It’s hard not to splurge when you’re in that holiday mentality and you’ve just downed that obligatory airport pint, but splashing the cash isn’t the only way to make the most out of your mini-break. The Dutch capital Amsterdam is a fantastic European destination for a weekender, with flights for an absolute steal and plenty going on for next to nothing, or even better, free. Here’s a round-up of the top 10 things to do in the capital of the Low Countries that won’t cost you a pretty penny.
A unique urban landscape that combines nature with an industrial water network, and dating back over 400 years, Amsterdam’s canals have become synonymous with the city and feature heavily on Dutch postcards. Lining the canals are the red roofs of typical Flemish-style buildings with their ornamental gables which add to the city’s whimsical charisma. Spend some time getting a feel for the city with a pleasant amble along the canals and watch as locals whizz past on bicycles or idly float by on barge boats.
Sandemans New Amsterdam Tours
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Employing a clever bunch of history buffs and culture vultures, Sandeman’s New Amsterdam Tours operate on a tipping basis, meaning you pay what you can afford as a punter. There are a selection of fascinating guided tours to pick from, including a walk around the famous Red Light District, as well as alternative tours of lesser known parts or street art tours. The tours are a great thing to do on the first day of your trip, so you can get your bearings before the beer-fuelled hangovers begin to hit.
Floating Flower Market
While the flower closely associated with Dutch culture is the brightly coloured tulip, with around two billion being exported each year, there is a serious range of pretty flowers and plants to feast your eyes on at the flower market. What’s more, the market is floating on pretty houseboats, only adding to the overwhelming charm of this quaint Dutch city. The market is open daily and visitors can purchase bulbs as well as single flowers and bunches. Whether you’re a lover of horticulture or not, it’s hard not to be impressed and the market is fun for all (apart from maybe hay fever sufferers).
The Bimhuis Jazz Venue
For those who enjoy the sophisticated sound of the sax and lovers of all things jazz, The Bimhuis puts on over 300 concerts annually and is located right in the heart of the city. If you find yourself in Amsterdam on a Monday and are looking to unwind after a busy weekend, The Bimhuis has a free monthly night called Monday Match, where dancers and musicians collaborate to create an impressive improvised performance. At around 10pm a DJ takes over to keep the night going into the early hours.
Albert Cuyp Market
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We do love a good market – there’s just something about the hustle and bustle of excited shoppers and the colourful sights, sounds and smells of vibrant city streets come to life that is truly exhilarating. Even if you’re keeping an eye on the purse strings, local markets are an intrinsic part of every culture and Amsterdam’s Albert Cuyp Market is no different, with stalls selling wooden clogs, Dutch cheeses and freshly prepared stroopwafels (tasty caramel waffels originating from Holland) an interesting insight into Flemish culture. The market is open six days a week and exploring its many stands fills up a spare hour or two in the city.
Immerse yourself in nature and head to the beautiful botanical gardens owned by Vrije University. Originally used as a research facility for budding (sorry) biologists, it has since opened its doors to the public. Visitors will find around 10,000 varieties of unique and exotic plants in its gardens and greenhouses. On Sundays, there is a free guided tour where you can learn more about the plants and the history of the university, of course you can also just go for a tranquil wander around the gardens.
Brouwerij ‘t IJ
Rivalling the famous and extremely touristy Heineken tour, this lesser-known brewery tour is a great shout for those looking to understand the Netherland’s history of beer. Whilst entry and a guided tour is not strictly free, it costs just €5 and what is free is a beer of your choice at the end – we can get on board with that. The tipples on offer are a broad selection of craft beers inspired by neighbouring Belgium’s passion for brewing. The brewery is in a former bathhouse next to a traditional-looking windmill so you’ll be seeing some typical Dutch scenery too – even if it is through beer-tinted glasses.
Civic Guard Gallery
The permanent exhibition at the Civic Guard Gallery hosts a collection of old portraits of wealthy citizens that voluntarily assembled to protect Amsterdam from attack. Whilst your first thoughts on this is that it might not be your bag, it’s a fascinating insight into the history of the city and the evolution of its culture. Each citizen had to pay to be painted and featured, and artists included Hals and Rembrandt. The gallery also exhibits modern portraits so the tradition has withstood the test of time. Dutch celebrities such as football stars, dancers and ordinary Amsterdam citizens also feature. The exhibition is small, free and is a great option for a spare hour.
The Negen Straatjes
Literally translating to the ‘nine streets’, this tightly bound grid in the heart of the city is a quirky shopping spot. Crissccrossing the main canals are the alleys from Reestraat through to Wijde Heisteeg with a range of minuscule shops and boutiques, specialising in rather odd commodities from cheeses to toothbrushes. It is a particularly photogenic part of the city with its cobbled streets and awfully arty boutiques, so be sure to bring your camera and get those Instagram likes rolling in.
Rent a bike
With almost everybody exploring Amsterdam on two wheels, there is hardly a shortage of bikes around, meaning you can rent your own for incredibly cheap. From as little as €5 a day, you can fit in with the locals and get round the winding streets of Amsterdam in way less time. There are plenty of rental companies dotted around the city, with Black Bikes and Discount Bike Rental just two of the many on offer.