Amsterdam can be an expensive city - there’s no person you can ask who would tell you otherwise, traveller or a local. Having lived in this city for the past few years, even us residents have to get creative to enjoy the capital of the Netherlands without opening our wallet. But now here’s the thing - it isn’t impossible to. That’s part of the beauty of Amsterdam - that while you can spend money on great brunches or surreal Instagram museums, there are still parts of this city that is free to enjoy. No, I don’t mean window shopping - I mean actual activities that we locals would do on a casual day. And for travellers who are coming to Amsterdam, if you’re on a shoestring budget or just want to balance out spending money with actual fun things to do in Amsterdam that are free, here are my top free things to do in Amsterdam.
Free lunchtime concerts at Het Concertgebouw
Come around lunchtime, Amsterdam locals head out into the streets not only for a bite but for a free concert at the regal Concertgebouw. There are two types of free lunchtime concerts you can watch. The one in the Recital Hall will require a (Free) ticket, due to reservation - which you can get online for max 2 per person. Except, they actually do charge you a 2.50 euro transaction fee (fair?). While for the completely free ticket, which is in the main hall, doesn’t require any reservation, and you can just show up for the show. I love attending these because you can watch the public rehearsals, up-and-coming Dutch artists, as well as chamber music performances in a wide range of musical genres. They're usually 30-minute performances, so it makes for a wonderful mid-day relaxing activity. For more information, check out the show’s schedule here.
Salsa dancing at São Paulo Café
You know that stereotype of Northern Europeans being reserved and sometimes downright seemingly distant? Amsterdammers can go straight to the front of that line. But a place that defies this stereotype and carves out warmth with everyday celebration is São Paulo Café. This little spot on the west end of Vondelpark often hosts free salsa dancing nights. As a free thing to do in Amsterdam, you can come practice, learn and salsa dance to joyous Cuban music while meeting open-minded and friendly locals!
Take a scenic ferry ride
From Amsterdam Centraal, there’s a platform just behind the station where you can take the ferry to Amsterdam North, the cool urban revival neighbourhood of the city chocked full of street art and spots to hang out. The ferries cruise to different spots in Amsterdam Noord, so you can check out the neighbourhood easily from its routes. Unlike taking the tram, subway or buses - the ferry is completely free, you can just walk on and off as you wish, and it offers a great sight of Amsterdam from the water.
Enjoy street art at NDSM
If you do the above, taking the ferry to Amsterdam Noord, there’s a route that lads directly to NDSM. The NDSM Wharf is the industrial ferry port turned art enclave - with wicked street art, shipping containers reused into galleries and all-around creative vibes echoing from every corner of this part in Amsterdam. You can wander in and out and explore its expansive grounds taking in the burst of colours, murals and designs all as a free thing to do in Amsterdam!
Where to Stay in Noord neighbourhood
The hostel is an old 1920’s laboratory with pa bright and spacious atrium, and many lounge areas to meet new friend! You can also hang out in the cafe, and the library.
It can't get more Amsterdammer than staying on a boat! This unique 3-star hotel offers rooms aboard a boat located on the River IJ at the cool NDSM Wharf.
You don't have to break the bank to stay in Amsterdam! This hotel is chic yet still within a great budget.
Petting zoo park (Kinderboerderij)
Kinderboerderij is Dutch for “petting zoo” and a unique free thing to do in Amsterdam is to go to one! Whether you’re an adult or have children and going with your family, petting zoos are actually quite… Uniquely a Dutch thing to do. There’s plenty all around Amsterdam, and Kinderboerderij De Pijp is one that’s in the trendy neighbourhood of De Pijp. There's animal petting and feeding, so you can have cute interactions with sheeps and goats (yep, in the middle of Amsterdam!) but also for the little ones, children can ride on a pony. I say it’s quite uniquely Dutch since these petting zoos are all over the Netherlands as well, free of charge, compare to other countries where it’s much more of a separate pricely destination.
Swimming at NEMO or the Olympic Stadium
Locals know that the waterways that makeup Amsterdam isn’t just because it’s pretty or historically it’s for being a trading route, but for hot summer days when we can jump freely in and take a dip. Go for a swim in the open water area right outside of the NEMO Science Museum or for a more secluded area, right behind the Olympic Stadium at Park Schinkeleilanden (try saying that five times fast). Not only are they really scenic spots, but you’ll be joining in with Amsterdam residents who love hanging out there on sun-dappled days.
