The city of 1500 bridges, endless canals and even more bikes, Amsterdam is one of Europe’s most popular cities. Along with its beautiful gabled houses and flower-decked watersides, there’s an enormous amount to see and do, whether your interests are more Golden Age art or graffiti, high culture or getting high in a coffee shop. But this wealth of experiences doesn’t have to come with a huge price tag attached. So here are my top tips for making the most of Amsterdam on a budget.
More budget city guides: London, Edinburgh, Paris, Berlin, Vienna, Copenhagen, Madrid, New York, Las Vegas
Things to see and do
Amsterdam is synonymous with its canals, and one of the best free things to do in the city is get out and get lost among them. The city is centred around the UNESCO-listed Canal Ring, where three canals form a horseshoe shape around the old centre. But beyond that there’s Jordaan, a former working-class area that’s now full of galleries, restaurants and boutiques among some of the prettiest stretch of canal. Or hang out in the cafés of De Pijp, a district with a young, creative feel that’s is home to the Albert Cuypmarkt street market. Or visit the Jewish Quarter for the Waterlooplein flea market, zoo and botanical gardens.
If you want a break from canals, the city also has some lovely parks – ranging from the huge Vondelpark (which hosts free concerts and performances at its open-air theatre on summer weekends from May to September) to the peaceful Begijnhof, a pretty courtyard surrounded by 14th-century cottages.
To get your bearings and learn a bit about the city’s history, several different companies run free walking tours where you just tip your guide. Sandeman’s New Amsterdam Tours do a 3-hour city highlights tour starting from the National Monument at Dam Square every day at 10am and 2pm. Original Amsterdam Tours run a similar 3-hour city history tour as well as an ‘Alternative Amsterdam’ quirky tour of street art, coffee shops and squats in some of the city’s lesser-known areas. Both depart 2pm from Schuim BV on Spuistraat, with a pickup opposite Madame Tussauds in Dam Square 15 minutes earlier.
For classical music fans, there are free half-hour lunchtime concerts at the Concertegebouw concert house at 12.30pm on Wednesdays (mid-September to June). Some feature the full orchestra rehearsing and others have young musicians. There are also similar concerts on Tuesdays at 12.30pm in the foyer of the Dutch National Opera and Ballet. Or if you’re more into jazz, the Bimhuis venue at the Muziekgebouw holds free Monday Match improvisational evenings at 8.30pm on the first Monday of the month and weekly Tuesday workshops at 8pm (where any musicians can join in) followed by a 10pm jam session.
Museums and galleries
Entry to Amsterdam’s big-name museums – like the Rijksmuseum, Van Gogh Museum and Stedelijk modern art museum – costs around €15–€17 per person (entry is free for under 18s). Though you can check out the sculpture gardens surrounding the Rijksmuseum for free. You can book museum tickets online in advance, which won’t save you money but will help skip the ticket queue. It’s an especially good idea at the Anne Frank House as you get a timed entry slot and can bypass the long queues that often stretch right down the street (entry costs €9 for adults, €4,50 for children 10-17 and is free for under 10s).
If you’re planning on visiting a lot of museums, there are a couple of discount cards available. The Museumkaart costs €59.90 for adults or €32.45 for children, is valid for a year and covers 400 museums all across the Netherlands. Or the I Amsterdam card covers entry to the museums as well as discounts on other attractions, a free canal cruise and unlimited use of GVB public transport (trams, buses and metro). There are three different versions available – 24 hours (€49), 48 hours (€59) and 72 hours (€69).
For a free taste of culture, head to the Schuttersgalerij or Civic Guards Gallery, where 15 Goldern Age paintings, similar to Rembrandt’s Night Watch, line a covered street near the Amsterdam Museum. In a modern building on the riverside, the EYE film museum has a free basement cinema and private viewing pods. It’s free to get there too on the Buiksloterweg ferry from behind Centraal Station. Other free museums include the City Archives, Multatuli Museum and Hollandsche Schouwburg (Holocaust Memorial).
Top city views
The centre of Amsterdam is fairly low rise, so you won’t find any skyscrapers with views from up high. There are some good city viewpoints though, like from the top of the Openbare Bibliotheek (Public Library). It’s free to enter and there is a café and restaurant with an outdoor terrace looking out over the city.
You can also get a drink with a view from the 11th floor bar in the DoubleTree hotel on Oosterdokstraat (open 11am–1am, or 2am on Friday/Saturday). Or across the city there’s the Hotel Okura which has a cocktail bar on its 23rd floor that’s open to non-residents (open 6pm–1am, or 2am on Friday/Saturday). There’s also Cafe Blue on top of the Kalvertoren shopping centre, with floor-to-ceiling windows and a 360 degree panoramic view. It’s normally open 10am–6.30pm but stays open until 9pm on Thursdays.
Eating and drinking
If you’re self-catering, look out for Dirk van den Broek, Lidl or Aldi supermarkets for discount groceries. You can also pick up fresh food at Amsterdam’s markets, like the Albert Cuyp Market in De Pijp (Monday to Saturday, 9.30am–5pm) or the weekly farmer’s markets held each Saturday at the Noordermarkt (9am–3pm), Nieuwmarkt (9am–5pm) and ZuiderMRKT (9.30am–5pm).
For a budget breakfast, head to the HEMA department store where they do a 9am–10am breakfast deal where you get a croissant, bacon and egg sandwich and tea or coffee for €1. And for a cheaper alternative to restaurants try an eetcafé, a kind of diner where they serve simple dishes at low prices. Or try some of Amsterdam’s street food – poffetjes (fluffy mini pancakes), stroopwafels (syrup waffles) or raw herring served with onions and pickles. There’s even a chain of fully automated 24-hour snack shops called FEBO.
Amsterdam’s most famous beer export is Heineken, and you can take a tour of the Heineken Experience visitors centre for €18. Or for €4.50 you can do you can take a 20-minute tour of the Brouwerij ‘t IJ craft brewery, underneath the city’s tallest windmill. Tours run every Friday, Saturday and Sunday at 3.30pm and include a beer of your choice. For something a bit stronger, the Wynand Fockink jenever distillery and bar where you can taste their range of liqueurs before you buy (open 3pm-9pm daily).
Amsterdam is a really walkable city, and you can download a city map from the tourist office site. Or join the locals and get on your bike – somehow there are more bikes than people in Amsterdam. Bike rentals cost around €10 for 24 hours, but if you rent longer-term you get better rates (additional days around €6). If you have the I Amsterdam card you get a 25% discount on rentals from MacBike and Amsterbike.
If you’re planning on using the trams or buses a lot, it’s worth investing in a public transport pass. GVB passes give you unlimited travel on trams, buses and the metro for varying periods ranging from one day (€7.50) up to seven days (€32). Or there’s the Amsterdam Travel Ticket which includes train travel to and from Schipol Airport as well as unlimited public transport (1 day €15, 2 day €20, 3 day €25).
There are over 100km of canals around Amsterdam, so one of the best ways to see the city is from the water. A standard 75-minute canal cruise costs €16 for adults and €8.50 for children aged 5–12 – you save €2 per adult/€1 per child by booking online or it’s free with the I Amsterdam card. Or you can take a free boat trip across the IJ, the stretch of water behind Centraal Station, to NDSM Wharf in Amsterdam Noord, a derelict shipyard turned creative community with galleries, sculptures and waterside bars and cafés.
So those are my tips for seeing Amsterdam on a budget – do you know of any more Amsterdam bargains or have any money-saving tips?