Aerial view of Amsterdam canals by evening light.

How to experience Amsterdam for free?

Amsterdam is a city of canals, provocation, weed, trade, bicycles, tulips, and a long and exciting history. This is one of those cities that you want to visit at least once, it is so different from other places in Europe thanks to its special architecture and vibe.

However, it is also one of the most expensive cities in the world. But what if we show you how you can experience the city without spending a single euro? In this article, we will tell you about the cool things you can do for free, after which you can confidently say that you have seen, felt and experienced Amsterdam.

Immerse yourself in the history of Amsterdam

Historical Centre

Amsterdam historical centre is especially charming in the evening lights.

Historical centre of Amsterdam with the Munttoren.

Where to start? First things first, let’s start with the fabulous canals of Amsterdam. The historic centre of Amsterdam is a magnet for visitors, and home to the main sights of the city. Its border clearly follows the Singelgracht ring channel, but not all the way to the east of the city centre – should you be interested in seeing where exactly you can find the historical Amsterdam, then be sure to take a look at our interactive map and select the layer of the Historical centre.

The historical centre of Amsterdam was formed in the 17th century. This was the Dutch Golden Age during which Amsterdam turned into the richest city in the world. Today, these streets lined with elegant houses and picturesque canals are UNESCO heritage.

The Begijnhof

A little courtyard in the heart of Amsterdam that shares a medieval atmosphere with its visitors.

The Begijnhof in the historical centre of Amsterdam.

To travel back through several centuries and imagine how the city would look, go to the Begijnhof. The roots of this charming place go back to the 12th century and it is the only courtyard in Amsterdam dating from the Middle Ages. This peaceful corner in the heart of the city originally served as a monastery for the Beguines and has a rather impressive architectural ensemble of 47 houses built in a ring. Besides, the courthouse lies one meter beneath the rest of the city, as it was built on a medieval level.

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Palace at the Dam in Amsterdam centre.

The courtyard also contains another important landmark of Amsterdam. You will find here a black wooden house, called the Houten Huis. It is one of the two oldest wooden buildings in Amsterdam, built around 1420 when there was still no ban on the construction of wooden buildings. Fascinating, isn’t it?

Let’s peek into the Red Light District

De Wallen

The provocative Red Light District is especially great for going to a bar with friends. Beware of the smell of marihuana on about every corner.

Red lights at De Wallen in Amsterdam.

The famous Red Light District (De Wallen), also located in the historic centre, undoubtedly deserves your attention. The atmosphere of celebration and fun always reigns here, everywhere there are shops with erotic toys and magazines, posters of sexual performances and much more that surprises, attracts, and often confuses tourists in Amsterdam. Keep in mind though, that making videos and photos of the ladies is not allowed.

More than just red lights

Walking around the Red Light District can be amusing for more than just the red lights. If you manage not to stare at the flaming red windows, you can see charming old houses, barely tilted over the water of the canals – after all, this is one of the best-preserved areas of the city to this day.

The Old Church

Ironically you will find the oldest church of Amsterdam right in the centre of the Red Light District: There can be no repentance without sin.

Oude Kerk at De Wallen in Amsterdam.

For example, the oldest building in the city, the Old Church or Oude Kerk in Dutch, is located in this area. Its first building was erected as early as 1306 by fishermen in honour of their patron Saint Nicholas and was rebuilt and modified over the next centuries. Who would have thought of a religious temple amidst such a citadel of vice?

Another old building surrounded by red lights is The Waag, or ‘weigh house’ in English. It is a 15th-century monument located in the middle of the Nieuwmarkt square. Besides weigh house, the building served many purposes – amongst others it has been a city gate, a museum, a fire station, and an anatomical theatre. Today, the medieval building is in use as a restaurant.

Nightlife in the Red Light District

Besides being a neighbourhood of half-dressed ladies and bright signs, De Wallen is also one of the coolest bar spots in town and a perfect choice for nightlife. So if you have time, check out the local cafés and bars here. But where exactly to go? For that, you can use our map of Amsterdam on which you can highlight the best areas for a drink.

Where in Amsterdam to book?

Want to stay right in the historical centre of Amsterdam? With the layers of our travel map that's an easy one.

Houses by canals in Amsterdam.

Strolling cosy shopping streets

Each of us, arriving in a new city, becomes a little shopaholic because we want to buy everything at once. Right at the city’s core lies the Jordaan district, which is where you will find some of the finest and trendiest boutiques in Amsterdam.

Once a residential area where the working class lived, today the Jordaan has acquired the status of the city's most developed place. There are a lot of hotels, shops, galleries and restaurants, for which tourists love it so much. The fanciest place here to please yourself with a new bag, pullover or scarf is the famous Nine Streets.

The Nine Streets

Shopping in Amsterdam is a pleasure: you pamper yourself and walk along the beautiful streets of the city.

Boutique at the Nine Streets in Amsterdam.

