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Visiting Amsterdam on a budget

Visiting Amsterdam on a budget

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, Cape Town
Tulips in the Bloemenmarkt, Amsterdam

Tulips in the Bloemenmarkt flower market

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 leaving from the National Monument at Dam Square several times each day. Original Amsterdam Tours run a 3-hour city history walking tour and an ‘Alternative Amsterdam’ quirky tour of street art, coffee shops and squats in some of the city’s lesser-known areas. Both depart opposite Madame Tussauds at 2pm.

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.

Amsterdam canals

Along the canals in Jordaan

Museums and galleries

Entry to Amsterdam’s big-name museums – like the Rijksmuseum, Van Gogh Museum and Stedelijk modern art museum – costs around €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 free for under 10s).

If you’re planning on visiting a lot of museums, there are a couple of discount cards available. The Museum Card costs €51.73 for adults (€23.67 for children 13-17 and €17.53 for 4-12s), is valid for 31 days and covers 400 museums 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 public transport (trams, buses and metro). There are three different versions available – 24 hours (€57), 48 hours (€67) and 72 hours (€77).

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).

Rijksmuseum sculpture gardens Amsterdam

In the sculpture garden at the Rijksmuseum

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 3am 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 from 10am–6.30pm but stays open until 9pm on Thursdays.

Amsterdam canals

Colourful canalside houses

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 which are held each Saturday at the Noordermarkt (9am–4pm), 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 baguette and tea or coffee for €2. 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 €16. Or for €5.50 you can do you can take a 20-minute tour of the Brouwerij ‘t IJ craft brewery, underneath the city’s tallest windmill. English 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 2pm-9pm daily).

Bikes in Amsterdam

A few of Amsterdam’s many bikes

Travelling around

Amsterdam is a really walkable city, and you can pick up a map from the tourist office for €2.50. Or join the locals and get on your bike – somehow there are more bikes than people in Amsterdam. Bike rentals cost around €14 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 (€34). Or there’s the Amsterdam Travel Ticket which includes train travel to and from Schipol Airport as well as unlimited public transport (1-day €16, 2-day €21, 3-day €26).

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 €17 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.

Canal tour

Touring the canals

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?

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How to save money on sightseeing, museums and galleries, food and drink, city views and transport – showing you can see Amsterdam on a budget – ontheluce.com

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41 Comments

  • Reply
    Vlad
    November 3, 2015 at 7:50 am

    Great guide, it made me miss Amsterdam a lot! I didn’t know about the cocktail bar so now I definitely have a reason to go back! 😀 I loved the view from the tower of Westerkerk and we had a very cool guide.

    • Reply
      Lucy
      November 3, 2015 at 10:35 am

      Cocktail bars with great views are one of my favourite things to do in cities around the world!

      • Reply
        Vlad
        November 3, 2015 at 3:02 pm

        I recently started researching sky bars in each city I visit and I go there just for a drink (usually because they are so expensive, haha). Found some really cool ones, my favorite this year was the one I visited in Barcelona.

  • Reply
    Sarah
    November 3, 2015 at 9:41 am

    Great Amsterdam guide! I now want to go back – obviously. Off to look at Easyjet now! Thanks Lucy!

    • Reply
      Lucy
      November 3, 2015 at 10:37 am

      Thanks Sarah, hope it comes in useful – I’m hoping to go back again soon too, I’m determined to get some good weather out there at least once!

  • Reply
    Kimberley Laing
    November 3, 2015 at 11:42 am

    Great guide! I visited Amsterdam this year and loved it; it really is as beautiful as the pictures 🙂

    • Reply
      Lucy
      November 4, 2015 at 11:45 am

      Thanks so much, those canals really are pretty aren’t they?

  • Reply
    lexklein
    November 3, 2015 at 1:15 pm

    Particularly nice photos! 🙂 My photos there always look a little gray and dull.

