Amsterdam is famous for its canals, beautiful houses, ‘coffee’ shops and Red Light District, but there’s plenty more to this liberal city than most visitors realise. Rick, our local ambassador in the Dutch capital, shares 17 delightful things to do and see for free!
1. Discover the secret courtyard of Begijnhof
Hidden behind a heavy wooden door on Spui Square you’ll find Begijnhof courtyard. This secluded spot dates back to the Middle Ages. It’s home to one of Amsterdam’s oldest wooden houses, Het Houten Huis, built in 1420! Begijnhof was originally set up as a sanctuary for the catholic sisterhood and you’ll find a sculpture in the courtyard that pays respect to this community of women who devoted their lives to God. Today the bordering buildings are still occupied by many single Catholic women. For this reason, visitors are requested to speak in hushed tones when walking around the area.
2. Learn about Amsterdam’s past at the Stadsarchief
This is something for true history buffs. The Stadsarchief (Amsterdam City Archives) is a treasure trove of knowledge when it comes to Amsterdam’s past. In fact, if you were to stretch out all of the centre’s archives, maps and historical documents – you’d cover 50 kilometres! Entry is free to the building, which looks like something from a movie set! Additional fees are charged for entrance to the Exhibition Room.
Photo credit: Museum Amsterdam
3. Explore the city’s canals by foot
Did you know there are more canals in Amsterdam than in Venice? The city’s waterways, which date back 400 years, have been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and many can be enjoyed by foot, thanks to a series of narrow paths. That means you’ll have the chance to walk around a living museum for free while you’re in Amsterdam! We recommend De Duif as a starting point. And if you feel like experiencing the beauty of the canals from the water – you could always treat yourself to a Private Two-Hour Boat Tour.
4. Enjoy a sunny day at the Blijburg beach
Despite the fact that Amsterdam isn’t located by the sea, the Dutch have still managed to create a whole lot of sandy fun in the form of a manmade beach. Blijburg is situated on the artificial island of IJburg. Besides swimming and sunbathing, there are also beach parties hosted regularly on-site.
Photo credit: Franklin Heijnen
5. Take some time to relax at the Openbare Bibliotheek Amsterdam
The OBA (Amsterdam Public Library) is much more than your usual library. It has a piano inside which is free for anyone to play – as well as an amazing rooftop terrace which offers spectacular views of the city. It’s a wonderful place to hang out for a couple of hours in between exploring the streets of Amsterdam.
6. Get lost in the world of film at the EYE Film Instituut Nederland
EYE Film Institute Netherlands comprises four cinemas, a film lab, a 1200-square-metre exhibition room and the biggest film library in the Netherlands. The basement section is free of charge and houses a permanent exhibition. The building itself is a sight worth seeing! We highly recommend taking a few moments to stand outside and marvel at this modern architectural masterpiece.
Photo credit: Artur Salisz
7. Chill out at Vondelpark
Located in the heart of Amsterdam, Vondelpark offers a quick escape from the city’s hustle and noise. Here you’ll see a mixed crowd of all ages sunbathing, playing ball games and simply relaxing. There’s no better place to do some people-watching on a sunny day!
8. Get active at Amsterdamse Bos
Amsterdamse Bos (Amsterdam Forest) is another Dutch artificial invention. Forest is a misleading name though; the area includes jogging and biking trails, small pools and a river. If you feel like going deeper into the natural world, be sure to check out our Dutch Wetlands Canoe Safari, which leaves from Amsterdam and gives you the chance to get up close and personal with a range of aquatic and birdlife.
Photo credit: Sjors & Jennifer
9. Enjoy a few freebies at Sunday Market Amsterdam
Every Sunday a market is held somewhere in Amsterdam and the locations always change. Besides free food and drink tastings, these markets are perfect places to find one-of-a-kind souvenirs.
10. Bike or walk around the Noord area
Noord is actually a whole neighbourhood in Amsterdam and there are parts of it that must be seen. Nieuwendammerdijk and Schellingwouderdijk are streets that were originally built as dikes – they are truly fascinating to see! The best part is that you can take the ferry to Noord for free. If that sounds like fun, you might also like to discover the charming neighbourhood of Zaanse Schans, with its cute windmills, on our Countryside Bike Tour.
Photo credit: Kevin Gessner
11. See a mix of cultures at Oosterpark
With the Indian neighbourhood and the East district just around the corner, Oosterpark demonstrates how multicultural Amsterdam really is. In addition to the interesting mix of people, here you’ll find the famous De Schreeuw (The Shout) statue, which was placed in honour of director and writer Theo Van Gogh.
Photo credit: Marc van Woudenberg
12. Take photos of graffiti at NDSM-werf
It used to be a shipyard but these days you’ll find sculptures made from recycled junk, cargo containers covered in colourful graffiti and possibly a few street artists at NDSM-werf. An added bonus – the ferry ride is free! If you want to know more about the city’s ship building past and how these yards are being converted into creative hubs, check out our Alternative Amsterdam tour.
Photo by Niels Smeets
13. Dive into the chaos of Albert Cuypmarkt
It might sound like the name of a nutty professor, but Albert Cuypmarkt is actually the largest and most popular outdoor market in the Netherlands. It runs six days a week and it costs nothing to enter. You’ll find anything and everything at this market – from smoked fish, to second hand shoes.
Photo credit: Dona
14. Admire works of art at Civic Guard Gallery
If you’re travelling on a budget but keen to see some phenomenal works of art while you’re in Amsterdam, be sure to head to the Civic Guard Gallery where you’ll find a selection of enormous Golden Age portraits that are free for the public to view. For art lovers with more of a budget, why not take a Guided Tour of Rijksmuseum where you’ll be able to see the works of Rembrandt, Vermeer and many others, as well as discover the stories behind the art!
Photo credit: Caspar Noyons
15. Let your spirit blossom at the floating flower market
Sunflowers, roses, tulips and carnations – a rainbow of colour awaits you at Amsterdam’s Bloemenmarkt, which is open every day and extends along the south side of Singel. Locals love this market and so will you. We recommend heading there early in the morning to see the freshest blooms on display.
Photo by Daniel Spilka
16. Listen to a free concert at The Royal Concertgebouw
This free concert series is hugely popular with locals and tourists so be prepared to hustle for a seat. You’ll get to enjoy music by some of the city’s finest instrumentalists – for free! The Lunchtime Concerts in the Recital Hall require a ticket, which can be picked up (for free) at the Entrance Hall from 11.30am onward. For concerts in the Main Hall – no ticket is required so it’s just a matter of first come, first served.
17. Learn about the fascinating life of Multatuli
He wrote a book about Dutch colonial rule in Indonesia and it became an overnight success. This fascinating little museum traces the life and work of Multatuli, the most famous 19thCentury writer in Holland, with a range of displays that include pieces of his furniture as well as artifacts from his time in Asia. Entry is free.