As a major tourist attraction, and the city being a train ride away to and from other cities, Amsterdam is a popular destination for a weekend getaway trip. Perhaps its popularity is what made it expensive but I recall getting a sticker shock on my third visit to the city in 2018 (the last time being in 2013). The good news is that the city is a compact and equally packed city for sightseeing so I’ve rounded up the best free things to do in Amsterdam.
With so much to eat, see and do, it was hard to be penny pinching!
Read More: 6 Amsterdam Street Food to Try (2020).
Instead of splurging too much on sightseeing, I decided to save those pennies for the food instead! So I’m sharing 10 awesome free things to do in Amsterdam and around! Guaranteed to stretch you money further and make your stay a lot more enjoyable.
Free things to do in Amsterdam
Students travelling to the city can also benefit from reduced cost (and sometimes free) entry to museums and other student discounts!
If you’re planning to hit up a lot of spots during your stay, consider getting an IAmsterdam Card which includes free public transit on the GVB and free (or discounted) entry to most museums/tourist spots across the city.
Save the below map so you can have easy reference to the best things to do / see and eat around Amsterdam!
Vondelpark is what Central Park is to New York City. This garden oasis in the middle of a packed city is the perfect brief escape from the crowds, and people-watch all day. Pick up some snacks and spend an afternoon away relaxing here and do what the locals do!
2. I Amsterdam Sign
Were you actually in Amsterdam if you didn’t take a picture with the “I Amsterdam” sign? Yes, definitely yes. I missed my chance this year because yours truly woke up late. If you show up early enough though (no later than 9am) I’ve been told you can get a fairly people-free picture!
3. Rijksmuseum Garden
After you take your “I Amsterdam” photo, make sure to go to the Rijksmuseum garden which is free and open daily between 9am-6pm. Not many people pay attention to the signs nor do they know this so here is a good chance to get gorgeous photos of the museum, garden and tulips (if in season) without all the people!
4. The Canals: Prinsengracht, Keizersgracht, Nine Street
Amsterdam is synonymous with canals, but if I can recommend the best spots, it would be Prinsengracht, Keizersgracht, Nine Street. These are some of the quietest, and most picturesque areas and I guarantee, you will have tons of really great photos to bring home! Skip the other areas, and just stick to these!
5. Markets: Albert Cuyp & Waterlooplein
These markets are fantastic to walk through if you want to experience what it’s like to spend a morning like a local. You certainly have the option to not spend money at either markets, but these are some of the least expensive places you can find food, knick-knacks, souvenirs, and enjoy traditional Dutch delicacies! Albert Cuyp is my favourite the bunch as there’s tons of food to be enjoyed, so come with a hungry stomach!
Jordaan is a neighbourhood that’s quintessentially and charmingly Dutch – cobblestones, brown houses, canals, and bridges – these are some of the usual bits associated with Amsterdam. Jordaan is a favourite neighbourhood of locals and tourists alike as it feels authentic – you might even forget that you’re there on vacation!
Tucked in the middle of the city is a small hidden garden oasis dating back from the 14th century that most people quickly miss. The Begijnhof was used by Catholic sisterhood (they’re not nuns as they have greater freedom and less focus on religion) as their homes. There’s something very sanctified about this place and I think it’s lovely to take a quick walk through, given most people don’t really know about it!
8. The Narrowest House in the World in Amsterdam
The smallest/narrowest house in Amsterdam is so narrow that you’ll probably miss it the first time you’re looking for it like I did. Situated on the Oude Hoogstraat 22, the narrow house is about the width of a windowpane. It’s not exactly the most exciting or quirkest things to post on Instagram but definitely worth checking out if you’re passing it!
9. The Bloemenmarkt / Floating Flower Market
Another popular stop in Amsterdam is Bloemenmarkt for its abundance of tulips and holds the title as being the world’s only floating flower market. Founded in 1852, you can wander in and out the various shops – be sure to look up – there’s some gorgeous arrangements that line the “ceiling” of the shops too!
This shop is incredibly popular with tourists and I found the pricing to be far more expensive than other tulip shops around the city. I really enjoyed walking through the market and getting some gorgeous photos of the colourful tulips in bloom!
10. NEMO Panorama Terrace
The NEMO Science Museum is a fantastic place for families and young children; it’s also a great place to visit to bring out your inner geek which is what I did a few years ago. Turns out NEMO is not only great if you want to see science experiments but also to enjoy a panoramic view of the city from the upper terrace!
11. Free Tours: City Tour, and Diamond Museum
Free walking tour is my favourite way of getting to know a city; what I love about these tours is you can pay as you feel is deserved by the guides (so tip generously!) I’ve always made a new friend or two and really enjoyed getting to know the city in a healthy way (walking is always great!)
12. The Night Life: Red Light District
Walking through De Wallen and enjoying Amsterdam’s famed Red Light District is best enjoyed in the evening/night time where you can really indulge in the completely different vibe of than during the daytime where most things are closed.
De Wallen/the Red Light District is popular for its being home to the world’s oldest profession. The area is much safer than it used to be and pickpocketing is the only major issue due to crowd sizes and this being a predominantly tourist attraction. There’s no age restrictions to walk around but for obvious reasons, minors are not allowed to enter the shops.
13. Dam Square
The Dam Square is one of the most popular and recognizable sites in Amsterdam – it’s a town square with the Royal Palace, Nieuwe Kerk (New Church) and both De Wallen (Home to the Amsterdam Red Light District) and the Amsterdam Centraal (Central station) a short distance away. The town square also links up several streets and one of the most popular is Damrak, an avenue where you can find the “The dancing houses at the Damrak” which looks stunning in the evening. This area gets very busy and crowded so watch out for pickpockets and keep a vigilant eye!
Where to Next?
- Amsterdam is a culinary treat with many street food and food markets to check out! Most of these desserts are hard to find outside of the country and I’ve listed my favourite 6 treats!
- Amsterdam is perfect for a quick weekend getaway and here’s my itinerary for a short trip!
- Here is my travel photo essay from my most recent trip to Amsterdam!
- Take advantage of the city’s compact and walkable space and find these best photo spots for your travel album!