A trip to Amsterdam doesn’t have to put a strain on the wallet; The city is full of great things to do for free. From spending time in a secret garden and strolling along dotted canals to exploring Amsterdam’s prettiest district, you can have a great day in the Dutch capital.
Below our expert shares his recommendations for the best free things to do in the city, and for more Amsterdam inspiration, check out our guides to the city’s best hotels, restaurants, bars and cafes, shopping, attractions and how to spend a weekend in Amsterdam .
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Download the sun in a secret yard
Through a brown wooden door, leading out of the busy Spui square, lies another world – a peaceful garden courtyard, with graceful buildings on the edge. The Begijnhof dates back to the beginning of the 15th century, when it was built for beguines, a form of secular nun. In 1607, the church at the heart of the court was offered to Protestant dissenters fleeing England. Later they later sailed to America, and became the Pilgrim Fathers. The last beguine died in 1971, but the houses are still occupied by single women. At number 34, there is one of the two remaining medieval timber facades in the town.
Nearest transport: Trams 2, 12, 4, 14, 24. Metro: Rokin
Canal Zone – West
Canal Belt – The Western Route through the heart of Amsterdam
Its canals are Amsterdam. Walking with them is one of the city’s greatest pleasures. The streets are bike-crazy, but relatively car-free and most of the inner city is 17th to 19th century: low rise, with decorative gable rooflines. The grand canals of the 17th-century Grachtengordel – the Herengracht, Keizersgracht, and Prinsengracht – are a must, but the smaller ones are best strolled at night, when the gabled houses look like lanterns. Brouwersgracht is a favorite beauty spot on the west side of the Grachtengordel, just ten minutes from Central Station.
Nearest transport: Trams 2, 12, 13, 17
Browse the shopping beat of Amsterdam
The nine small canals that cross the main canals, from Reestraat to Wijde Heisteeg, are the nicest shopping area in Amsterdam, but also for an atmospheric walk. Once the area of quirky specialty shops, the quarter is moving more towards designer goods and fashion – although some of the specialist shops, such as one that sells only candles and incense, remain, and some of the newer concept stores equally interesting (or bewildering) strange choice. If, despite all your intentions, you are tempted to spend, try going back and forth between stores to compare.
Nearest transport: Trams 2, 12, 13, 17
District museum and De Pijp
Take a walk through the best park in the city
Amsterdam’s ‘green lung’ consists of many forested patches, formal gardens, lots of shrubbery, open lawns, lakes and ponds. There are playgrounds, an open-air theatre, cafes – and plenty of people. In good weather, the park can be so crowded, it’s like being inside. But the Vondelpark is central, fun, and a great place for a morning jog, or an afternoon breather. The best place for tea or a meal is Blauwe Theehuis (The Blue Teahouse), an attractive building from the 1930s in the heart of the park. Check their Facebook page for occasional party nights.
Nearest transport: Trams 1, 2, 3, 5, 12, 17
Oosterdok and Amsterdam East
Explore the city’s cutting-edge architecture
The long-abandoned artificial islands and docks to the east of Central Station have been extensively renovated, with some of the most adventurous architecture in the country. First up is the copper-clad NEMO (science museum) building, designed by Renzo Piano. The surreal bridges and leafless peaks on the Island of Java, and the magazine-style showhouses along Scheepstimmermanstraat on the Island of Borneo are attractions. The Openbare Bibliotheek (Public Library) isn’t a place you’d normally want to visit on a city tour, but take the escalators to the top – the cafe has one of the best views in town.
Nearest transport: Tram 7, 26; Bus 43; Metro: Central Station
Of Jordaan and West Amsterdam
Hang out in the trendy ‘old quarter’
Inviting streets, intimate canals, galleries, quirky shops and neighborhood cafes draw you this way and that in what was once a working-class area southwest of the Prinsengracht. Jordaaners (born within the sound of the Westerkerk bell tower carillon) had a pride and culture that resembled London’s roosters. You can still taste something of the old spirit in cafes like De Twee Zwaantjes, famous for its upbeat singing. Saturday is a good time to visit De Jordaan, when there is a busy general market on Lindengracht, and a farmers and flea market around the Noorderkerk.
Nearest transport: Trams 3, 5, 13, 17