Amsterdam is a beautiful city to visit all year round but anyone would agree that it is one of the most expensive cities in Europe. Visiting Amsterdam during the winter months may mean finding better deals and offers. Moreover, there are many things you can do for free in the city during the winter.
- Free Walking Tours
- Light Festival
- Canal Belt
- Centrale Bibliotheek
- Red Light District
- Free Jazz Session
- Nine Streets
- Play XL Chess
- Chinatown Buddhist Temple
- NEMO Terrace
Even though most activities you plan to do in Amsterdam are very expensive, there are some other activities that anyone can do for free! Therefore, if you are planning on visiting Amsterdam during the winter and you are worried because most free activities are outdoor and you won’t be able to do much, don’t worry, there are many activities both indoors and outdoors that you will enjoy doing very much. I have personally done most of them and they are definitely worth your time and much worth a photo. If you want to know more about them, keep reading.
Free Things to Do: Amsterdam
Amsterdam is one of the most amazing cities: the more time you spend there, the more things you discover. There are activities for all tastes, ages, and interests. As a student in Amsterdam, I have not only enjoyed many paid activities but also have found many activities that I could enjoy doing with my friends that were for free.
Most of these activities are available every week and during the whole winter. Something I really really like about Dutch people is that they don’t mind the weather: if it is sunny and hot outside, everybody is out and enjoying the amazing weather, whereas if it is cold and rainy and miserable, everybody is out and enjoying the weather.
Here you will find some of my favourite free activities to do during the winter in Amsterdam, both outdoors and indoors:
The whole Netherlands is a very green country so even in the busy and crowded Amsterdam you will find many amazing and big parks to enjoy for free all year round.
Vondelpark is definitely the most famous Dutch park. It is an English-inspired park created at the end of the 19th Century, an icon of the Netherlands, located between Leidseplein and Museumplein, in the heart of Amsterdam. We are talking about a huge park where everybody is doing several activities: you can find food stands, cafes and restaurants, artificial lakes, sports activities, trees, thousand bicycles, bridges and music.
Even when it is raining, you are going to find hundreds of people walking and enjoy the park. When you are indoors all day long and haven’t been outside, a walk in the park is the best medicine for any illness, headache or bad mood, and Dutch people seem to know this very well. I personally love this park and strongly recommend it.
Other nice parks to visit in Amsterdam are Rembrandtpark, very similar to Vondelpark but in a smaller version and Westernpark, a more active and with more bars and stores than the other two. The best part, they are for free!
Parks are also great for cycling in and having a good time checking the green parts of the city if your budget allows you renting a bike.
Not so long ago I wrote an article about the Free Museums you can visit in Amsterdam, basically, these are the free museum activities you will be able to find in Amsterdam during winter:
- Rijksmuseum Gardens: Even though the Rijksmuseum is a paid museum, the gardens surrounding the building are free for anyone to visit. They are open from 9:00 to 18:00. This is a great place to sit and enjoy a sunny winter day, to get some coffee and to check out the very carefully designed gardens and the sculpture and exhibitions temporarily exhibited.
- Nieuwe Spiegelstraat: this is not a museum but an art gallery street. We are talking about one of my favourite parts of the city, the street that continues from the entrance of the Rijksmuseum into the heart of Amsterdam, where many galleries expose amazing modern and vintage art. You will be able to visit these galleries for free, no matter if you would like to purchase some art (if you can afford such expensive pieces!) or just walk around, takes some photos and enjoy it anyway, like I like doing.
- Multatuli Museum: the Multatuli Museum is the house of the famous Dutch satiric writer Multatuli, creator of “Max Havelaar”. The museum is located in a small house, a typical Dutch canal house made in the 17th Century. Therefore, two good reasons to visit: the little museum and the architecture.
- Cultural Park: in the famous Westergasfabriek (located inside Westernpark) the old gas factory has become an exhibition local where sometimes there are art exhibitions. Check out their website to know what is going on when you are planning your visit.
- Eye Film Museum: inside the Eye Film Museum there is a free exhibition for anyone to visit and get to know a little more about the history of film making. In general, it is worth visiting for taking the free ferry from Central Station and for enjoying the amazing building where this exhibition is located.
- Schuttersgalerij: it is a free exhibition of portraits of famous people of the city of Amsterdam throughout History. In a nutshell, it is the free version of the Hermitage portraits gallery, a Dutch Golden Ages collection to commemorate those who lived and created the city.
- Diamond Tour: Gassan Factory is a diamond factory that offers free tours of their ateliers, where they do jewellery and watched, in order to inform people of what they are doing.
- ARCAM: the ARCAM is the Architecture Centre Amsterdam, the centre for architecture, urban design and landscape architecture. For those into architecture, it is one of the best free plans.
Another one of my favourite activities to do in Amsterdam, no matter the weather and the time of the year, is visiting markets, either to grab something to eat or drink or for the sake of walking around. Some of the most famous ones are:
- Waterlooplein Flea Market
- Flower Market
- Boeren Market (Farmer’s Market)
- Albert Cuyp Market
- Boeken Markt (Used books)
The Light Festival
The Light Festival is definitely one of my favorite free activities to do in Amsterdam during the winter. Normally, it starts on the 28th of November and it is installed until the 19th of January. This date changes every year.
The Light Festival is an exhibition of art pieces made of lights and installed in the middle of the canals in the centre of Amsterdam. Besides having the option of visiting the canal ring, you can also follow up all the amazing light installations designed by international and national artists.
