Amsterdam, the liberal and artistic cultural hotspot, surrounded by its ring of canals where modern amenities meet heritage gabled facades, features on most young Europe travellers’ bucket list. Let us accept that the city can get expensive. So here is a list of ten free experiences you should not miss when in the city on a budget.
1. VISIT THE ICONIC DAM SQUARE AND REMBRANDT SQUARE
No trip to Amsterdam can be complete without visiting Dam Square. This historic town square is surrounded by the Royal Palace, Nieuwe Kerk, De Bijenkorf with the Nationaal Monument dominating the scene. Always filled with tourists, the square is bustling with street performers, bike riders, trams and buses passing by the busy main road and lots of pigeons. You can sit on the benches and soak in the cheerful atmosphere and admire the majestic buildings surrounding you. If you are visiting during Open Tower Day then you can climb up the towers of important monuments around this area for free. A ten minute walk will lead you to Rembrandtplein, which is another busy square with a 3D installation of the Dutch master Rembrandt's most famous work, The Night Watch and a statue of Rembrandt himself. Take photos with the statues and then grab a beer at any of the bars around the area with outdoor seating so that you can enjoy the view and watch people passing by.
2. TAKE A WALK AROUND MUSEUMPLEIN, VISIT RIJKSMUSEUM GARDEN AND TAKE A PHOTO AT THE 'I AMSTERDAM' SIGN
The Museumplein is a piece of green, surrounding all of Amsterdam's most famous museums like Rijksmuseum, Van Gogh Museum and Stedelijk Museum. Take a walk around it and witness the magnificent structures, leading to the pretty Rijksmuseum Garden. Entry to the museum may be expensive but the beautiful garden, with old statues and colourful tulips, is free. Spend some time relaxing in the garden after which you can visit the famous I Amsterdam sign. It is always filled with tourists, so if you want a great photo, visit early. If you want a little bite and a drink afterwards visit affordable Cafe-Bistro Hansel and Gretel which is a 2 minutes’ walk.
3. RELAX AT THE VONDELPARK
A main attraction of dining during summer can be outdoor seating, but you may not wish to spend to much money of Amsterdam’s bars and restaurants. If you’d like to have a similar experience, buy some beers and sandwiches from Albert Heijn at less than half the price and go to Vondelpark. It is a piece of heaven amidst the busy city. A huge stretch of greenery, with beautiful canals and ponds, filled with ducks, flowers and shady trees, it offers an unbeatable place for relaxation. If you are in the mood, it can also be a safe place to smoke a joint (because, well, Amsterdam). The park has an Open Air Theatre where you can catch live music and dance performances for free. The places which sell drinks and food inside the park gets super crowded, so bring your own food and drinks from outside to avoid standing in the queue. If you are visiting during The King's Day, 27th April, you can witness a flea market arranged exclusively by children at the park.
4. TAKE A TOUR OF THE RED LIGHT DISTRICT
The most fun way to spend your time after sun down is a trip to the Red Light District. In the morning the area is just like any other neighbourhood in Amsterdam with pretty houses by the canals and flower-adorned bridges but at night it transforms itself to a happening and vibrant party place. Walk through the De Wallen area and prepare to be mesmerised by the neon lit windows, and the ladies behind them. Don't only walk by the main road; visit all the tiny alleys too. But refrain from taking photos or selfies with the girls, as this is a strict no-no. The area remains crowded with cheerful young tourists and it is really fun to sit at one of the bars and grab a beer. The Black Tiger is a great place which serves beer at a reasonable price. If you are hungry, there are lots of Doner shops open until late night. Also there are dozens of adult shops which are cool to visit. The enormous Oude Kerk, Amsterdam's oldest building is situated here which looks strikingly beautiful at night. The area is really safe in the evening but beware of pickpockets as the roads can get crowded.
5. VISIT ALBERT CUYP MARKET
The Albert Cuyp Market is more than a hundred years old street market in the de Pijp area of Amsterdam. The market is open six days a week from Monday to Saturday 9am-5pm. The whole road (Albert Cuypstraat) is pedestrian only, with stalls set up on both sides of the road. The products which are sold here include fresh seafood, vegetables, fruits, flowers, plants, different kinds of cheese, clothes, electronic goods etc. You can also find all kinds of proper shops here ranging from ones selling exotic spices, wooden furniture, glasses to leather goods, wigs and typical tourist souvenirs. There is a variety of bars and cafes surrounding the area which mostly have outdoor seating and is always busy during market hours. Several food stalls selling Dutch herring, fresh seafood, fries, spring rolls, and sweets like Baklava are also prominent. If you are there on a sunny day don't forget to try ice-cream from Ijscuypje for €1.5 per scoop. The famous Dutch Stroopwafels are prepared fresh here. The Original Stroopwafels is the spot to grab one. They come in regular, chocolate or super flavour and are pressed in front of your eyes and given to you to enjoy crisp and warm.
