From galleries, boat trips and concerts to the city’s famous condom shop, there’s plenty of great things to do in Amsterdam that won’t cost you a guilder. Here’s top 10 free things to do in Amsterdam.
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
Gaze at graffiti, try the city’s best food or take a tour led by architects, photographers or even the homeless … Barcelona has a guided walk for everyone. Here’s TOP 10 Barcelona walking tours:
The DIY tour | TOP 10 Barcelona walking tours
A guided walk is the quick and easy way to learn lots about a place but at €10-€20pp the cost can soon rack up, particularly for a family. Guiding yourself keeps the price down and lets you choose your own pace. The Ruta del Modernisme winds through the city linking more than 100 examples of Catalonia’s famed take on art nouveau. You could be cheap and read descriptions of buildings from the ruta’s rather clunky website, but the accompanying guidebook is only €12 and gets you a discounted entry to many sights. All the biggies, such as Gaudí’s Sagrada Família and the Palau de la Música Catalana by Lluís Domènech i Montaner are on the ruta but you can search out the work of lesser-known architects, such as my favourite, Josep Maria Jujol. •rutadelmodernisme.com, guidebook available from Museu del Modernisme de Barcelona
The free tour | TOP 10 Barcelona walking tours
As in many other cities, a new type of tour has taken off in Barcelona in the last few years. Tours are “free” – you just give your guide what you think is a fair tip at the end. Simple. But are they any good? I tried half a dozen tours of the Gothic Quarter and soon felt like Phil Connors in Groundhog Day. Most of the tours were average and one was spectacularly bad – it took us nearly an hour to actually get to the Gothic Quarter and, no, I don’t want to buy a ticket for your tapas tour and, no, George Orwell wasn’t shot in Barcelona. But I’d heartily recommend a couple. I expected to take against Sandemans New Europe because it’s a bit of a corporate behemoth but my guide, Leon, was brilliant. I also loved the passion of Laura from Travel Bound. •Tips average around €10-€15pp, 2-3 hours
Street art in the Raval district | TOP 10 Barcelona walking tours
You can’t fail to notice the city’s obsession with the spray can; every metal shop shutter in the Raval, just off the Ramblas, seems to be covered in designs. But I hadn’t seen anything until I walked the barrio with Dominic, who spent his teenage years leaving his mark on commuter trains in Sydney. He taught me about tagging, throw-ups and stencilling, and showed me the work of famous street artists such as El Gordo (fat guys with square faces on tiles) and BCN Cans (cans sprayed with a letter then stuck together to spell out messages such as “Tonight the streets are ours”). A squad of city workers armed with paint brushes polices the streets to wipe out graffiti but they’re fighting a losing battle. •Free but tip appreciated, 2 hours
Barcelona’s food hotspot | TOP 10 Barcelona walking tours
The food scene in the district of Poble Sec at the foot of Montjuic hill is hotter than a guindilla pepper. I have some favourite places, such as Mano Rota, but put myself into the hands of the experts to discover more. Barcelona Eat Local’s tour, unusually, started in the morning but that did mean we got to sample great bacallà (salt cod) in the market and visit a wine shop owned by a cava producer for a glass at noon before patatas bravas (probably the best I’ve ever had) and jamón in a very trad restaurant, and then Ferran Adrià’s favourite lunch stop – the king of molecular gastronomy apparently loves old-school offal. The Barcelona Taste tour is in the evening and we ate spectacularly well, from anchovies in a modern tapas bar to octopus in an Argentinian-run joint and Szechuan fish in a place that epitomises Poble Sec right now. These tours are undoubtedly expensive but they include all food and drink and are a world away in quality from the €15 old town tapas tours. •€80pp; around 3 hours
The family tour | TOP 10 Barcelona walking tours
Dragons, giants, pooing peasants – and sweets. What’s not for a child to like on Runner Bean’s Kids and Family tour? I borrowed four, aged four-12, and we set off with guide Ann-Marie. She enthralled the kids with the grisly story behind the Catalan flag illustrated with her own drawings. There were games, puzzles and jokes as we wandered the Gothic Quarter learning a bit of history. The children loved the tale of how Saint George (Catalonia’s patron saint) slayed the dragon and saved the princess and visiting the workshop where giant figures are made for the city’s many festivals. They were a bit uncertain about singing Ann-Marie’s version of the Catalan song about the Christmas log that poos turrón (nougat) and looked appalled when she pulled out a figurine of a caganer. Who can blame them? The tour finished at a shop making artisan candy. Sweet. •€15pp (free for children aged up to three), 2½ hours,
