Amsterdam is awash with art, canals and a vibrant nightlife – and with so much to do the cost of your trip can soon creep up. Yet it is possible to enjoy the city on a budget, and you won't even need to go Dutch...
Whether you're planning to go to Amsterdam or have already booked your trip, we've 26 tips for making the most of your time and euros, from cheap airport transfers and bargain beds to free opera tickets and how to avoid the queues at Anne Frank's house.
26 cheap Amsterdam tips, including...
This is the first incarnation of this guide. Please add your feedback to the Cheap Amsterdam forum thread. This is the fifth of our destination guides – also see our 30+ New York MoneySaving Tips, 29 Paris MoneySaving Tips, 43 Costa del Sol MoneySaving Tips, 30+ Barcelona MoneySaving Tips and 21 Rome MoneySaving Tips.
Not in a rush to get to Amsterdam? Take the coach from as little as £35 return
Yes, it'll take at least 10 hours (plenty of time to brush up on your Dutch). But the cheapest way to get to Amsterdam from the UK is almost invariably by bus (it usually beats flying, though see more on bargain flights below).
Megabus and Eurolines offer cheap fares if you can catch them in time.
- Eurolines runs several trips a day from London to Amsterdam for as little as £30 return (plus a steep £5 booking fee). Though be quick, as the cheapest fares sell out fast. Tickets are released 90 days in advance.
- Megabus (now operated by FlixBus for journeys to or from Europe) is a bit pricier than Eurolines, but if you're fast you can still grab a bargain. Fares start at £22.90 each way (no booking fee), and tickets are available from six weeks in advance.
Check Eurostar for fares from £52 one way
Taking the train will never be the cheapest way to get to the Netherlands, but if you want to avoid queuing at the airport, and get there in half the time the bus takes (4 hours 38 mins from London St Pancras, to be exact) then it's a good option.
To get to Amsterdam by rail you'll need to take the Eurostar to Brussels, then change onto a high-speed Thalys train for the second leg of the journey (though your Eurostar ticket will cover travel all the way to Amsterdam).
- Book ahead to bag cheap seats. As a general rule, booking early wins, unless you know a sale's coming. You can book a combined Eurostar + Thalys ticket up to 120 days ahead. Fares usually start from £51.50 each way.
- Split train tickets to take advantage of early fares. While Thalys train (and combined Eurostar + Thalys) tickets can only be booked 120 days ahead, Eurostar releases tickets 180 days in advance. So it may be cheaper to buy super-cheap Eurostar tickets as soon as they're released and book Thalys separately.
- Check three different sites – prices can vary. As well as the Eurostar website itself, it's also worth checking Dutch rail website NS International and Belgian site SNCB Europe (see The Man in Seat 61 for more details). NS International and SNCB Europe charge in euros, so make sure you book using specialist overseas plastic to avoid currency transaction fees.
- Under-fours go free. Kids aged three and under go free on Eurostar and Thalys, as long as they sit on your lap. With flights, kids aged two and over need their own seat and you have to pay a surcharge even for babies who sit on your lap, so this can work out cheaper for a family.
Top 10 FREE things to do in Amsterdam
Don't think that everything you do in Amsterdam is going to cost. In fact, there's a plethora of freebies to choose from...
Get your walking clogs on. It's the best way to see any city, and even better, Amsterdam offers a whole host of 'free' walking tours to help you find your feet. Sandemans, Free Walking Tours and 360 all offer tours on a tips-only basis – you don't have to tip, though most of the reviews suggest you'll want to anyway.
Find some grass. No, we're not talking about Amsterdam's relaxed drug laws, but its green spaces. Vondelpark is the best known and most popular park in Amsterdam and is well worth a wander round or a pit stop, especially on a fine summer's day.
Enjoy the ballet or opera for free. Amsterdam is a haven for culture vultures. Tickets can be pricey, but there are opportunities to catch free shows too. Every Tuesday the National Opera and Ballet opens its doors for free lunchtime concerts.
Cruise the canal belt. OK, so it's not actually free to get on the canals. But just wandering or cycling along the towpaths is a great way to get a feel for Amsterdam's waterways.
Hit the beach. You can get a little sand between your toes at one of Amsterdam's free urban beaches, and better still, some spots are accessible via free ferries. These depart from behind Amsterdam Central Station – you get to take to the water and get off the beaten track. Pllek is 14 minutes away on ferry line 906; during the summer it has live music and a waterfront bar.
Find out more about Amsterdam's famous cannabis culture. Get a potted history of the city's drug of choice at the Cannabis College.
