The capital of the Netherlands, Amsterdam is famous for its coffee shops, red lights, houseboats, historic architecture, and famous canals. Founded in 1275 (supposedly by two fisherman and their dog), the city grew in importance and wealth as Dutch colonies were set up around the world and companies like the Dutch East India Company (VOC) controlled trade around the world. Many travelers (especially young backpackers) tend to frequent the coffee shops or wander the red light district but there is more to Amsterdam than its infamous dark side: there are dozens of art museums (from the eclectic to the traditions), beautiful parks, wonderful outdoor cafes, lots of history, and love of life here. This city is by far one of the most beautiful in the world. There’s nothing like cruising around the canals on a sunny day or lying in Vondelpark reading a book! I used to live in Amsterdam, and I can tell you the best of Amsterdam is found outside the city center in the smaller neighborhoods with their canal-side cafes. Don’t miss a chance to get out of the crowd here!
Top 5 Things to See and Do in Amsterdam
1. Van Gogh Museum
2. Take a canal tour
3. Explore the Jordaan
4. The Anne Frank House
Other Things to See and Do
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1. Visit the Amsterdam History Museum
Though not exactly off the beaten path, this museum surprisingly sees few tourists compared to the city’s other museums, yet it does a great job of telling the history of the city (there is a cool video showing Amsterdam’s growth at the beginning). The museum is fairly big, so budget a few hours for it. It’s one of my favorite must-dos in the city. I can’t recommend it enough! Admission is 12.50 EUR and it’s open daily from 10am-5pm.
2. The Tulip Museum
Located in a room inside a tulip shop, this little place does an interesting job of telling the history of tulips in Holland and the infamous tulip craze. Best of all: you’ll never find a crowd. It’s pretty off the beaten path! And at 5 EUR, it’s the cheapest museum in town.
3. See the Jewish History Museum
Located near Waterlooplein, the Jewish History Museum has an excellent section on World War 2, the Holocaust, and how the Dutch dealt with the guilt of mass deportations after the war. It’s a small section in a large museum that is dedicated to the city’s Jews but it’s worth the price of admission alone. Admission is 15 EUR and it’s open daily from 11am-5pm.
4. See photography at FOAM
The photography museum houses wonderful pictures and sees few crowds despite being in the main part of the city. I really enjoyed all the black and white photographs and the outdoor garden. They change the exhibits all the time so you never know what is exactly going to be there but it’s always something good. I visit each time I’m in the city. Admission is 10 EUR and it’s open daily from 10am-6pm, except Thursdays and Fridays when it’s open until 9pm.
5. Squeeze into the Houseboat Museum
Not much of a museum but this decorated houseboat gives you an interesting glimpse into what living on the canals is like. I walked away with one impression of life on the canals: a bit cramped. Admission is 4.50 EUR and it’s open daily from 10am-5pm.
6. Explore Oost
The area east of the city has an amazing park, a zoo, and lots of good Muslim eateries. Wandering around here, you’ll be hard-pressed to find more than a handful of tourists, most of whom are probably lost. It’s an off-the-beaten-path and underrated part of the city.
7. Relax in Rembrandt Park
Not to be confused with Rembrandtplein in the city center, this park west of the city is a good place to wander. The area around it is pretty working class and a bit more modern – a good contrast to the historic center. You’ll know you are there when signs suddenly stop being printed in English and are only Dutch.
8. Take in the Heineken Experience
I find it to be overpriced and commercial, but the Heineken Experience will give you an overview of the company, a few drinks, and some silly games to play. Note that this isn’t an actual working brewery. Admission is 18 EUR and it’s open daily from 11am-7:30pm with an extended hour on the weekends (last entry is 2 hours before close).
9. See the windmills
Setting out on an adventure to visit the windmills surrounding the city is another great way to tour. There are eight in total – most of which, are in Amsterdam West. De Gooyer is the closest to the city center and also happens to be a brewery, making it the perfect place to start (and maybe never leave).
10. Stroll through the plantage
The is an entire district in Amsterdam, comprised of green neighborhoods, several gardens and parks, and the Artis Royal Zoo. Beyond the main zoo area, Artis is also host to a Zoological Museum, a Planetarium, and an Aquarium.
