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Amsterdam Attractions - Free Things to do in Amsterdam

Top Amsterdam Attractions

Top rated Free Amsterdam Attractions and Paid Attractions list

1. Concertgebouw (Free)

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This neoclassical building is said to be one of the finest concert halls in the world. Built in 1888, it is much acclaimed for its superb acoustics and host 900 concerts a year, seen by 800,000 people.

There are guided tours of the hall available for €10 per person, or you can buy a ticket for one of the fantastic evening performances, but you can also take in some music for free. From September to June every year, there is a free lunchtime concert every Wednesday at 12.30pm. The performances are very varied; from a public rehearsal from the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, to appearances from conservatory ensembles and upcoming musicians, playing everything from early music to the most modern compositions. These concerts are very popular, so be sure to arrive half an hour early to get a seat. It’s also well worth going to see the vast and splendidly appointed interior of the Great Hall

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2. Central Library (Openbare Bibliotheek) (Free)

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Opened on the 7th of July 2007, this state-of-the-art library boasts the accolade of being the largest in Europe. Occupying an incredible 28,000m², it is used by 2.5 million people each year and has ten floors. The design is ecologically friendly, leading to it being acclaimed as “Most Sustainable Public Building in Amsterdam”. Half of the 1200 seats have free internet access.

Located just a few minutes from Central Station, the library offers travellers a perfect place to relax in supremely comfortable surroundings and catch up on their emails. You can also take in the fantastic views of the city to the south - perhaps, if the weather’s right, while enjoying a bite to eat on the roof terrace, which features the self-service restaurant La Place.

Among the other attractions are a recording studio, exhibition space, and well-stocked children’s section with its “Mouse House”. You wouldn’t necessarily think of a library as a tourist attraction, but Amsterdam’s is in a league of its own.

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3. Prinsengracht (Free)

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This beautiful canal is the longest in Amsterdam, and features many sites of interest along its length: the Westerkerk (Western Church), the Anne Frank House (link), and the Homomonument (Gay Monument). You can also access the Jordaan (link) via the bridges over the Prinsengracht.

A pleasant few hours can be spent strolling along the canal and admiring the charming old houses, most of which date from the Dutch Golden Age of global expansion the 16th to 18th centuries. You can also enjoy a coffee in one of the many cafes on the waterfront, such as the “Papeneiland”, which opened in 1641. Its basement features one end of a tunnel which runs under a canal from the Posthorn church; Catholics could use the tunnel to escape in the event of trouble. The church itself was disguised due to the persecution of Catholics during the Reformation, and you can identify it from the posthorn over the door.

There are many houseboats along the canal, and if you’d like to experience what it’s like to live on one, there is the Houseboat Museum.

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4. Anne Frank House (Paid)

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If you only have time to visit one place in Amsterdam, this should be it. The museum to Anne Frank stands as a poignant reminder of the terrible persecution of ordinary citizens that took place just a few decades ago.

The museum occupies the entire building, with exhibitions, a bookshop, a cafe, and the reconstructed offices of Anne Frank’s father Otto. To get to the “secret annexe” that concealed Anne and her family for over two years, you must go through a moving bookcase and up a narrow staircase. Although the 500 square feet of floor space seems a very cramped area to accommodate eight people, Anne wrote in her diary that it was luxurious compared to other hiding places she had heard about.

The museum is hugely popular, often with queues down the block - so it’s best to go in the early morning or late afternoon if you want to avoid them.

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5. Van Gogh Museum (Paid)

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The largest collection of art by Vincent Van Gogh in the world, this museum holds more than 200 paintings and 600 drawings. It offers a cross section of Vincent’s entire career, showing his progression as an artist, and includes such famous works as The Yellow House, Bedroom at Arles and Sunflowers.

Housed in two buildings, there are various aspects to the museum. You can view the entire permanent Van Gogh collection, organised into five periods. You can also find out more about the restoration done on the paintings, take in temporary exhibitions, and see works by Van Gogh’s contemporaries including Gauguin, Monet and Rodin.

Opened in 1973, the museum is the most visited in the whole country, attracting around 1.5 million annually. Don’t forget to take in the interesting architecture of the building itself. The main museum, known as the Rietveld building, creates a light, airy space to admire the paintings, while the later Kurokawa building (1999) is a striking oval shape.

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6. Carmo Church and Chapel of Bones (Paid)

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A beautiful 18th century church located a short way away from the old town. Situated in an attractive patterned square, it looks impressive from the outside with towers and statues, and the interior is highly ornate with lots of gold leaf. There is a series of niches showing the stations of the cross.

What is more fascinating for many people is the Chapel of Bones, situated in a small garden which can be accessed through a door to the right of the altar. There is a charge of 1€ to enter the Chapel, which has walls constructed from the bones and skulls of over 1200 monks that had previously been interred in the church cemetery. They were dug up and used to build this chapel in 1816, apparently as a warning about the fleeting nature of human existence and the importance of living a good life to avoid the fires of Hell.