Take in a view of the city. Amsterdam hosts Europe's largest public library, the Openbare Bibliotheek Amsterdam a five-minute walk east of Central Station. It's free to enter and offers great views of the city from the higher floors; the public can look at most materials for free.
Treat your ears to a free concert. The Open Air Theatre in the Vondelpark hosts free summertime performances of theatre, comedy and different genres of music between May and September. Between September and June the Concertgebouw on Museumplein holds free lunch concerts on Wednesdays (reserve a spot on the day; you can't do it online).
Take a selfie with the Amsterdam sign. The I Amsterdam sign is behind the Rijksmuseum on Museumplein, and is a popular spot for holiday snaps.
Squeeze into the world's 'narrowest house'. Actually, you've two slender homes to choose from. Technically Singel 7 has the world's narrowest facade – at just one metre, it's a sight to behold – though the other side of the house is wider. If you're being pedantic, you'll have to make do with Oude Hoogstraat 22, which is two metres wide and five metres deep.
Learn Dutch for bargain footie tickets
AFC Ajax is one of the Netherlands' most successful football teams – and has a storied European history too. With one of their best-loved players, Dennis Bergkamp, currently in the coaching staff, you're in for a decent game if you make it to a match. (The 2016/2017 season's just about over, but you'll be able to book for matches next season from later in the summer.)
Be prepared to navigate Ajax's website in Dutch and it's possible to get tickets to home games in the Eredivisie (the country's top league) for as little as 12.50. If Ajax qualify for either competition, Europa League tickets cost a little more, while Champions League tickets go for significantly more if they're playing a big-name team.
DON'T book via Ajax's English website (visitajax.com) though – if you do, you can end up paying more for exactly the same tickets.
Fear not if you spreek geen Nederlands (speak no Dutch). The names of the type of match are in English, and it's pretty easy to work out what means what. If you're struggling, Google Translate is your friend.
There are a limited number of the cheapest tickets so if you know when you'll be in Amsterdam and want to catch a match it's best to book in advance.
Use one travel card on trams, metro, buses and trains (public ferries are free)
All travel within Amsterdam requires what's known as an 'OV-chipkaart' – essentially a card that you tap in and out with, much like a London Oyster card. There are different types you can get. (Children up to the age of four travel for free.)
Disposable time-based cards. These provide unlimited travel within the time permitted. One hour is 2.90, 24 hours 7.50, 48 hours 12.50, while seven days is 34. See a full list of prices. These are not valid on trains outside Amsterdam (such as to/from the airport). They can be bought on board trams and buses and at most stations.
Reloadable 'e-purse' cards. These are topped up like an Oyster card and charged on the basis of distance travelled, and can be used on trains throughout the Netherlands. The 'anonymous' card costs 7.50 (non-refundable, can't be used as balance) and can be bought at the airport and all train stations. The 'personal' card is only for residents with a Dutch bank account.
Public ferries run by GVB (the public transport operator for Amsterdam) are free for everyone, whether or not you have an OV-chipkaart.
There's also the Amsterdam Travel Ticket, which includes a return journey from or to the airport. A one-day ticket is 16 and two-day 21. If you're travelling to or from the airport and are planning on getting a 24- or 48-hour paper chipkaart anyway, you'll save a small amount (10 cents to be precise) with one of these.
Apartments can undercut hotels – particularly if you're going as a group
Like most popular European cities, it can be a challenge to find a budget-friendly place to stay in Amsterdam.
We found a room in a bright apartment in a trendy part of town for £260 for four nights, compared with £420 for a similar hotel in the same neighbourhood.
If travelling in a group you could save hundreds. A highly reviewed apartment for up to four people in the city centre came to £1,230 for a week, while a nearby three-star hotel was £2,689 for the same period.
It's worth noting city rules say only up to four guests can stay in a private letting. Despite this, we've seen many listings catering for five or more – stick to the rules though to avoid getting caught out.
Anne Frank's house is a must-visit for many – but book ahead to avoid huge queues
Anne Frank was a teenage girl in Amsterdam in World War II. Her diary, documenting her time spent hiding in an annex with her family to avoid capture by the Nazis, was published in 1947 and has since been read by millions of people worldwide.
The house where she lived is now a museum and one of Amsterdam's most-visited sights – but turn up without a ticket and you could have to queue for two to three hours.
To avoid waiting, book ahead. From 9am to 3.30pm each day you can only visit the house if you already have a ticket for a particular time slot. These can be booked online up to two months in advance. Tickets cost 9 for adults, 4.50 for kids aged 10-17 (plus 50 cent booking fee) and it's free for kids under 10 or anyone with a museum card.
