The 10 Best Free Things to Do in Amsterdam
Some of the best experiences in the city come at no cost. Here are ten of our favorites.
Like many other major cities, Amsterdam isn’t exactly famous for being cheap—and that’s a challenge if you’re on a budget. Many of the city’s most popular sights, however, do come free. The parks, canals, and other waterways cost nothing to experience, and there are a number of other cultural attractions that you can enjoy completely gratis, as they say here in the Netherlands. Here are ten of our favorites.
1. The Concertgebouw
A free classical concert in one of the world’s greatest concert halls? Sounds too good to be true, but every Wednesday at lunchtime that’s exactly what’s on offer at the Concertgebouw. The latest series just started up again this month and will run through June. You can pick up a free ticket (one per person) on the day of the show starting at 11:30 a.m. (get there early—when they’re gone, they’re gone); the concert takes place from 12:30 p.m. to 1 p.m. The program is varied, and you can check the website a week in advance to see what’s on.
2. Rijksmuseum Gardens
Take a stroll in the beautiful formal gardens of the Rijksmuseum, which are dotted with intriguing artworks. There’s a life-size chessboard, a fountain by contemporary Danish artist Jeppe Hein, and post-war climbing frames by architect Aldo van Eyck. The gardens also host rotating sculpture exhibitions—currently there are 21 sculptures on show by the Spanish artist Joan Miró until October 11.
3. The Muziektheater
This important opera, dance and music venue has free weekly lunchtime concerts by top performers on Tuesdays from 12:30 p.m. to 1 p.m. in the foyer, from September to May. Once or twice a month, the concert is followed by a free tour of the theatre—check the website for details.
Amsterdam’s legendary jazz venue is always worth a visit, and every Tuesday evening there’s a free improvisation session starting at 10 p.m. (if you’re hoping to play, however, arrive at 8 p.m.).
5. Central Library
At the Netherlands’ biggest library, the Centrale Bibliotheek, you can read the international papers for free, and while wifi isn’t completely free, you can purchase 30 minutes for little more than a dollar by using one of the ticket machines. Upstairs on the 7th floor there is a café with a terrace that boasts wonderful city views.
6. Civic Guard Gallery
At the Amsterdam Museum, a collection of Golden Age group portraits—in the same lineage as Rembrandt’s Night Watch—hang in the beautiful arcade by the entrance (along with some more modern versions, and a giant ancient wooden statue of Goliath), where you can see them for free.
7. Sandeman's New Amsterdam Tours
A three-hour walking tour (in English or Spanish) of the most important city sights takes place several times a day: at 10 a.m., 11:15 a.m. or 2:15 p.m., starting off at the National Monument on Dam Square. Book online, or just arrive at the meeting place 5 or 10 minutes early. The tour is free—just tip the guide.
8. City Archives
While the exhibitions upstairs at the Stadsarchief (City Archives) come with a small charge, downstairs, in the basement, ‘The Treasury’ displays significant items from the city’s history at no cost, from ancient maps to documents from the Nazi occupation.
9. Gassan Free Diamond Factory Tour
Learn about the 400-year history of the diamond industry, plus all about carats, clarity and cuts, at Gassan Diamonds’ free tour. Book online.
10. EYE Film Institute
It costs nothing to experience the great architecture and interactive Dutch film displays in the basement of the EYE Film Institute. Getting here is part of the fun, and it’s also free—take the Buiksloterweg ferry from behind Centraal Station, a pleasant short boat ride.
Jane Szita is on the Netherlands beat for Travel + Leisure. She lives in Amsterdam.