An architect’s view of the new Barcelona | TOP 10 Barcelona walking tours
A group of young architects are behind Barcelona Architecture Walks and I signed up for their Barcelona and the Future City stroll. Plaça de les Glòries Catalanes was to be the new centre of Barcelona in its 19th-century expansion but it ended up little more than a vast, unlovely traffic junction. The square is now a building site as the city authorities try to rescue this space. Guide Jordi explained some of the theories of urban planning – keeping within a beginner’s comprehension/boredom level – before we walked by some of the new buildings here, such as Encants market and the Design Museum, the Museu del Disseny de Barcelona. A fascinating glimpse into an architect’s world and the challenges of imagining a city’s future. •€30pp, 2½ hours
A photography tour of the Born district | TOP 10 Barcelona walking tours
I always pick up my camera with a heavy heart, imagining that it stops me from just seeing stuff. That’s probably why my photographs are so terrible, and why Fran from Foto Ruta Barcelona had his work cut out. Our small group met in the Born and Fran explained a few basics: light, perspective, the rule of thirds (about composition) and encouraged us to experiment. I didn’t lie on the pavement like one of the group to get a pug’s view of street life but I did snap away at shapes, colours and details. Days later I still found myself looking at familiar streets in a new way. We compared photographs at the end and mine were by far the worst – but, gulp, here’s one (above). •From €80pp, 3 hours
The Raval, guided by the homeless | TOP 10 Barcelona walking tours
There are reckoned to be at least 3,000 people living on the city’s streets but they can be almost invisible to tourists. Hidden City Tours was set up by a Brit to employ, as guides, people who have been on the streets. Former taxi driver Jaume led me on the new Street Life tour amid the Raval, taking me through an average day in the life of a homeless person, from where to sleep (a park in summer, a bank’s cashpoint lobby in winter) and how to keep clean (library washrooms) to how to make money (blowing giant soap bubbles) and where to eat (for example, one of Barcelona’s poshest hotels delivers a giant free paella each Thursday to soup kitchen El Chiringuito de Dios. Jaume is now off the streets and back working as a driver as well as guiding. •From €15pp, 1½ hours
Green Barcelona } TOP 10 Barcelona walking tours
Montjuïc hill has always offered a splash of green in this densely packed city. Biologist Mónica is charming and passionate and took me on a fascinating nature tour of this hulk of rock. It moved from descriptions of flora and fauna – such as how the uniform weight of the seeds of carob trees, found on Montjuïc, are the basis for the carat – to explanations of how nature has affected the look of Barcelona. For example, we stopped at an oleander shrub and Mónica showed how Antoni Gaudí used the unusual structure of a stalk as the model for the columns of the Sagrada Família. She also found time to bring in social history, explaining how the hill was once covered in shanty towns, housing a fifth of the city’s population in the 1960s. Mónica’s partner Nick does a great Spanish civil war tour in Barcelona. •€25pp, 3½ hours
The Jewish quarter | TOP 10 Barcelona walking tours
I stooped through a little door in a dark, narrow street behind the cathedral and back to the fourth century. This is the only remaining synagogue in what was once a thriving Jewish community, which lasted from Roman times to the 15th century. More than 10% of the city’s 40,000 population in the 14th century was Jewish, all squeezed into a few streets. Jon, from New Jersey, walked us round their barrio, explaining how Jews played a key role in the life of the city; the doctors, lawyers and fixers of their time. The Catalan kings loved the taxes they paid and protected them – until they let the Inquisition have its fun. Jews were expunged from history; street names were Christianised and headstones from the Jewish cemetery were ripped up and used in new buildings – you can still see them on a wall near the cathedral. •From €10pp, 2 hours
The ever popular Barcelona has a whole host of attractions and activities awaiting its visitors from tasty fare to world-class art. There’s also a lot of great things to do for free across the city if you find yourself on a tight budget. Here is our list of things to do for free in Barcelona.