    • Reply
      Lucy
      November 4, 2015 at 11:44 am

      Thanks, it was a bit of a challenge as it drizzled with rain non-stop on my last trip (the last sunny pic was from the time before) – hopefully I’ll actually get some sunshine next time!

  • Reply
    atravelingb
    November 12, 2015 at 2:46 am

    I forgot how beautiful Amsterdam was! I visited when the first snow was falling in the end of November and could not get over how beautiful that made the canals. One of my favorite breakfast places was the Pancake Bakery – very good value for the amount of food they gave you.

    • Reply
      Lucy
      November 12, 2015 at 2:41 pm

      I bet it’s lovely in the snow (better than the rain for sure) – and thanks for the Pancake Bakery tip too!

  • Reply
    Suzanne Jones
    November 12, 2015 at 12:07 pm

    I really enjoyed both my trips to Amsterdam – one in sunny June and the other in crisp December. The canals are my favourite sight and the Jordaan my favourite area of the city. Lovely pics despite the weather 🙂

    • Reply
      Lucy
      November 12, 2015 at 2:43 pm

      I stayed in Jordaan this time and it was a really good base – so pretty and really easy to get around too. Hopefully next time I’ll get some sun to go with it!

  • Reply
    restlessjo
    November 14, 2015 at 5:50 pm

    I KNEW I shouldn’t read this!!! Guess where I want to go? 🙂
    Your budget guides are excellent, Lucy, and I’ll certainly refer back to this if and when. I remember using advice from your Paris one ( awful there- quite unbelievable! I came home from Lumiere in Durham to find it all over TV).

    • Reply
      Lucy
      November 14, 2015 at 7:19 pm

      Amsterdam is so pretty – and lots to see too! Yes so awful about Paris, sending lots of love to the people of one my favourite cities.

  • Reply
    Anisha Goel
    November 18, 2015 at 6:07 am

    Till date I had simply heard about the beautiful place of Amsterdam. Thanks for your informative post now I know what all things to do when I plan to visit there. An apt guide to the adorable city, making one’s trip memorable.

    • Reply
      Lucy
      November 18, 2015 at 5:56 pm

      Thanks Anisha, hope it comes in useful one day, it’s a great city!

  • Reply
    Jaime
    January 6, 2016 at 6:05 pm

    Wanting to plan our first train trip through Europe and stumbled across your blog. I feel so fortunate! This is a wealth of info for us. Feeling a little lost in starting this journey so we are very excited to learn from you. I guess my biggest question at this point is money. I don’t even know a ball park figure of what we should save for this trip. Two adults. Hoping to travel via train or tram for about 1.5 weeks. Thanks so much! Jaime & Hubby

    • Reply
      Lucy
      January 7, 2016 at 1:15 pm

      Hi Jaime, so glad it has come in useful – and if you have any questions please do drop me an email (lucydodsworth@yahoo.com). Budget wise depending on how much you are travelling around an Interail pass might be a good idea. And there are some good resources on this website which collate together budget breakdowns for different European destinations which might give you a good starting point: http://www.legalnomads.com/wds#budget

    • Reply
      Ed & Pauila
      August 4, 2016 at 12:56 am

      Love that I found your site.!! Our first trip to Amsterdam, 9/18-21/2016, will be via Easyjet at the end of our Europe vacation. Do have any good tips on centrally located places to stay that are affordable for that short of a time? Seems I can only find hotels that are exceeding $250 per night. Thank you, Ed & Paula

      • Reply
        Lucy
        August 5, 2016 at 3:35 pm

        Hope it comes in useful! I stayed in an AirBnB apartment rental on my last Amsterdam trip as hotels are pretty expensive. This was in the Jordaan district, really close to the canals and easy walking distance to the main sights (https://www.airbnb.co.uk/rooms/4939154). Would recommend the area even if this place isn’t available. Also if you’ve not used AirBnB before there is a link in the sidebar to give you $20 off. Happy travels!

  • Reply
    Tim B
    May 26, 2016 at 2:32 pm

    Nice Guide. There is also opportunities to get a cheap stay nowadays in Amsterdam which makes it even more attractive.

