Amsterdam is one of Europe's best cities. Not only is it filled with incredible museums and attractions, but many of these are completely free! Check out our guide below to discover what to do in Amsterdam for free. From flower markets to wandering around trendy neighbourhoods to enjoying the city's green spaces, there is so much to enjoy without digging deep into your pocket.
Amsterdam is short of green spaces, which makes the leafy expanse of the Vondelpark, a short distance from both Museumplein and the Concertgebouw, doubly welcome. This is easily the largest and most popular of the city’s parks, its network of footpaths well trodden by locals and tourists alike. The park dates back to 1864, when a group of leading Amsterdammers clubbed together to transform the soggy marshland into a landscaped park. The group were impressed by the contemporary English fashion for natural landscaping and they gave the task of developing the new style of park to the Zocher family, big-time gardeners who set about their task with gusto, completing the project in 1865. The park proved an immediate success. It now possesses over a hundred tree species, a wide variety of local and imported plants. Vondelpark is simply one of the best free things to do in Amsterdam!
Across the water from Stationsplein rise the twin towers and dome of the Basilica of Saint Nicholas (St Nicolaaskerk), the city’s foremost Catholic church, dedicated to the patron saint of sailors - and of Amsterdam. It dates back to the 1880s and above the high altar is the crown of the Habsburg Emperor Maximilian, very much a symbol of the city and one you’ll see again and again. Amsterdam had close ties with Maximilian - in the late 15th-century he came here as a pilgrim and stayed on to recover from an illness.
Comprising a substantial chunk of wooded parkland, the Amsterdamse Bos is the city’s largest open space. Originally a bleak area of flat, marshy fields, it’s now a mixture of well-tended city park, leafy waterways, deep woodland and grassy meadows, intersected by foot- and cycle paths. The main entrance is close to Bosbaan - a straight canal, over 2km long and popular for boating and swimming. Elsewhere in the park there are children’s playgrounds, a goat farm and spaces for various sports, including ice-skating, as well as an animal reserve, where a small herd of Scottish Highland cows is allowed to roam in relative solitude.
A huddle of immaculately maintained old houses looking onto a central green, Amsterdam’s delightful Begijnhof was founded in the 14th-century as a home for the begijns (béguines) - members of a Catholic sisterhood living as nuns, but without vows and with the right to return to the secular world. The original medieval complex comprised a series of humble brick cottages, but these were mostly replaced by the larger, grander houses of today shortly after the Reformation, though the secretive, enclosed design survived. A couple of pre-Reformation buildings also remain, including the Houten Huys, at no. 34, whose wooden facade dates from 1477, the oldest in Amsterdam and erected before the city forbade the construction of timber houses as an essential precaution against fire. Looking for Amsterdam holidays? We've got plenty of trusty options for you to have a look through.
Running east to west along the northern edge of the three main canals is Brouwersgracht, one of the most picturesque waterways in the city. Look down any of the major canals from here and you’ll see the gentle interplay of water, barge, brick and stone that gives the city its distinctive allure. In the 17th-century, Brouwersgracht lay at the edge of Amsterdam’s great harbour, and was one of the major arteries linking the open sea with the city centre. Thronged by vessels returning from - or heading off to - every corner of the globe, it was lined with storage depots and warehouses. Breweries flourished here too - hence its name - capitalising on their ready access to shipments of fresh water. Today, the harbour bustle has moved way out of the centre to the northwest, and the warehouses, with their distinctive spout-neck gables and shuttered windows, have been converted into some of the most expensive apartments in the city. There’s an especially fine uninterrupted row of these warehouses at Brouwersgracht 172-212, on the north side of the canal just beyond Prinsengracht. You’ll also find some handsome merchants’ houses on Brouwersgracht, as well as moored houseboats and a string of quaint little swing bridges, making it all together one of the prettiest canals in the whole of the city and a pleasant area for a stroll.
The floating Bloemenmarkt (flower market) is one of the main suppliers of flowers to central Amsterdam. The daily market has been running for centuries. Its blooms and bulbs now share stall space with souvenir clogs, garden gnomes and delftware. Come early for the pick of the best. It’s one of the most impressive free things to do in Amsterdam!
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