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1 August 2021
Amsterdam On A Budget
If you're planning a trip to Amsterdam, we've 26 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.
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.
Eurostar launched a direct train from London to Amsterdam in 2018. But passengers making a return trip still had to change at Brussels on their way back, and go through passport control and security there.
A new service launched on 26 October 2020 however (delayed from April 2020 due to the pandemic), which allows passengers to travel directly between London and Amsterdam by Eurostar in BOTH directions.
Tickets start at a headline-grabbing £35 each way – so £70 return. And while booking ahead will likely give you the best choice of cheap tickets, it seems there is reasonable availability for £35 fares. When we did a spot check across a few dates over a six-month period, we found £35 tickets six out of 10 times.
Whether you're booking to travel direct or not, the following tips can help keep prices down:
Amsterdam's only a couple of hundred miles from the south east of England, and while many travellers automatically opt for a budget flight or the Eurostar, there are a whole host of ways to get there. So when you're booking a trip, making sure you consider all the options – factoring in the cost as well as convenience.
When we checked in February 2020, these were the cheapest returns we could find in the next few months:
It's worth noting that these prices can rise significantly during peak times, or when booking last minute. For example, flights rose to over £100 when we looked at booking a week ahead. And we found the same ferry journey in the summer for as much as £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.
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 February 2020 at the price of booking a three-day mini-break in mid-August, we found that a couple could save £194 on travel and accommodation alone.
Return Easyjet flights from London started at £53 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 £69 per person.
Booking a double room in a three-star hotel in central Amsterdam would cost £442 during the same Monday-Thursday period – from Thursday to Sunday it's £604.
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 perhaps the best way to see any city, and you don't even need a tour guide. You can use a free app such as Google Maps (available for iPhone and Android) to pick where you want to wander, or search online for self-guided walks, eg, from Lonely Planet.
Even better, Amsterdam offers a whole host of 'free' walking tours to help you find your feet, though since January 2020 they're not technically free – an 'entertainment tax' applies, meaning even free tours have to charge a €1.50 fee. If you're still keen, Freedam Tours, Free Walking Tours and 360 Amsterdam Tours all operate tip-based excursions – you don't have to tip, though most 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. Although the most famous sign (behind the Rijksmuseum on Museumplein) has been removed by the city council, you can still find these signs dotted around the city, including by Sloterplas lake and at Schipol airport, so if you're flying you can take a snap when you arrive/leave the city.
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.
AFC Ajax is the Netherlands' most successful football team – and has a storied European history too. So unsurprisingly, many visitors to Amsterdam are interested in match tickets.
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. (Tickets to European games, such as Europa League ties, cost more.)
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, try Google Translate.
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.
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 €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 aimed at those staying in Amsterdam for a longer period.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I Amsterdam, the official tourist website, offers city cards for 24, 48, 72, 96 or 120 hours, costing from €65 to €125. 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 €65 for just 24 hours is pretty steep – and some major sights such as Anne Frank's house aren't covered.
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.
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.
A Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC) and European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) give you treatment at state-run EU hospitals and GPs 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.
If you already have an EHIC, it will continue to cover you for the entire time it's valid, so you MUST check it's still in-date as they expire after five years.
If you need to renew, or apply for the first time, you'll receive a GHIC instead – but it does the same thing. For full help, including how to get one for FREE (never pay), see our Free GHIC or EHIC guide.
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.
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.
Trains and buses also run through the night, albeit less frequently.
Our current top pick is the Barclaycard Rewards card, which has near-perfect rates, no fees on spending or withdrawing cash abroad and no interest on either as long as you pay it off IN FULL every month. Plus, you get 0.25% cashback on spending worldwide.
As an alternative, the Halifax Clarity card also has no fees on overseas spending and withdrawals but withdrawals incur interest even if you pay off the card in full – so it's better to spend than withdraw.
Mobile firms were banned from charging extra fees to use your UK allowance of minutes, texts and data (subject to a fair use cap) in Europe while the UK was still part of the EU. But now the post-Brexit transition is over, these rules now no longer apply.
When we spoke to 10 of the biggest providers in June, all told us they had no plans to reintroduce charges, but EE has now broken ranks and become the first to reveal it will charge. It will introduce a £2/day fee for mobile roaming in Europe from January. See our MSE News story EE to bring back mobile roaming charges in Europe for full details.
Separately, O2 and Three have announced changes to their 'fair use' policies which cap the amount of your UK data allowance you can use for free while roaming in Europe. However, this is very different to EE reintroducing roaming charges - mobile firms were allowed to set fair usage caps even when the EU ban on mobile roaming charges applied.
Even with 'free' roaming, you need to keep an eye on your allowance. If you're 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.
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.
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.
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 September 2020 on Booking.com, 23% of the hotels available in Haarlem cost £126 or less a night, whereas in Amsterdam only 6% 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.
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.
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.
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...).
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.
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:
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.
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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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