It is in this historic area that you can find shops of little-known Dutch brands, vintage stores and small places where designers themselves sell their creations. Every spot here is a delight for the eyes. Small intricate shops, whose windows are decorated with special attention, are located in historic buildings on narrow streets. Here you can truly enjoy the spirit of contemporary Amsterdam.

As one of the greatest shopping areas in the city, the Nine Streets can be found easily with our map of Amsterdam. On our map you will find the finest and the most popular shopping areas in Amsterdam.

Spiegel Quarter

This charming area with the oldest art stores in Amsterdam is the perfect spot to find antiques for your collection.

Art stores in the Spiegel Quarter in Amsterdam.

A paradise for antique dealers and antiquity lovers is located northeast of the Museumplein, in the Spiegel Quarter. In an area of typical Dutch houses with carved stepped gables, the heart of the national art trade has been beating for 80 years. Even if you are not a connoisseur of antiques, the neighbourhood’s friendly atmosphere will suit your taste, with small local cafés located on almost every corner.

Cheap flight to Amsterdam?

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Canal houses in Amsterdam seen from above.

More great shopping areas

The Spiegel Quarter is located just a stone’s throw away from the Rijksmuseum and can be easily located with our free map of Amsterdam. If you want to check out the busiest and most popular shopping streets instead, then we advise you to take a look at our guide to Amsterdam, where we have listed all the greatest shopping areas in the city.

Amsterdam is about smells and tastes

Albert Cuyp Market

Where else but here you can taste all the eminent Dutch cheeses. Yummy!

Cheese market in Amsterdam.

A city without a market is not a full-fledged city, especially Amsterdam, where trade has long been one of the main activities. Casually walking the streets of Amsterdam in search of a ‘true taste’ will surely bring you success, but even better would be simply heading towards De Pijp district and visit one of the most famous markets in Europe. The Albert Cuyp market! It operates on the eponymous Albert Cuypstraat every day, except on Sundays.

You can find anything at the Albert Cuyp, from Chinese trinkets to traditional Dutch food, and from cheap souvenirs to old bicycle parts. Of course, you should pay attention to the Dutch cheese, and if you are lucky enough you’ll see how locals eat herring. Here they do it in a special way, they hang it upside down to eat the entire fish. Raw, and with onions. They say it tastes good, and it’s very healthy. As of early June every year a fresh new load of herring comes in, so during the summer months this would be an excellent try!

Flower Market

Enjoy all the beautiful colors here, but beware that the Dutch can charge a lot for tulips – during the Tulip mania of the 1630s the price of these flowers reached that of a canal house!

Tulips aside canal in Amsterdam.

A visit to the Flower market (De Bloemenmarkt) is no less important in the guest's tour through the old Amsterdam. It is the world's only floating flower market and perhaps the city's most fragrant attraction. Here you will find the famous Dutch tulips and other flowers of all possible colours for every taste. Even black ones! Find this blooming boat together with all the other great markets in our travel guide to Amsterdam.

Missing something?

There must be more to Amsterdam! Check here for a list of local experiences and great attractions. Just not free.

Aerial view of Amsterdam centre on King's Day.

The green side of Amsterdam

Besides boasting crowds of bicycles and electric scooters, Amsterdam also has some real greenery to offer. Looking for a quiet green space after a long stroll? More than 10% of the city's area is occupied by parks, gardens and other green areas. Particularly popular are the Vondelpark, the Sarphatipark and the Amsterdamse Bos.

The main green area of the capital is the vast territory of the Vondelpark, named so in 1880 in honour of the Dutch writer Joost van den Vondel. The local landscapes will certainly amaze you with their scale and you will forget that there are narrow streets and canals nearby. A true place to admire!

Vondelpark

The largest park in the city, where you can have a picnic with locals, or ride a bike and enjoy the silence by the ponds.

People relaxing in the Vondelpark in Amsterdam.

This green oasis with an area of 47 hectares is located right next to the Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh Museum. This parkland is made for walking, jogging and cycling, as well as for sunbathing and extended picnics with locals along the ponds.

Get totally ready for Amsterdam

Visiting the above places means that you’re getting a taste of the very best of Amsterdam, without spending a dime. What’s more, Amsterdam has plenty of other amazing places to offer. Some of them are totally free, others like the magnificent Rijksmuseum, the Anne Frank House or the Van Gogh Museum, are paid.

We can imagine that it can be hard to keep the overview in Amsterdam, with so many nice places to visit and so much distraction. That is why we have made your interactive map of Amsterdam, where you can easily see the greatest spots to visit – including all the cool places mentioned in this article of course.

Amsterdam expensive?

Amsterdam offers great options for any kind of traveller. Many of the greatest places can be visited completely for free. Check here our interactive map for more inspiration!

Houses by the water in Amsterdam centre.

Whether it is the most fascinating pieces of architecture, the coolest bar streets, or the greatest museums, our free map of Amsterdam has got you covered.

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