Amsterdam has a reputation for being an expensive city, both to visit and to live in. (Having lived here for a while now I can confirm the rumors are true.) But never fear, my cash-strapped fellow travelers! My equally broke friend came to visit me recently and I am now brimming with tips on cheap things to do while you’re here. Read on for how to do a €20 day in the ‘Dam.
Start off by loading up with free breakfast wherever you’re staying, be it with a friend or a super cool hostel that provides it. And eat up, because we’re going to do a lot of walking today! Amsterdam’s a fairly walkable city but also the old city center streets are an attraction unto themselves, so why miss those views by taking the metro? Lace up your most comfortable shoes, then make your way over to the Albert Cuyp market.
It’s outdoors and several blocks long, with stalls selling all kinds of random stuff (clothes, gadgets, produce, souvenirs, etc.) It’s also one of the best places to get some traditional Dutch snacks, and you simply cannot leave the Netherlands without having a stroopwafel. Not from a package, but made fresh in front of your face, hot off the iron. My favorite spot to get them is from the stall that’s basically a long, low table staffed by middle-aged people who all seem a little cranky. You’ll know it when you see it. However, all the fresh stands in the market sell them for the same low price of 1.50. SCORE. Snag one for a lunchtime snack while you stroll through the city, and grab something else to go with it (pro tip: the produce stalls here are the cheapest place to get mangoes, and I pick them up at 3 for €1.50.)
Next, take a leisurely stroll through some of the most picturesque streets on your way to the Civic Guards Gallery. Museums in Amsterdam will pretty much cost you an arm and a leg (the Van Gogh Museum or Rijksmuseum will set you back €19 each) BUT this one is free! It’s a gallery attached to the Amsterdam Museum featuring portraits of the Civic Guard (learn about what that means when you get there) throughout history, juxtaposed along modern portraits informed by the style. Even the carpet is a literal work of art. Uh-huh hunny.
From here, walk towards Centraal Station. This walk should take you pretty much right through the Red Light District, something I’m sure you didn’t want to miss while you’re here. In this humble writer’s opinion, it’s much nicer to visit during the day than at night, when the streets will be CRAMMED with tourists, many of whom will be intoxicated British Lads on a Stag Trip, singing drinking songs loudly in the street. I know you’re curious, but make sure to be respectful of the working girls, and remember that no photos are allowed with/in front of the windows. When you get to the station, go through to the back/water side, and jump on the ferry towards IJ Hallen/NDSM! It’s a free ride and will give you sweet views of the city from the water for about 12 minutes. Watch the Dutch people gracefully board the ferry without getting off of their bikes and burn with envy (just me? Okay.)
When you disembark, you’ll be able to see a very famous Anne Frank mural (it’s about three stories high and difficult to miss) in the distance–go check it out if you wanna take some sweet selfies. Then you can go over to the real draw of this little journey: IJ Hallen flea market!
This is the biggest outdoor market in Europe, and I LOVE IT. There are HUNDREDS of stalls, and you literally never know what you’ll find (can you tell I love outdoor markets? Maybe it’s because they’re not that common in the States, outside of farmer’s markets.) It does cost €5, but I think it’s worth it for the sheer range of deals you’ll find inside. I once went there and found the most inCREDIBLE pair of silky watercolor print joggers which not only were long enough for me at my height of 6 feet, but then also only cost me €2. When I got home, I looked at the tag and realized they were actually 100% silk. *GASP.*
DISCLAIMER: this fabulous outdoor market only happens one weekend per month. If you’re not here while it happens, try the (not pictured) Waterlooplein market! It’s open every day except Sunday and while it is smaller, it doesn’t cost anything to go in and there are still plenty of cool things to find.
Total: €5 plus whatever you choose to spend, which in my case came to a grand total of €7
Now, the Netherlands is famous for lots of things, like bikes, tulips, cheese, windmills, beer…. how about combining those last two? Yes, that’s right, you can go to a brewery IN A WINDMILL, and skip the touristy “Heineken Experience” nonsense. The Brouwerij T’Ij makes suuuuuper delicious beers in a range of styles, and has some outdoor seating by the canals too! It does fill up fast though, so be ruthless and snag a table the second you see someone vacate one. Then chill out, with beers that start at about €3. Yummy.
You’re probably pretty hungry after all your walking, and I’m guessing you finished off your Albert Cuyp snacks ages ago, so let’s get you something more substantial. Food here can be just as expensive as anything else, but there are two beloved cheap institutions in Amsterdam that will fill you up for a fiver. The first is FEBO, which I love to hate. It’s a fast-food restaurant where you put coins in a slot and grab burgers, cheese croquettes, and the like out of a window. Is it amazing? No. Is it cheap, and convenient when you’re coming home from a pub crawl during the wee hours? I think you know the answer.
The other option I have to mention is Wok to Walk. For five euro you can get a glorious serving of veggies and noodles that will fill you up and not make you feel bad about what you ate. Chances are if you’re staying in a hostel that you’ve already seen people’s leftovers in their iconic orange take-out cartons in the common room fridge.
Regardless of which option you choose, I highly recommend eating in a park. Amsterdam has tonnnnnns of beautiful green spaces. The more famous Vondelpark is a classic choice, but my personal favorite is the smaller and lesser-known Wertheim Park. You can sit right on the grassy bank of a canal and watch the boats go by as the sun sets.
Grand Total: €18! You have an extra €2 in discretionary funds to spend on snacks or thrift finds.
What do you think? Got any other cheap must-do activities in Amsterdam? Let me know below!