20 free things to do in Amsterdam
It's easy to spend a fortune in the Netherlands' stylish capital, but the city has plenty of gratis goodies up for grabs, if you know where to look.
From exploring colourful flower markets to voyaging to an island of recycled art, these are our picks of the best free things to do in Amsterdam.
1. Canal Ring
More canals flow in Amsterdam than in Venice, and get this: the 400-year-old waterways are a UNESCO World Heritage site. So roaming around them is like being in a free, living museum, albeit with a beery cafe every few metres.
As a free teaser to its collection, the Amsterdam Museum hangs a gape-worthy slew of Golden Age portraits – peers of Rembrandt’s The Night Watch (on display in the museum proper) – in a sheltered laneway next to the entrance.
To get a feel for the ‘real’ Amsterdam, trawl its largest street market. Moroccan, Surinamese, Indonesian and Dutch residents haggle over shimmering fabrics, cheeses, bike locks, socks and herring sandwiches.
4. Free walking tours
Young guides working on a tip-only basis show you the Red Light District, Anne Frank House and other top sights on this three-hour, whiz-bang walkabout around Amsterdam organised by Sandeman's New Europe. Departure is at 10, 10:30 and 11am and 1:30, 2 and 3pm, leaving from the Nationaal Monument at Dam Square. Check the website for the most up-to-date info.
5. Concertgebouw on Wednesdays
Sharpen your elbows, because the older women in furs are ruthless trying to get into this famed classical hall's free lunchtime shows (often rehearsals for musicians playing later that evening). Concerts take place from 12:30pm to 1pm on Wednesdays, from mid-September through to June.
6. Muziektheater on Tuesdays
Performers from the opera and Dutch Philharmonic also stage free lunchtime gigs at their mod venue. The high Cs fly from 12:30pm to 1pm on most Tuesdays, from September through May.
7. Flower Market
Breathe deep on a stroll through the Bloemenmarkt (Singel, between Muntplein & Koningsplein), where crimson tulips, yellow daffodils and purple lilies jumble against a dramatic canal backdrop. You’ll have to pay for a bouquet, but it’s free to smell the roses.
8. Nieuwe Kerk (New Church)
The historic stage for royal coronations, this soaring building from 1408 is now used for large-scale art exhibitions. They charge admission, but you're welcome to slip through the gift shop and head upstairs for a free peek and display on the church's history.
To explore this secret courtyard (main entrance off Gedempte Begijnensloot), find the humble wood door in Amsterdam's busy centre, push it open, and voilà – an oasis of 14th-century houses and gardens appears, along with two clandestine, relic-filled churches.
10. Stadsarchief (City Archives)
You never know what treasures you'll discover in these archives: a 1942 police report on Anne Frank's bike theft, photos from John and Yoko's 1969 bed-in at the Hilton, or a 1625 city map. Displays rotate regularly.
Hop on the free ferry behind Centraal Station and set sail for NDSM-werf, a derelict shipyard turned avant-garde arts community. Check out the recycled-junk sculptures, graffiti artists roaming the streets and giant wooden tiki head watching over it all.
12. Bimhuis on Tuesdays
Here's one more freebie for the musically minded: the Bimhuis – the core of Amsterdam's influential jazz scene – hosts a rollicking jam session every Tuesday at 10pm from September to June. Join the band, or just listen in.
13. Gassan Diamond Factory Tour
Don't know your princess from your marquise, or a river from a top cape? Get the debrief on diamonds during Gassan's one-hour tour, where you can watch gem cutters and pro polishers in action.
14. Hollandsche Manege (Riding School)
Softly sunlit and smelling of horses, this riding school impresses even non-equestrians with its gorgeous neoclassical architecture and elegant cafe from which to view the regal trotting.
15. Cannabis College
This non-profit centre educates about Amsterdam's favourite herb. Chat with staff about coffee shop etiquette, browse bong displays, view hemp-made products or try out a vaporiser.
16. Amsterdam Architecture Foundation
ARCAM, per its Dutch acronym, features exhibits on uber-cool urban design. Staff also point you to free resources, such as digital guides to architecture along tram routes.
While the art-house movies and main-floor exhibitions cost money, the interactive Dutch film displays in the basement cost zilch. To reach the gleaming facility, take the free 'Buiksloterweg' ferry from behind Centraal Station.
18. Centrale Bibliotheek (Main Library)
Sure, you can grab an international newspaper and settle into a cushy sofa for the afternoon. But don't get so comfy that you miss the top-floor cafeteria whose deck unfurls an awesome city vista.
Fans of all things feline should make a beeline for this quirky boat on the Singel which has served as a stray cat sanctuary since 1966. Today it’s home to some 50 kitties, many of whom are looking to be adopted. Admission is free but donations are very welcomed.
20. Multatuli Museum
Renowned novelist Eduard Douwes Dekker (pen name Multatuli) wrote about corrupt colonialists in the Dutch East Indies. This small but fascinating museum-home chronicles his works and shows artifacts from his time in Indonesia.
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First published in March 2013, updated in June 2019.