Amsterdam's beautiful coloured town houses overlooking its tranquil canal

A Guide to Free Things to do in Amsterdam

23 Apr 2019 By Adele Grant
Amsterdam's beautiful coloured town houses overlooking its tranquil canal

Known for its stunning canals, coffee culture and world-famous Red Light District, Amsterdam has plenty of lures. But a trip to the Dutch capital doesn’t have to be expensive. In fact, there are plenty of ways to fill your days without spending a penny. From beautiful parks to insightful tours and lunchtime concerts – get a taste of this European favourite on a budget.

So, whether you’re holidaying with kids, looking to explore the city’s culture or love all things adventure – check out our guide to free things to do in Amsterdam.

Amsterdam holiday deals

Free things to do for culture

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Take Sandeman’s New Amsterdam walking tour: Showing you all of Amsterdam’s best spots, your wallet isn’t needed for this fantastic English-speaking tour. Starting at Dam Square or Central Station and lasting three hours, its expert guides will tell you all about the city’s history while visiting must-see sights including the Royal Palace and Anne Frank’s House. Tips are appreciated but not required. This tour is available all year round regardless of the weather.

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Enjoy some free music with a concert at Concertgebouw: Nothing says culture like some traditional music. Every Wednesday at lunchtime the Concertgebouw puts on a classical concert. Found in the Main and the Recital Hall, the venue alone will make your trip worthwhile. Lasting around 30 minutes – it has become an afternoon hotspot. This popular event runs from June to September and is situated in Amstelveen, just a short stroll from the Museum District.

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Stop by the city’s largest market: There are plenty of markets in Amsterdam, but Albert Cuyp Market is by far the best. Weave in and out of its 260 stalls and witness vendors selling everything from textiles to food and clothes. Even if you’re not planning on buying anything, this busy shopping spot is an experience in itself. Not to mention it dates back to 1904, so it’s also one of Amsterdam’s oldest markets. Found in the fashionable De Pijp neighbourhood in the south of the city ,this busy shopping street is frequented by locals and tourists alike. Head here throughout the year.

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Explore the history of the Canal Belt: Built in the 17th century and declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2010, this network of canals is home to the city’s main waterways. From picturesque bridges, impressive architecture and more than 800 monuments, you can spend hours discovering this vast area and its many scenic surprises. Make sure you don’t miss Magere Brug, it’s the capital’s most iconic bridge and appears illuminated at night. This popular spot is thriving all year round and can be found close to Negen Straatjes shopping area.

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Free things to do for adventure

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Wander the Red Light District: You can’t come to the Netherlands without exploring Amsterdam’s most visited area – the famous Red Light District. Recognised right across Europe for its window brothels, quirky bars and illuminated streets come night, it’s an adult adventure unlike anything else you’ll have ever experienced. Despite its seedy reputation, the area is one of the city’s oldest and most beautiful areas with overhanging trees lining quaint canals. Close to Dam Square and Amsterdam Central Station, you can head here at any time of the year.

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Get lost in See Rijksmuseum Garden: People often assume they have to pay to visit the garden attached to Rijksmuseum and are often surprised to find this green paradise is completely free. There’s so much to discover in this open-air gallery from gigantic sculptures to perfectly planted flower beds and pretty water features alongside historical buildings and the original City Gate. There’s also an oversized chess board should you fancy a game. This is a year-round attraction and is found at the front of the museum and belongs to the borough Amsterdam South.

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Uncover a hidden courtyard: When you want to get away from the city’s noise-filled streets, Begijnhof is just the spot! Now all you have to do is track down its concealed inner courtyard. You can gain entry through a giant archway where you’ll find a weighty door, which you won’t be able to miss as you get closer. Once inside, you’ll see one of Amsterdam’s oldest houses, in its traditional wooden form along with a 15th century chapel. This lesser-known attraction is open all year round and is situated in Spui, a charming square in the centre of Amsterdam.

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Locate the famous Iamsterdam sign: Your Amsterdam adventure wouldn’t be complete without visiting its iconic Iamsterdam sign. This is a photo opportunity you won’t be able to resist as you see hordes of tourists trying to capture the perfect selfie. The original sign was removed by the council, but don’t fret, it was recently replaced by smaller replicas. These can be found at the airport Amsterdam Schiphol, or you’ll often see pop-up versions around the city.