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7. Rijksmuseum (Paid)

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This vast art gallery and museum, the largest in the Netherlands, is located on Museumplein, close to the Van Gogh Museum and Concertgebouw (links).

Housed in its current building since 1885, it was closed for ten years for renovation between 2003-13 before being reopened by Queen Beatrice to much fanfare. It holds some of the most priceless treasures from Dutch art history, including Rembrandt’s famous Night Watch (which gets its own room), as well as masterpieces from Vermeer and Hals. It’s well worth spending a day if possible to explore as much as you can - 8000 items are on display, which date back to 1200 and have been chosen from a staggering 1 million objects in the complete collection.

As well as paintings and sculptures, the museum aims to offer a view of Dutch history with exhibits such as weaponry, clothing, maritime objects and archaeological finds. During the renovations, the museum’s garden was re-landscaped, and is also well worth a stroll on a sunny day.

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8. The Jordaan (Paid)

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The Jordaan district is a great place to spend a restful afternoon, wandering around and taking in the picturesque canals and array of specialty shops and restaurants.

Originally designed to house the poorer sections of Amsterdam’s society, the Jordaan has been transformed over the centuries into one of the city’s most affluent areas. There are many art galleries and designer boutiques.

There’s plenty to see in the Jordaan, like the Westerkerk cathedral with its impressive 85 metre tower, the highest in Amsterdam. An iconic symbol of the city, it is the burial place of Rembrandt and located close to the Anne Frank house (link); frequent mention of it is made in her diary.

The courtyards in front of some houses are another interesting feature. These were originally provided for elderly residents as a form of charity; inhabited now mainly by artists and students, some are open to the public on Sundays during the summer for special concerts.

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9. Vondelpark (Free)

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This expansive 120-acre park, centrally located near Rijksmuseum and Van Gogh Museum (links), is a fantastic place to visit on a sunny day. You can check out the many interesting features on a sunny day, or simply relax and have a picnic with the family.

Established in 1865, the park was initially named Nieuwe Park, but took its current moniker from a statue of playwright Joost van den Vondel which was established two years later. You can also find a sculpture by Picasso titled “The Fish”.

Among the attractions are an open-air theatre, which hosts concerts in the summer of everything from classical music to cabaret. Although entrance is free, a donation of one Euro is highly encouraged.

There are many places to enjoy refreshments, including the charming modernist building, the Blauwe Theehuis, which dates from the 1930s.

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10. Rembrandt House (Paid)

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This 17th century house, Rembrandt’s home from 1639-56, gives the visitor a flavour of the daily life of the great master. It has been fully restored to show how it would have looked in Rembrandt’s day and also holds a collection of objects he acquired from all over the world and a printing press. The interior was reconstructed from a list of his possessions made after he went bankrupt. A modern building next to the main house holds a collection of his work, including almost all of his famous etchings.

The museum is fully interactive, with audio tours available, as well as hands-on demonstrations of how Rembrandt made his etchings and paint. This makes it an ideal place to take children.

There is also a collection of art by painters who inspired Rembrandt, including his teacher, Pieter Lastman. All in all, the museum offers as complete a representation as you’re going to get of the master, his techniques, influences and legacy.

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11. Artis Zoo (Paid)

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The oldest zoo in the Netherlands, founded in 1838, Artis has every animal you would expect to find at a zoo as well as excellent educational elements including two museums, a planetarium and a library.

Located right in the heart of the city, the full title of the zoo is Natura Artis Magistra (“Nature is the teacher of art” in Latin), but the name was shortened because the three words were inscribed above each of three gates, and only the middle gate was normally used.

Boasting over 200 species of trees and over 900 species of animals, including giraffes, zebras, turtles, butterflies and orang-utans, Artis also contains some wonderful 19th century architecture such as the zoological museum. Every day, zookeepers give talks on the animals, and there are guided tours available for groups of eight and up, although these must be booked four weeks in advance. There is no extra charge for the tours.

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12. Begijnhof (Free)

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One of the oldest parts of Amsterdam, the Begijnhof is an inner court surrounded by historic buildings, which were originally the homes of the Beguines - women who devoted themselves to a life of prayer and good works without taking formal religious vows.

It is the only inner court in the city that dates back to the Middle Ages, first being mentioned in 1389, and still sits at medieval street level - a full metre below the rest of the city.

Although the order of Beguines is gone, the place still retains a hushed, sanctified atmosphere - an oasis of calm away from the hustle and bustle of the city. The houses are still occupied by single women, so when you visit, please remember that this is a residential street.

There are several interesting sights, such as Amsterdam’s oldest surviving house, Het Houten Huis, which dates from the 15th or 16th century, one of only two wooden houses left in the city.

