The overwhelming number of paid and free things to do in Amsterdam can make it difficult for you to choose the best places to visit in this wonderful city.
Amsterdam is a rather expensive city with tickets to the most famous tourist attractions and museums costing $15-20 per person. Still, there is a wide range of free things to in Amsterdam that I will tell about in this article.
I visited Amsterdam on the first days of summer and tried to spend the least money possible having a great time in the city. Here is my list of top cheap and free things to do in Amsterdam in summer 2017.
10 best free things to do in Amsterdam in summer 2017
- Outdoor festivals
- Diamond factory
- Red Light District
- City parks
- Free ferry
- Chill on a pier
- Begijnhof yard
- “I AMsterdam” sign
- World’s narrowest house
Things to know about Amsterdam and Netherlands
The Netherlands is a very dense populated country on the West of Europe bordering Belgium and Germany. Its population is about 17 mln. people living densely on the area of 41 thousand square kilometers. Comparing to Norway, it has an almost 10 times smaller area and about 3 times higher population. On the tiny area there are tons of places to visit, while the number of free things to do in Amsterdam is even higher.
Amsterdam is the capital of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, while the seat of the government is located in The Hague. The city population is about 1 million people. Millions of tourists visit it every year, which helps it to be in top 10 of the most visited cities in Europe.
Interesting is that the percentage of people speaking English in the Netherlands is higher than in Great Britain. So, you won’t have any language barriers, as almost all the people speak English or German.
Bloemenmarkt is a floating flower market, which is also one of the most popular tourist attractions in Amsterdam. In contrast to other markets, the Bloemenmarkt works every day except public holidays.
The market is situated not on a square, but on a street, namely Singel street, all along which you can see dozens of cheese and souvenir shops on one side and flower pavilions on the other. It is one of the most popular places to buy souvenirs and flower bulbs.
Another tip for budget travelers: try the different cheese sort samples in the cheese shops to have a good free snack in Amsterdam style.
Attend one of the outdoor festivals
While the weather in winter can be unpredictable and not very pleasant in Amsterdam, summer is a great time to spend outdoors and to attend one of the numerous festivals held here. Most of the festivals are organized in the city parks, Vondelpark, Amstelpark, Westerpark and others.
Food festival in the Amstelpark and outdoor theater performances in Vondelpark were organized in Amsterdam during my short weekend stay in summer 2017. Just check one of the local event calendars (here, many of them have an English version).
Go to the diamond factory
The Netherlands had one of the most powerful and rich East India Companies in the world with lots of ships and overseas territories all around the globe. In some of the colonies situated in Africa, the Dutch were mining precious stones, which then imported to Europe, where masters polished them and created beautiful diamonds and jewelry that the rich Europeans used to wear and still wear as a decoration.
So, there are still some huge diamond factories in Amsterdam that conduct free tours showing all the process and types of diamond polishing. The tours are suitable for any age and gender. But, as the organizations are not public nor charitable organizations, the tour guide tries to show, why their jewelry is so expensive, and doing some marketing tricks like scaring the visitors by 6-digit prices of diamonds and showing then just $100-200 watches, the price that seems very low after all of that. Another great bonus can be free coffee in the gift shop at the diamond factory.
Here are the two diamond factories organizing free tours:
- Founded in 1840 Royal Coster Diamonds is famous for its high quality craftsmanship and legendary customers. Empress Sisi, Napoleon, Queen victoria and King Rama V of Thailand are just a few who trust the company with their diamonds. Today more than 350.000 people visit Royal Coster Diamonds to see their polishers at work and learn more about the origin of diamonds.
Gassan Diamonds, a family owned company, is located in a formerly steam driven diamond factory in the centre of Amsterdam. The company still concentrates primarily on diamond cutting, retailing in set diamonds, loose polished diamonds, gold jewelry and watches. In this monumental building, you will witness the diamond cutters at work while the guide explains the diamond cutting and polishing process. Watch the polishing process in all its facets. Experience the excitement of over 425 years of craftsmanship and tradition. It goes without saying that you may also purchase the world famous ‘Amsterdam Cut’ diamond and also, Gassan’s inhouse cut diamond; the Gassan 121, which has 121 facets.
Take a walk in the Red Light District
Amsterdam is famous for its freedom. Here, many things are allowed, which are strictly forbidden in many other countries. Not a secret that Amsterdam’s main attractions are its coffeeshops and the Red Light District, not the only one, but the largest and most famous one in the world.