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Spend a day at the beach: You may be surprised to discover Amsterdam has a beach. When you want to escape the city for a few hours, head for the sands of Zandvoort. Just 30 minutes by train, this seaside hotspot shows off the capital’s low-key side. Surrounded by 30 beach clubs and filled with exhilarating watersports from surfing, stand-up paddle boarding and kitesurfing – there’s plenty of adventure to be had. You can hit this shore all year round, but Zandvoort sees the biggest crowds during the summer months.

Where to stay

  • Corendon Vitality Hotel: 15 minutes from the airport and the city centre, your holiday starts as soon as you land. Rooms are lavish with plush king-size beds providing ultimate comfort, there’s even single options for solo travellers. Savour the flavours of Amsterdam from the onsite restaurant and bar. And if you’re a fitness fanatic, the gym is bursting with high-tech sports equipment.
  • WestCord ArtHotel: Boasting raving TripAdvisor reviews, the WestCord hotel ensures that city breakers have the most sensational stay. Choose from 106 stylish rooms all featuring free Wi-Fi, a flat screen TV, espresso machine and other major perks. Fill your face with French and Dutch cuisine from the hotel restaurant, before heading 10 minutes down the road to the city centre.
  • American Hotel Amsterdam: As one of the most famed luxury hotels in Amsterdam, guests can only expect the finest facilities. Rooms are accessorised with Art Deco delights and come in either classic, deluxe and junior suite options. Snap a photo of your chic surroundings and upload to Facebook courtesy of the hotel’s free Wi-Fi.

Free things to do for kids

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Head to the roof of Nemo Science Museum: The museum itself may not be free but its rooftop is. At 22 metres tall little ones will love seeing the city from up high, especially if the sun is shining. While, its open-air exhibition Energetica is just as impressive. Teaching your children all about the life elements – sun, wind and water – this interactive square is home to solar fountains, state-of-the-art windmills and astonishing sculptures. Located just 15 minutes east of Amsterdam Central Station this terrace is open from April to August but can close if the weather is bad.

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Discover fun playgrounds at Vondelpark: Vondelpark is a children’s heaven. Not only is it Amsterdam’s most famous park, but it has plenty of family appeal. Small children can get messy in the sandpit, while older kids run wild in the huge playground. From tall climbing frames to rope bridges – your little ones will be in their element. On those warm city days, you can also take advantage of a large pool, where your kids will be able to splash around in shallow waters as you enjoy the sun. You can visit here all year round, and it isn’t hard to find either thanks to its central location close to the popular tourist attractions – Rijksmuseum, Stedelijk Museum and Van Gogh Museum.

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Feed the animals at Amsterdamse Bos: Found on the outskirts of the city in a municipality known as Amstelveen, Amsterdamse Bos is a hotspot with Dutch families. This forest-like setting is full of shaded picnic spots, stunning lakes and fascinating wildlife. Kids will adore the goat farm where they’ll get to pet a whole host of animals from pigs, chickens, cows and baby goats of course.

But nothing is more enjoyable than a trip to the park’s very own islet – Speel Eiland. Getting to this island is the most exciting part with logs and ladders carefully positioned in the water, resembling an obstacle-like course. The park is also home to two pools and plenty of ice cream stops, not to mention concerts during summer. This much-loved spot is open all year round.

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Ride the free ferry: Located at the rear of Central Station is Amsterdam’s free ferry service, which takes you to the north of the city. Crossing the waterfront, toddlers will love the sense of adventure that comes with being on a boat. There are also three different routes on offer, each ranging in length. NDSM Werf is the longest of the three and is perfect for inquisitive little ones who will love pointing out the numerous sights along the way.

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Make an educational trip to Amsterdam Public Library: A library may not seem like an obvious choice when comes to family holidays, but this public building has a floor dedicated to kids. Alongside a vast collection of books, children can take advantage of quirky seating and play areas. Most of its collections are in Dutch yet you’ll also find a selection of publications in English.

Though the biggest highlight has to be the Mouse Mansion, a model which was the inspiration behind a book series featuring two mice – Julia and Sam. This building is open to the public throughout the year and can be found to the east of east of Amsterdam Central Station.

So if you want to experience the Dutch capital on a shoestring budget, this list of free things to do is a great place to start if you’re thinking of booking one of our fantastic city breaks.

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