I’ve been living in the Netherlands now for almost three years with two years living in Amsterdam. As the Dutch capital, Amsterdam isn’t a cheap city to visit. Keep reading insider tips for visiting Amsterdam on a budget and surviving Amsterdam on a budget by an Amsterdam tourist turned local.
My first trip to the Netherlands, I ran out of money after paying for my hostel. This meant that I spent my three days in Amsterdam eating bread with hagelslag (Dutch sprinkles). While my fellow hostel mates were busy smoking and snacking, I was counting my euros hoping to reach the end of my trip without running out of money. Since moving to Amsterdam, I like to think that I’ve learned some things about surviving in Amsterdam on a budget.
BOOK YOUR ACCOMMODATION AHEAD
If you’ll be visiting Amsterdam in peak season, which is spring and summer, book your accommodations ahead! This tip for visiting the Netherlands on a budget is very basic, however if you wait until the week before, you’ll find nothing available as many of my non-planner friends have discovered. This is also true if there’s a major Dutch holiday (e.g. King’s Day).
Certain neighborhoods (Jordaan and Red Light District) tend to be much pricier than others, however you’ll find more hostels in the Red Light District. Typically, the further you get from the centre, the cheaper it gets.
That said, you’ll need to commute within the city and if you choose to stay in Zeeburg, you’ll have at least a thirty minute ride on public transit each way and you’ll need to ensure that you don’t get back too late as public transit needs to be running. Amsterdam Noord also tends to be cheaper, but you’ll need to take a ferry across.
Where to stay in Amsterdam on a budget: At a hostel!
I’ve personally stayed at the Flying Pig Downtown, which is in the heart of Amsterdam’s Red Light District, but I’d recommend it only for people looking to party the entire time. Friends of mine have stayed at all the other options and liked them a lot.
The rest of the Amsterdam hostels have a slightly calmer vibe to them although their locations are spread throughout the city. HI Stayokay Amsterdam Vondelpark is very close to the museums while Cocomama is in de Pijp, one of my favorite neighborhoods in Amsterdam. ClinkNoord is across the water in Noord Amsterdam, for those looking for a more unique experience in Amsterdam.
Consider staying outside of Amsterdam, but not too far!
My parents were able to stay at 4* hotel in Haarlem for the same prices as a 2* star hotel in Amsterdam with the extra cost of 5 euros per train ride to Amsterdam. Keep in mind that as you get further out, you’ll need to pay each way and the Dutch trains add up fast. For instance (as of 2018), Amsterdam from Utrecht costs 15 euros roundtrip. Keep in mind that you’ll be paying this daily. I recommend looking in Zaandam, Hoofddorp (Schiphol), or Haarlem if you’re not seeing affordable options in Amsterdam.
On Couchsurfing in Amsterdam…
Before you say that you’ll couchsurf in Amsterdam for free, keep in mind that there’s a lot of couch surfers looking for couches. If you’re serious about finding a couch in Amsterdam, you need references and you need to be aware that not every host is as well intentioned.
It’s super competitive here and honestly, most people that I know who were looking for a couch never found one without having a friend here already.
As a former couchsurfing host, I can tell you that we can typically sniff out people who have zero interest in making friends—and just looking for a free place to crash/come and go as they please. That is NOT what couchsurfing is about; it’s about the friendships that you form.
If you’re considering couchsurfing consider reserving a hostel in advance with a good cancellation policy, so if you find a host, you can stay with them.
Either way, book a hostel in advance or know that you’re going to pay more the longer that you wait for something to work out. (You won’t find a couch for King’s Day.)
Don’t take a taxi from Schiphol to Amsterdam
A well-priced taxi from Schiphol to Amsterdam costs around 45 euros. Beyond 55 euros is a rip-off (unless there’s traffic). If you’re with a big group, taking a taxi might be easier, but if you’re traveling solo, you can do the journey from Schiphol to Amsterdam on the train for FIVE euros and it’s faster. Don’t start off your trip losing money in Amsterdam!
Be careful with taxis at Schiphol… if you choose to.
Although there are some legitimate taxi companies in Amsterdam, there’s a lot of “unofficial” taxis who are known to rip tourists off and even hold them hostage unless they pay the ridiculous fare offered.
ALWAYS ask before you get in the taxi if they accept credit cards as if you don’t ask, they’ll ask for the sum in cash or claim that the machine is broken in an attempt to hide how they ripped you off (there’s proof of the transaction).
If they say no, I recommend finding another taxi. Simply, do not go with someone who offers you a cab no matter what the price is. Use your common sense and take the train.
Don’t buy the iAmsterdam without doing your research first.
I know you’ve probably read a million posts about how the iAmsterdam card is the greatest thing ever, however I’m not on their payroll. I always recommend that people think ahead which museums that they’ll be visiting and just buy the tickets for them in advance (if possible). Just total it up and decide if you’ll end up using the iAmsterdam card.
