Top 39 free things to do in Amsterdam (self-guided tour)
based on books / movies
solo female travel
Fell Amsterdam without spending a buck. This 3 day itinerary is a compilation of free and fun things to do and see in this tolerant city. Just visiting Amsterdam on the outside, you can understand so much, and this is the purpose of this tour, to understand the spirit of Dutch people and their heritage with the things we have accessible: the town with its architecture, design, people and choices. Best part in this free itinerary: the architecture, the freedom, the ferry over IJ River, the people, the bridges.
Start from Dam Square
1. Dam Square
Dam Square is the center of Amsterdam, but this isn't the only reason I decided to start my tour here. This is the best lesson about the Dutch people. It is called Dam because here it was a dam on river Amstel. All Amsterdam is o a marshy land and the Damrak street was actually the river. The first thing you need to know is that Dutch people are very good with reclaiming land from water and this is just what happened here. There was a river, afterwards there was a dam and now there is a street, with no memory of the waters that used to pass through here. The name Amsterdam comes form this exact process: the DAM on AMSTEl >> AMSTELDAM which later become AMSTERDAM. If you want to understand more about the relationship between Amsterdam and its waters, you can watch this documentary of how it was build: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IvsHvfs3G1M
This church is not a church. It is a XV century church called New Church because at that time it was the new one after the Oude Kerk (the Old Church). Nowadays is a place for exhibitions and organ concerts. We entered in the building drawn by the Gothic look, but we didn't want to pay the entry fee, so we glanced at the stained-glass windows and at the grandeur of the interior.
I can promise you this is not a church tour, but it helps us understand better the approach this country and this city has on religion, tolerance, respect. Amsterdam and Netherlands in general was a place for the persecuted to find acceptance, and this was valid for religion as well. So Catholics, Jews and other religions groups found here a place where they would be tolerated. And this provides us the most important information about this city, the key to understand Amsterdam: tolerance. You are allowed to do what you want as long as you don't brag or disturb other people. So other religions could perform their rituals, but they had to be out of sight. This church and the next will we visit are testimony about this facts. They are hidden from they eye, but they are free to do what they want. It is an important aspect to understand tolerance in Amsterdam because you will have the key to decipher other enigmas of this town that we are not used to: prostitution, soft drugs, and more.
This signs are examples of house number or recognition before the official number were introduces. The house had the symbol of the owner and this skills. You can still see them on some buildings, but here you can find a nice collection.
Cheese & more is one of the many cheese shops in Amsterdam. The experience of Amsterdam would not be complete without tasting one of the icon food this country has to offer. You will find in the shop many kinds of cheeses: with pesto, with lavender, with paprika, with truffles, and many more creative combinations. There are available for tasting small bites form most of the flavors. Even if they are small, they are powerful.
This the first encounter with the water and canals in Amsterdam. This is Singel canal and it was the canal that encircled the city of Amsterdam in the Middle Ages. It served as a moat around the city until 1585, when Amsterdam expanded beyond it.
When you think of The Netherlands, there is some kind of flowers in your mental picture. It is almost impossible not to see the tulip fields with a mill in the background. Well, it is true, in The Netherlands there are a lot of tulip flower, tulip fields, tulip inspired things, tulip travel, so it is only natural to find in Amsterdam a part of this national theme. Here at the floating market you will find a gardeners paradise as they sell a lot of bulbs and flowers. There are not only tulips, the they a lot of spectacular plants you can see here. And the best thing is that it is floating on Singel Canal. It helps you understand the relationship Dutch people have with flowers and nature. If you feel a strange tickle while visiting this place and want to get deeper into the flower theme, do visit the north-west part of Netherlands and the Keukenhof park in spring (April preferably). Fields of color and strong perfume will make your visit an experience to remember.
The 3 canals Herengracht, Prinsengracht and Keizersgracht are included in UNESCO heritage site due to their uniqueness and ingenuity. All this canals were dug by hand. Everything was a swamp and the Dutch people moved the earth from the canals on the side and this is how Amsterdam we know today was build - by hand and shovel. There is a saying: God created the world but the Dutch created the Netherlands. With more than 50% of the country below sea level, Dutch people really know how to keep water under control. These canals are a masterpiece of 17th century when the city began to grow.
