20 free things to do in Amsterdam

Amsterdam Jordaan
Walking the streets of the Jordaan is always free... unless you stop for a drink. Photo: Sapiamaia

By Audrey Sykes in Amsterdam—

Amsterdam isn’t the cheapest destination in Europe, but there are ways to get around the tourist prices. In fact, it’s easy to find freebies left and right in the city. Here’s a checklist of 20 great ideas for a free day in Amsterdam:

1. Start with a free map

Free maps are available at the tourist information office, as well as the blue kiosks at Central Station.

2. Food Markets

Stroll along and fill your senses with sight, sound and smell at one of the many outdoor food markets like Albert Cuypstraat and Dapper markets. Go for free samples of cheeses and produce!

Amsterdam ferry

Take a free trip on the Ij ferry behind Centraal Station. Photo: Nik Morris

3. Free coffee

Some Albert Hein grocery stores have a coffee machine dispensing freshly-ground cups for shoppers; follow your nose!

4. Ferry rides

All ferries behind Central Station are free; pick one and see where it leads you (the average travel time is just five to 15 minutes).

5. See street art

A walk down Spuistraat will make you feel like you’ve entered a gritty and colorful street art exhibition. Art pieces can scale entire building faces, and much of the street is lined with different works side-by-side.

6. The Wave Game

My favorite game to play on a sunny afternoon. Dangle your legs on a canal that’s busy with touristy boats. When one putts along, wave at the boaters and count how many wave back (a good way to measure which boats are the most fun!).

7. Hang at the Dam

Spend time under the National Monument (you know, that tall, phallic-looking statue at Dam Square) and watch the many street performers and gathering crowds come and go.

8. Free jazz

There are quite a few free jazz nights at cafes like Jazz Café Alto and Chet’s. See what’s on when you’re in town. (Check out our previous post on free jazz performances for every night of the week.)

9. Free jigs

Mulligan’s Irish Bar, just off Rembrandtplein, hosts free live Irish music every night in its cozy and cheerful pub.

10. Flower power

Have you seen the floating flower market? It’s better to look and not buy the overly-priced souvenirs anyway, so have at it!

11. Jumping Jordaan

Walking the streets of the Jordaan district is a must for every visitor in Amsterdam. It was once an area for blue-collar workers during the 1600s, but now the quaint and cute streets and alleys have been gentrified and host a number of small art galleries.

12. Nose around Noordermarkt

On Saturdays there is a Farmers market, while Mondays are a mix of vintage clothing and antiques.

Free internet and great views in Amsterdam’s public library. Photo: Jonas Savartberg

13. Nieuwmarkt is neat-o

The giant weigh station in the center of the square, De Waag, is often mistaken for a castle. However, this was the main entrance to old Amsterdam before the Golden Ages; then the square continued to lure locals interested in their main 17th-century attraction – public beheadings.

14. Free internet at the library

The public library (OBA) is right next to Central Station. It’s new and boasts a sleek modern look, with seven floors and the latest computers with free internet, free wireless, and even a free piano for tickling the ivory.

15. Priceless (and free) rooftop view

Also at the OBA is one of the best views of the Dam. Head to the top floor where café La Place is located, and outside there is a roof terrace overlooking the entire city.

16. Park it

Warm weather sends locals out to the parks. Spending the day in the sun with a good book and good company at hotspots like Vondelpark and Westerpark is one of the best ways to pass time in Amsterdam.

17. Naked ladies

Visiting the Red Light District is free, and safe! It’s the most visited part of the city, but hold off until dark when the red lights are glowing and swans gracefully float along the city’s oldest canals.

18. Free peace

In the heart of Spui square is the Begijnhof, a place where French nuns sought refuge from persecution in the 1600s. Inside this courtyard is a hidden Catholic church, a Protestant church (with services in English), and one of the two remaining wooden houses in Amsterdam.

19. Free art

Just next to Begijnhof on the left (from the exit facing the shopping street Kalverstraat ) is a hallway that’s part of the Amsterdam History Museum. It’s free to walk through, and the walls hold large portrait paintings of wealthy families and businessmen from the 1600s.

20. Beach it

A 20-minute train ride takes you to the North Sea coast town of Zandvoort. It’s the perfect place to soak up the sun with a good book.

Also in our guide: Planning a trip to Amsterdam right now? Check out our Amsterdam hotel guide, with reviews of budget hotels that have been visited and inspected by our editors. Read more in our Amsterdam hotel guide.

About the author

About the author: Audrey Sykes hopped across the pond from the US eight years ago for a Masters degree in global journalism. Since then, she’s lived all over Europe, reporting and editing for music sites, snowboard mags, and travel media. She’s also the Amsterdam author for Party Earth, a guide to nightlife across Europe.
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