When I’ve done the calculations for myself and friends, it always tipped in favor of buying an unlimited GVB three day public transit pass and entrance to museums as needed. It’s only worth it if you’re visiting multiple higher priced museums and most of the value is in not needing to think about buying the tickets. If you’re willing to spend more for the convenience, go for the iAmsterdam card, but to save money, think before you choose to buy the iAmsterdam card.
You don’t need to take public transit or hop-on/hop-off buses as Amsterdam is small. Walk.
Walk as much as possible! Amsterdam is actually a very small and walkable city, so if you’re mostly staying in the city center, there’s no need for a bike as you shouldn’t be riding it on the sidewalks. You’ll be shocked how quickly you can walk places and there’s always regular buses if it seems too far (I recommend the GVB public transit pass).
Biking seems cool, but it loses its appeal quickly
A bike isn’t necessarily the best investment and you’ll save money by not having one. Most of my friends want to bike when they come to Amsterdam, yet most of them regret it after it one day. Although I love biking in Amsterdam, it can be pretty dangerous between the scooters, tourist bicyclists who don’t know what they’re doing, and pedestrians who ignore the bike lane.
I think that a bike is worth having if you plan on getting pretty far off the beaten path in Amsterdam or you’re staying far enough from a station that the bus isn’t regular. Otherwise, save your money and walk.
It’s typically 9 to 10 euros per day per bike. Although you’ll save money on public transit in Amsterdam, it rains a lot and you’re paying 9-10 euros PLUS the cost of the deposit, which means that you’re liable for the bike if it gets stolen (it’s pretty often). Be sure to consider the cost of insurance. Click for more biking tips.
Eating and drinking in Amsterdam on a budget.
Avoid the expensive bars in Amsterdam Centre—and head to the neighborhoods for reasonably priced beer. By default, don’t order a name brand beer. Just ask for A BEER. I know that’s weird, but you’ll get whatever is on tap, which is usually a fraction of the cost of the name brand beers. It’s typically Heineken or something similar that tastes fine.
The bars in the Red Light District and Dam Square cater almost exclusively to tourists and they’re happy to charge you 5 euros for a crappy beer. Instead, go to a good bar (click for the best beer bars in Amsterdam) and drink good beer that’s worth five euros. I personally don’t like to pay more than three euros for a craft beer. Click for my beer guide to Amsterdam.
Eat a larger meal at lunch.
Dinner in the Netherlands is always expensive and I’d say this is one of my best tips. At lunchtime, you can often find local fish stores, informal sandwich shops, butchers, and even real cheese shops (not the ones who only sell big balls of cheese in Center) offering really cheap sandwiches for two to five euros.
Get takeout or Albert Heijn
I recommend having a large meal to take advantage of the lunch special and doing Indonesian take-out OR Albert Heijn groceries for dinner if you’re visiting Amsterdam on a budget.
Dutchies are really into take-out places for dinner, so many Indonesian and Surinamese tokos open up close to 5pm for the take-out crowd. Roti and whatever the special is at the Indonesian toko you’re at tend to be some of the cheapest BEST food that you’ll find in Amsterdam for dinner while eating “out.” Click for my favorite affordable restaurants.
Shop at Albert Heijn for cheap meals to go. You’ll find Albert Heijn everywhere in Amsterdam. Instead of springing out extra money at a more expensive shop, you can get inexpensive sandwiches, snacks, and drinks at Albert Heijn.
Argentinian food is basically the opposite of eating local, so if you’re interested in learning more about Dutch culture AND staying on budget in Amsterdam, go to one of the many fantastic local restaurants where locals actually will visit. If you don’t hear Dutch spoken where you’re eating, it’s not a good sign. Click for the best cheap eats in Amsterdam, all under ten euros.
Tap water is free in the Netherlands
You don’t need to pay for water at restaurants here if you just ask for tap water. Some stingy restaurants refuse to give you free water as they want to charge you, however most decent restaurants will give you tap water (in a really small glass) if you ask for it. The tap water tastes fine. Ask for a carafe if you want more.
Tipping in the Netherlands is 10%
Before you leave a massive tip (or be a cheapskate who leaves NO tip), know that tipping culture in the Netherlands does exist, however it’s a bit different than elsewhere.
I recommend tipping around 10% at a sit-down restaurant although you won’t be expected to tip at most informal restaurants with self-service. If you don’t tip, nothing terrible will happen, but it’s just polite.
The Dutch love Americans as they’re always too generous with tipping and they’re often heartbroken to realize that I live here/know that I don’t need to tip 30%. Wages for wait-staff are pretty decent all considered.
Have a little cash on you
A lot of businesses that are on the cheaper side cater to Dutchies and many of them don’t accept credit cards, only Maestro cards. The ones that do tend to be more pricey, so have some cash on you in case you want to pay for that haring.