Otherwise from 3.30pm till closing time (10pm Apr-Oct; 7pm Nov-Mar) you can just show up and buy a ticket on the door for the same price – but be prepared to wait.
Get on your bike for 8 a day
Famed for being cycle-friendly and easy to get around (it's a flat city), Amsterdam isn't short on places to rent a bike. If you don't mind pushing pedals, it can be a very cost-effective (and pleasant) way to see the city.
Prices vary depending on the bike and the rate tends to go down the longer you're renting for.
Discount Bike Rental is well reviewed on TripAdvisor and prices start at 6 for three hours or 7.50/day for a 'pedal brake bike' (no handlebar brakes – back-pedal to brake). MacBike and Rent-a-Bike are also visitor favourites.
It's worth keeping in mind that some shops also ask for a deposit and ID, so you might need to keep some cash to hand.
There are bicycle lanes on most roads, marked with white lines and a bicycle symbol, so it's hard to miss them – watch out when you're on foot though as the cycle lanes can get pretty hectic. You won't be expected to wear a helmet as locals don't tend to, though you might want to for your own safety.
Forget I Amsterdam's city pass...
I Amsterdam, the official tourist website, offers city cards for 24, 48, 72 or 96 hours, costing from 57 to 87. The pass includes public transport, access to several attractions (eg, the Van Gogh Museum) and discounts on others.
But unless you're planning to pack in several of the specific attractions covered, you're probably better off going it alone. The card becomes better value the longer you get it for, but 57 for just 24 hours is pretty steep – and some major sights such as Anne Frank's house aren't covered.
... but DO consider a museum pass
If you're keen to make the most of Amsterdam's museums, the Museumkaart is a good option. This DOES include Anne Frank's house, and all museums in the city. It costs 59.90 for adults and 32.45 for children and teenagers up to 18. Some museums will let you skip the queue if you have one.
You can buy the pass from most of the museums that accept it. The pass you're given lasts for 31 days; it can be registered online to receive a year-long replacement, though annoyingly delivery is only available to Dutch addresses.
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'Nether' go without travel insurance
If you've already booked your trip to Amsterdam but haven't sorted out travel insurance yet, you're taking a risk. Don't wait until just before you set off to get travel insurance. To be covered for cancellation, injury, illness or a death in the family, you need cover from the day you book.
It's these eventualities that cheap travel insurance is there to protect you from. Our best buys include single-trip European cover from £5 a person, or annual from £9.
Don't forget your free EHIC (and if you already have one, make sure it's valid)
The European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), which is free, entitles you to treatment in an EU state-run hospital or GP surgery at the same cost as a local. So if they pay, you pay if it's free for them, it's free for you. (In the Netherlands, some treatments cost and some are free.)
You'll need to present an EHIC card to use it, so leaving it at home renders it useless. And don't forget to check it's in date.
Try a 'free' Friday night skate tour
If walking isn't your thing, why not get your skates on? Friday Night Skate starts and ends in Vondelpark (times vary, usually 6pm-7pm) – the route changes each week, and it usually covers between 9 and 15 miles.
If by any chance you're a keen skater and always take your own skates on holiday, it's totally free. For everyone else you can rent skates from 5 (plus a deposit) from inside the park.
Grab bargain flights to Amsterdam
Flights to the Dutch capital can be 'Dam cheap, if you know when and where to look. Yet don't just check one airline's prices – comparing is key. Comparison sites Kayak* and Skyscanner* are a good place to start – see our Cheap Flights guide for a full list, plus more tricks to cut flight prices.
Easyjet flies to Amsterdam from several UK airports, including Belfast, Bristol, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Liverpool, all London airports (including Southend) and Manchester. It releases seats five times a year and it's usually best to book as soon as you spot a good deal – see 18 Easyjet Tricks for more.
Ryanair doesn't fly there from the UK (only to Eindhoven in the south of the Netherlands), but other budget airlines which do include Flybe and Vueling, alongside biggies British Airways and KLM.
Get to or from the airport for as little as 5.20 (or 3 with an OV-chipkaart)
Schiphol Airport is around 12 miles from the city centre, and there are a couple of ways to get you into the heart of Amsterdam. Instead of the 40ish a taxi will set you back, there's an airport train and bus station with regular services into town.