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13. Heineken Experience (Paid)

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This exciting interactive tour is housed in Heineken’s former main brewery which was the production centre for the beer for over a hundred years. You can view every aspect of the process from beginning to end and take in the fine architecture of the building, which dates from 1864, with its vast brass beer tanks. You can also learn more about the history of the company including the family that founded it. Another interesting area is the horse stables, home of the fabled Heineken Shire horses, which are still used to distribute beer in Amsterdam

Since the museum’s relaunch in 2001, it has become something of a theme park of beer. There is even a 4D ride where you can discover what it’s like to be brewed in a bottle of beer. These fun elements make it an ideal attraction for a group of friends, perhaps if you’re on a stag weekend. Two free drinks are included in the price.

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14. Red Light District (Free)

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Amsterdam’s main red light district in De Wallen is certainly notorious for its sex shops, peep shows and windows showing the merchandise on offer. There is plenty of opportunity to explore this side of the area, but there is much more to it than most people realise.

Located in the oldest part of Amsterdam, the Red Light District features charming architecture; centuries-old houses that lean close together along winding cobbled streets. There are the picturesque canals, the 14th century gothic Oude Kerk (Old Church), and the lively market at Nieuwmarkt square.

While legalised prostitution remains an integral part of the culture of the area, there are signs that the city is trying to spruce up the image of the Red Light District, with an influx of trendy international restaurants, and many former prostitutes’ windows converted into art installations. For the adventurous, it is definitely well worth a visit - just be prepared to travel in pairs or groups as there are still some seedy characters and pickpockets.

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15. Walking Tour from Dam Square (Free)

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SANDEMAN operates a highly popular walking tour from the National Monument at Dam Square twice daily. This is a great way to get an overview of the city and get an idea of what you’d like to explore in more detail, all accompanied by a commentary which covers all aspects of Amsterdam, from legalised drug use and prostitution to the devastating impact of the Holocaust.

Among the sights taken in are the Red Light District, the Anne Frank house, the Begijnhof, and the Jordaan District (links). It’s also a great way to meet fellow travellers.

Tours are completely free, but you are, of course, expected to tip the guide if you feel the tour was time well spent. It takes three hours, so make sure you have comfortable shoes. It is highly entertaining, though, and guides deliver the tour with a sense of humour, along with stories, songs, and freebies from the city of Amsterdam.

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16. Street Markets (Free)

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Amsterdam has a wide variety of street markets, but by far the largest and most popular is the Albert Cuyp, located in the vibrant de Pijp district. In fact, it’s rumoured to be the largest daytime market in Europe, and has been established for over 100 years.

With its 260 stalls, there’s something for absolutely everyone and it’s great fun hunting for a bargain. Get a new pair of shoes or some beautiful jewellery and try local delicacies like raw herring or freshly baked syrup waffles. You can also pick up some highly multicultural items, reflecting the wealth of diversity in the city from Surinamese, Turkish and Moroccan elements among others.

There’s also a statue of popular Dutch singer André Hazes, and when you’re all shopped out you can enjoy a coffee or a full-blown meal at one of the many ethnic restaurants and cafes that line the street behind the stalls.

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17. Civic Guards Gallery (Free)

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This small but fascinating museum gives an insight into the life of Amsterdam’s wealthier citizens in days gone by. Here you will find formal portraits of them in their official role as Civic Guards, as well as representations of their wives who carried out charity work, dating back to the 16th century.

Rembrandt and Hals are among the notable artists whose work is displayed here. It’s certainly one of the smallest galleries in the world, located as it is in a passageway between the Begijnhof and the Kalverstraat and featuring just 15 classic paintings, but they are highly impressive and it’s well worth a few minutes of your time. It’s also accessible from the Amsterdam Museum.

The gallery also showcases the interesting evolution of portrait painting in the Netherlands. In the old days, you had to pay for the privilege of being featured, meaning that only the rich were immortalised. But the Gallery also has several more recent portraits, including ordinary citizens and immigrants as well as Dutch footballers and boxers.

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18. Sex Museum (Paid)

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Amsterdam boasts not one but two sex museums; one in the Red Light District, but the original one entitled Venus Temple is found on the Damrak. It’s actually the oldest sex museum in the world, first opening in 1985. Let’s focus on the Venus Temple.

Inside, you will find everything and anything you can think of to do with sex and its role throughout history: paintings, photos, statues, videos and a huge variety of interesting objects.

Going through different rooms all named after notorious sexual figures (such as Mata Hari and Marquis de Sade), you are accompanied by a soundtrack of erotic pleasure as you discover how different cultures have treated the subject of sensuality. The collection is very impressive, with hundreds of objects dating as far back as ancient Greek and Roman times.

With over 500,000 visitors a year, it is one of the most popular museums in Amsterdam and is well worth a look - just be aware that you have to be 16 to enter!

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