    • Reply
      Lucy
      May 27, 2016 at 2:04 pm

      Thanks, yes there are some really good deals in Amsterdam. I stayed in an apartment last time but there are some good hostels and plenty of hotels too.

  • Reply
    Laci
    August 3, 2016 at 12:09 am

    I’m visiting Amsterdam later this month as a part of my small eurotrip and this guide has been so far the most helpful I have found! Especially the views and super cheap breakfast (although the one in HEMA is now 2e) so thank you 🙂

    • Reply
      Lucy
      August 5, 2016 at 3:37 pm

      So glad you liked it – and enjoy Amsterdam!

  • Reply
    Lydia
    August 4, 2016 at 4:10 pm

    We’re off to Amsterdam on Monday and this guide is fantastic! We’ll be using this daily!

    • Reply
      Lucy
      August 5, 2016 at 3:31 pm

      That’s great to hear – have an amazing trip!

  • Reply
    Little Lottie
    October 6, 2016 at 10:43 am

    This post is the most helpful Amsterdam post I’ve read. Amazing tips, I’m visiting in a couple of weeks and will certainly try and get to the 23rd floor bar! X

    • Reply
      Lucy
      October 6, 2016 at 1:24 pm

      Great to hear it’s been useful – hope you have a fantastic trip (and enjoy those views!)

  • Reply
    Travel Highway (@travel_highway)
    October 13, 2016 at 4:07 pm

    The streets, bikes, canals.. already drooling! A very helpful guide.

    • Reply
      Lucy
      October 13, 2016 at 5:17 pm

      Thank you – hope it comes in useful!

  • Reply
    Evelyn Jauridez (@ebtheredhead)
    November 17, 2016 at 6:04 pm

    Is the flower market year round? I live in Chicago and want to visit during Jan-April. I wasn’t sure if the flower market would be operating during the winter season…

    • Reply
      Lucy
      November 19, 2016 at 4:35 pm

      Hi, the market itself is open outside the spring/summer season but it’s mostly bulbs and a few other flowers, for the tulips you need to visit from around May.

  • Reply
    Agness of Tuktuk
    February 12, 2017 at 11:16 am

    Amsterdam is a wonderful place for travelers. I’m happy whenever I see write ups about the place I am very familiar of. Your pictures are wonderful and this guide you created will definitely entice budget travelers to visit Amsterdam!

    • Reply
      Lucy
      February 12, 2017 at 10:37 pm

      Thanks Agness, great to hear that you like the article, it’s a fantastic city!

  • Reply
    Sebastien Florent
    April 16, 2017 at 1:45 pm

    Hi Lucy thanks a lot for sharing those good tips. You did not talk about places where to spend the night, any good tip from airbnb, booking or i don’t know what? Thanks again 🙂

  • Reply
    Hotel Amsterdam
    August 16, 2017 at 10:01 am

    Super late comment, but still a great blog post! Just a little addition: I think visiting Amsterdam the 4th/5th of May is also incredibly special, for anyone wondering when they might go. These two days are respectively the commemoration of everyone fallen in the second World War and the celebration of regaining liberty from the Germans. The entire country is silent on the 4th of May between 20:00 and 20:02; a really beautiful gesture!

  • Reply
    Hotel Amsterdam
    August 16, 2017 at 10:03 am

    Hiiya! if you’re talking about just general ‘night life’ rather than hotels, the best thing I can advise you is to just wander around the ‘grachten’ of Amsterdam. In the night, most of the bridges are lit which creates a beautiful view throughout the city. Also, it can be very quiet which can create some rather romantic scenes 😀

  • Reply
    Amber Bourke
    October 10, 2017 at 4:21 pm

    Love this! Thanks for sharing, definitely some great tips. I am visiting Amsterdam for the first time in January with family so some of these will definitely come in handy =)

    • Reply
      Lucy
      October 15, 2017 at 3:33 pm

      Have an amazing time!

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