- The train is the quickest option, taking from 14 minutes. It's 4.20 for a one-way ticket (no cheaper with a return), though if you buy this at the station there's a 1 paper ticket charge (so 5.20 total – plus 0.50 if you pay by Visa/Mastercard), and annoyingly the Dutch rail site doesn't accept foreign cards. If you buy and top up an e-purse OV-chipkaart you can avoid these fees.
- The Amsterdam Airport Express bus takes a little longer at 25 minutes and costs 5 each way (4.75 single/9 return if you buy online). One benefit over the train is that it can drop you at Museumplein, Rijksmuseum or Leidseplein. It is possible to take slower bus routes and pay about 3 with the OV-chipkaart – check journeys on 9292.
- The Schiphol Hotel Shuttle will take you directly to one of many hotels, but it'll set you back a steep 17 each way (27 return).
Trains and buses also run through the night, albeit less frequently.
Get max euros to the pound whether you pay by plastic or cash
One of the best ways to spend abroad is to use a specialist travel credit card that gives you near-perfect exchange rates every time.
Our current top pick is the Halifax Clarity* Mastercard with near-perfect exchange rates and cheap ATM withdrawals. Plus there's £20 cashback on offer if you apply by 3 Sep 2017 and make your first purchase abroad by 30 Sept 2017. Check if you can get it first with our clever eligibility calculator, which doesn't affect your creditworthiness and shows your acceptance odds before applying.
As an alternative, the Creation Everyday Mastercard equals Halifax on cheap spending, and on paper is a smidgeon cheaper on ATM withdrawals (but doesn't offer cashback). Unfortunately it's not currently in our eligibility calculator.
Always pay both cards off IN FULL each month, or you'll pay 18.9% or 12.9% rep APR respectively on spending. It's best to prioritise spending where possible, as these cards charge the rep APR on ATM withdrawals from the date they're made until they're paid off - even if you repay in full monthly. See our Travel Credit Cards guide for full info and other best buys.
Paying on a credit card means you'll also get the super Section 75 protection on anything over £100 (about 117). This important law means your credit provider must take the same responsibility as a retailer if anything goes wrong.
Alternatively, if you want to take cash, use our TravelMoneyMax tool to ensure you get the very best rate.
Stay connected with free Wi-Fi – or use your mobile with NO extra roaming costs
If you want your Facebook fix or to share your holiday snaps online, an app from the free Wi-Fi sharing community Instabridge will find any available hotspots and connect you automatically.
For data on the move, new rules which come in on 15 June mean that the extra mobile roaming fees you pay to use your phone in Europe will mostly (though not entirely – some could still face data fees) disappear.
Until then though, you'll continue to pay extra – data is capped at about 17p/MB, outgoing calls at 18p/min, incoming calls at 5p/min and texts at roughly 6p each.
If you're travelling before 15 June, it's worth noting the Netherlands is included in Three's Feel at Home promotion, which lets you use your normal UK allowance of minutes, texts and data abroad for free. Even if you're not with Three, you can bag a free pay-as-you-go Sim to use for your hols. See our Cheap Mobile and Data Roaming guide for full help.
Got the munchies? Try street food or vending machine 'fast food' from 1.20
If you're looking for a cheap way to fill up, Amsterdam is brimming with street food vendors serving everything from chips with mayonnaise to falafel and pickled herring (for the more adventurous).
For a 24-hour fast-food fix, Febo is a chain of 'restaurants' serving food out of vending machines. Expect to find burgers and fries or opt for something a little more Dutch such as a 'kroket' (meat croquette) or 'frikadel' (deep-fried sausage) – some items cost as little as 1.20 so fill your boots.
Find your feet with free maps
Find your way around all of Amsterdam's attractions by downloading a map to your phone in advance for offline use. Amsterdam The Map also offers a free trial of its GPS function to get you started and locate the top attractions.
If you prefer good old-fashioned ink and paper, you can pick up a free guide with details of tourist attractions, discount coupons and info on public transport from GVB ticket counters, at Schiphol Airport or ask at your hotel.
For more inspiration, 'smart' city guide weCity is run by locals and will suggest things to do, see and eat off the beaten cycle path. Google Trips is also useful for planning your trip and where to visit.
Stay outside the city to save £100s
The medieval city of Haarlem is just a 15-minute train ride from Amsterdam Central Station and 30 minutes from Schiphol Airport, making it a great alternative to staying in the city centre.
It's difficult to do a scientific comparison, but when we checked availability for a long weekend stay in January 2017 on Booking.com*, 48% of the hotels available in Haarlem cost £84 or less a night, whereas in Amsterdam only 8% of hotels fell into the same price bracket – the majority cost £120+/night.
