Amsterdam is an expensive city, but, as the saying goes, the best things in life are free. You just have to know what those things are. To help you find the best free things to do Amsterdam, I’ve compiled a list. And it’s getting longer every year.
18 Free things to do in Amsterdam
1. Take the ferry to NDSM
Behind Central Station is the body of water called the IJ. Taking the ferry across the IJ is easy, free and fun and will lead you to the neighbourhood called Amsterdam Noord.
Taking the ferry to NDSM wil take you to a more desolated area where an astonishing underground culture has emerged. This is the place of the old NDSM shipwharf. Two enormous halls offer affordable studios and working spaces for individual artists and craftspeople. Check out coming festivals, parties and exhibitions on NDSM.nl. Take a look around and have drink or eat at nice looking bars IJ-Kantine, the Pancakes Boat, Café Noorderlicht and Pllek.
2. Wander around the gardens of the Rijksmuseum
No money to enter the Rijksmuseum? Spend some time in the freely accessible garden. Just like the museum, the surrounding historical garden also got a make-over. The result is a a 14.500 m2 outdoor gallery in Renaissance and Baroque style. You can even ask for the free guide with some background info on the statues, fountains, ponds and salvaged Dutch architectural pieces — including Gothic pillars and 17th-century city gates. The Baroque Garden is closed on weekends. If you are getting bored with all that passive wandering around: there is also an open air chess game and there are always people who like being challenged…
3. Tour a beer or jenever brewery
Beer brewery ‘t IJ
Amsterdam beer brewery ‘t IJ is not as well known as the Heineken brew, but the beer is better and it sure is worth a visit. Every Friday, Saturday and Sunday at 3.30 pm they give you a free tour (in English) as well. There is a tasting room where the beers, all brewed on the spot and organic can be tried out. And do check out the largest collection of beer bottles in Europe. Great outside terrace. Beer Brewery ‘t IJ is in the East of Amsterdam, easily reached by bike or tram 10 or tram 14.
Jenever distillery Wynand Focking
Jenever is a Dutch drink similar to gin. The century old jenever distillery Wynand Focking is right at the heart of the Amsterdam, in the Pijlsteeg (near Dam Square) in the quiet alley Pijlsteeg. Wynand Focking is antique and so it their collection of bottles and still produces its own liqueurs and jenevers.
Every Saturday there is an open tasting from 2 pm till 3 pm. The bar is open every day from 3pm. You can also tour the old distillery.
4. Go to a free Lunch Concert
For more free stuff to do in Amsterdam, you can visit lunch concerts.
The Dutch National Opera & Ballets at Stopera offers a free Lunch Concert every Tuesday from 12.30 to 13.00. You will be treated to a free performance of the Dutch Philharmonic Orchestra, the choir of the Dutch Opera or Opera Studio Netherlands. The Stopera is at Waterlooplein, in the same building as the Amsterdam City Hall.
The beautiful Concertgebouw on Museumplein offers free a Lunch Concert every Thursday. The concerts starts at 12.30. Lunch concerts at the Concertgebouw vary from public rehearsals of the Royal Concert Building Orchestra, considered one of the best orchestras in the world to performances of ensembles of the Dutch Conservatory and chamber music by young talents.
Muziekgebouw aan ‘t IJ
The Muziekgebouw aan ‘t IJ, along the water of the IJ, also offers free lunch concerts. Usually these are young musicians and students from the Amsterdam Conservatory who play.
Check calendar for programming.
5. Attend a free jazz concert
Go to Bimhuis on top of the Muziekgebouw aan ‘t IJ for you free dosis of jazz. Just the building alone, is worth the visit. Every Tuesday night at 8 pm there is a free workshop. All instruments, including vocals, are welcome. At 10 pm there is a jazz session with international, young and acclaimed talent at the cafe. Workshop and sessions are freely accessible to both musicians and audience. More (free) jazz at Amsterdam’s jazz bars.
6. Only in summer: Vondelpark Festival
In summer, you’re off to the Vondelpark for their Vondelpark Festival. Every weekend, the charming open air theatre has a nice programme for kids and adults alike with music, dance, performances and standup comedy. Though most of the artists are Dutch and some of the standup comedy is in Dutch, the Vondelpark Festival is a cool place to hang out and enjoy the music and performance.
7. Walk through the historical art gallery
Hidden away, right in the centre of Amsterdam is a small alley that exhibits 15 huge paintings from the 17th century. The paintings are portraits of f the voluntary city guard from that period.The so called Civic Guards Gallery (Schuttersgalerij) is part of the Amsterdam history museum.
The Civic Guards Gallery exhibits also modern portraits of contemporary Dutch heroes: football players, boxers and normal citiezens.
The historical art gallery is free to walk through, it’s located near the Amsterdam History Museum and the courtyard Begijnhof (see next item), between Kalverstraat and Begijnhof. Enter at Kalverstraat 92.
8. Enjoy the silence at courtyard Begijnhof
A special place and very popular among tourists is the Begijnhof, a haven of peace of tranquillity in the bustling centre of the city. Dating back from the 14th century, Begijnhof comprises several historic buildings and the English Reformed Church. In a begijnhof or Beguinage (in French), religious women lived to serve God, taking care of the weak and elderly. Different from nuns however, the women did not retire from the world and they could marry and leave the order when they choose to.
The entrance of the Begijnhof is at the Spui square. When you enter, you see the oldest wooden house of Amsterdam directly on your left.
9. Free stuff to do in Amsterdam: a diamond tour
At the Amsterdam diamond company Gassan Diamonds you can watch diamond cutters turning rough diamonds into polished stones. The company is located in a former steam-driven diamond factory – Amsterdam has a long history of diamond cutting. Guided tours at the Amsterdam diamond company are free. Near Waterlooplein.