Take in skyline views from the Amsterdam Public library
First, as a local, I genuinely love reading at the Amsterdam Public library. There’s so many different knooks that you can enjoy, along with free wifi. Not only is the building and the interior rooms are designed so beautifully in a contemporary way, but if you go all the way up to the top floor of the library… There’s a whole uninterrupted view of Amsterdam - one of my favourite spots to look out at the city. When I first moved to Amsterdam, I shared this spot with a lot of Dutch friends that I made in the city, and even then not many long time locals know of this endearing free thing to do in Amsterdam!
Friday night at Mezrab
Tucked away in the eastern docks from the city centre is Mezrab, a cultural hub where Amsterdam’s artists come together to perform, create and put their craft and art on display. On Friday nights, Mezrab handpicks the best storytellers from around the world to perform their most fantastical, mythical, gripping and pulsating stories. It makes for a great place to not only connect with Amsterdam’s budding artists but also being able to appreciate the wide diverse talents that the city has to offer. Also the fact that it’s a free thing to do in Amsterdam is a major bonus (especially on a Friday night).
Explore the history of Amsterdam at the City Archives
If you want to learn more about the city of Amsterdam, wander through the historical hallways of the City Archives, also known locally as Gemeentearchif. Now, this isn’t just a regular old dusty building loaded up on documents from the past, unlike other city archives, but since its Amsterdam, the city naturally takes pride in its past, hosting the capital’s history in a historical building. From an extensive collection of film, audio, and photos - you can rife through the free exhibition is learn how Amsterdam came to be. See this as an alternative museum, one that takes you into the foundation of Amsterdam.
Soak up the architecture of the churches
There are quite a few iconic churches dotted all around Amsterdam, all within walking distance from each other. With their own varying facades and beautiful interior, you can feel like you’ve time-warped into a different period by exploring these churches. Check out our Amsterdam map with pins of the churches you can explore! Save your favourite place and then pull it up when you’re ready to do these free things in Amsterdam.
Where to Stay Nearby
Chic, well designed and superbly located, you'll feel like you're staying in the best of both worlds between a hostel and hotel here.
Located in a historic building just 300 metres away from Amsterdam Central Station, breakfast is offered in the restaurant. In the evening you can enjoy traditional Dutch dishes here too.
High-end - Motel One Amsterdam-Waterlooplein
This fabulously designed hotel is equal parts comfort and photo-worthy of a stay!
Attend a program at Pakhuis de Zwijger
In a former refrigerated warehouse in Amsterdam is Pakhuis de Zwijger, a contemporary house that acts as a platform for creators, social projects and programmes that connects people together for a sustainable future. Here you can connect with scientists, policymakers, and different citizens, all visualizing how cities can grow for the better. Throughout the week, you can attend their meetings and talks for free. Past talks include inspirational service on your vision as an entrepreneur to photo exhibition showcases. The free events happen throughout the week, so be sure to check their schedule posted online for which event you would be interested in attending.
Take your kids out to the Speeltuin
Speeltuin are to Dutchies what we call playgrounds - and they’re all over the city free for kids to play. So if you’re exploring Amsterdam with the family or young ones, you can find tree huts, climbing rocks, water fountains and of course, huge sport fields to let your children safely run around and enjoy in the middle of a bustling city.
Step inside the secret Begijnhof
Amsterdam is famous for its hofjes - which basically means in Dutch little inner gardens that are often tucked quietly away in the heart of the city. Now while some of these are completely private and locked up, only for the residents of that hofje to enjoy, the Begijnhof is one where you’re free to roam and explore. It’s super accessible within the city centre, except once you walk down the alleyway that opens out into this traditional Dutch garden, you’ll feel like you’ve been spellbound by its beauty. It’s a slice of Amsterdam that is rare to experience - away from the hustle and crowds. The architectural integrity of these wonky toppling buildings are still kept in tact, and it’s a sight to behold within the hofje.
Watching street performers at Dam Square
The heart of Amsterdam, the Dam Sqaure is flanked by iconic places like the Royal Palace of Amsterdam and the National Monument. With the grand open space of the cobblestone square surrounded by buildings that have lasted through the ages, something entertaining is always happening here. Even if you sit out in Dam Square to soak up the sunshine, you’ll see people doing magic tricks, blowing bubble balloons, people feeding pigeons and of course, street performers ranging from dance crews to even circus-like performances. And the great thing about being out in public, is everything is free and a feast for the eyes!
Biking around the city
Do what the locals do - and cycle around the city. Seeing different neighbourhoods and buildings zoom by you as you pedal amongst the convoy of bicycles is thrilling. It’s a different way to experience Amsterdam, and one in my opinion, that is much easier than taking the public transit itself (I mean, have you ever sat in an overcrowded tram and see tourists trying to creatively barge in using the wrong entrance? I’d rather be on my bike). This way, you can easily within reach anywhere you want in the city, as well as get off your bike at the drop of a hat and explore as you wish.
