Amsterdam is reputedly expensive – but not if you know where to find discover ‘free Amsterdam’. Here is an insider’s list of unique free things to do in Amsterdam.
1. Take Amsterdam’s free 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 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, have drink or eat at nice looking bars such as IJ-Kantine, the Pancake Boat, Café Noorderlicht and Pllek.
2. Wander around the free gardens of the Rijksmuseum
No money to enter the Rijks Museum? 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 14,500sqm 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. Free Amsterdam tours of 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 3.30pm they give a free tour (in English). 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, and the 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 is their collection of bottles, and still produces its own liqueurs and jenevers. Every Saturday there is an open tasting from 2–3pm. The bar is open every day from 3pm. You can also tour the old distillery.
4. Go to a free classical lunch concert in Amsterdam
For more free things to do in Amsterdam, pay a visit to the Muziektheater/Stopera at Amsterdam Waterloo Square. Every Tuesday from 12.30–1pm there is a free lunch time concert (from September till May).
You will be treated to a free performance of the Dutch Philharmonic Orchestra, the choir of the Dutch Opera or Opera Studio Netherlands.
Wednesday Lunch Concert at Concertgebouw
On Wednesday you can go again for a free concert in Amsterdam. This time drop by at the Concertgebouw on Museum Square. The free Lunch Concert takes place at 12.30pm. 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.
Lunch concerts at Muziekgebouw aan ‘t IJ
The latest addition of musical theatres, the Muziekgebouw aan ‘t IJ also stages free lunch concerts. Usually these are young musicians and students from the Amsterdam Conservatory who play. Check the calendar for programming.
5. Attend a free jazz concert in Amsterdam
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 first Monday of the month it’s Monday Match at the Bimhuis. The performance is based on the concept of a creative dance artist who chooses a musician to partner up in unique improv lab. On Monday, dancers and musicians play and dance the match. Show starts at 8pm (not in July, August and Christmas).
Free improv workshop and show in Amsterdam
Every Tuesday night you are welcome to participate in the free improv workshops at Bimhuis. All instruments, including voice, are welcome. If you want to join, you have to be ready to play at 8pm. Be aware the level is quite high and there will be an audience. You can also just sit in and listen if you are to shy to join.
Following the workshop, at 10pm you can enjoy live jazz played by students from the Conservatory. Find more (free) jazz at Amsterdam’s jazz bars.
6. Only in summer: Amsterdam’s free Vondelpark Festival
In summer, head 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. Amsterdam’s free tour 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 picture portraits of the voluntary city guard from that period. The so-called Schuttersgalerij is part of the Amsterdam history museum. Find the Schuttersgalerij between the Kalverstraat and Begijnhof. Enter at Kalverstraat 92.
8. Rest 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 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.
Enter at Begijnhof near the square Spui, next to the terrace of the Mexx shop. Left of the entrance is the oldest wooden house of Amsterdam.
9. Amsterdam’s free diamond tour
At the Amsterdam diamond company Gassan Diamonds you can watch diamond cutters turn 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. Located near Waterlooplein.
10. Visit the 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, more than 250,000 photos 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 and 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 at 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. It’s a format to 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 here.
12. Listen to more free stories
The cultural centre Mezrab organises events such as storytelling, exhibitions, dance, music, film (in English or subtitled), documentaries and more. Check out the agenda at www.mezrab.nl. All free, with 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: no. 20 Germany, romantic; no. 22 France, Loire-castle style; no. 24 Spain, a Moorish/Granada-influenced villa; no. 26 an Italian Palazzo; no. 28 Russia, a cathedral with an onion shaped dome; no. 30, a Dutch house in renaissance style; no. 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 the 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 things to do in Amsterdam.
Amsterdam’s canals are visually very attractive. Standing on a particular one of them, there is a view of no less than 15 bridges. This bridge is called – can’t accuse anyone of being original here – ‘the bridge with the 15 bridges’. At night, they all light up. To be found on the corner of Reguliersgracht/corner of Herengracht.
15. See the bulbs at the Amsterdam flower market
Very touristy, but if you are looking for free things to do in Amsterdam, the Amsterdam flower market is still a must. Themarket (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.
16. Go to cultural park of Wester Gas Factory
For more free things 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 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.
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What’s up with Amsterdam guides tourists and expats towards the hidden gems of Amsterdam. Find budget-friendly things to do and see, check up on upcoming events or get closer to the underground scene of Amsterdam: What’s up with Amsterdam keeps you posted.