Free things to do in Amsterdam


If you’re like me, you spend months or years saving for your backpacking trip. When you finally get there you don’t have the budget to spend on fancy operas or expensive tours.

Thankfully, Amsterdam has plenty of free options to see and do.

  1. Ride the ferry to Amsterdam-Noord


When you walk out of the train station at Amsterdam Centraal, watch the hordes of people walking toward the city to visit the the canals and coffee shops, the Anne Frank Haus and the Red Light District. Then walk directly back inside and head the opposite direction. Behind the station, you’ll find the free ferry that takes you across the river to Amsterdam-Noord, number seven on the list of the world’s most hipster neighborhoods. LaV and I got lunch at Open Coop, an organic cafe with chickens wandering around the yard while locals sat in the sunshine eating flat bread and sharing bottles of wine. Nearby there was a little trail that led to another cafe with a stage for live music and swings in the trees. It was nice to get away from the smoke and hustle of the main city and enjoy a fresh meal.


2. Visit the EYE museum


One of my favourite museums we visited, the EYE museum is great for all ages. Their main exhibits are free, and they have a green screen that allows visitors to star in their own silent films. Another exhibit features a collection of movies from film history that visitors can watch for free. They have interactive exhibits showcasing different genres of film including fantasy, adventure and animation. With prominent directors like Theo Van Gogh and Paul Verhoeven, Dutch cinema is definitely worth exploring. The exhibits were entertaining, memorable and well put together. It was nice to get out of the heat, sit down and laugh at cartoons from the ’30s and ’40s.


The video we made:

3. Sample the cheeses


Yes, it’s incredibly cheesy, but the free samples at the Amsterdam Cheese Museum are sharp and fresh. If you go downstairs, they have a tiny museum dedicated to the history of cheese production in the Netherlands. Visitors can try on clothing representing Dutch traditional wear and take pictures. It’s great for children or anyone who doesn’t take themselves too seriously. I especially enjoyed the wasabi-flavored cheese.

4. Stop and smell the flowers


The Netherlands is known for its beautiful tulip blooms and the Bloemenmarkt or Flower Market has a large sampling of bulbs for sale. Although many stands are geared toward tourists, it’s a nice opportunity to stop and see the seeds and colors. Visitors can speak with vendors about seasonal bulbs while practicing their photography skills on the flowers of the open market.


5. People watch (pretty much anywhere)


You’ll see the craziest assortment of characters on the streets of Amsterdam. When we went, the city was hosting the World Volleyball cup which brought in people from around the world. We camped out at a fountain with our ice cream and had a great time making up scenarios about people’s lives.

We found on our travels that the Dutch are extremely hospitable, always willing to help when we were lost. We went into a diamond store, and the people who worked were kind to us even though it was obvious we were straggly backpackers who couldn’t afford anything in their store. We asked a woman on the street how to get to the windmills, and she spent over ten minutes with us looking up the coordinates on her phone. When we went into a travel agency where a Muslim woman worked who didn’t speak English, she called her friend who did speak English so she could help us.

IMG_0735IMG_0715 IMG_0695Amsterdam is a city of canals and coffee shops, students and socialites, but it has a place even for backpackers on a budget. Take time to walk around, speak with locals and learn more about the history of this beautiful Dutch city.


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