Things to do in Amsterdam on a budget
Free things to do in Amsterdam
Walk along the canals
The BEST part of Amsterdam? You can walk around the beautiful canals for free. You don’t need any kind of boat cruise to enjoy the beautiful canals or even sit by them. My favorite canal to walk around is Herengracht, which is often overshadowed by Prinsengracht. I prefer it as the houses are grander and it’s quieter.
If you’re a cat lover, be sure to stop by de Poezenboot, the world’s only floating cat shelter. This cat shelter has limited hours and suggested entry, so it’s the perfect chance to meet some friendly cats. You can check the hours as well as other recommendations for seeing cats in this blog post about the best places to find cats in Amsterdam for free.
Hofjes are historical buildings, often dating back to the 1600-1700s, that were financed by wealthy benefactors. Many are closed to the public, however there’s quite a few hofjes still open to the public. You can read about hofjes in Amsterdam here.
Enjoy Amsterdam’s parks!
I absolutely love Amsterdam’s parks. It’s hard to choose which park is my favorite although Vondelpark is a must. In summer, it’s great to spend the day lazing out in the park with friends and a bottle of wine. Westergasfabriek is a nice change for those interested in urban renewal.
Take a walk through Albert Cuyp markt
Albert Cuyp market is one of the best open air markets in Amsterdam. Every weekday, you can browse the food and the stalls. I especially recommend trying out a fresh stroopwafel.
Across the IJ river, you’ll find Noord Amsterdam. Noord Amsterdam is always fascinating to visit as it’s full of modern buildings and a side to Amsterdam that most tourists don’t see. I particularly love NDSM, which is full of great street art and fantastic restaurants. More about things to do in NDSM here.
Flower market (Bloemenmarkt)
Anyone looking for the perfect Dutch souvenir can look no further than the flower market. It’s free to browse the flower market in Amsterdam, if you’re looking for a change from the Red Light District, be sure to stroll along the stalls.
Take a free self-guided walking tour of Amsterdam
Don’t pay for a tour when you can take in the city on foot. You can download my one day itinerary here, which covers most of the Amsterdam landmarks, so if you’re not keen on going outside, you can still cover a lot of ground. Click for the self-guided walking tour of Amsterdam.
The best Amsterdam museums on a budget (e.g. not free)
If you’re paying for museum entry, try to get your Anne Frank Museum ticket ahead as it’s only nine euros for entry (2018). The Anne Frank House is a must for visitors interested in learning more about the life of Amsterdam’s most famous resident. The lines can be very long, especially in peak season, so be sure to book your ticket ahead. If you forget (or you can’t get a ticket), try going around dinner time on a Friday or Saturday night.
Ons lieve heer op solder is one of my favorite museums in Amsterdam on a budget and it’s also only nine euros for entry. This museum is actually three canal houses combined into one house with a stunning secret church in the attic. I think that it’s a solid choice as you get to enjoy history, architecture, and stunning views from a canal house.
Some museums, not including the Rijksmuseum or the Van Gogh museum, will accept student identification for a discount, so check ahead as many of the smaller museums give discounts. Click to read about my favorite museums.
Check Facebook before you go!
If you’re planning on going out to a club or performance, check online for Facebook events and Meetup events. Often, there’s an early-bird ticket OR free admission if you put your name on a list, so it’s often worth just checking the event one to two days beforehand.
If you’re in the Netherlands long-term, buy a Museumkaart
If you’re in the Netherlands for a while (e.g. 2+ weeks) and you’re planning on visiting a lot of museums during this time, I recommend buying a Museumkaart.
A museumkaart is an unlimited museum pass intended for residents of the Netherlands although tourists can purchase it for 60 euros (cheaper for kids). If you live in the Netherlands, your museumkaart is valid (with a photo) for one year after you register it, make it 1000% worth it as most museums in the Netherlands accept the museumkaart.
If you’re staying in the Netherlands for over two weeks, I recommend buying a museumkaart and seeing if you can get your money’s worth (you need to visit 3-4 expensive museums). Your museumkaart will expire within 30 days without being registered.
I bought two museumkaarten for my parents-in-law when they visited me in Amsterdam for a month and it was definitely worth it for them. My parents-in-law visited at least 3 museums a week, so within one week, they made their money back.
If you’re entrepreneurial, you might be able to sell your museumkaart prior to leaving to someone else to register although it’s not easy. Until the point that you register the museumkaart, it’s just a piece of paper with a name and a birthdate. For registration you just register the museumkaart number online, so if you have a friend who lives in the Netherlands, talk to them about buying it for a discounted price if they don’t have one already. You can visit any of these beautiful Dutch castles with your museumkaart for FREE! (How awesome is that?)
Have you visited Amsterdam on a budget?
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