The Best Free Things to Do in Amsterdam

Leliegracht in Amsterdam

No matter when you arrive, Amsterdam can be an expensive place to visit. Between the famous nightlife, amazing shopping, and broad range of museums available here, it’s easy to quickly run out of cash. However, being the diverse, vibrant city that it is, Amsterdam offers plenty of ways to experience its pleasures without breaking the bank. From floating markets and museums to classical concerts and ferry rides, here are some of the best free things to do in Amsterdam. In other words, save that cash for splurging on stroopwafels.

1. Hang out in the city parks in Amsterdam.

Sarphatipark in De Pijp, Amsterdam

Of all the parks in Amsterdam, Vondelpark is the most famous, largely due to its location in the heart of the city, close to many main attractions. Filled with tourists and locals, the park’s expansive green space, rose gardens, and mix of cafes and bars create an enduring appeal -- just watch out for those rollerbladers! Further south in the Oost area of the city, Frankendael Park is worth a visit. Here, beautiful grounds surround a 17th-century estate (the last of its kind in the city) and include a romantic period garden, landscaped sunbathing areas, and a couple of architecturally interesting restaurants. Beatrixpark, Sarphatipark, and Amsterdamse Bos are also top options for travelers wanting to peg on a hike to their city break. 

2. Check out a floating flower market in Amsterdam.

Bloemenmarkt in Amsterdam

Indulge your senses in one of the city’s most fragrant spots. Claiming to be the world’s only dedicated floating flower market, Bloenmarkt is a must-see on any Amsterdam trip. Plus, it’s free to visit -- provided you don’t spring for any flowers. Established in 1862, the iconic market features a collection of houseboats lining the canal between Koningsplein and Muntplein. Vendors sell an array of cut flowers and bulbs. It’s definitely as colorful as anything you’ll see in the Red Light District and way more wholesome. 

3. Walk the canal ring in Amsterdam.

Canal Ring in Amsterdam

To arrange your own walking tour of the Amsterdam canal ring, simply turn up and get going. Provided you start in the right location, the waterside streets will guide you past the famous architectural sights in the area. The 17th-century Grachtengordel (Canal Ring) is located in the center of the Old City, and the best place to view the stately canal houses is on the Herengracht, Prinsengracht, and Keizersgracht canals. Take a tour both day and night to fully appreciate the classic waterside facades. 

4. Visit the Cat Boat.

It wouldn’t be a trip to Amsterdam without taking in a few offbeat attractions -- and it doesn’t get much quirkier than the Cat Boat. Named De Poezenboot, the floating cat sanctuary is open daily from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. Entry is free, though donations are encouraged. Originally opened in 1966 as a refuge for abandoned and stray cats, the sanctuary is a charity of sorts. So in addition to seeing a neat attraction, feline lovers can financially adopt a cat, which means paying the bills to support an animal’s life. 

5. Sneak into a secret oasis in the city.

Begijnhof; Colin Cameron/Flickr

Tucked away behind an old gate in the center of the city, Begijnhof is the last thing you expect to find when you push through the entrance. A group of beautifully maintained houses surround a central courtyard, creating a village-like oasis away from the hustle and bustle outside. Built in the 14th century for a group of unmarried women known as Beguines (akin to nuns who haven't taken any vows), the cluster of homes is now one of Amsterdam’s best-kept secrets and a great place to take a step back in time. Spend some time walking around the square and old churches. 

6. Get a history lesson at the Amsterdam City Archives.

Amsterdam City Archives; Fred Romero/Flickr

Housed within a beautiful former bank building on Vijzelstraat, the Amsterdam City Archives are the ideal place to get your culture fix without forking over any cash. Aside from the building itself -- an impressive, imposing brick structure -- there’s plenty to pique your interest inside the beautiful tiled vault that houses a large collection of treasures relating to the city’s history. Highlights include the detailed records of the Heineken brewing company, photographs of famous historic visitors to the city, and a police report concerning the theft of Anne Frank’s bicycle. 

7. Go see a free classical concert.

Concertgebouw; Daryl_Mitchell/Flickr

Forget matinee musicals and make the most of Amsterdam’s free lunchtime concerts. The long-running event by the Royal Concertgebouw and Dutch National Opera & Ballet opens up classical music, opera, and ballet to a varied new demographic -- along with a healthy number of tourists. Shows generally run every Wednesday at the Royal Concertgebouw and every Tuesday at the Dutch National Opera & Ballet. Tickets can only be scored in person on the morning of the event. Allow some time for waiting as the tickets are unsurprisingly popular. 

8. Take a free ferry ride across the IJ river.

IJ River; Johan Wieland/Flickr

Don’t waste money on an overpriced river cruise. The ferry ride across the IJ river is one of the best ways to enjoy impressive views of the Amsterdam waterfront for free. Ferries leave from the dock near Centraal Station and sail to Amsterdam-Noord, where you can depart at NDSM Wharf and peruse the vibrant restaurants and bars as well as artist installations.

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