I love living in Amsterdam but there is no doubt it is an expensive city to visit. In this guide we round up the best free things to do in Amsterdam to help you save money in the city while still having a great time. So whether you are wanting cultural, outdoorsy or unique things to do in Amsterdam we have you covered with these budget friendly suggestions.
Note: Written September 2019.
Best Free Things to do in Amsterdam
Marvel at the View and Play at the Nemo Museum Terrace
The Nemo Science Center is my toddler’s favourite place in Amsterdam however this museum comes with a high price tag (almost 18 euros for an adult). If you would like to get a glimpse of some of the exhibits and have a great view of Amsterdam then I recommend heading to the terrace at Nemo. The terrace offers great views across the city – see if you can spot the windmills on the horizon, and there are also a few hands on exhibits called Energetica too that kids will love. While obviously not as extensive as the actual museum it is a great way to get a feel for the museum and have a great view to boot!
In Summer this is also a great place to take kids as the Cascades exhibits come up and becomes one of the best water play areas in the city.
The Nemo Terrace is open daily from 10 am to 5.30 pm, except on Kings day (April 27).
Take a Free Ferry Ride Across the Ij
While Canal Tours are pretty costly a ride across the River Ij, located just behind Centraal Station is completely free. There are three free ferry routes from Centraal to Builsloterweg, Ijplen and NDSM Werf. All offer good views of the city and are a great way to see the city from the water for free and no visit to Amsterdam would be complete without taking to the water.
Bloemenmarkt aka Amsterdam Flower Market
When I think about Amsterdam I think about flowers – tulips to be specific. While a day trip to Keukenhof – the biggest flower park in the world – can really dent your Amsterdam budget a visit to the Flower Market will cost you nothing. The Bloemenmarkt is actually Europe’s only floating market and is a great place to pick up some bulbs as a souvenir of your time in the city.
While this is now one of the more touristy things to do Amsterdam I still think it is worth a visit and is a great free thing to do in the city.
The Bloemenmarkt is open Monday to Saturday from 09:00 to 17:30 and Sunday from 11:30 to 17:30.
Walk the Inner Amsterdam Canal rings
You can’t visit Amsterdam without seeing the city’s famous canals. While a canal boat tour will set you back around 20euros walking the canals is completely free. The Amsterdam Canals are a protected UNESCO World Heritage site so definitely need to make it on your Amsterdam bucket list. There are three main inner canals in Amsterdam Herengracht, Keizersgracht and Prinsengracht be sure to pay a visit to each of them on your self guided tour of the city. There are also some particular things to see for free on each of the canals including
See the 7 Bridges of Amsterdam
Reguliersgracht is in my opinion the most picturesque canal area in all of Amsterdam and the main reason for that is the 7 Bridges. This place is a photographers dream with the perfect reflections with all seven bridges.
See the 15 Bridges on Herengracht (Brug van 15 bruggen)
If 7 Bridges isn’t enough for you stay on Reguliersgract and see 15 Bridges on the Brug van 15 bruggen. If you stand on Reguliersgracht at the corner of Herengracht (odd numbered side) you will be able see the 15 bridges (including the one you stand on). This is actually one of my favourite things to do in Amsterdam at night as the bridges are beautifully lit.
Poezenboot Cat Boat Sanctuary
The Pozenboot is basically a cat Sanctuary on a canal boat. If you love cats then this is definitely the place for you. As we have cat allergies in our house we have never done this but have heard great reviews.
If you like animals then another place for your Amsterdam itinerary is ArtisPlein. While visiting the Artis Zoo costs just under 20 euros at Artisplein you can sit with a coffee and see the adjacent exhibit. Alternatively
Entrepotdok is the canal side warehouse area adjacent to the zoo and offers good views of enclosures such as the elephants.
The Skinny Bridge
The Skinny Bridge is actually my favourite bridge in Amsterdam and looks beautiful day or night. The Bridge dates back to the 17th Century and offers beautiful views of the city. In the summer the bridge is beautifully decorated with flower boxes but by night the street is illuminated and is one of the best photo spots in the city.
Nine Streets (De 9 Straatjes)
A series of 9 of the most picturesque streets in Amsterdam that features some quirky shops and amazing eateries. Located just behind Dam Square this is a very pretty place to window shop in Amsterdam.
Hang out in Dam Square
Dam Square is one of the biggest Squares in Amsterdam and is home to the Royal Palace in Amsterdam. Similar to London’s Covent Garden Area Dam Square is often filled with street performers.
See the Narrowest House in the World
Ok this claim is a little iffy! To be more exact Amsterdam has the house with the narrowest exterior facade in the world – but let’s face it that just isn’t as catchy. The house measures 2.02 metres wide and 5 metres deep. You’ll find it Singel 7 at Oude Hoogstraat 22.