This year’s 2019-2020’s Light Festival was based on the concept DISRUPT, you can follow this route by the time the sun sets, either by foot or booking a cruise. In total, it is 6km, where you will be walking and visiting the whole city checking the installations in the middle of the water.
The best part: it is completely free and available every day of the week!
Concertgebouw – Free Lunch Concert
I am going to keep saying they are my favourite activities, but trust me, this one is definitely a good one.
The Concertgebouw is a building in Museumplein where a lot of important classical music concerts take place. Important philharmonics and orchestras play in both halls but a couple of times a month, during Wednesdays, there are free lunch concerts.
You can check out the Concertgebouw for updated information, but all year round there are selected days where certain Philharmonics and orchestras, either famous or student bands go play in front of an audience for free.
Normally this concert happens at lunchtime 12:30 pm. I would recommend that if you are interested, to start queueing at11:30 at least, or even earlier if you can. It is a very popular and amazing experience and there are a counted number of tickets, depending on if they are playing on the bigger or the smaller hall. When they run out of tickets, that is it.
I have attended to at least 5 of them, whenever my schedule allowed me to do it. It is a magical experience, it is not only nice to enjoy the concert but also the building and the whole experience.
The main library in the centre of Amsterdam, by the Centraal Station, it is not only a nice building but a nice place to take a break from the busy Amsterdam, either if you have some time to kill, the weather is horrible or if you are just curious.
Basically, it is an amazing building, modern, cosy and free entrance. You can choose your favourite spot, enjoy the view and read for free, at least you can take as many books as you want while you are visiting. You are not allowed to take the books home but sometimes I have had time to kill and I have gone to enjoy a couple of calm hours in the Centrale Bibliotheek, reading and doing some homework.
Red Light District
Another free activity you can do while in Amsterdam is a MUST for most people who travel here. Visiting the Red Light District is a free activity and a recommended one for the whole experience. Unless you require the services of the ladies on the red windows, it is completely free to walk around, see the atmosphere, enjoy the whole new experience of discovering a new underground world illuminated with red lights.
If you want to know more about it, you can check out this article. What I can say is that it is not dangerous, it is not that disturbing and it is more of an experience than some sort of forbidden place.
Free Jazz Session
BIMHUIS is one of the places that offer the best space for improvisation and growing artists in Amsterdam. They have a very full agenda with plenty of activities, concerts of all types, but mostly Jazz.
On BIMHUIS website you can check their Free concerts, mostly jazz concerts that take place on Tuesday night. There are many initiatives like this one where musicians just come together to play and enjoy the music and the drinks for free. Check out Amsterdam Jam Session for more ideas of places to go and enjoy jazz for free in the city. As they suggest in the website, call or ask before going because as anything improvised, it may be up or have changed location or date on the spot.
Not so long ago I wrote a long article about all the different architectural styles you can find in Amsterdam. Even if you don’t really know much about art history or architecture, you will be able to enjoy beautiful buildings and amazing constructions, for free.
In Amsterdam, you will be able to find the architectural style of the Dutch Golden Ages, those typically famous blockhouses, as well as a unique and peculiar Dutch Baroque that developed between the 16th and 17th centuries, Art Deco, the Amsterdam School of Architecture and Modern Architecture.
From the outside, you will be able to enjoy the whole city by just walking, reading and observing all the beautiful buildings. It is a great activity to do on your way to a market, a park or so on. You will find amazing churches, museum building, private houses, hotels, boutiques and more.
Even though we are talking about free activities to do in the Netherlands, I can’t help but mentioning the Nine Streets, one of my favourite spots in Amsterdam.
These streets are located in the Jordaan, the neighbourhood by Dam Square, and they are the best place to shop for unique pieces, alternative designers, grab the best coffee and spend a lot of money. However, the Nine Streets (or Negen Straatjes) is also a great place to just walk and take photos. Especially during the winter, it is one of my favourite spots: the amazing fairy light decorations with the old brick buildings is definitely worth your time and that part is for free.
Play XL Chess
This is definitely an icon for anyone who has already been in Amsterdam. Close to Leidseplein, at the Max Euwe Plein, next to the Casino and one of my favourite pubs in the city, there is a gigantic chessboard with the pieces, free to be played.
If you are waking pass there, it will be almost impossible not to stop and take a look at this very peculiar decoration in the middle of the park. Normally, there are people playing a round of chess, which always invites others to take a look and observe the skills of the players. However, if you are passing by and see that there is none, I would encourage you to give it a try: how many times in your life will you be able to play XL chess?
Chinatown Buddhist Temple
In the middle of Amsterdam, close to the Red Light District, there is Chinatown. You won’t only be able to find some of the best Chinese restaurants but also a Buddhist Temple in the middle of the city. As far as my experience goes, it is of free entrance and you can check on their website when they are open and what it is going on every day of the week (in Chinese and English). It is definitely something curious and worth checking out if you are in the neighbourhood.
Even though the NEMO Science Museum for Children is not free, the amazing terrace on top of the peculiar building is free for anyone to go. It is especially nice when it is sunny, even when it is winter because you have amazing views and can take photos of the city and the whole Central Station are. On their roof terrace, there is a cafe and restaurant where you can enjoy some hot drinks while you are also enjoying the most wonderful view.
I didn’t want to forget mentioning that some big and famous museums such as the Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh Museum are free for children and 7 years old and some others like the Stedelijk Museum are free for anyone under 18 years old.
If you are travelling with children it is worth checking out what museums are free for them and choosing those to visit instead of the ones you have to pay. It will make a big difference! Besides, if you are a student, you are very likely to have discounts in most museums, something also worth checking out.