Galleries | Top 10 free things to do in Amsterdam
The Van Gogh museum may be an unmissable (albeit very crowded and expensive) destination in Amsterdam, but the contemporary art scene in the city thrives in small independent galleries that are far more accessible for the budget traveller. Spend an afternoon cycling between some of the more prominent ones, such as Radar, an art and architecture gallery that features exhibitions usually with an urban inspiration; Galerie Fons Welters, a gaping industrial space you’ll find filled with forward thinking art and installations; and KochxBos, a converted living room on a residential street with a focus on kitsch, colourful and surreal artwork. All three are situated in or around the quiet and picturesque Jordaan area, where you’ll find many other small galleries among the leafy streets.
The Condomerie | Top 10 free things to do in Amsterdam
The Condomerie is the world’s first specialist condom shop, a treasure trove of latex artistry that has helped keep the city’s (in)famous red-light district safe and sheathed since 1987. The colourful store and information centre on Warmoesstraat – one of the oldest streets in the city – displays an eye-opening collection of rubbers as well as colourful hand-painted novelty condoms in the shape of chickens, frogs and, ahem, Big Ben. There’s even a small “condom museum” (currently closed for refurbishment).
Perhaps it’s hard to imagine it now, but when the idea for the shop was first, er, conceived during a discussion in a restaurant between three friends, it really was a radical proposition. The work the shop has done to break down the taboos surrounding contraception and sexually transmitted diseases – particularly HIV – makes it far more than a shop; it’s more like a rather important institution in modern sexual history.
• Warmoesstraat 141, +31 020 627 4174, condomerie.com. Mon-Sat 11am-6pm, Sun 1pm-5pm
Droog | Top 10 free things to do in Amsterdam
If the sight of impeccably dressed ‘Dammers taking their kids to work on their bakfiets teaches us anything, it’s that the Dutch take design very seriously. Droog – a conceptual design studio set up in the 1990s – remains one of the forerunners of Dutch design, and their shop and showroom in Amsterdam is a must-visit for anyone interested in modernist eye candy. Among the classics you may find on display are Tejo Remy’s Chest of Drawers (a seemingly random assortment of wooden drawers tied together with a jute strap) and the Do hit stainless steel chair by Marijn van der Poll, which consists of a metal cube and a hammer you can use to bash it into whatever shape you desire.
• Staalstraat 7b, +31 020 523 5059, droog.com. Tues-Sun 11am-6pm, closed Mon.
The EYE film museum | Top 10 free things to do in Amsterdam
While the temporary events at the EYE film museum require tickets, in the basement visitors can immerse themselves in cinema at a free permanent exhibition. The Panorama room surrounds visitors with around 100 movie clips and scenes, which are projected on to the walls and can be browsed via seven control panels. Perhaps the most popular plaything (expect to wait a while for one to become free!) are the viewing pods – specially designed, futuristic cabins which contain a small sofa for visitors to watch films in. It’s also worth taking a close look at the EYE building itself, which moved to its current location in 2012 and now sports a dramatic new look with jagged angles and a shimmering white exterior. From the bar and restaurant you can also enjoy a fantastic view across the IJ waterfront towards Amsterdam’s Centraal station.
• IJpromenade 1, +31 020 589 1400, eyefilm.nl. Basement open every day 10am-6pm
Markets | Top 10 free things to do in Amsterdam
Like all busy cities, Amsterdam has lots of markets, each with their own character, such as the workaday Albert Cuyp markt in De Pijp, where you can do a grocery shop for next to nothing or the weekly Noordermarkt farmer’s market in the Jordaan, where you can fill up just by sampling all the organic food on sale. Probably the best markets to peruse in terms of free entertainment are the Waterlooplein flea market – where you’ll find everything from antiques to vintage suits and lots of boxes of old keys, photographs and camera parts – and Bloemenmarkt – a unique floating flower market with more tulips than you could possibly sneeze at. For something more contemporary, check out Moderne Hippies, a recent addition to the city’s market line-up and the best place to browse stalls hawking left-field lifestyle fare.