Amsterdamse Bos is a stunning sprawling, massive forest right outside of the city centre. Bos literally means forest in Dutch. During the autumn, take a stroll through gorgeous explosions of colourful foliage, while in the spring, many go to appreciate the fleeting sakura (cherry blossoms) that are planted here. It’s a place that’s perfect for any season and quite big to explore. Some go to be part of nature - tuning out the constant hustle of Amsterdam, while others have picnic, and strolls runs all through the trails in Amsterdamse Bos.
Places like Skatepark Noord is an institution in Amsterdam simply because it's a haven for Dutch skate culture. There are tons of skate parks all over the city that are free to use and enjoy, grab your board and make friends with other locals who love skateboarding too. If you’re new to the sport, don’t feel intimidated, people hanging out here are quite friendly and easy to strike up a conversation with, making the outing not only fun but easy to pick up a new trick or two.
Chill on Nemo’s rooftop with views of the city
On sunny days, I love walking up the steps of NEMO Science Centre to its rooftop. It gives you a stunning panoramic view of Amsterdam, and you are welcomed to hangout there for as long as you like, whenever you like! It’s a great way to see Amsterdam from a different perspective, with all the historical chocolate box shaped houses lined up next to each other by the canals. Since you’re higher up and there’s no other buildings blocking the views, if it’s a particular windy day, definitely bring a layer so you won’t feel so brisk!
Amsterdam School architecture sighting
Not many travellers who come to Amsterdam know that there’s a unique subset of architecture that’s exclusively started and is to this day, shimmering like gems all over the city. Amsterdam School is a style of architecture started back in the 1910s and continued through to the 1930s, using brick construction with rounded curves. Buildings has glints of decorative masonry, shiny glass art and you can see this type of architecture all over the city for free! Buildings like The Scheepvaarthuis, the Olympic Stadium, Het Schip are all easily founded on Google Maps and within walking distance around Amsterdam.
Your choices of city parks: Vondelpark, Oosterpark, Saraphatipark
The great thing for Amsterdammers is that we’re never short on nature and green space. There are huge swaths of public parks throughout the city - actually one major park for each neighbourhood. So I don’t even have to walk too many blocks until I can have a picnic or hangout in a leafy green corner of the city. For travellers, if you want to see a natural side to Amsterdam, be sure to check out one of the many parks. In the centre, and the biggest park of the city, is Vondelpark. We’ve all had many memorable experiences there. Check out Westerpark out in Amsterdam West, Oosterpark out in Amsterdam East, and for those in and around De Pijp, Saraphatipark is a relaxing oasis.
Dip your toes into Westerpark’s water fountain
During the summer or any day when the sun happens to be out in Amsterdam (rare, but so grateful when it’s shining), my friends and I love hanging out in Westerpark. There’s actually a splash zone water fountain there that we love running through and dipping our feet in. If you’re with young kids, they will absolutely go feral in the water as well.
Stedelijk Museum is free for those under 18, Van Gogh museum and Rijksmuseum
Dutch museums are some of the best institutions that we have in the Netherlands - literally a treasure trove of some of the art world’s masterpieces collected in this small country (and small capital city) of ours. But I’m gonna be real with y’all - ticket prices are so expensive. You know how other cities have one day of the month when museums are free? Here, they’ll laugh at you for even bringing up that idea. My friend who’s an art curator and who’s doing her internship at one of the major museums that thou shall not be named in Amsterdam doesn’t even get any pass to her own museum events and days for free. So….. Anyways - that is why, if you are under 18, it is a true blessing to go to museums in Amsterdam. Take full advantage of this one free (yet major) thing to do in Amsterdam. You can easily pop in and out as you please, go to one exhibit, and then come back when you want. This is applicable for all of the major big museums in Amsterdam right in the Museum Quarter, so they’re all easily within reach. If you’re travelling with kids, the more, the merrier!
Where to Stay nearby
Talk about a non touristy place to stay - sleeping in this boat will give you a true Amsterdam experience!
Located in the heart of the Red Light District, you'll be in walking distance of the action in Amsterdam.
High-end - Holiday Inn Express Amsterdam - City Hall, an IHG Hotel
It's all about location, location, location - and with this accommodation you won't have to worry about transit as you can walk anywhere from here.
Sunbathe on one of Amsterdam’s beaches
Not many people know that Amsterdam has some awesome beaches - and hey, that’s I’ve rounded up my top picks here for you to enjoy. They’re all free, but be sure to pack yourself a towel to have something to sit on. You can also bring your own food, and no need to worry about washroom facilities as the ones on site are also free for you to use.