Things to do for free in Barcelona
1. Ramble down Las Ramblas
Located in the heart of the city and packed with people almost 24/7, Las Ramblas is one of the world’s most famous strips. And rightly so. Adorned with an endless array of motionless human statues, noisy pet stalls, tourist-heaving restaurants and hawkers selling all types of fluorescent objects, it is inevitable that you won’t only end up here once, but you will end up here several times. Strolling up and down it for a couple of hours is an attraction in its own right. When you get there you’ll understand why.
2. Go to the beach
Escape the hustle and bustle of the city streets and take a trip to some of Barcelona’s beaches. Just 10 minutes from the city you will find over 4km of golden sandy shores where you can lay out your towel and work on that tan. One of the closest beaches to the city is Barceloneta Beach, and as it’s the closest it can often be the busiest. But it’s quite a big beach area and has some bars and cafes along the waterfront. The quickest way to get to here is to catch the yellow line metro and get off at the Barceloneta stop.
Another great Barcelona beach is Icària Beach which you can get to by the yellow line metro to Ciutadella Vila Olimpica. It’s a little bit quieter here if you like to relax in peace on your beach. And if you want an all over, line-free tan, then check out Mar Bella Beach as it’s an unofficial nudist beach, which means you can also wear your swimsuit even if your friends don’t want to. This is a 20 minute walk from the Poblenou yellow line metro stop.
3. Visit Parc Güell
One of many stunning creations from Antoni Gaudi that are dotted around Barcelona is Park Güell. This unusual park was originally commissioned by Eusebi Güell as he wanted a stylish park solely for the Barcelona aristocracy. The good news is that today anyone can visit Parc Güell, and for free too. In this unique park you can expect to find lots of amazing stone sculptures, colourful tiles and breathtaking buildings. There’s also a terraced area at the top of the park with wonderful tile mosaics and a seating area where you can take in the magic of the park.
4. Walk the streets of the Barri Gotic
The Barri Gotic area is also known as the Gothic Quarter and it’s the old town area of Barcelona. There’s a Roman feel to this historic area and it’s a maze of narrow cobbled streets and squares. It was once home to famous artists such as Picasso and Joan Miró. Today it’s where you’ll find the City Hall and the seat of the Catalan Government, beautiful Gothic churches such as Santa Maria del Pi and Sants Just i Pastor. There’s also the old Jewish Quarter and the Plaça del Rei, an interesting medieval square steeped in royal history.
5. Admire Gaudi’s architecture
Barcelona and Gaudi go hand-in-hand and you’ll soon start to recognise his work as you discover it dotted across the city. Gaudi is admired and studied by architect lovers and admirers all across the world, and to see his work up close you simply need to walk the streets of Barcelona. There’s the outdoor spectacle that is Parc Güell (see point 3) where you can sit in a park designed by Gaudi. Casa Batlló is a breathtaking building on Passeig de Gràcia where the facade looks like it’s been made from bones and skulls, which are actually pillars and balconies. There’s an entrance fee to go inside, but you can take in the stunning exterior for free.
On the same street you’ll also find Guadi’s La Pedrera/ Casa Milà where you’ll find Gaudi’s famous chimneys on top of the building. And finally, Gaudi’s unfinished masterpiece, La Sagrada Familia, which is still being built… since 1882! This church is a work of art, genius and patience and is one of Barcelona’s top attractions. Take a walk around the exterior and you can spend hours studying the designs and sculptures on its facade.
6. Soak up some sun along the Passeig Marítime
Take in some views of the Mediterranean along with some rays of sunshine (in the finer months) along the seaside promenade that is Passeig Marítime. You’ll find this seafront walk just northeast of the Old City. The boardwalk here is the perfect place a coastal stroll or stop off for a glass of sangria. Here, you’ll also find Port Olímpic which is a stunning marina area full of restaurants and bars. You’ll easily recognise it from the two seafront skyscrapers, one of which is home to the Casino Barcelona.
7. Get outdoors in Parc de la Ciutadella
Barcelona’s most central park is the expansive Parc de la Ciutadella that covers close to 74 acres and has a lake, a zoo, several museums and more. This green oasis in the heart of the city makes for the perfect escape from the crowded city. Spend a few hours wandering amongst the walkways, flowerbeds and palm trees while checking out the fountains and sculptures dotted around the park. You can hire out a rowing boat if you wish to go out on the lake or check out the zoo.