Tour the Vondelpark
Amsterdam is a city of great parks and green spaces – the most famous of which is Vondelpark located near the Rijksmuseum. The Vondelpark is a great place to spend a sunny day in Amsterdam.Perfect for an afternoon stroll, picnic or to go for a cycle if you decide to rent a bike in Amsterdam. If you are visiting Amsterdam in Summer be sure to check out the programme of open air concerts that are held in the park – a great addition to any Amsterdam budget itinerary.
The Seven Countries Houses are quite a remarkable sight. The houses built by Dutch architect Tjeerd Kuiper in 1894 represent the distinct architectural styles of seven countries (Germany, Russia, France, Spain, Italy, England and of course the Netherlands) and are a great photo spot in the city. Located at short walk from the Rijksmuseum and Vondel Park.
Garden at the Rijksmuseum
Vondel Park and the Rijksmuseum make a perfect one day in Amsterdam itinerary but the tickets to the Rijksmuseum can be pricey (almost 20 Euros for an adult). However the Rijksmuseum Museum Garden is one of the museum’s free spaces. During the Summer of 2019 the gardens were filled with sculptures by Louise Bourgeois so it is worth checking to see if there are any free outdoor exhibitions during your stay. If not, the Gardens are still worth a visit especially if you are visiting Amsterdam in April. During the Tulips Festival which runs in April annually the Rijksmuseum Gardens burst with colour as the tulips come into bloom!
For an Amsterdam Packing List click here!
Open Daily from 9:00 to 18:00.
IAmsterdam sign at the Airport
While there used to be an IAmsterdam sign in the grounds of the Rijksmuseum this was removed by the council due to over popularity. Now if you want your picture with one of the famous IAmsterdam signs you will have to head to SChipol Airport to get your photos.
While you are at the airport be sure to check out the Airport Rijksmuseum. In the Airport Rijksmuseum space there are ten Dutch masterpieces on display. While this only gives you a small glimpse into the Rijksmuseum collection it is a good way of seeing at least some of the collection while saving your pennies!
Open 24 hours a day.
Central Library OBA
If you are a book lover be sure to check out the Amsterdam City Central Library (OBA). The library also has a restaurant on the top floor offering good vies of the city.
Amsterdam City Archives (Stadsarchief)
The Amsterdam City Archives are a great place to learn more about the city and is a completely free to everyone. The revolving programme of temporary exhibitions means that there is always something new to see and a great way to spend an hour on a rainy day in Amsterdam. The building they are housed in is also pretty impressive to see!
EYE Film Museum Basement Exhibits
Another cultural activity in Amsterdam that is free is the Basement Exhibits at the famous EYE Film Museum. While the cost to visit the whole museum costs 11 euros. The permanent exhibition in the basement offers both traditional and hands on activities and is even suitable with kids.
This compact museum in the Jordaan is completely free to enter. The museum is dedicated to one of the dutch’s most famous writers -Eduart Douwes Dekker who went by the penance Multatuli. Multatuli was born in the house where the museum is housed in 1820 and is dedicated to his life and work.
Walk the Jordaan
Perhaps the most popular neighbourhood for tourists in Amsterdam and it is easy to see why. The Jordaan is one of the most beautiful neighbours and a great place to stroll. There are also some great places to eat in the area. While there see if you can spot one of the
Hoftjes are basically hidden courtyards. They are great places to just escape the crowds and find some peace and quiet while walking the centre of the city. These courtyards are also usually surrounded by some beautiful and historic buildings.
Visit the FoodHallen
The Foodhallen is one of my favourite places to eat in Amsterdam. Visiting the Food hall is free and you can wander around the many food stalls and artisan shops in this renovated section of the city. But be warned the food here may tempt you to spend some money.
Currently under refurbishment until January 2020. The Westerkerk is beautiful church in the heart of the Jordaan. This sone of the free churches you can visit in Amsterdam and is actually mentioned in Anne Frank’s diary.
ReyPenaer Cheese Shop
There are lots of cheese shops and tasting rooms in Amsterdam but the REyPenaer one is my favourite as it is local family owned.
Windmills in Amsterdam are another thing on many people’s bucket list. There are only actually eight windmills left in Amsterdam but you can see them all – though you are going to need a bike to do it. The easiest to reach is De Gooyer – Amsterdam’s largest wooden windmill which is conveniently located to a very nice brewery where you can do tastings every day 2pm – 8pm.
Another favourite windmill of mine is de Riekermolen which is located next door to Amstelpark another of my favourite parks in Amsterdam.
Amstelpark is actually my favourite park in the city and another great free thing to do in Amsterdam. Inside the park you will find a great petting zoo with donkeys, horses, cows and pigs etc making it one of the best free things to do in Amsterdam with kids and if you visit on the second Sunday of the month during summer you will get to visit the Pure Markt – a great artisanal market with plenty of food and beverage options – be warned the food is so good you can end up spending a few pennies.
Amsterdam is a city of great markets but my favourite is the Pure Markt. A Sunday market held during the summer this artisanal market sells local food drinks and handmade goods. I love strolling around and seeing what is on offer but be warned you will be tempted to make a purchase.
