The beauty and charm of Amsterdam continue to draw millions of tourists every year. The city welcomed 17.8 million tourists in 2017 alone, and this number is expected to soar to 29 million by 2030. No surprise there - Amsterdam has plenty of things to offer, after all. From Instagrammable neighborhoods to breathtaking canals to world-famous museums to fantastic family-friendly attractions. As great a tourist destination Amsterdam may be, however, it’s not a very budget-friendly place to go. In fact, it’s one of the most expensive cities in Europe. Fortunately, there are tons of free things to do in and around the city. Here are 10 of the best ones.
10 10. Vondelpark
Vondelpark is kind of like Amsterdam’s version of Central Park. The most popular park in the city, it has 120 acres of land you can explore. Here you can find people of all ages relaxing, sunbathing or playing games. If you explore the park, you are bound to see plenty of local and imported plants as well as animals like sheep, cows and tons of parakeets. There is also a network of ponds and a magnificent rose garden. If you’re lucky you might get to watch a free concert in the park’s open-air theater.
9 9. The Catboat
If you’re a cat lover, The Catboat is going to be your new favorite place to visit. The Catboat’s website claims that this is the only animal sanctuary that floats. A refuge for cats of all kinds, The Catboat has been providing sanctuary to cats since 1968.
Entrance is free but you are free to donate if you want. You can even financially adopt a cat. You can’t take it home with you, but The Catboat will take care of its needs for the rest of its life. Plus you get updates and new photos of your financially adopted cat from time to time.
8 8. Canal Ring
Believe it or not, Amsterdam has more canals than Venice. Boasting a total of 165 canals, Amsterdam has 15 more canals than Venice, the City of Canals. The 406-year-old canal ring is now a UNESCO World Heritage site, too, so it’s kind of a like a free museum at this point. Beautiful old houses line the canals, but the most beautiful ones are found in the inner Canal Belt, which is composed of Herengracht, Prinsengracht, and Keizersgracht. On a sunny day, you can sit on a bench by the canal and do some birdwatching.
7 7. Rijksmuseum Garden
With so many incredible museums to see in Amsterdam, it’s impossible to tick everything off your list during a short stay. But make a point to see the Rijksmuseum Garden whether or not you’re going to see the Rijksmuseum. It’s open to everyone throughout the day and you don’t need a Rijksmuseum ticket to enter. An outdoor gallery of sorts, it is home to beautiful flowerbeds, changing sculpture exhibits and fountains. It also has a children’s garden with a playground. Depending on the time of day, you might be able to see a street musician performing in the bicycle tunnel under the museum.
6 6. Red Light District
Amsterdam’s Red Light District may very well be the most famous one in the world. Located in the oldest part of Amsterdam, the Red Light District has everything to keep adult tourists entertained. While it’s still an interesting sight during the day, it’s at night when it really comes to life.
Enjoy walking past a myriad of coffee shops, gay bars, adult toy shops, peepshows, and window sex workers. There are even art galleries you can browse while you’re there. Just a friendly reminder though - taking photos of the women is strictly prohibited.
5 5. Floating Flower Market
One of the more unique things to visit in Amsterdam is the Floating Flower Market, the only one of its kind in Europe. Floating on Singel Canal, this vibrant market sells colorful, fragrant flowers, seeds, and souvenir items. It’s free to explore the market and check out every shop on the canal, but don’t forget to bring some cash if you’re looking to buy something. It’s open from Monday to Saturday from 9:00 am to 5:30 pm and Sunday from 11:30 am to 5:30 pm. While you’re there, check out the shops across the market or drink a cup of coffee at one of the coffee shops on Singel.
4 4. The Begijnhof
This is the place to go if you want to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city. It’s a secret courtyard adorned by immaculately maintained 14th-century houses that look onto a central garden. Founded as a home for members of a Catholic sisterhood in the 14th century, women actually still live here so visitors are asked to keep noise at a minimum. To get there, you’ll have to push open a heavy wooden door on the north side of the Spui. The Begijnhof is also home to two churches and Amsterdam’s oldest house, dating from 1475.
3 3. Albert Cuyp Market
It’s really hard to get bored at street markets as there’s just so much to see and do. The Albert Cuyp Market on Albert Cuyp between Van Woustraat and Ferdinand Bolstraat is the Netherlands’ largest and most popular street market. Many people say that it’s the best place to go if you want to get a feel of what the real Amsterdam is like.
Open daily from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm except Sundays and boasting over 300 stalls, the market offers a plethora of merchandise: fabric, cheese, meat, fresh seafood, fruit, clothes, jewelry, flowers, cookware, and even raw herring sandwiches.
2 2. Bridge of 15 Bridges
There is actually a spot in the town center where you can see 15 canal bridges at once. Head to the Bridge of 15 Bridges at the crossing of the Herengracht and the Reguliersgracht. If you stand on the bridge where these two meet with your back facing the Thorbeckeplein, you’ll see six arched bridges in a row. To the left are six more over the Herengracht and to the right are two more. That’s 14 in total. The bridge you’re standing on is the 15th. While the views are great during the day, they’re more spectacular when its dark and the bridges are all lit up.
1 1. Supermarket
You might never think of adding supermarkets to your list of things to do and see in a top tourist destination, but when you're in a different country, taking a trip to the grocery store is a must-do. This is because they have interesting things there that you probably have never seen before in your home country. While you're there, check out their huge selection of cheese, sausages and cured meat. Maybe even take a look at the produce section and see if there's anything you don't recognize. They also have a fine selection of frozen meals. Who knows, you might even end up buying one or two of those just to try them.