Amsterdam On A Budget

Cheap footie tickets, bargain bikes, free ferries & more

Amsterdam On A Budget

If you're planning a trip to Amsterdam, we've 27 tips for making the most of your time and euros, from cheap airport transfers to free opera tickets and how to avoid the queues at Anne Frank's house.

27 cheap Amsterdam tips, including...

Let us know YOUR tips. Please add your feedback to the Cheap Amsterdam forum thread. Also see our MoneySaving guides to LondonNew YorkParisRomeBarcelona and the Costa del Sol.

  1. Check Eurostar for fares from £35 one-way

    Taking the train isn't always the cheapest way to get to the Netherlands, but if you want to avoid queuing at the airport, and get there in less than half the time the bus takes, the Eurostar is a decent option.

    You can now travel direct on the Eurostar from London to Amsterdam (previously you had to change in Brussels). There are three direct trains a day, with a reduced journey time of 3 hours 55 minutes. If you want to travel at another time of day, you can still choose to change in Brussels, which take at least 4 hours 30 minutes.

    Can you REALLY find £35 tickets?

    Tickets start at a headline-grabbing £35 one-way. While booking ahead will likely give you the best choice of cheap tickets, it seems there is reasonable availability for the £35 fares. When we did a spot check in April 2019 across a few dates over the next six months, we found £35 tickets six out of 10 times.

    • While the journey from London is now direct, passengers still have to change at Brussels on the way back – you can book this as part of your Eurostar ticket.

      This is because the Dutch government hasn't yet set up passport control at Amsterdam station, so on your return you'll have to go through passport control in Brussels. Eurostar says direct returns will likely be available by the end of 2019. See The Man in Seat 61 for more info.

    • Whether you're booking to travel direct or not, the following tips can help keep prices down:

      • Book ahead to bag cheap seats. As a general rule, booking early wins, unless you know a sale's coming. You can currently book a direct Eurostar up to 180 days ahead. A non-direct ticket can be booked up to 120 days ahead. Fares usually start from £43 each way for a combined ticket, or £35 direct, as above.

      • Check three different sites – prices can vary. As well as Eurostar's website, 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 or under go free, as long as they sit on your lap. With flights, kids aged two or 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.
  2. Compare trains, planes, buses and more

    Amsterdam's only a couple of hundred miles from the south east of England, and while many travellers automatically opt for a budget flight, there are a whole host of ways to get there. So consider all the options, including Eurostarcoaches and even a mammoth 16-hour ferry from Newcastle.

    How much do they cost?

    The cheapest returns we found for each option varied from £35 for a flight from London, to £110 per person for a direct ferry from Newcastle (based on two people sharing a cabin).

    However, these prices can rise significantly during peak times, or when booking at the last minute. Eg, flights rose to £140 when we looked at booking a week ahead. And we found the same ferry journey in the summer for as much £250 per person on the ferry.

    When deciding the best route, it's crucial you factor in the extra cost, time and hassle involved in getting to the start point in the UK – for example, if you live in central London, Eurostar may win, while those in Essex may prefer the 'rail and sail' option from Harwich. Allow for check-in times too – typically two hours if flying, or 30-45 minutes on the Eurostar.

    • 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.

  3. Book midweek for the best deals

    Amsterdam is a stag and hen-do hotspot, which means weekends are at a premium. Yet you can slash the cost of getting there and staying there by visiting during the week.

    When we looked in July 2019 at the price of booking a three-day mini-break in mid-September, we found that a couple could save £144 before they even arrived just by avoiding the weekend.

    Return Easyjet flights from London started at £54 per person for a Monday-Thursday trip. But a Thursday-Sunday trip on the same airline, route and week would set you back at least £91 per person.

    Booking a double room in a three-star hotel in central Amsterdam would cost £261 during the same Monday-Thursday period – stay in the same hotel from Thursday to Sunday and the price shoots up to £331.

  4. Not in a rush to get to Amsterdam? Take the coach from as little as £42 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 often by bus (though it depends on the availability of bargain flights for your dates).

    Megabus and National Express promise dirt-cheap prices – although take their advertised lowest fares with a pinch of salt, as the cheapest tickets can be tricky to find.

    • Megabus (now operated by FlixBus for journeys to or from Europe) advertises fares starting at £21 each way with no booking fee. Tickets are available from six weeks in advance.

    • National Express runs several trips a day from London to Amsterdam for as little as £21 one-way (plus a £1 booking fee for web transactions). Tickets are released six weeks in advance.
  5. 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...

    1. 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. Freedam ToursFree Walking Tours and 360 Amsterdam Tours 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.

    2. 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.

    3. 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. Almost every Tuesday between September and May, the National Opera and Ballet opens its doors for free lunchtime concerts.

    4. 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.

    5. 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.

    6. Find out more about Amsterdam's famous cannabis culture. Get a potted history of the city's drug of choice at the Cannabis College.

    7. 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.

    8. 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 June and September. Between September and June the Concertgebouw on Museumplein holds free lunch concerts, usually on Wednesdays (reserve a spot on the day; you can't do it online).

    9. 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.

    10. 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.

  6. Learn Dutch for bargain footie tickets

    AFC Ajax is one of the Netherlands' most successful football teams – and has a storied European history too.

    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 €14. 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.

    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.

  7. 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, and are probably the cheapest option if you're only visiting for a couple of days. One hour is €3.20, 24 hours €8, 48 hours €13.50, while seven days is €36.50. 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 €8 (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 €17, two-day is €22.50 and three-day is €28. If you're travelling to and from the airport and are planning on getting a 24 or 48-hour paper chipkaart anyway, you'll save a small amount with one of these.