Albert Cuypt Market
Perhaps the most famous of all Amsterdam markets is the Albert Cuypt Market in de Pijp. This I must admit isn’t my favourite as it can get very busy and the quality of stalls does not equal the Pure Markt but it is definitely a buzzy place to visit and is the centre piece of the trendy De Pijp neighbourhood. Be sure to pick up a local delicacies of a Stroopwaffle to walk around the market with.
Open Monday – Saturday 9:30 – 5pm.
Waterlooplein Flea Market
Another great market but this one is more centrally located. This is a flea market not an artisanal market but has some great bargains to be had. From clothes, to bikes to novelty gifts the Waterlooplein Flea Market has something for every taste.
Runs weekdays 9-5pm and Saturday 8:30 – 5pm.
Gassan Diamonds Tours
As a complete contrast to the Flea Market head for a tour f Gassan Diamonds where you will learn the history of Amsterdam’s connection with the Diamond industry.
Vrije Universiteit Botanical Garden Zuidas
The Hortus Botanicus is one of my favourite things to do in Amsterdam but again this comes at a cost. If you want a botanical garden experience for free then head to Amsterdam Zuid where you will find the Vrije University Botanical Gardens. This small but charming botanical garden has over 6000 species of plants. Complete with greenhouses the star of this botanic garden is the cactus collection. The Gardens are open all year and free to the public but opening hours vary so be sure to check the website before your visit.
The Amsterdam Bos is one of my favourite places to go for a cycle in Amsterdam. Despite the size of the trees don’t be fooled into thinking this is an ancient forest. The Amsterdam Bos was actually built in the 1930s as an economic stimulus.
Apart from cycling in the park kids will love the small and large paddling pools that become filled in summer, kayaking and pedaloeing on the lake or even taking a dip. But my little ones favourite thing to do in the Bos is:
Amsterdam Bos Goat Farm
The Geitenboerderij aka the Goat Farm in Amsterdam Bos is another great free thing to do in Amsterdam with kids of any age. At the Geitenboerderij you will see many goats roaming free as well as some horses and chickens and a large playground that kids are sure to love. For just one euro you can buy a bottle of milk and feed the goats by hand. A great thing to do for the animal lover.
Hit the Beach
Most people don’t associate Amsterdam with the beach but actually there are several beaches in the city. There are several man made urban beaches in the city such as Strand Zuid and Sloterplas however my favourite in the city is Ijmuiden located on the man made island of Ijburg but if you have time then I would recommend hoping on the train and heading to Zaandvort.
At the end of Tram 5 is WEstergasfabriek – a cultural and events space that also houses a great market and eateries. Housed in Westerpark it is also a great place to go for a walk or cycle and kids will love the large paddling pool that is open here in the Winter.
Another really cool space. This warehouse area is now occupied by cool companies and is a great place to go for a wonder.
Free Lunchtime Concert at Muziektheater Opera
If you like music be sure to check the schedule for the free lunchtime concerts at Muziektheatre Opera. This is a great way of seeing world class musicians without paying for a show ticket.
Although not renowned for its Chinatown like London or San Francisco, Amsterdam has a small and nice Chinatown which is home to some delicious food and the free to enter Fo Guang Shan Buddhist Temple.
Walk the Red Light District (De Wallen)
I always umm and ah about including the red light district in any of my Amsterdam guides but it is something on a lot of people’s Amsterdam bucket lists. The Amsterdam red light district is free to walk around. Please do not take photos here and avoid wandering into this area with kids.
Free Seasonal Things to do in Amsterdam
Not applicable all year round but my favourite seasonal things to do are:
Tulip Festival – April
While Keukenhof is quite a costly day trip from Amsterdam the Tulip Festival is a great free thing to do in Amsterdam. For the whole month of April 85 locations across the city burst with colour of Amsterdam’s famous tulips! See how many locations you can visit.
Koningsdag held on the 27th April is my favourite day on the Amsterdam calendar. A public holiday the canals become filled with over boarded boats playing music and getting in the party spirit while all the residents of the city will be out around the inner canals watching the canal parade or perusing one of the free markets that pop up round the city (my favourite is in Vondel Park) while all dressed in orange. If you are travelling to Amsterdam in April then be sure to add plenty of orange to your Amsterdam packing list so you don’t look out of place with the locals.
After Kings Day I wold say this is the biggest event on the Amsterdam calendar. Amsterdam Pride is perhaps the best pride festival in the world and is a series of events held over a week. My personal favourite however is the canal parade held on the final Saturday of the week.
Festival of Lights
Running from late November to early January Amsterdam hosts the Festival of Lights where even more bridges and canals will be covered in glittering lights illuminating the city even more beautifully. A photographers and romantics dream. If you are there in December be sure to check out the Christmas markets too!
What is your favourite free thing to do in Amsterdam?