When Amsterdam’s prices go hand in hand with its popularity, tackling the city built on stilts can leave your wallet feeling as lopsided as the iconic buildings surrounding you. For those on a more modest budget, we’ve compiled a list of insider tips to take on the Dutch capital for free!
Watch free movies under the stars at Pluk de Nacht
Amsterdam has quite a few free festivals – happening mostly in the early spring to early autumn season – it’s hard to pick just one. Perhaps most charming of all is the Pluk de Nacht Open Air film festival, held every August on the banks of the central IJ lake. Despite its increasing popularity, it has managed to retain its intimate, happy-go-lucky atmosphere with grace. A picnic basket will feel like fine dining as you watch independent movies hit the big screen for the first time out in the open. Dutch summers aren’t always the warmest, so bring a blanket along with your popcorn. On the spring days leading up to King’s Day, the lesser-known ‘Aprilfeesten’, a week-long local music and food fair, hits the laidback and cosy Nieuwmarkt area. And if you’re traveling in the winter months you won’t be left out of the free fun either – The Amsterdam Light Festival ignites the icey canals with glowing art installations for a full month every December.
Hiking, picnicking and swimming in Amsterdamse Bos
The ‘Amsterdam Forest’ is more than a park – it’s a huge, lush green playground on the outskirts of the city. Use your legs as transport: they’ll guide you to fresh-water lakes, a rowing club and a goat farm. Keep an eye out for woodland-inspired art installations scattered along the trails. If the forest is too far for your liking, don’t fret. BBQ-ing in mellow Flevopark or sunbathing near Vondelpark’s open-air theatre – Amsterdam’s original hippie haven – offer a similar secret-garden-feel closer to the city centre.
Go on a guided walking tour
You can download a city guide app on your mobile and read your way through the city, but a live storyteller can make all the difference. Walking tour companies, such as Sandeman’s New Amsterdam, offer free, highly informative strolls every day, 365 days a year. Sandeman’s well-practiced guides will take you along narrow streets, through secluded inner courtyards and across the different cultural districts, filling your brain with facts and curiosities. If you arrive early you can avoid the 3 euro booking fee charged for online reservations.
Enjoy a free classical lunchtime performance
Attending a regular classical concert in the Concertgebouw will most definitely set you back, but they host brilliant 30-minute sessions free of charge every Wednesday at 12.30 pm, September to June. Along with world-famous acoustics, this freebie comes wrapped in one of the city’s most cherished examples of neoclassical architecture. The National Opera and Ballet hosts similar lunchtime shows on Tuesday afternoons, September to May.
Clear your head on the ferry
The Venice of the Netherlands cannot be fully experienced without taking to the water. You may very well find an Amsterdammer friendly enough to take you on board on a hot day, but, should your charms fail you, the free ferries behind Central Station are a safe fallback. The Buikslotermeer ferry heads for the EYE Film Museum (which has a free permanent exhibition) and on to the free gardens of the Tolhuistuin. If the short ride doesn’t quite satisfy your sailing itch, hop on to the NDSM ferry for a liberating, wind-swept 15-minute trip to the NDSM wharf, a former shipyard. Now an edgy industrial breeding ground for artists and media companies, it’s the perfect spot for sizing up the city from a different angle.
Mingle at the market
A great way to observe local life in action without having to spend a penny, is by visiting one of Amsterdam’s many markets. The usual culprits are the popular Waterlooplein flea market, the famous Flower Market and the multicultural Dappermarkt but the Noordermarkt is by far the most atmospheric. Located in the middle of the historical Jordaan area, surrounded by tiny side streets, quiet canals and ancient trees, this vintage and foodie favorite makes the most of its romantic backdrop. Offering local organic produce on Saturdays and heaps of smart second-hand clothing on Mondays, it’s the ideal place to grab a bench and watch the people of Amsterdam shake off their morning blues.
Explore the city archives
Amsterdam may be one of the capitals with the most museums per square metre in the world but the Stadsarchief (city archives), housed in an imposing brick building on the Vijzelstraat, is the closest you’ll get to a free one. From faded photographs and private letters to obscure maps and artifacts, immerse yourself in history through this permanent collection of tokens from the city’s past.
Take in the city from the roof of NEMO
With skyscrapers few and far between, any high point in Amsterdam will give you a wide overview of the city’s pretty rooftops – but most church towers will charge you a substantial amount of money for access. From the slanted rooftop terrace of Science Centre NEMO, in the waters of the Oosterdok, looking out over the museum haven harbour, Central Station and Amsterdam’s famous VOC ships on a sunny day is priceless.
Party at Pacific Parc
Though rife with great clubs and bars, most parties in and around the city will charge you an entrance fee. Pacific Parc’s free parties, every Thursday to Saturday, are an energetic exception. The bartenders are inked up and good looking, the DJs stick to old-school rock and soul – a break from Amsterdam’s tireless house scene – and the dancefloor doesn’t judge. Find more free city tips on the momondo blog.