Free Amsterdam: The ultimate guide from ferries to art galleries

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Look carefully and you'll find this beautiful canal city is filled with free things to do. Photo: Jack Amick
Look carefully and you'll find this beautiful canal city is filled with free things to do. Photo: Jack Amick

It’s always a surprise to hear people claim that Amsterdam is one of the most expensive cities in Europe. Between bicycles and local markets, free art galleries and outdoor hangouts, there’s plenty to do in this city that’s “on the house.” If you dodge the flying tourist bullets of waffle stands and keepsake boutiques, you’ll find an array of fun activities to do not just on the cheap—but completely free.

Free introductions & information

City maps

Getting your hands on a map of the city is a must. Free maps can be found in blue kiosks at Amsterdam Centraal Station, though many guides and information/tourist attraction shops around the city stock complimentary ones as well.

Walking tours

I find the best maps belong to New Amsterdam Free Tours, a company that specializes in free walking tours around the city center. They equip visitors with a map, discounts on tours and sights, and offer an informative and entertaining two-hour walking tour on a tips only basis. Guides offer tours in both English and Spanish, and some are even prepared to give specific tours in the Red Light District and bicycle jaunts in the countryside.

Computers & WiFi

Need to check booking addresses and vital info upon arrival? The Amsterdam Public Library (OBA) is located just a few buildings east from Amsterdam Centraal station, just past the floating Chinese restaurant. Computers there offer free internet, and WiFi is available throughout the building. The top floor houses La Place café, which offers a list of yummy food dishes at a fair price. Plus, one of the best views of the city is on their terrace, and yes, it is totally free.

The free outdoors

Beaches and along the coast

Amsterdam is very walkable, and when the weather is nice outside, locals love to be out in the sun as long as possible. Hit the beaches like Zandvoort and Blijburg—they’re just a train (or tram) ride away. A day trip to the peace and tranquility of the North Sea at Zandvoort will be an unexpected treat.

Roaming arty neighborhoods

Staying in the city? Dam Square is worth a short visit, but spend afternoons sauntering around the picture-perfect district of Jordaan. Or feel the gritty artistic skill of the squatters that live on Spuistraat. The Plantage district is a great stroll around the Botanical Gardens, Artis Zoo, and many green areas hosting monuments to commemorate the Jewish population that perished in WWII.

People watching in the city

Popular squares to sit and people watch are Nieuwmarkt, Het Spui, Noorderkerk, and Rembrandtplein. Each place has their own different character and setting, and there are benches scattered all over the city to your free-seating pleasure. If your ideal seat is taken, park yourself on the canal skirts of Waterlooplein and watch the dozens of ferries glide by. At Spui, check out the Begijnhof garden for a slice of peaceful serenity in the heart of Amsterdam.

Free transportation

Ferries to Amsterdam Noord

The blue and white GBV ferries located behind Central Station are free, and depending on the ride, can last from five to 20 minutes. All ferries dock over the Ij river in Amsterdam Noord, a laidback district offering a unique view of Amsterdam.

Free (and cheap) eats

Local food markets

Outdoor markets like Albert Cuyp, Noordermarkt and Dappermarkt are lively and full of local foods and trinkets to take home. If you’re looking to eat like a local, markets are a great way to dive into wheels of farm cheese, pickled herring, and fresh pressed smoothies.

Free samples

A light morning breakfast is best at Albert Hein. Coffee machines freshly ground small cups for about a euro, and some even offer free samples. Warm croissants are about a euro and best enjoyed by a canal or behind central station at the ferry docks.

Free culture

Free Museums

The Cheese Museum and Tulip Museum are free indoor info boutiques side by side on Prinsengracht, and the Cannabis College in the Red Light District is a free museum and info center on marijuana culture in Amsterdam and abroad.

Free art galleries

The Amsterdam Museum has an inside hallway accessible free to the public just behind the Begijnhof garden that holds a number of old Dutch paintings from the Golden Ages on walls sky high. While smaller art galleries can be found around Museumplein, down Vijzelstraat and the canal belt streets in the Jordaan.

Ask a local

Regardless of your plan, come to Amsterdam knowing that it’s possible to escape touristic prices, purchases and activities. Dig a little deeper in your research, but if all else fails, ask a local—the Dutch are excellent at knowing all about nearby freebies and deals!

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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