The words ‘Amsterdam’ and ‘cheap’ don’t normally go together as Amsterdam is one of the most expensive cities in Europe, but if you are travelling there as a backpacker on a budget then there are ways to spend little money and still enjoy the city.
I lived there for a long time and wanted to share some advice that should help you enjoy your time there without breaking the bank.
1. Cycling Amsterdam
I’ve said it many times that I believe the best thing you can do in Amsterdam is to get on a bike and cycle around the city. Most people living there get around by bicycle. In fact there is something like 1.1 million bikes for around 800,000 people, and like they say “When in Rome do as the Romans do”.
You can also see so much more of the city and will often stumble upon things that you would most likely never have walked to. Cycling around Amsterdam’s canals is a highlight of travel there and is great fun getting lost.
The best part is it won’t set you back loads of money.
Cost? You can rent a bicycle for around €10 – 12 a day for a 24 hour period and can get even cheaper if you take it for a longer time. If you are lucky and get to know a local person then maybe they will have a bike you can borrow for free.
You will find bike rental places all over the city with YellowBike and MacBike being two of the biggest.
2. The Parks
Amsterdam is known for its well kept parks and if you are there on a dry day then they are one of the best places to hang out. People bring barbecues, drinks, music, etc and it becomes a very social event. So hit up a supermarket, get some cheap drinks and food, and go have a picnic.
The most famous park of them all is the Vondelpark.
The Vondelpark is large and conveniently in the central area not far from all the canals. There always seems to be something going on there.
There are plenty of other parks, and if you have the energy you could cycle out to Amsterdam’s Bos which is a huge area on the outskirts of the city full of grassy fields and trees.
Cost? The parks are all free and lets say maybe several euros for food and drinks to have a picnic (per person).
3. The Markets
One of the things that is universal anywhere in the world is that if you want to get a taste of local life then head to the market. The same is true in Amsterdam.
There are lot’s of markets to go and see all over the city and some are only open on certain days.
Albert Cuyp Market is one very long street selling clothes, souvenirs, food, and more, but the main reason to go there is the atmosphere. It has loads of cafes and bars all around it with people enjoying a drink and some food, and is the place to go.
The entire area around Albert Cuyp Market is also worth exploring, and it’s not far to cycle to Museumplain and the Vondelpark.
These places are great for people watching, sitting back with a beer or coffee and taking it easy.
Many of the markets are small affairs such as the flower market but still good to check out. Again if you have your bicycle you can cycle between them all. You can see the recurring theme with the bicycle, which is why I believe it to be essential to get the best out of the city.
Cost? Nothing if you want to just walk around, but lets say several euros for a drink and some cheap street food (which markets are perfect for).
4. Free Walking Tour
The free walking tour in Amsterdam is one of the first places in Europe to do it. Basically you meet up with a guide at a set time and place. In Amsterdam it’s normally on the Dam Square.
The guide will then take you on a tour of the red light area (the oldest part of the city) for an average of 2 hours or so, explaining everything about the place.
The guides are very knowledgable and normally quite humorous and is a great way to understand the city better, and also to meet fellow travellers.
Technically you can do one of these tours for free but the guides live of tips, so if you enjoyed the tour it’s good to leave a few euros.
5. Eating Cheap
If you do it right you can enjoy trying lots of local food and not spend too much.
It may sound cheap (the whole point of this post) but there are many cheese shops around the city and they have plates offering samples of lots of different types of cheese. The Dutch are known for good cheese and you can try them all and not pay a penny. Don’t feel guilty, there will be plenty of others buying them. Don’t stay just in one shop though, try other places.
The Netherlands has many Indonesian food places to try, which goes back to its colonial past. It’s very lekker (Dutch for tasty) food and popular with tourists. However if you go to the main restaurants then it can be expensive, with a meal setting you back around €25.
So if you want to try Indonesian food then it’s better to find smaller speciality cafes serving it up. One such place I can recommend is Toko Joyce on Nieuwmarkt Square right in the centre. You can eat and be full for less than €10 and it’s still good.
At the fore-mentioned markets above there will often be food vendors with cheap eats such as the local favourite of raw herring (go on give it a try) that will only cost around 2-3 euros.
Many supermarkets will have free samples of stuff as well.
Bonus – Couchsurfing in Amsterdam
Ok, couchsurfing is a worldwide thing and not just specific to Amsterdam, but this article is about things to do for cheap and couchsurfing will save you money and often also offer so much more.
Couchsurfing for those who don’t know about it is a community where people offer a couch or bed to crash on for free at their place. Hear that? You won’t have to pay for somewhere to sleep which is probably the most expensive thing when travelling.
But the real upside in my opinion is the fact you will be staying with a local person who will most likely be very happy to show you around when they are not busy. Now you can get a real Amsterdam experience. Your couchsurfing host may even be located in an old historic house in the centre like in the photo above.
If you are lucky they may have a bicycle you can borrow so you save €10 on renting one, and if you are super lucky they may even have a boat, or access to one, and take you for a spin around Amsterdam’s canals.
Never take couchsurfing for granted as the hosts are not obliged to put you up. Don’t look at it as a way to save money on sleeping, but as a way to meet local people, and the free bed is the bonus. From experience most couchsurfers are really friendly and it would make your stay in Amsterdam even better.
Total Cost For The Day
Bicycle rental = €10. Picnic in park = €7. Drink and snack in market = €5. Indonesian dinner = €8. Walking tour = €3. Sleeping by couchsurfing = free.
So for €33 you could have a good day in Amsterdam. Naturally you could spend even less than this, but I would put the bicycle part as essential for a proper experience, and for making it easier to see so much more.
And of course you could spend extra if you want to add in museums and having a few more drinks out etc. It’s all up to you at the end of the day. I just wanted to give some pointers for the budget traveller to have a good time in Amsterdam without feeling like they didn’t do enough because of money concerns.
I hope these few tips can help you out on your trip and that you have a good time in one of the best cities in the world.
If you’re interested in cycling in Amsterdam and good bike routes in the surrounding areas you can read my post about that here.
I recommend the Lonely Planet Amsterdam (Travel Guide).
If you’re looking for the ultimate list of free things to do in Amsterdam then be sure to check this out.
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