Amsterdam on a Budget

January 1, 1970

by Jess Stubbing

A How-To Guide for surviving in expensive cities

Amsterdam is one of the most beautiful cities on Earth and a popular tourist destination, but it’s not exactly known for being budget friendly. In between the cost of accommodation, transport, the countless attractions and delicious local cuisine, costs can add up pretty fast. Here’s 5 tips on seeing the sights without breaking the bank.

  1. Beware the Tourist Traps

    Don't expect a cheap meal within a mile of this place!

    Don’t expect a cheap meal within a mile of this place!

    This should be a slogan t-shirt owned by every budget traveller. Tourist traps are the novice budget travellers worst nightmare – you head to one of the spots everyone said you Absolutely-Must-Try and end up spending three times more than your daily food budget on a coffee alone. Amsterdam is an incredibly popular tourist destination and the local businesses know it. If you’re trying to find a cheap food option close to popular tourist spots like the Red Light District or Anne Frank House, you’re not going to have much luck. While it’s definitely worth checking out these spots, even if you’re on a tight budget, head a little further out to find your meals. Avoid food spots around the museums and start/end points for the canal cruises. You’ll see the prices drop the further away from the ‘Tourist Zones’ you get – and you’ll get more authentic, less ‘touristy’ options too. An added bonus is that you get to see more of the city – the parts that aren’t advertised and designed for tourists. It’s a whole other side to the city!

  2. See Amsterdam on foot or by bike

    A canal you wouldn't see by cruise!

    A canal you wouldn’t see by cruise!

    One of the great things about Amsterdam is how compact the city centre is. You could easily spend a day wondering through the side streets, looking out at the canals and gazing up at the beautiful buildings. You’ll see much more of the city if you choose to walk between destinations instead of hoping on a tram or bus – you can explore all the nocks and crannies you come across, and you’ll save money on transport too. Or, choose to zip around on a bike and look like a local while you do it. If you do decide on this option, shop around. Biking around Amsterdam is another one of those Tourist-Must-Does and the businesses can take advantage of that. Check out your options and once again avoid the tourist areas where the prices tend to be more expensive. Look online for cheaper options – there are often deals for multiple days hire.  I’d still recommend getting around on foot as your best option – to make it more practical, try and group your activities by area of the city. Spend one day in the centre, one out near the museums and so on. It’ll stop you spending 30 minutes walking between destinations and wearing yourself out before you get there.

  3. Take advantage of Amsterdam’s free attractions. 

    Tulips in the flower market

    Don’t miss the beautiful tulips in the flower markets

    It may not seem like it but there are a huge number of free attractions available in Amsterdam. Even some of those pesky You-Must-Do-This options are free – like taking a snap with the IAmsterdam sign in the Museumplein or walking through the Red Light District. But if you look a little further there is loads more you can do without opening your wallet – take a walk through the Vondelpark and try to dodge all the cyclists, check out the Bloemenmarkt and attempt to take a snap that does justice to those tulips, wander down the canals and get an even better view than the suckers in the cruise boats. There are even free galleries and museums – if you go to the smaller independent ones. You can also find free concerts on certain days of the week and hop on a free ferry over to Amsterdam Noord – if you’d love to get out on the water but can’t really swing a canal cruise. There’s even free walking tours of the city departing from Dam Square!

  4. Check out the local (street) food

    Treat yourself to some delicious pancakes!

    Treat yourself to some delicious pancakes!

    Treating yourself to some local favourites could work out much cheaper than you think it is. Look for hole in the wall cafes and street food options rather than sitting down in a restaurant for an overpriced meal. Top foods to check out are pancakes, have a look in some of the cute pancake houses you can spot along the canals; cheese, for this one look in the cheese shops – they almost always have free samples out; and stroopwaffles, trust me, the real thing is much better than the caramel knock offs at your local Starbucks. My personal recommendation for a food you must try is anything from FEBO – it’s like a hot food vending machine. You pop some coins in, open a little heated drawer and eat a tasty, hot, usually deep fried treat. These are cheap and tasty – I definitely recommend checking out the traditional croquettes and you can also order some Dutch Frites – like fries, but thicker and even better. Much cheaper than a sit down meal – and every bit as authentic.

  5. Prioritise your experiences

    My top priority in The Netherlands - Cheese!

    My top priority in The Netherlands – Cheese!

    Are you intrigued by Anne Frank’s story, but not such a big fan of Van Gogh? Maybe you love pancakes, but you don’t adore cheese. Don’t spend your money on experiences you could give or take. Save it for those places you really want to see, the ones you’ve had saved on your pinterest board or burning a hole on your wish list. In the moment it can be easy to think you need to spend your money on a canal tour – but would it really make a difference to you whether you saw the waterways on foot or by boat? If you prioritise, your money will go further and you won’t compromise on having a great adventure.

There’s no reason that budget travellers should have to avoid certain parts of the world just because they tend to run on the pricier side. A smart budget traveller can make a trip to any destination work for them – just remember the golden rules of prioritising and avoiding tourist traps.

If you want more tips check out this guide to free attractions or this budget guide to Amsterdam

Happy travels everyone!

Jess Stubbing

By Jess Stubbing

Jess is a student from New Zealand currently studying abroad in the UK. In her time off she loves travelling to as many destinations on her wish list as possible - both in UK and over on the mainland. But the most important thing is that her trips always come in under budget!


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