Insider tips from our friends who live in the city…
1 Beat the crowds
“Avoid the summer rush and highest prices by visiting in late spring (May- early June),” advises Kate Darnton, i-escape reviewer and Amsterdam resident. During this time, flowers are in full bloom, the days are long, and it’s warm enough to eat alfresco. September is also a lovely time in the city: it’s still warm and the summer crowds have begun to disperse.
Top tip: Time your visit to coincide with the annual Springsnow Festival, which celebrates the city’s blossoming elm trees, and generally takes place in early May.
2 Stay in self-catered accommodation
There’s no escaping the fact that eating out in Amsterdam is pricey. We’re talking minimum €15 for a main meal, so if you’re a family of 4 eating out every night you’re looking at some pretty hefty bills. Keep it cheap by renting an apartment and self-catering a few meals; try Kith & Kin Boutique Apartments, a stylish collection of hipster hideaways that each sleep up to 5, or opt for canalside living at Water Home, a traditional houseboat moored in a peaceful neighbourhood just outside the centre (sleeps 2-4).
Top tip: Pick up fresh and locally produced supplies from the organic food and flower market by the Noorderkerk, which takes place on Saturday mornings.
3 Explore on foot or by bike
Amsterdam’s centre is small. Hans Schlager, owner of Water Home, says “crossing it east to west will take a maximum of 45 minutes (on foot),” so there really is little need to pay for public transport. Of course, lots of Amsterdammers cycle, and many visitors are keen to join the action. You can rent bikes for similar prices across the city – try Yellow Bike Rental or MacBike – “but the style of the Amsterdam bikers is hard to adapt,” warns Hans, mainly because cyclists don’t always stick to the rules of the road. Instead, you could just forget the bike and base yourself right in the centre of town. Try The Dylan or Boutique Apartment Amsterdam, two seriously stylish hotels in seriously central locations – you do end up paying a little more for the convenience, though.
Top tip: A great way to orientate yourself is to join one of the free guided walking tours, which map key sights such as the Red Light District, the Jewish Quarter and Anne Frank’s House.
4 Get a museum pass
The big attractions, like the Van Gogh Museum and the Rijksmuseum, nearly always have snaking queues of keen sight-seers waiting patiently outside – when we visited, we spent 2 and a half hours waiting to get inside the Anne Frank Museum. It was totally worth it, but paying to skip the queue would have been totally worth it, too! Amsterdam Holland Pass, I Amsterdam City Pass and Museumkaart are among the various passes available. They offer free or discounted entry to the main museums, and some also include public transport tickets. They’re not overly cheap – adult passes start from around €40 – but if you want to do a few museums you’ll end up saving money. Find out more here
Top tip: Beat the crowds and arrive early by basing yourself at hotel JL No 76, a cheap and chic hotel set sleep bang in the middle of the museum district.
5 …or go to the free museums
Not all museums in Amsterdam charge for entry. Hans recommends discovering the city’s eclectic history at the Amsterdam City Archives, where there’s a free exhibition showcasing local treasures, or browsing the Amsterdam Public Library, which often hosts exhibitions, readings and occasional concerts. You can also admire portraits of the Dutch elite at the Schuttersgalerij (Civic Guards Gallery), completely free of charge. And of course, there are countless churches to be explored, which are free to enter during the week. Keep it cheap by staying at Hotel V Frederiksplein, an excellent-value hotel located close to the museums.
Top tip: If you visit the library, head up to the top floor to take in the glorious panoramic views of the city.
6 Go to a free event
There are free lunchtime concerts (starting at 12:30) at the National Opera & Ballet on Tuesdays and at the Royal Concertgebouw on Wednesdays. On Tuesday evenings, the Bimhuis hosts jam sessions from 10pm, though note that these don’t run during July and August. And of course, there are dozens of free festivals and celebrations throughout the year – don’t miss the “Grachtenfestival (Canal Festival) in mid-August” and “the craziness of Koningsdag” (King’s Day), says Kate.
Top tip: Arrive early for the lunchtime concerts – they’re incredibly popular.
Special thanks to Kate Darnton and Hans Schlager for their contributions.