This is a street with a lot of galleries of art and antique shops. I know this is a free tour, so today we will just glance in the windows. I hope that these galleries can fulfill you desire for art in the city that gave some of the most remarkable painters: Van Gogh, Rembrandt. I loves the paintings of Amsterdam and the delft sculptures.
We won't go inside the museum this being a free tour, but the building itself is very interesting and worth taking time to discover it. The building dates to 1885 and has two squares with an atrium in each center where you will pass form one side to the other.
The Westerkerk was one of the first purposely built Protestant churches and it still remains in use by the Protestant Church. One aspect that I think is worth mentioning is that this church is mentioned in Anne Frank diary as she and her family were in hiding the sound of the bell from this church would give her comfort
The famous diarist of only 13 years old, Anne Frank, lived in this house with her family and went into hiding from the Nazi into a secret room of the house between 1942 to 1944. The rooms they hide were behind a bookcase. The house can be visited, but it usually it is very crowded. What was striking for me is the fact that a normal house like this can hold so many memories and sufferance. To visit the house you need to buy tickets and wait in the queue, but just standing in front of the house is a powerful experience.
This is a memorial dedicated to homosexuals and lesbians that have been persecuted because of their homosexuality. In was opened in 1987 and is the first moment in the world to commemorate gays and lesbians who were killed by the Nazis. The monument is formed by 3 triangles made of granite.
21. National Monument in Dam Square
It is a memorial to all the Nazi victims of the Second World War
22. Smallest house in Amsterdam (Het Kleinste Huis)
This is the house with the smallest width in Amsterdam: only 2 meters. As you already saw until now, the houses in Amsterdam are very narrow. Everybody wanted to be at the waterfront, not exactly for the view, but to access the canals in order to load and unload merchandise. Also the taxes were calculated by this front open, so the small opening the small the tax. But the houses had to develop so they grew upwards and backwards. Most of the house have 3 stories high and they go deep in the back. All this created a special environment which generated this special architecture. Imagine their dilemma - how can we put the bed on the width of the length of the house .
The Dutch East-India company officially called The “Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie” (VOC), was set up in 1602, head-quartered in the “Oost-Indisch Huis” (East-India House) the building in front of you. The VOC company was funded as a merchant company to provide and trade spices from Asia, in particular Indonesia. It is considered to be the first stock market of the world - the Dutch could buy bonds with the company. The VOC’s stocks pushed the company’s worth to a massive 78 million Dutch guilders, which is a pretty solid business even today, but translates to a whopping $7,9 trillion dollar worth today. At the peak of the tulip mania in 1637, the Dutch East-India company was worth more than 20 of the worlds most important companies today. Today in the building functions the University of Amsterdam.
I was fascinated about the relationship of The Dutch and the water, they just claim land to build different things. Here they just build a promenade area with benches and everything just above the water.
Damrak and digital exhibit of the history of Amsterdam
This is the place where Amstel River used to pass before building the dam in the Dam Square. While constructing the North-South metro line that passes on the premises where the Amstel river used to go, a lot of items dating back to 1200 were found on the river back covered by mud. You can see the online exhibition at: https://belowthesurface.amsterdam/en/vondsten
33. Red light district
34. Pedestrian Street
[street / road]
Delft-colored painted tiles on the passage underneath the Central Station representing maritime theme
Because all water boats are really expensive, here it is a free alternative to really feel and understand Amsterdam on the water: take the free ferry . Well, it does not go on the nice and romantic canals surrounding the city center, but it still gives you an understanding of the relationship of the city with the water. Behind the Centraal Amsterdam train station you have 3 destination you can take the ferry to: Buiksloterweg, IJplein and NDSM Werf. The last one is the longest and will take you to the industrial area and you get to see a new Amsterdam, a modern part of the city. It made sense to take this one. And from where we got off there was a returning ferry to this side but to a different location.