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.
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 will take you to a large area where an astonishing underground culture has emerged. This is the place of the old NDSM ship wharf. Two enormous halls offer affordable studios and working spaces for individual artists and craftspeople. There are festivals, parties, exhibitions, restaurants, and cafés here. Take a look around and have a drink or eat at nice-looking bars IJ-Kantine, the Pancakes Boat, Café Noorderlicht and Pllek.
2. The Gardens of the Rijksmuseum
No money to enter the Rijksmuseum? Spend some time in the freely accessible garden. The surrounding historical garden is a 14.500 m2 outdoor gallery in Renaissance and Baroque style. It i full of statues, fountains, ponds and salvaged Dutch architectural pieces — including Gothic pillars and 17th-century city gates.
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. Memorate the victims of WWII at Hollandsche Schouwburg
The Hollandsche Schouwburg is a former theater in the Amsterdam Jewish Quarter. The German occupiers used it in 1942 as a deportation center for jews.
Now, the theater is a memorial. The names of 6.700 Jews who were deported and murdered and who have no grave are listed on a wall. They symbolize all of the 104.000 Jewish victims in The Netherlands. There is also an exhibition about the holocaust here.
4. Go to a free classical concert in Amsterdam’s concert halls
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 start 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.
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 the calendar for programming.
5. Go see a free jazz concert
Go to Bimhuis on top of the Muziekgebouw aan ‘t IJ for your free dose 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.
6. Attend the free festivals in Amsterdam’s Vondelpark
In summer, you’re off to the Vondelpark for their Vondelpark Festival. Every weekend, the charming open-air theatre has an extensive program for kids and adults with music, dance, performances and standup comedy.
7. Walk through the historical art gallery
Hidden away, right in the centre of Amsterdam is a small alley that exhibits fifteen huge paintings from the 17th century. The paintings are portraits of 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 citizens.
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. 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 in Amsterdam directly on your left.
9. Free stuff to do in Amsterdam: take 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. It was owned by a Jewish family. Learn about the history of diamond cutting in Amsterdam. Guided tours at the Amsterdam diamond company are free. Near Waterlooplein.
10. Visit a free exhibition about Amsterdam at De Bazel
De Bazel is an impressive building created in the style of the Amsterdam School Architects, from the beginning of the 20th century. The building holds city archives.
The entrance to the building is free. You can look at the beautiful interior of the building, go into the impressive treasury room to see hundreds of artifacts and enter the movie theatre to watch historic movies about Amsterdam. Monday closed.
11. Listen to a story @ PechaKucha Night
At PechaKucha Night, 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 free stories at Mezrab
The cultural center Mezrab organizes 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 center is found in the Art Cage in the east of Amsterdam. It 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. Take selfies at the amazing Canals and Bridges of Amsterdam
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 Amsterdam’s most impressive 17th-century warehouses.
RECOMMENDED READ: Amsterdam Canal Houses
15. Pay a visit to the Amsterdam Flower Market
A bit touristy, but if you are looking for free stuff to do in Amsterdam, the Amsterdam flower market is an option. 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. And the Tulip bulbs at the Amsterdam Flower Market are not very good. But if you’re looking for a souvenir, there is a large variety to choose from.
16. Go to Cultural ark of Westergasfabriek
For more free stuff to do in Amsterdam, walk or bike down the lovely Haarlemmerstraat to 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 paddling pool.
17. Visit the cheesy cheese museum
The Cheese Museum is basically a cheese shop for tourists. You can try many kinds of cheese 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 flavor 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 in the Jordaan Quarter.
18. Spend some time in the wonderful Public Library of Amsterdam (OBA)
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.
Amsterdam Public Library is located at Oosterdok, a 10-minute walk from Central Station. 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 plant 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.