• Waterloopleinmarkt, Waterlooplein, waterloopleinmarkt.nl. Mon-Sat 9am-6pm. Bloemenmarkt, Singel, Mon-Sat 9am-5.30pm, Sun 11am-5.30pm
City archive | Top 10 free things to do in Amsterdam
The permanent exhibition at the Stadsarchief, Amsterdam City Archives, is an ideal place to learn about the history of the city through the unusual and quirky “treasures” in its collection. Among the artefacts are a sympathetic 1942 police report regarding the theft of Anne Frank’s bike, a less sympathetic police telegram regarding Karl Marx’s visit to the city in 1872, and photographs of the likes of John Lennon and Audrey Hepburn. The collection is contained within a majestic tiled vault in the basement of the Bazel building, a former bank notable for its impressive geometric brickwork designed by ADN van Gendt.
• Vijzelstraat 32, +31 20 251 1511, stadsarchief.amsterdam.nl. Tues-Fri- 10am–5pm, Sat-Sun noon–5pm
Take the ferry across the IJ | Top 10 free things to do in Amsterdam
Getting a view from the water is always a favourable experience in a city like Amsterdam. The overpriced daytime tour boats that squeeze through the canals like floating logs, however, aren’t necessarily the best way to do it, and sadly the donation-run St Nicholaas Boat Club that used to chug guests around on a traditional diesel fuelled Tuindersvletten has recently been shut down because of a licencing dispute.
So anyone wanting a gratis boat trip should hop on one of the free ferries across the IJ, Amsterdam’s waterfront, and explore Amsterdam-Noord. Link it with a bike trip around the leafy countryside and historic villages in the area, or drop in on the NDSM Wharf for quite the opposite – a regenerated shipyard that’s now a Berlin-esque hub for cultural and creative entrepreneurs.
• Ferries run every few minutes from behind Centraal station
Free classical and jazz concerts | Top 10 free things to do in Amsterdam
Wednesday lunchtime performances at Concertegebouw are a long-running institution. Some of the performances are public rehearsals – meaning you could get a taste of the full Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra – while others are smaller chamber music ensembles made up of young musicians. For those after something more buzzy, the Bimhuis jazz venue has a monthly free night called Monday Match, in which dancers and musicians collaborate to create an improvised performance. At around 10pm a DJ takes over to keep feet moving until midnight with an eclectic mix of “hidden treasures and crazy grooves”.
• Concertgebouw, Concertgebouwplein 10, +31 020 573 05 73, concertgebouw.nl; concerts every Wednesday at 12.30pm except during July and August. Bimhuis, Piet Heinkade 3, bimhuis.com;Monday Match usually on the first Monday of the month, from 7.30pm-10pm
Begijnhof | Top 10 free things to do in Amsterdam
While the enormous Vondelpark will always be the obvious spot for anyone wanting to wind down, enjoy a picnic and watch the flocks of green parakeets who have taken up residence there, the Begijnhof offers an alternative island of tranquillity in this already rather tranquil city. A small square of historic buildings with a quiet garden, the enclosed courtyard dates to the early 14th century and is reached through a narrow passageway. While not the place to crack open a Heineken – it’s still a residential square with a working chapel – it’s an excellent place to read a book, recoup or admire the architecture. From the Begijnhof you can also reach the Civic Guards Gallery (also free) – a covered street lined with 15 huge 17th-century paintings and managed by the Amsterdam Historical Museum.
• Begijnhof 30, begijnhofamsterdam.nl
Botanical garden at Vrije University | Top 10 free things to do in Amsterdam
More than 6,000 species of plant can be found growing in this small botanical garden owned by Vrije University, which, among its many roles, is a place of sanctuary for rare and endangered plants intercepted by customs at Schipol airport. The much-loved garden – which also hosts concerts and workshops – was almost closed down in 2009 to make way for expansion of the university hospital. Fortunately, after protests from staff, academics and visitors, it received a stay of execution and should remain open for at least the next eight years.
• Van der Boechorststraat 8, +31 20 598 9390, vriendenvuhortus.nl, Mon-Fri 8am-4.30pm