Seriously, if there’s just one city you visit this year, or next year, or the year after, then make it Amsterdam.
I’ve just got back from my 3rd trip to this glorious European capital, after a 10 year hiatus, and am delighted to say I found it even better than I remember.
You know those places you revisit after holding them fondly in your memory for a long period of time … and they fail to live up to your expectations.
Well Amsterdam was the opposite of that.
In fact, it far exceeded my blissful memories …. making it my top recommended destination for a European city break.
But if you’re sat there worrying you might not be able to afford a short trip there, then don’t be. Take a look at my list of the top 10 free things to do in Amsterdam and hopefully they’ll soon convince you that a trip to this great capital can be way more affordable than you think.
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#1 Visit Dam Square … especially at night
The unofficial centre of the city, visiting Dam Square is definitely one of the top 10 free things to do in Amsterdam.
With some very regal-looking buildings around, which are beautifully illuminated at night, this is a great spot to wander around and take in the views, especially after dark.
#2 Experience the Red Light District
Another great free thing to do in Amsterdam at night is to experience the infamous Red Light District.
No longer just a seedy area, this part of the city has ironically evolved into the city’s major tourist hub.
Girls in windows aside, there is a great atmosphere throughout these cobbled streets, with plenty of places to stop for a drink amidst all the hussle and bustle.
Many free walking tours in Amsterdam can give you more information about this area as well as its history – here’s my pick of the bunch.
#3 Enjoy a Free Performance in Vondelpark
If green spaces are more your thing, then heading to Vondelpark, one of Amsterdam’s oldest and most popular parks, is a super free thing to do in the city.
Take a picnic and relax under a shady tree like we did, or check out the park’s fantastic schedule of free performances. From contemporary dance to children’s theatre, this place is a hit with locals and tourists alike.
#4 Explore Amsterdam Bos
Another favourite green space for the Dutch locals here, is Amsterdam Bos – a huge park set further out from the city centre.
Catching public transport or cycling here will definitely get you off the beaten tourist track and give you a great, authentic glimpse of how Amsterdammers spend their spare time, especially during the summer.
#5 Bargain Hunt in the Markets
Amsterdam has a great many markets and taking the time to sample a few is definitely one of the best free things to do here.
We visited the Ten Katemarkt (perfect for your Vondelpark picnic goods), as well as the flea market at Waterlooplein, and loved the slightly quirky experience of doing so.
With plenty of options for bargain hunting, getting to at least one of Amsterdam’s many markets is a must during your time here.
#6 Check the Tulips at Bloemenmarkt
Bloemenmarkt, the city’s most famous flower market is definitely one of the best free things to do in Amsterdam.
Tulips are, of course, Holland’s most famous flower, but they only bloom during the Spring.
If you visit Amsterdam outside of this, there’s tons of other beautiful blooms you can see, smell or buy at this great canalside location too.
#7 Stroll the Jordaan Canals
And if canals are your thing, then it’s hard to top the picturesque ones of Amsterdam’s Jordaan district.
South of Rozengracht, where my favourites lay, there are many beautiful examples complete with colourful flower boxes, stylish vintage bikes and quaint front doors.
So, if you want to snap some gorgeous Amsterdam pictures, then this is definitely a top spot to head for.
#8 View the Westerkerk
Another wonderful free thing to do in Amsterdam’s Jordaan area is to view the magnificent Westerkerk.
This is one of the city’s best churches and heading inside will give you a great feel for the age of this historic district.
#9 Discover Amsterdam’s Most Famous Resident
Probably Amsterdam’s most famous resident, the painter Rembrandt, lived and worked in the city’s Golden Age during the 17th century.
While you’ll have to pay to see his most famous painting, The Night Watch, in the Rijksmuseum, you can stroll round the square created in his honour and marvel at his statue for free.
You can also check out the house he lived in, which is situated on Jodenbreestraat and was built in 1606. While it will cost you to go inside, admiring the house’s pretty façade, complete with its colourful shutters is a delight and totally free.
#10 Have Fun with the Bicycles
Bicycles are a massive part of life in Amsterdam, which you’re likely to become aware of sooner rather than later!
If you can’t afford to rent one however, then there’s still loads of free fun to be had.
For a start, trying not to get run over by one is always fun, as is trying to count them outside Centraal Station or find the oldest one.
But perhaps most fun of all, is trying to snap the most beautiful bicycle, a task harder than you may imagine with so many gorgeous ones to choose from.
How to Visit Amsterdam on a Budget…
Flying to Amsterdam can be done cheaply through budget airlines such EasyJet and Ryanair from other European destinations. Check out Skyscanner for the best deals. A train from Schiphol Airport into Amsterdam’s Centraal Station is quick and costs around 5€.
Otherwise, DFDS Seaways offer ferries to Amsterdam from Newcastle in the UK, which allow to take your car and explore more of the surrounding area cheaply too.
Or you can use trains to get to Amsterdam from around Europe. Offering the best prices on these journeys , with a handy journey planning feature and live departure updates, Trainline s my one-stop shop when it comes to organising all my Europe rail adventures on a budget (including the Eurostar).
Walking is free in Amsterdam of course, or there is a good local tram, metro and bus service, operated by GVB, which you can buy passes for.
It will cost you €7.50 for a 24hr pass, €12.50 for a 48hr pass, €17.00 for a 72hr pass or €22.00 for a 96hr pass.
Get your Amsterdam Public Transport Tickets online here, in advance of your trip, to make things easy.
It goes without saying that bike hire is also a popular way to get around Amsterdam cheaply.
Look for supermarket Albert Heijn, which has stores across Amsterdam for cheap nibbles. Otherwise, markets such as Ten Katemarkt offer good value for fresh produce. You can also find lots of well-priced bars and cafes, just by wandering along the canals in less touristy areas.
Staying: Hostels and budget hotels are ubiquitous in Amsterdam.
Travel Insurance for Amsterdam:
World Nomads offers simple and flexible travel insurance. Buy at home or while travelling and claim online from anywhere in the world.
Alternatively, if you’re a long-term traveller, digital nomad or frequent remote worker seeking travel health cover, check out Safetywing’s Nomad Insurance policies.
Where to Travel after Amsterdam?
If you’re looking to head off from this great Dutch destination and explore some of Europe’s best other cities and regions afterwards, then check out these useful posts I wrote.
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So, have I convinced you yet?
Are these the top 10 free things to do in Amsterdam?
I’d love to hear your suggestions too.