Free attractions & things to do in Amsterdam
One of Europe's most popular cities for Australian travellers isn't necessarily the continent's most expensive. There are plenty of experiences to be found in Amsterdam that won't cost you a single cent.
Our Amsterdam expert offers a guide to the city's top free attractions, from parks to canal walks and the controversial Red Light District. Here's what he has to say:
A white, aerodynamic zigzag of a building on Amsterdam’s waterfront, the EYE makes an impressive new home for a world-class film collection, covering the history of the movies from the late 1800s.
For decades these treasures were stashed in archives and hard to access, but now you can view snippets from the entire collection – including rare colour silent movies – on interactive screens in the basement. Watch entire films while seated in two-person pods or take in what’s on at one of four cinemas.
Films are shown in their original language; tickets can be purchased only with a credit card (no cash is accepted). The cafe has become one of the coolest spots to hang out in town.
The Grachtengordel (Canal Belt)
Amsterdam is its canals. Taking a walk along them is one of the city’s greatest pleasures. The streets are bicycle-crazy, but relatively car-free. Most of the inner city dates from the 17th to 19th centuries: low rise, with lines of decorative gable tops.
The grand canals of the Grachtengordel (Canal Belt), laid out in the 17th century – the Herengracht, Keizersgracht, and Prinsengracht – are a must, but I prefer a stroll along smaller ones at night, when the gabled houses look like strings of lanterns.
My favourite beauty spots? Brouwersgracht, and the point where Prinsengracht and Reguliersgracht meet.
The Negen Straatjes (Nine Little Streets)
Crisscrossing the main canals, the nine little alleys from Reestraat through to Wijde Heisteeg are Amsterdam’s most charming shopping beat, but also good simply for an atmospheric stroll.
Once the realm of quirky speciality shops, the quarter is moving more towards designer goods and fashion – though some of the specialist shops, such as one selling only toothbrushes, remain.
In between come plenty of cafes for that retail-recovery break. This is ideal gift-buying territory, not only through the range on offer, but because it takes no effort at all to flip back and forth between shops before you decide.
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Inviting side-streets, intimate canals, galleries, quirky shops and neighbourhood cafes lure you this way and that in what was once a working-class area southwest of the Prinsengracht, but is now gentrified.
Jordaaners (born within the sound of the carillon of the Westerkerk bell tower) once had a pride and culture akin to London’s cockneys.
You can still savour something of the old spirit in cafes like Rooie Nelis, or De Twee Zwaantjes, known for its rousing sing-alongs. Saturdays are a good time to visit De Jordaan, when there’s a busy general market on Lindengracht, and a farmers’ and flea market around the Noorderkerk.
Oostelijk Havengebied (Eastern Docklands)
The artificial islands and abandoned docklands east of Central Station are in the midst of a massive makeover, involving some of the most adventurous architecture in the country.
First off was Renzo Piano’s copper-clad, ship-like NEMO building (a science museum). The surreal bridges and precariously angled gables on Java Island, and the style-magazine showpiece homes along Scheepstimmermanstraat on Borneo Island, grab me the most.
The Openbare Bibliotheek (Public Library) is not a place you’d normally think of visiting on a city trip, but take the escalators to the top – the cafe has one of the best views in town.
The Red Light District
Live sex shows, scantily clad women in windows, lap-dancing, and more. Not everyone’s cup of tea. Amsterdam’s 500-year-old Red Light District is beloved of stag (and hen) parties, coachloads of curious tourists, and throngs of night-time revellers.
Personally, I’m disturbed by the isn’t-it-fun take on women in display windows, and unconvinced by the argument that they are better off than on the street.
But this is one of the most historic parts of town, and not all is seediness. Take a stroll from De Waag (a medieval city gate and former weigh-house) and through China Town, along Zeedijk, for a lower-key experience of the Red Light District.
Amsterdam’s ‘green lung’ is a pleasing profusion of forested patches, formal gardens, abundant shrubberies, open lawns, lakes and ponds.
There are playgrounds, an open-air theatre, cafes – and plenty of people. In good weather, the park can get so crowded, it’s like being inside.
But the Vondelpark is central, fun, and a great place for a morning jog, or an afternoon breather. Top spot for tea or a meal is ’t Blauwe Theehuis (The Blue Teahouse), an eye-catching 1930s building in the heart of the park. Check their Facebook page for occasional hip party nights.
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Now you can even get to Amsterdam for less thanks to Student Flights' 2016 Europe Sale. Ends 31 October.
This article was written by Rodney Bolt from The Daily Telegraph and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.
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