On the daytime, it is a usual district of Amsterdam with canals and narrow brick Holland-style houses. While at night, you will see crowds of tourists walking between the showcases illuminated by red lights with nice women offering their services. These services are expensive, but walking in the Red Light District in Amsterdam is free.
Make a picnic in a park
During the daytime, a good idea would be to go to one of the Amsterdam’s parks to relax on the sun and make a picnic with food from the supermarket. Amsterdam has many cozy cafes and restaurants on the canals, and I strongly recommend dining in one of them at least once during your visit, but it is pretty expensive, while food from the supermarket is much cheaper. I recommend buying at Lidl. Just google the nearest one if you have wifi or an offline map.
Moreover, you can combine your meal with the view of one of the performances in the Vondelpark or to try some special coffee or food from one of the food markets in city parks.
Take a free ferry to the Northern Amsterdam
Northern Amsterdam is less known by tourists, so you won’t walk in the endless crowds, but the locals love it. It is a residential area with several interesting bars and peculiar places. It is also a great place to ride a bike, as you won’t be afraid to get hit by car, tram, pedestrians and other cyclists at the same time.
To get there, just take a free ferry, which goes from the central station and cross the Amsterdam’s largest canal in just 5-10 minutes.
View the boats and enjoy the sun on a pier
My favorite free thing to do in Amsterdam off the beaten track is to visit the pier near the bar called Hannekes Boom and enjoy the local life. You can take a beer in the bar, sit with your own food or just relax and enjoy. This bar has an atmosphere of somebody’s back yard with a tent and tables. (Check this post for beer and brunch places in Amsterdam)
Some people sit at the tables, some sit on the pier with dangling legs and chat or get suntanned, some just get in or get off the boat with 15-20 other people. Everybody is friendly and kind, some people just come to the pier to help the others, the people they don’t know, to moor the boat. Great place!
Find the Begijnhof
A great and quiet place in the middle of Amsterdam is the Begijnhof, a big green yard with a large lawn, awesome place to relax between some of the points of your Amsterdam attractions itinerary. Finding this place is not an easy task, as it might seem. The entrance is quiet small, but the tourists coming in might help you to find it. The entrance to the yard is situated on the Spui square.
Take a picture at the “I AMsterdam” sign
A must free thing to do in Amsterdam for any tourist visiting this beautiful city is to take a picture of him- or herself near the “I AMsterdam” sign. Well, I didn’t, because I didn’t want to stand the line to have a picture of myself lying on the ‘m’ letter with crowds of tourists surrounding me.
There are actually several of such signs. I know three, one in front of the Schiphol airport, one near the central train station, and one on the Museumsplein (museums square) in front of the Rijskmuseum.
In contrast to the last two free things to do in Amsterdam, this one is a very typical and mainstream thing to do.
View the world’s narrowest house
Not a wonder that Amsterdam has the world’s narrowest house. The wider the house, the more expensive it used to be, as the place at the canal is much more elite and difficult to maintain.
The house is just 2 meters wide and 5 meters deep. It is located on the Oude Hoogstraat 22. Try to notice it, it is not an easy task J
Other free things to do in Amsterdam in summer 2017
Other free things to do in Amsterdam in summer 2017 that I can recommend are some other markets. Bloemenmarkt is the most touristy and crowded one, while some others are no less interesting and colorful.
Riding a bike is not free in Amsterdam, but it is a must thing to do if you are here. If you are a fan of organ music, you can attend one of the free lunchtime concerts in the churches of Amsterdam.
Most of the museums in the city are paid and are relatively expensive, while there are some free museums in Amsterdam that you could visit. Some of them are the Schuttersgalerij (Civic Guards Gallery) and the Amsterdam City archives with the treasures collection.
In Amsterdam, like in many other cities, you can attend free walking tours. If you don’t want to be in a group, you can download a free offline walking or cycling tour.
You can also visit the Amsterdam public library for free and enjoy the view of the city from the top floor.
This was my guide of top 10 free things to do in Amsterdam in summer 2017. I’m proving again that it is possible to spend time in a foreign city spending pennies and visiting great tourist attractions for free. Read about top 10 places to visit in Valencia on a budget or how I spend a great weekend in Norway cheap.