  8. 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 an apartment in one part of town for £307 for four nights, compared with £546 for a hotel in the same neighbourhood.

    If travelling in a group, you could save hundreds. One apartment for four people came to £1,198 for a week, while a nearby three-star hotel was £1,670 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 to avoid getting caught out.

    The best sites to check for city breaks are AirbnbTripAdvisor* and HomeAway*. See our Cheap Holiday Rentals guide for full tips and advice.

  9. Anne Frank's house is a must-visit for many – but book ahead to avoid huge queues

    Anne Frank's 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 – so you may need to plan ahead if you want a ticket.

    They need to be booked online in advance – you can't buy them on the door. The museum's website says it releases 80% of tickets two months ahead, and the rest are released at 9am (Amsterdam time) each day.

    It's €10 for adults, €5 for kids aged 10-17 (plus a €0.50 booking fee). Kids under 10, or anyone with a museum card, go free, but still have to pay the booking fee.

  10. 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.

  11. Forget I Amsterdam's city pass...

    I Amsterdam, the official tourist website, offers city cards for 24, 48, 72, 96 or 120 hours, costing from €60 to €115. 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 €60 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 €64.90 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.

  12. '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 £6 a person, or annual from £9.

  13. 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.

    The NHS has a useful guide to using your EHIC in the Netherlands. Also see our EHIC guide.

  14. 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 €7.50 (plus a deposit) from inside the park.

  15. Get to or from the airport for as little as €5.30 (or €4 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 €4.50 for a one-way ticket (no cheaper with a return), though if you buy this at the station there's an additional €1 paper ticket charge, 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 €6.50 each way (or €11.25 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 €4 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 €18.50 each way (€29.50 return), although per person prices will be lower the bigger your group is.

    Trains and buses also run through the night, albeit less frequently.

  16. Get max euros to the pound whether you pay by plastic or cash

    Our current top pick is the Halifax Clarity* Mastercard, which has near-perfect rates and no fees on spending or withdrawing cash abroad (though you'll pay interest on doing so). Plus, if you apply by 29 August, you'll get £20 cashback if you make a purchase on the card within 90 days.

    As an alternative, the Tandem credit card has no fees for overseas spending or withdrawals (though you'll pay interest on withdrawals). As an added bonus, you earn 0.5% cashback when you spend at least £1 on the card abroad (and in the UK). 

    Always pay both cards off IN FULL each month, or you'll pay 19.9% rep APR on Halifax Clarity or 18.9% rep APR on Tandem.

    For other options including prepaid travel cards, see Cheap Travel Money and Travel Credit Cards.

  17. Mobile roaming's 'free' in Amsterdam – though if you're a heavy data user, beware

    The new European Union rules, which came into effect in 2017, have slashed the cost of using your mobile in most parts of Europe, including Amsterdam. So you won't be charged any extra fees to use your UK allowance of minutes, texts and (most) data.

    While this is generally good news for mobile users, there are a few things to watch out for, particularly if you're a heavy data user – some with unlimited or cheaper packages will still face extra charges for using their full UK data allowance. See our 10 things you need to know about 'free' mobile roaming in the EU for full details.

    If you are likely to hammer your data allowance – for instance if you'll be streaming or uploading lots of holiday snaps – try to use Wi-Fi instead. An app from the free Wi-Fi sharing community Instabridge can help you find any available hotspots and connect you automatically.

  18. Got the munchies? Try street food or vending machine 'fast food' from €1.80

    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 €1.80 so fill your boots.

  19. 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 can also help you 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 app WeCity (available for iPhone) is run by locals and will suggest things to do, see and eat off the beaten cycle path.

  20. 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 November 2019 on Booking.com, 37% of the hotels available in Haarlem cost £130 or less a night, whereas in Amsterdam only 18% of hotels fell into the same price bracket – the majority cost £170+/night.

    For how to save £100s with top hotel comparison sites and more, see our full step-by-step Cheap Hotels guide.

  21. 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 €21, and expect to queue for a while (especially if it's a weekend). Buy your tickets online though and you'll save a few euros and guarantee entry at a specific time with a minimal wait. Online tickets are €18 (€14.50 for children, or free for under-12s).

    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.

  22. 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.

  23. 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 £180 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 £85 each.

    With a group of 10 that's a massive saving of £950 for the weekend (just don't blow all the savings at once...).

  24. Embrace the outdoors and camp in the city for €10/night

    If you're visiting in spring/summer (or feeling brave) and really want to slash accommodation costs to the bone, one option is to, er, take your tent. The Gaasper campsite is open year-round, and just 15 minutes on the metro from Amsterdam's city centre.

    During the off-season, tent pitches start at €10.75 for one person and €17.50 for two (in high season, it'll be €13.25 or €21.25 for two). It's located in a big park, and it boasts shower blocks, free Wi-Fi and an onsite restaurant. And if a night under canvas isn't for you, there's also space for caravans and camper vans. See a full price list.

  25. 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 €5 and €10 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:

    • De Peper is one of the most popular and also hosts art shows and gigs. It's just a short tram ride from Amsterdam Central Station to Overtoom/Jan Pieter Heijestraat.

    • MKZ near the Vondelpark is a restaurant entirely staffed by volunteers and offers a three-course meal for just €5.
  26. 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.

  27. Download a free app to translate Dutch menus (and signs etc) instantly

    The Google Translate app is free for Android and iOS. View text via your phone's camera and it magically auto-translates Dutch within the image – so on your phone, it's in English.

    You can translate text in 38 languages this way, or translate to/from a total of 103 languages by typing to input text within the app.

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 Netherlands government website for full info. 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.

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