8. Free entry to the Picasso Museum
This museum is dedicated to the life and works of Pablo Ruiz Picasso and is a must see for any fans of the artist visiting Barcelona. There are over 3,800 works of Picasso in the permanent collection and through them you can see his deep relationship with Barcelona that formed throughout his lifetime. There’s normally an entrance fee for the museum but it has free entry from 3pm every Sunday, and it’s also free all day on the first Sunday of the month.
9. Stare in awe at the popular Magic Fountain Show
The Magic Fountain of Montjuïc dates its first performance back to 1929, and today it’s as popular a spectacle as it was back then. This sensational fountain show is the centrepiece of a collection of waterfalls and smaller water features on Avinguda Maria Cristina. You can expect a stunning show encapsulating light, colours, music and lots of water. In fact close to 2,600 litres of water are pumped through this great fountain per second! Shows are on at different times depending on the season and you can reach the Magic Fountain of Montjuïc by Metro – stop Plaça Espanya.
10. Escape the city in the Catedral de Barcelona
Close to the busy streets of La Rambla you can find an oasis of calm in the city’s cathedral. Catedral de Barcelona, also known as Le Seu as it was named after Barcelona’s patron Saint Eulalia. You’ll find the stunning cathedral in the centre of the Barri Gòtic area and its origins date back to the 13th century. This medieval sanctuary has a vaulted interior, a number of little chapels, and a garden with a cloister that’s home to thirteen geese.
11. Enjoy the colourful Mercat de Sant Josep de la Boqueira
This large, colourful public market is also known as just La Boqueria and you’ll find it in the Ciutat Vella district of Barcelona. This is a popular attraction in Barcelona that dates back to the 13th century. You’ll be met with loud noises, overpowering smells and colour as far as the eye can see on arrival at the market. It’s the perfect place to visit at anytime of the day, and a great place to have a bite to eat too.
12. Have free tapas with a drink
When you think of Spanish food, tapas automatically comes to mind and you’ll find lots of great tapas bars around Barcelona. However, it can be tough to find free tapas in the city compared to other parts of the county, but there are still a few bars that keep up the tradition of free tapas when you order a drink. If you fancy a free nibble then check out Ambiente del Sur in the L’Eixample neighbourhood. This is a small, friendly bar that offers some great small plates of food with a drink. In the same area you’ll also find Bar Atrapatapa, and while their tapas aren’t free, they offer them for just two Euros once you purchase a drink. If you’re peckish in the Gothic District then check out Bar Mingus for their free tapas with a drink, and same for Gata Mala in the Gracia area.
13. Visit Museu Nacional d’Art de la Catalunya
The MNAC is the perfect place to spend a few hours if you have even the slightest interest in anything art related. This beautiful museum embraces all the arts and showcases sculpture, painting, engraving, drawings, photography and lots more, all with a Catalan focus. There is an admission fee but if you want to get in for free then visit on a Saturday from 3pm or the first Sunday of each month to avail on no admission fees.
14. Check out some other museums
There are lots of other great museums to check out that offer free admission at certain times around Barcelona. You can take your pick on the first Sunday of the month with free entry to any of these museums – Museu Picasso, Museu Barbier-Mueller d’Art Precolombi or the Museu d’Historia de Catalunya. If you’ve got a sweet tooth but would prefer to spend your money on chocolate than admission fees, the visit the Museu de la Xocolata (Chocolate Museum) on the first Monday of the month for their free entry. But, as they say, everybody loves a freebie, so get there early if you want to avoid the queues.
15. Plan trip around a festival
Barcelona plays host to a lot of festivals throughout the year so why not time your visit around one of them. Some of the more popular Barcelona festivals include Festa Major de Gràcia – a week long community celebration in the streets of one of the city’s oldest neighbourhoods. For this festival, each street in the Gràcia area is decorated by residents depicting anything from storybook themes to homemade waterfalls. There’s also lots of entertainment along the streets and it takes place the week of August 15th.
If you’re visiting Barcelona at the end of September you’re in for a treat as the largest street party in the city takes place – the Barcelona La Merce Festival. This five day celebration is in honour of Mare de Deu de la Merce, the Patron Saint of Barcelona, and says goodbye to summer and hello to autumn. You’ll find a whole host of activities taking place around the city for this festival such as a ‘Giants Parade’ which is a great family event, where huge giants with effigies of kings, queens and nobles march through the streets. Then there are Castellers, which are Human Towers that people build in Plaça de Jaume. There’s also the popular Correfoc – a ‘fire run’ that’s all about fireworks and sparklers.