.
13. Laugh it up. Don’t speak Dutch? Not a problem at Boom Chicago, which almost always has last minute tickets for its comedy improv shows.
14. Dance for lunch. On Tuesdays from September through 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 concerts—often rehearsals for musicians playing that evening—on Wednesdays during the cultural season.
16. Explore Noord. Walk through the IJZijd Passage in 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 Amsterdam’s low, village-like skyline. In 15 minutes, you’ll arrive in an artsy hotspot peppered with funky restaurants like IJ-Kantine, Noorderlicht and Pllek.
17. 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.
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.
19. Find Panoramic Views. Overlooking the IJ just east of Central Station, the Openbar Bibliotheek (Public 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 1930s.
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.
23. 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.
24. Smell the roses. A bag of bulbs will run you a few euros, but there’s no charge to stroll through the fragrant Bloemenmarkt, Amsterdam’s famed floating flower market set on moored boats lining the Singel Canal between Muntplein and Koningsplein.
25. Hear a story. Or tell one, at free monthly storytelling sessions at Mezrab in Amsterdam’s Eastern Docklands. Donations welcome.
26. 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.
27. See an architectural potpourri. The Zevenlandenhuizen (Seven Countries Houses) showcase architectural styles from seven 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 parallel to Vondelpark.
28. 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 tasting setup.
29. Tour a beer brewery. Marked by a giant windmill in Amsterdam East, Brouwerij ‘t IJ turns out excellent craft beers. The chill brewery offers free tours, tastings, and a great outdoor terrace.
30. 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.
31. See 15 bridges from one. Standing on the bridge at Reguliersgracht and Herengracht, glimpse 15 bridges—spectacular at night, when they’re all illuminated.
32. 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, busking 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 leafy Oosterpark every morning at 10am, rain or shine.
35. Skate late. Year-round on Friday evenings (weather permitting), 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!