12 free (and fun!) things to do in Amsterdam
Life in the Netherlands can feel pretty expensive sometimes, and it’s possible that you may find yourself looking back on the pricey festive season that’s passed and thinking it would be nice to go out and do something that won’t break the bank.
So, whether you’re a tourist visiting Amsterdam on a budget, or an expat or local simply looking for new, creative, and cheap ways to spend an afternoon in the Dutch capital, here are 12 free activities that are guaranteed to keep you and the rest of your family occupied and entertained.
1. Relax on the roof at NEMO
This one is probably a more summer-friendly activity, but the views offered by the roof of the NEMO Science Museum are beautiful all year round, regardless of the weather. If you want, you can buy tickets to visit the museum, but the good news is that access to the rooftop cafe and seating is completely free, so you can enjoy the views (and the sunshine) without having to spend a cent!
2. Experience a moment of calm in the Begijnhof
Did you know that there are dozens of hidden gardens that can be found in the centre of Amsterdam, and that many are freely accessible to the public? The most famous hofje (secret courtyard) has got to be the Begijnhof. One of the oldest hofjes in the Dutch capital, it is just a stone’s throw away from popular attractions such as the Amsterdam Dungeon and the Royal Palace, and offers a little taste of peace and serenity right in the heart of the busy city centre.
Aside from the Begijnhof, there are plenty of other hofjes in Amsterdam that you can visit. Use this map to see which ones in the Jordaan neighbourhood are open to the public, or follow this walking route which leads you past 12 Jordaanse hofjes.
3. Explore Amsterdam's history at the City Archives
Interested in delving into the history of Amsterdam? Well, the Amsterdam City Archives are open to the public, and most of the building can be accessed without having to pay for a ticket - although admission is charged for some exhibitions. There are also daily tours, but you do have to pay for these if you’re over the age of 16.
4. Take the pont and visit Amsterdam Noord
Amsterdam is known for its iconic canals and abundance of waterways, and while travelling by boat can be a great way to explore the city, it can also be expensive. So, if you want to experience travelling by boat in the Dutch capital, but don’t want to pay for a canal cruise, then just mosey on down to Amsterdam Centraal where, at the back of the station on the banks of the IJ, you’ll find the pont.
The pont - a small ferry operated by the GVB - is part of Amsterdam’s public transport system, but is completely free for travellers, taking passengers to and from various points in Amsterdam Noord. Be warned: there are a couple of different routes, so make sure to double-check the boat you’re taking before boarding - we recommend taking F4 from Amsterdam Centraal to the NDSM Wharf, where you can visit the Amsterdam Street Art Museum or have a drink looking over the IJ at Pllek.
5. Stroll through one of the many parks or gardens
Similarly to the Begijnhof, there are plenty of beautiful green spaces dotted across the city that make for the perfect place for a relaxing afternoon walk or a picnic with friends. Instead of heading to the obvious choice - Vondelpark - travel a little outside of the city centre and explore all that the Amsterdamse Bos has to offer. The park - which is three times bigger than New York’s Central Park - has plenty of green open spaces, as well as a petting zoo, pancake house, and hundreds of walking, cycling, and riding routes.
Alternatively, if you’re looking for a more curated experience, pop into the gardens surrounding the Rijksmuseum on Museumplein. While entry to the museum itself isn’t free, the gardens are open - and absolutely stunning all year round!
6. Consume culture at the Concertgebouw
Did you know that every Wednesday at 12.30pm, the Concertgebouw hosts a free lunchtime concert in the Kleine Zaal (“Small Hall”)? These concerts are a great way to get a taste of the wealth of culture on offer in the Dutch capital, without it having to cost you an arm and a leg. So, once you’ve finished exploring the Rijksmuseum Gardens, take the short walk across the Museumplein and enjoy the beautiful music at the Concertgebouw. Do note, however, that while tickets are free, you do still need to book your spot online ahead of time.
Image: Matt Rakowski via Shutterstock.com.
7. Gaze at the portraits of Amsterdam's wealthy at the Schuttersgalerij
While the Amsterdam Museum does charge for general admission, there is one part of the museum’s collection that is always free and open to the public. The Schuttersgalerij (Civic Guards Gallery) houses several old portraits of wealthy citizens of the city throughout history. The exhibition is only small, but you can access it from the Kalverstraat (so you can combine your trip with a visit to the Begijnhof, which is literally only a minute's walk away).
8. Shine bright like a diamond on the Gassan tour
Amsterdam might not be one of the first cities you think of when you think of diamonds, but the city is home to a beautiful museum in a historic building dating back to 1879. The Gassan Diamond Experience welcomes over 350.000 visitors every year, and takes them on a walk through the Gassan factory. On the informative, fascinating and free tour, visitors learn about how diamonds are found and formed into the gorgeous jewels everyone knows and loves.
9. Have a lit time at the Amsterdam Light Festival
You might expect that attending a major festival in Amsterdam would cost you at least a little bit of money, but that’s not true - the city hosts several free festivals throughout the year, and one of the highlights has got to be the Amsterdam Light Festival every winter. The event showcases gorgeous light installations by artists from around the world and is sure to brighten up even your darkest winter days.
If you aren’t here during the winter, then don’t worry - there are plenty of free festivals taking place in the Dutch capital throughout the year. Some of the highlights include the Uitmarkt, which is a city-wide cultural festival at the end of the summer, and, of course, Pride Amsterdam in August.
10. Visit one of the many awe-inspiring churches
While there are some churches in the city that charge admission fees, some of the most beautiful Amsterdam churches are actually open to the public and free to visit. Great examples of famous churches you can visit for free in the Dutch capital are the Westerkerk, the Noorderkerk, and the Sint Nicolaas Kerk (only open during the summer months).
11. Enjoy a moment of reflection at the He Hua Temple
Interested in other places of worship that you can visit for free in Amsterdam? Well, one of the most interesting and memorable spots has got to be the He Hua Temple, which is located in the centre of the city in China Town. This Buddhist temple is the largest temple of its kind in Europe, built in the traditional Chinese style.
The He Hua Temple hosts a number of events throughout the year, and you could book yourself on one of the guided tours (prices start at 2,50 euros), or alternatively take some time and explore the space in your own time.
12. Discover the Dam with this online guided tour
And last but certainly not least, explore the history and geography of one of the most famous spots in Amsterdam: Dam Square. On the Dam, you’ll not only find the Royal Palace, but also the National Monument - which plays a central role in the Remembrance Day ceremony held annually on May 4 - and the original De Bijenkorf department store.
Want to know more about this square? Follow this online free guided tour (available in Dutch and English) to find out more about how the Dam came to be in the first place, and how it’s changed over time.
Do you have any other tips for free activities in Amsterdam, or elsewhere in the Netherlands? Share your favourites in the comments!