11. Drink at the House of Bols
This is one of the most underrated attractions in the Netherlands. Run by the Bols distillery, this is a Dutch gin museum. The self-guided tour takes about an hour and includes the promise of a cocktail and an interesting smelling test. Admission is 16 EUR and it’s open daily from 1pm-6:30pm, except on Fridays and Saturdays when it closes at 9pm.
12. Visit the Rijksmuseum
The Rijksmuseum is located right next to the Van Gogh Museum, and after years of renovation, it’s now beautifully remodeled. The museum still features an extensive Rembrandt collection, and you’ll be able to see the famous painting “The Night Watch.” Besides Rembrandt, there’s also an incredible and robust collection of other classic Dutch painters, like Frans Hals and Johannes Vermeer. Over one million works of art, craftworks, and historical objects are kept in the collection, and around 8,000 objects are on display in the museum so be sure to budget a few hours! Admission is 17.50 EUR and it’s open daily from 9am-5pm.
13. Wander the Museum Van Loon
The Museum Van Loon is a double-sized canal house (built in 1672) located on the Keizersgracht canal in Amsterdam. The house was owned by the wealthy Van Loon merchant family who set up a beautiful art collection. Now it’s a museum with period furniture, art, and family portraits. There’s a beautiful garden here too. This is definitely a place not to miss. Admission is 9 EUR and it’s open daily from 10am-5pm.
14. Shop at the Waterlooplein Flea Market
This open-air market is like a giant flea market — everything and everyone can be found here. People sell secondhand clothes, hats, antiques, gadgets, and much more. You can also find new and unused items. If there’s something you want, you’ll probably find it here. Open Monday to Saturday from 9:30am-6pm.
15. Take a day trip to Haarlem
Just a quick train (or bike) ride from Amsterdam, Harleem is a quiet Dutch town that has a beautiful central church, great outdoor market, and all the beauty of historic Amsterdam with fewer crowds. It costs between 4-8 EUR and takes about 15 minutes.
16. Visit Noord
Leave the city center, take the ferry across the IJ, and visit the up and coming area of Noord Amsterdam. In the last few years, a lot of people have moved here (it’s cheap), cool markets and restaurants have opened, and a lot of old industrial land has been reclaimed for public use. It’s the new hip place to be! Be sure to visit the famous EYE, Amsterdam’s film institute.
17. Read at the Amsterdam Library
The city’s library is a beautiful modern building built in 2007. It’s gigantic, overlooks the IJ, and has a wonderful top floor cafe for impressive views of the city. It’s one of my favorite to relax in the city. It’s quiet, peaceful, and there’s nothing like reading a good book with a great view!
18. Eat at Foodhallen
Located in Amsterdam west, this place is what the name implies – a food hall! This indoor food market has various vendors serving a variety of delicious food. It’s like food trucks in one location. Personal favorites include Viet View, Le Big Fish, and Friska.
Budget hotel prices – Rooms start at around 60 EUR per night for a double room in a two star hotel, but can start at nearly double during the high season. Hotels at this price point offer basic amenities, like private bathrooms and free WiFi. The rooms tend to be pretty small too. The closer you get to the city center, the higher the price. On Airbnb, you can find shared rooms starting between 20-25 EUR range while entire apartments begin at 65 EUR per night.
Average cost of food – There are plenty of budget-friendly fast food restaurants in Amsterdam, ranging from McDonald’s to Maoz to Wok to Walk (which is by far the best). These meals will cost you between 5-15 EUR. Restaurant meals average around 20-25 EUR for a main dish with a drink. If you cook your meals, expect to pay 55 EUR per week for groceries that will include pasta, vegetables, chicken, and other basic foodstuffs. Cheap Dutch food at the famous FEBO is around 2-7 EUR, but don’t expect anything fancy for vending machine food (FEBO is Dutch drunk food!). I love Cafe de Jardin, Pankcakes!, Modoers, and Burger Bar for places to eat. (For even more places to eat, check my in-depth guidebook to the city below!)