6. TAKE THE FREE FERRY ACROSS RIVER IJ TO NDSM
The NDSM is a former shipyard which has been converted to a hub of culture and art. The whole industrial area is covered with the coolest of graffiti. The area hosts different festivals, exhibitions, parties, performances etc. including IJHallen which is Europe's biggest flea market selling vintage furniture, lamps, clothes, different types of toys, second hand goods, decorations etc. To reach the NDSM wharf you need to go to the backside of the Amsterdam Centraal Station, and from there take ferry 905 or 906 to your destination. The ride is 15 minutes long and is absolutely free. You can also take your bike aboard the ferry. You can spot a half-submerged Zulu V class submarine while approaching the NDSM. Other water-vessels and a floating pancake boat hotel can also be seen. Once you reach the side of IJ you can see a visible difference in appearance of the city. Amsterdam Noord is totally different from its city centre. There is the cool NoorderlichtCafe, just beside the pier, should you feel you are in need of a drink.
7. VISIT THE FLOATING FLOWER MARKET
The Bloemenmarkt is the world's only floating flower market. It is situated on the Singel canal in between Muntplein and Koningsplein. The market invites you with a sight of colourful, vibrant fresh cut flowers and the beautiful smell refreshes your senses. You can find a variety of flowers like tulips, roses, orchids. Also bulbs, seeds and bonsais are sold. Take a walk around the numerous shops. Even if you don't intend to buy any flowers, the busy, cheerful atmosphere of the place makes it a must visit. If you decide to take a few bulbs or seeds home, do first check whether your country's customs allows you to do so. There are lots of cheese shops in the area and you get to taste the delicious cheeses for free. You can also spot souvenir shops here, in case you want to buy some small presents.
8. TAKE A WALK DOWN THE 9 STREETS AND KALVERSTRAAT
If you love shopping, love to browse shops or like to peer into the window of a gorgeous antique store displaying rare showpieces, antique watches, tribal arts and crafts, modern art galleries displaying paintings on their windows, jewellery stores showcasing brightly coloured precious stone studded necklaces and rings, or just simply walk into fashion stores and check out their collections, the nine streets are the coolest places to do so. There are designer shops, speciality stores, quaint little cafes all scattered around these quirky streets. A walk down these cosy streets, are bound to cheer you up.
The Kalverstraat is another long busy shopping street nearby with all major fashion brands and retail stores from high end to budget. And it is a real fun experience to walk the stretch and look around or possibly indulge in some retail therapy. The Kalvertoren is a glass and steel shopping centre located here, on the top floor of which, is the Cafe Blue which provides a 360 degree panoramic view of the city.
9. VISIT THE ILLUMINATED MAGERE BRUG AT NIGHT
The Magere Brug or the Skinny Bridge is a bridge over the Amstel River, and it is perfect for a romantic stroll at night. It connects the banks at Kerkstraat between the Keizersgracht and Prinsengracht. It is a bike and pedestrian only bridge. Whenever a tall vessel approaches it, the bridge can be raised to allow passage. It is brilliantly illuminated at night and looks to be straight out of a picture. You can take really cool photos here, but beware of bikes speeding past. It is no doubt beautiful in the morning too, but turns quite magical at night.
10. SPEND TIME AT GOATFARM RIDAMMERHOEVE IN THE AMSTERDAM FOREST
The Amsterdam forest is a huge landscaped park where you can enjoy long walks through the woods amidst unadulterated nature. In the middle of this beautiful park is a hidden gem: a petting zoo where you can see goats, lambs, chickens, pigs, cows and horses. The main attraction is the little, white, fluffy baby goats that you can pet, feed milk from bottles and groom. There are also big white goats whom you can feed grains. It is a fully functioning farm which enables you to learn a lot about animal husbandry. There is a section outside the barn where the younger goats come out to play with you. They are really energetic and lively which makes this attraction a fun place to visit. You can also relax sitting outside with a cup of hot chocolate or goat milk ice-cream. Apart from the goat farm, the forest itself is rather beautiful. It has large water bodies where people can go rowing and swimming. Some parts have beautiful cherry blossom trees and a section of the forest is home to Scottish Highlanders!
Written by: Rumela Gupta