With its Golden Age canals, treasure-filled museums and cutting-edge art, entertainment and design scenes, Amsterdam is one of Europe's jewels, but it can be pricey.

Fortunately, you can find a surprising number of freebies, from art galleries to architecture and concerts in the Netherlands' capital, if you know where to look. These are the best free things to do in Amsterdam.

Canal in the city of Amsterdam with boats moored
Amsterdam's canals are a feat of engineering from the Dutch Golden Age © J. Marijs / Shutterstock

1. Wander through the "living museum" of Amsterdam's Canal Ring

Roaming along the canals flowing through central Amsterdam (the city has more than Venice) is like being let loose in an open-air museum. A feat of engineering from the Dutch Golden Age, lined by tilting, gabled canal houses and spanned by quaint hump-back bridges, Amsterdam's 400-year-old waterways are a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Planning tip: For the quintessential "seven bridges" snap, stand on the Herengracht in front of the Thorbeckeplein, looking down the Reguliersgracht. You can actually count 15 bridges in all directions. It's especially pretty at night.

The interior of one of the shipyards at Amsterdam's NDSM-werf. where a giant red Lego brick is on display amongst the shipping containers
Former shipbuilding warehouse NDSM Loods now contains more than 80 studios © Quince Graphics / Shutterstock

2. Watch artists create in former shipyard studios

In the up-and-coming, post-industrial neighborhood Amsterdam Noord, former shipbuilding warehouse NDSM Loods now contains more than 80 studios, where upwards of 250 artists unleash their imaginations. Exhibitions are displayed beneath the hangar's girders in its gallery space, NDSM Fuse.

Planning tip: Set aside at least a couple of hours to walk or cycle through the vast site. Free passenger ferries cross the IJ river from Amsterdam’s Centraal Station (you can take bikes on board for free).

3. Marvel at millennia-old archaeological finds in a metro station

Objects dating back as far as 2400 BCE were unearthed when the Noord/Zuidlijn metro line was dug beneath Amsterdam’s streets and waterways – among them medieval ice skates, Golden Age pottery, 19th-century pocket watches and buttons and 20th-century tech, such as early mobile phones. They're now displayed in glass cases at Rokin metro station's exhibit Below the Surface.

Planning tip: It's worth hopping on or off the metro at Rokin, a short walk from Amsterdam Centraal station, to see the displays (you'll need a transport ticket to access the station).

4. Ramble between rose bushes, hedges and elegant statues at the Rijksmuseum

An Amsterdam secret – unknown even to many locals – is that the Renaissance and baroque gardens of its premier museum, the Rijksmuseum, are free and open to the public, along with occasional sculpture exhibitions held amid the greenery. 

Science Center NEMO - largest childrens science educational museum, knowledge institute and center of tourism in Amsterdam, Netherlands
Amsterdam's boat-shaped, green-copper NEMO science museum is a city landmark © Getty Images / iStockphoto

5. Learn about sustainable energy on NEMO’s scenic roof terrace

Rising from the IJ river, Amsterdam's boat-shaped, green-copper NEMO science museum is a city landmark. Its 22m-high (72ft) roof terrace is Amsterdam's largest and was designed as a public square, with a sweeping panorama over the watery city below. It also offers the opportunity to interact with the elements at the open-air Energetica exhibition, via a control-it-yourself kite and a sundial.

Planning tip: At the summertime Cascade, splash around with 4000L (1057 gallons) of water pouring through 30 receptacles and pools. The rooftop closes completely in bad weather.

6. Experience local life at the Albert Cuypmarkt

To get a feel for the "real" Amsterdam, trawl its largest street market, the Albert Cuypmarkt. Unfurling along Albert Cuypstraat between Ferdinand Bolstraat and Van Woustraat, in the lively neighborhood of De Pijp, it's the place locals shop for shimmering fabrics, bike locks, socks, fresh flowers and a vast array of snacks, such as herring sandwiches and, of course, Dutch cheeses (stalls often offer samples).

Planning tip: The market sets up every day except Sunday.

7. Revel in electrifying jazz at a Bimhuis jam session

Rollicking jam sessions at the Bimhuis – the core of Amsterdam's influential jazz scene – feature an eclectic array of local and international talent.

Planning tip: Free jam sessions take place every Tuesday at 10pm from September to June.

The grand interior of the Concertgebouw orchestra hall, with a full orchestra present on the stage, including a huge organ, and a large crowd filling the stalls
You might catch chamber music by up-and-coming performers at the Concertgebouw's free lunchtime shows © Patrick van Katwijk / Getty Images

8. Preview classical music performances at the Concertgebouw

The Concertgebouw's free lunchtime shows are often rehearsals for musicians playing the famed classical hall later that evening; you might also catch chamber music by up-and-coming performers.

Planning tip: You'll need to prebook online (there's a nominal reservation charge). Concerts typically take place at 12:30pm on Wednesdays between September and June.

Bloemenmarkt, the floating flower market in Amsterdam, Netherlands
The floating Bloemenmarkt was founded in 1862, and bulbs and fresh flowers are still sold here today © Getty Images / iStockphoto

9. Browse Amsterdam's colorful flower market

Take a heady stroll amid tulips, daffodils and other blooms along Singel between Muntplein and Koningsplein, home of the Bloemenmarkt. The city’s "floating" flower market was founded against the dramatic canal backdrop in 1862, when horticulturalists sailed here to hawk their wares. Bulbs and fresh flowers are still sold here today, along with souvenirs.