Transportation costs – Amsterdam has a great public transportation system. If you get the Amsterdam card, all public transportation is free. A tram or bus will cost 2.90 EUR for a one-hour ticket. Travelers looking to use public transport for just a day or two might find the most affordable and easiest option day tickets valid for 24, 48, 72 or 96 hours. Prices range from 7.50-21 EUR. These tickets are available from drivers and ticket sellers (only the 24-hour ticket), GVB outlets, tourist offices and kiosks. You can rent a bike for around 10-20 EUR a day (it’s the Dutch thing to do!). You can also take bikes on public transportation by paying the bike supplemental fee (about 2 EUR per day).
Suggested daily budget
55-60 EUR / 56-62 USD (Note: This is a suggested budget assuming you’re staying in a hostel, eating out a little, cooking most of your meals, and using local transportation. Using the budget tips below, you can always lower this number. However, if you stay in fancier accommodation or eat out more often, expect this to be higher!)
Money Saving Tips
- Get the IAmsterdam Pass – This offers free entrance to most of the major museums and attractions as well as free public transportation. If you’re going to be bouncing between museums a lot, get this card.
- Drink in hostels – Hostels have the best drink deals in the cities. Even if you aren’t staying at them, most have bars open to the public where you can get 2 EUR beers and other drink specials. Belushi’s Bar at The Winston is very popular among locals too.
- Get the Museumkaart (Museum Card) – Good for one month for non-residents, this card gets you into museums in Amsterdam and beyond for only 60 EUR. With the Museum Card, you get access to 32 museums in Amsterdam and more than 400 throughout the Netherlands. It’s also good for repeat visits as well!
- Take a free walking tour – If you want an overview of the city, take one of the free walking tours. This way you’ll get to learn about the city without spending money. The biggest one is offered by New Europe Tours.
- Grab an Amsterdam Nightlife Ticket – This ticket is valid for 7-days and costs 10 Euros. It gets you unlimited access to eight clubs, a welcome drink at five of the clubs, access to the Holland Casino, discounts on your Uber ride, and more. If you’re going to party in Amsterdam, this nightlife ticket will definitely cut down the cost of partying in the city.
- Hire your own boat – Instead of taking an expensive canal cruise, you can hire your own boat. If you have three or four people, it works out to be about 6 EUR a piece and you can bring alcohol, food, or smoke on it.
- Eat on the cheap – Febo, Walk to Wok, Maoz are all cheap places to get food. Moreover, cafes in the city for many prix-fixe lunch specials for between 10-15 EUR. If you’re going to eat out, lunch is the best time to do it in Amsterdam!
- Cook – Dutch food isn’t going to win any awards. Try a few places but cook often (or at least make lots of sandwiches). Eating out in the city isn’t cheap and if you’re paying a lot for your accommodation, your daily costs can shoot through the roof. Head to the supermarket and get some food to cook! You’re not missing out on anything.
- Rent a bicycle – Bikes are a big part of Dutch culture and most people use them to get around. You can rent a bike from around 10-20 EUR for a full-day. Dutch cities are also very small and easily walkable.
- Use Couchsurfing – It’s a service that lets travelers stay with locals for free. Since a lot of travelers use this service, make your requests for hosts early.
- Save money on rideshares – Uber is way cheaper than taxis and are the best way to get around a city if you don’t want to wait for a bus or pay for a taxi. The Uber Pool option is where can you share a ride to get even better savings (though you can get your own car too). You can save $15 off your first Uber ride with this code: jlx6v.
GO DEEPER: Nomadic Matt’s In-Depth Budget Guide to Amsterdam!
For more in-depth information and tips, check out my detail digital guide to Amsterdam. This guide is written for budget travelers like yourself – people who want to be more than tourists – and cuts out the fluff found in other guides while getting straight to the practical information you need to travel and save money. In this book, you’ll get all the above information plus detailed suggested itineraries and budgets, more ways to save money, more on and off the beaten path things to see and do, and all my favorite non-touristy restaurants, markets, hostels, bars, and more!! You’ll be able to save it to your phone, Kindle, or iPad and have it with you whenever you are. Just click here to learn more and get started.
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