10. Visit Amsterdam city archives
The City Archives of Amsterdam is the former municipal archive of the city. The archives of the council, but also of all kinds of churches, hospitals and companies are kept in the beautiful building on Vijzelstraat (near Rembrandtplein).
Much information has been digitalised and put on the website Het geheugen van Nederland (the memory of the Netherlands). Also, over 250.000 photo’s and drawings of Amsterdam are found on the Beeldbank Amsterdam.
A visit to the Amsterdam city archives is free. You can look at 300 pieces in the impressive treasury, watch old historic movies about Amsterdam and its famous inhabitants such as Rembrandt van Rijn, Charles Darwin, Karl Marx, Anne Frank, Johan Cruijff and Theo van Gogh.
11. Listen to a story @ PechaKucha Night
At PechaKucha Night, all kinds of people present something they are passionate about, with a focus on young designers showing their latest creative projects or work. The format is based on a simple idea: 20 images x 20 seconds, to make presentations concise and keep things moving at a rapid pace. It’s a format that makes presentations concise, and keeps things moving at a rapid pace. The idea caught on and PechKucha Nights are held all over the world. Check out Amsterdam editions at http://www.pecha-kucha.org/night/amsterdam.
12. Listen to more stories
The cultural centre Mezrab organises events such as storytelling, exhibitions, dance, music, film (in English or subtitled), documentary and more. Check out the agenda at www.mezrab.nl. All free, donations very welcome. The centre is found in the Art Cage in the east of Amsterdam. Also serves tea and Iranian soups.
13. Walk along the Seven Countries Houses
A remarkable street, where architecture is concerned, is the Roemer Visscherstraat, also known as Seven Countries Houses (Zevenlandenhuizen).
Lined up are seven houses, each representing the architectural style from a European country: nr. 20 Germany, romantic; nr. 22 France, Loire-castle style; nr. 24 Spain, a Moorish/Granada influenced villa; nr. 26 an Italian Palazzo; nr. 28 Russia, a cathedral with an onion shaped dome; nr. 30, a Dutch house in renaissance style; nr. 30A an English-styled cottage.
All houses were designed by Dutch architect Tjeerd Kuipers in 1894. The Roemer Visscherstraat is located near the entrance of Vondelpark.
14. Enjoy the Amsterdam canals and bridges
Canals, just can’t get enough of them. Walking or biking around the city, taking pictures and just enjoying the sight is definitely worth a mention on this list of free stuff to do in Amsterdam. The most important canals with 17th century Amsterdam Canal Houses are the ‘canal belt’ canals: Singel, Herengracht, Keizersgracht and Prinsengracht. These canals are connected by the charming ‘9 streets‘, a popular area to shop. The Brewery Canal (Brouwersgracht) houses Amstedam’s most impressive 17th century warehouses
15. A visit to the Amsterdam flower market
Very touristy, but if you are looking for free stuff to do in Amsterdam, the Amsterdam flower market is still a must. The flower market (bloemenmarkt) is located on boats. The old market dates back to the times the flowers and bulbs were actually delivered by boat. Now, cars have taken that job, but the boats remain.
The Amsterdam flower market is found between Muntplein and Leidsestraat. Hardly any flowers there though. But if you’re looking for a souvenir, there is a large variety to choose from.
RECOMMENDED READ: Amsterdam markets
16. Go to cultural park of Westergasfabriek
For more free stuff to do in Amsterdam, walk or bike down the lovely Haarlemmerstraat to the Westerpark and further down to the Westergasfabriek. The Westergasfabriek is the former site of a coal processing plant that provided gas to light up the city from the 19th century till the early 60s. The attractive industrial buildings have been renovated and transformed to host restaurants, clubs and a movie theatre. Creative undertakers reside in the historic buildings and in summer and winter free Amsterdam markets, festivals, performances and exhibitions take place.
The gas holder (where the gas from the coals was kept) is regularly used for Amsterdam dance festivals and techno raves. If the weather is good, the greens fill up with people who bring their barbecue and children play in the stream.
17. Visit the cheese museum
To attract more customers, a lot of tourists shops in Amsterdam call themselves a ‘museum’. Apart from a lot of things to buy, there is usually also some extra information.
The Cheese Museum is basically a cheese shop for tourists. You can try many cheeses for free here. You can buy cheese here, but the cheese in a normal cheese shop is usually better. The small round cheeses come in a handy size that is easy to carry, but they are not as rich in flavour as the real, big round cheeses. In the basement there is a little museum about Dutch cheese and the famous Gouda Cheese and how it is made. The tulip museum, mostly a gift shop, is next door, but they charge 5 euros for a short tour. Both are located near the Anne Frank House at Jordaan.
18. Wander around Amsterdam Public Library
The Amsterdam Public Library is a beautiful, spacious building with great views over the city. You can stare for a while at the world in a relaxing chair, read magazines and books from all parts of the world, use the computers or enjoy a coffee in the cafe of a meal at the restaurant on the top floor. Kids will enjoy playing at the ground floor at the kids’ section. Free entrance for everyone.
19. Get informed about cannabis
The Cannabis College, located near the Red Light District is devoted to weed. It offers free advice on the safe use of recreational and medicinal cannabis and it gives information about the many industrial uses of the hemp plant. You can tour their Cannabis garden where you can see a cannabis plants growing and ask the staff about strains, lights, techniques and how to prevent pests and diseases.
The Cannabis College also trains people who want to work in a coffee shop.
Check out the calendar for upcoming Amsterdam events for more free things to do in Amsterdam.