With its spectacular architecture and beautiful canals, it’s no surprise Amsterdam is such a popular place for city breaks, especially when its little more than an hour-long flight from the UK.
It’s fair to say Amsterdam is a city that takes pride in doing things differently, and that is one of its best assets. From floating animal sanctuaries to abandoned docklands transformed into cultural hubs, there’s plenty of weird and wonderful stuff to do in the Dutch capital. And the best bit? So much of it is totally free!
Here is a rundown of the best free – or nearly-free – things to do on your Amsterdam city break.
1. Browse the flower market
The Netherlands is famous for its tulips, and you can get your hands on some when you head to the city’s floating flower market; though you don’t need to use your Euro to admire their beauty. You’ll find a colourful variety of the nation’s flower on offer, nestled among some other favourites, as well as packets of seeds – a slightly more suitcase-friendly solution.
2. Ride a bike through Vondelpark
As a true cycling city, you’ll see bikes everywhere you turn when you visit Amsterdam. As a visitor, it’s natural to be wary of using the roads, so for your turn on two wheels head to the beautiful Vondelpark. This 120-acre stretch is the Dutch capital’s most famous green space and hosts an open-air theatre, several ponds, pavilions and playgrounds. It’s the perfect place to while away a sunny afternoon. Admittedly, bike hire will cost you a few euro, but the gardens are just as enjoyable when explored on foot.
3. Snap a selfie at the I Amsterdam sign
Since they arrived in 2004, the giant letters that spell ‘I Amsterdam’ outside the front of the Rijksmuseum have become an internationally-recognised symbol of the city. Be sure to head to Museumplein for your moment beside the landmark. You’ll get the best shots if you head there early in the morning, before the crowds arrive.
4. Make some four-legged friends on the Poezenboot
Back in 1966, Mrs Weelde noticed a family of cats sheltering in the tree opposite her waterfront property. Taking them in, she soon became the guardian of many of the city’s strays, until there were so many they could barely fit in her house. The solution? – the Poezenboot. A boat outside the house was transformed into a floating cat sanctuary, and the rest is history. Swing by the Poezenboot and show the canal-dwelling felines some love.
5. Rub shoulders with the locals at Albert Cuyp Market
There are plenty of markets to enjoy right across the city, but Albert Cuyp might just be the best in Amsterdam. Lining a pedestrianised thoroughfare in the hip De Pijp district, it claims to be one of the biggest and best in Europe. With everything from fresh fruit and veg, fish, flowers and fabrics on offer, something is sure to catch your eye. Vendors will be happy to let you sample their cheeses and cured meats before you part with any cash. If you are willing to spend – don’t forget to pick up some Stroopwafels. The market is well worth a visit even if you intend to keep your wallet in your pocket.
6. Enjoy a day at the beach
There’s no guarantee you’ll get beach-worthy weather on your Amsterdam city break, but if you do, you’ll be glad to know there are beautiful golden stretches just a short train ride away. During the summer, you can reach the resort town of Zantvoort direct in 25 minutes and a train ticket from Amsterdam-Centraal can cost as little as €6.60. Here, you’ll find miles of beaches lined with cool and cosmopolitan bars, where the parties continue long into the night.
7. Window-shop your way along The Nine Streets
Flanking the canals to the city’s east, the Nine Streets are the home of Amsterdam’s boutique stores and quirky independents. Across a three by three grid of lanes, picture-perfect cafes, sleek art galleries and edgy fashion stores dominate – with a fantastic selection of eateries to enjoy. Whether you’re planning on a purchase or not, you’ll love spending an afternoon exploring what The Nine Streets have to offer.
8. Hang out at NDSM Wharf
Undoubtedly Amsterdam’s best kept secret, NDSM is the Dutch capital’s hip hangout. Located in the disused docks to the north, you can catch a ferry ride across the IJ to reach this quirky and versatile event space. You can easily spend a full day here; there’s the flea market to explore, a beach to kick back on, an outdoor cinema, art exhibitions and studio spaces – there’s even a crane hotel you can stay in overnight. This industrial playground is one of a kind.
9. Take in the views atop NEMO
There are plenty of rooftop bars and viewing towers right across the city, but most do come with an entrance fee, or the expectation you’ll buy a drink or two up there at the very least. But, if you head to the NEMO science museum, you can get skyline views without spending a penny. Located out over the water, a staircase leads to the ship-like building’s tiered rooftop, with panoramic vistas back over old Amsterdam. It’s best enjoyed at sunset, where you’ll see a particularly Instagram-ideal scene.
10. Be dazzled by Amsterdam light festival
If you happen to be visiting the city between November and January, you simply cannot miss the Amsterdam Light Festival. Split between the water exhibition along the Herengracht canal, and the land exhibition out at the Marineterrein Amsterdam, you can explore illuminated works by some of the world’s most notable light artists. In recent years, popular entries have included a sea of rings suspended above the water, neon bicycles and a canal-bridge-turned-space-vortex.
Experience all of these incredible attractions, and many more, with flights to Amsterdam from Manchester Airport.