10. Seek out the peaceful Begijnhof courtyard in Amsterdam's busy center

To find the hidden Begijnhof, enter the door off Gedempte Begijnensloot (near heaving shopping strip Kalverstraat) and a tranquil oasis of diminutive 14th-century houses and gardens appears, along with two clandestine, relic-filled churches.

While the last of the Catholic Beguines died in 1971, it’s still the home of 105 women residents, so visitors need to be respectful (no photos) and preserve the hushed silence.

11. Explore the world's largest city archives

Amsterdam's Stadsarchief occupies a glorious century-old former bank. Rotating displays from the city archives might include anything from a 1625 city map to a 1942 police report on Anne Frank's bike theft to photos from John Lennon and Yoko Ono's 1969 bed-in at the Hilton. The Amsterdam Treasure Room and most exhibitions are free.

A male employee sharpens a diamond using a microscope on the Gassan Diamond Factory Tour, Amsterdam
Become a diamond expert on the Gassan Diamond Factory Tour © Will Salter / Lonely Planet

12. Discover diamonds' secrets on a factory tour

Don't know your princess cut from your marquise, or a river from a top cape? Get a debriefing on diamonds during a free one-hour tour of Gassan's beautifully restored 19th-century workshop. You'll watch pro polishers in action as a primer on assessing diamonds, then land in a gift shop selling sparklers.

13. Get schooled at Cannabis College

Nonprofit center Cannabis College educates visitors about its eponymous herb, which flourishes here in its own organic garden. Chat with staff about coffee-shop etiquette, view displays of paraphernalia and browse hemp-made products.

Outside view of Amsterdam Central Library, the Centrale Bibliotheek, largest public library in Europe
The Netherlands' largest public library is the light-filled OBA: Centrale Bibliotheek © Bikeworldtravel / Shutterstock

14. Check out Amsterdam's awesome main library

At the Netherlands' largest public library, the light-filled OBA: Centrale Bibliotheek, you can catch various exhibitions, screenings and events, or just settle into a cushy sofa for an afternoon's reading.

Planning tip: From April to October, don't miss the top-floor city panorama from the restaurant terrace.

15. Meet adorable kitties living aboard the "cat boat"

Afloat on the Singel, the quirky Poezenboot has served as a stray-cat sanctuary since 1966. Today it's home to some 50 cats, many of whom are looking to be adopted. Admission is free, but donations are warmly welcomed.

16. Visit Amsterdam’s last remaining country mansion, Frankendael

See how wealthy 18th-century Amsterdammers spent summers in once-bucolic surrounds at Huize Frankendael, the last country mansion standing within the present-day city limits. (There were once more than three dozen.) The beautifully landscaped gardens are free to explore.

Planning tip: On the last Sunday afternoon of the month, the house is opened to visitors and often hosts art exhibitions, while in the grounds, artisan producers showcase their creations at De Pure Markt.

17. View cutting-edge photography exhibitions at Melkweg Expo

Just around the corner from legendary nightlife venue Melkweg, late-opening gallery space Melkweg Expo celebrates pop culture, society and identity through inspired contemporary photography at free exhibitions throughout the year. Enter via the Milk Cafe.

People at an open-air screening of Kenyan film "Supa Modo" at Vondelpark's Openluchttheater during World Cinema Amsterdam
Free performances take place at Vondelpark's open-air theater in summer © Melanie Lemahieu / Shutterstock

18. Catch summertime shows in Amsterdam's most popular park

Amsterdam's leafy Vondelpark is beloved by locals for its expansive lawns, striking sculptures (including one by Picasso) and festive atmosphere, which peaks on sunny summer days when free performances – world music, dance, plays, stand-up comedy and more – take place at its open-air theater, the Openluchttheater.

Planning tip: Concerts are held from Friday evenings to Sunday afternoons between June and September.

19. Track down contemporary exhibitions at OSCAM

Fashion, photography, art, craft and design exhibitions are on show at OSCAM (Open Space Contemporary Art Museum). All exhibitions are free. The bright, stark concrete space is situated on Bijlmerplein near the Amsterdam Arena in the city's southeast.

Planning tip: Gallery exhibitions set up between early September and mid-July.

20. Hear spellbinding organ music at De Duif

On the picturesque Prinsengracht in the Southern Canal Ring, listen out for music emanating from the neobaroque façade of De Duif. The church's frescoed, neoclassical interior is dominated by the soaring pipes of its Smits organ, crafted in 1882, stretching to its vaulted ceiling.

Planning tip: Free organ recitals are held at 4pm every Sunday in summer, and 4pm every third Sunday the rest of the year.

21. Dance the tango at Oosterpark

In Amsterdam's Oost (East), the winding paths, ponds and leafy trees of the 19th-century Oosterpark make it an elegant place to stroll. From spring to early fall, you can also dance here during free tango sessions – or just watch the dancers gliding around its wrought-iron bandstand.

Planning tip: Tango sessions take place at 3pm every second Sunday from May to September, weather permitting. 

This article was first published Jun 16, 2019 and updated Mar 13, 2024.

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