For how to save £100s with top hotel comparison sites and more, see our full step-by-step Cheap Hotels guide.
Don't bottle it, book ahead for the Heineken Experience
Open 365 days a year, Amsterdam's Heineken Experience is one of the city's most popular attractions.
Tickets on the door cost 18, and expect to queue for a while (especially if it's a weekend). Buy your tickets online though and you'll save a couple of euros and guarantee entry at a specific time with a minimal wait. Tickets are 12.50 for children (free if under 12).
The tour is self-guided and you'll get two beers or soft drinks included with your visit (soft drinks only for kids), plus the opportunity to learn about the history and brewing process of the Netherlands' most famous beer.
Service IS included in the price when eating out
By law listed restaurant prices have to include any service charge, so anything more is always optional.
But if you think the service was worth it and want to leave a little more, those that do tip tend to leave 10% in restaurants, or round up to the nearest euro in a cafe or bar.
It's also pretty uncommon to tip in hotels and taxis but you might want to consider a euro or two for a porter and taxi drivers.
Planning a last weekend of freedom? Don't get stung by pricey stag and hen-do packages
Amsterdam is one of the top destinations for stags and hens looking for a final hurrah, but beware tour companies do their very best to make some serious cash out of this.
There are plenty of companies offering stag and hen packages that combine accommodation and activities such as paintballing, beer bike tours and burlesque dance lessons. But if you're willing to plan it yourself, you can slash the cost.
Having looked at a few typical stag and hen-do packages, we reckon it's possible to HALVE the price if you take the DIY route.
Some packages we saw were charging £225 a head for a couple of nights in a hostel, a go-karting experience and entrance to a nightclub and casino. If you arranged all these yourself it could cost as little as £110 each.
With a group of 10 that's a massive saving of £1,150 for the weekend (just don't blow all the savings at once...).
Embrace the outdoors and camp in the city for 10/night
If you're visiting in spring/summer and really want to slash accommodation costs to the bone, one option is to, er, take your tent. The Gaasper campsite is open from March-November, and just 15 minutes on the metro from Amsterdam's city centre.
Tent pitches start at 10 for one person and 15.75 for two. It's located in a big park, and it boasts on-site shower blocks, free Wi-Fi and a children's playground. And if a night under canvas isn't for you, there's also space for caravans and camper vans. See a full price list.
Eat a three-course meal for just 5 (in an ex-squat)
While squatting is no longer legal in Amsterdam, over the past few years several restaurants have popped up in former squats and they are legal. They tend to serve up a couple of vegan or vegetarian dishes a day and you can usually call ahead to see what's on offer and book a space.
Expect to pay between 3 and 7 for dinner, and if you're lucky you might also be able to catch some live music or an art exhibition too.
Here are a couple in the city centre you could try:
Always pay in euros if you've the option
When paying in hotels, shops and restaurants, they may ask if you want to pay in pounds or euros.
In general, always opt for euros. If you select pounds, the overseas store/bank does the conversion, and rates tend to be awful.
See more info and a full explanation in Martin's 'Pay in euros' blog.
Download a free app to translate Dutch menus (and signs etc) instantly
You can translate text in 29 languages this way, or translate to/from a total of 103 languages by typing to input text within the app.
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And finally... drugs are technically illegal, but some such as cannabis are 'tolerated'
Now, we're definitely not suggesting you partake, but we've had people ask about this so we wanted to cover it, since Amsterdam's 'coffee shops' are famous for much more than their mocha.
Regardless of their legality, drugs can be damaging to your health – for a full rundown of the risks of cannabis use, see NHS.uk. But if you're going to Amsterdam and are determined to visit a coffee shop anyway, it's important you know where you stand. Drug laws in the Netherlands aren't black and white and can be a little confusing.
The Dutch have an official policy of 'toleration' when it comes to 'soft' drugs. Production, sale and possession are technically criminal offences, but the authorities won't prosecute for small amounts under certain conditions.
Under the toleration policy, over-18s in Amsterdam (including tourists) are permitted to buy up to five grams of cannabis a day from coffee shops. You're NOT allowed to buy it in the street. You can consume it in a coffee shop or in a public place, as long as it's not at a children's playground or a secondary school (though it can be frowned upon anywhere outside a coffee shop).
Some other 'soft' drugs are also tolerated – see the I Amsterdam website for full info on what is and isn't. And remember, these rules apply only while you're in the Netherlands – bringing any classified drugs back home or across any borders is against the law, so DON'T do it.