Many people who plan a trip to Europe make Amsterdam one of their priority destinations. It’s really no surprise considering the city is easily accessible, has beautiful scenery, and a laid back attitude. The problem is, the city can be expensive. If you read my guide on how much does it cost to go to Amsterdam, you’ll see that the cost of accommodations and food can add up fast. That said, Amsterdam on a budget is possible.
The key thing to understand is that you’re going to need to lower your expectations if you want to travel to Amsterdam for cheap. You likely won’t find cheap Amsterdam hotels in the city centre and eating out every meal is not advised. While this may sound disappointing, you may not actually be losing out on the experience since you’ll probably only be here a few days. Here’s how to see Amsterdam on a budget.
Amsterdam on a budget – Transportation
Getting to Amsterdam is usually the biggest cost for travellers. KLM does direct flights from just about every major airport in the world, but they’re also one of the more expensive airlines. Since Amsterdam is a major city, the odds are that the national carrier from your home country flies there and they’ll likely have lower fares. If you’re travelling from within Europe, there are multiple discount carriers that will get you there.
The main mode of public transportation in Amsterdam are the trams, Metro and bus. Generally speaking, trams follow the major streets and get you to just about anywhere in the city. The metro is underground in the city centre but goes above ground once you’re in the outlying districts. Buses supplement all remaining routes. A 1-hour ticket is 3.20€ (US $3.90). However, if you get an OV-chipkaart (a reloadable card that costs 7.50€), you get discounts on each ride. There are also daily passes available for 24, 48, or 72 hours which are reasonably priced.
The ferries that cross the River IJ are free for pedestrians, cyclists and mopeds. That means it’ll cost you nothing to travel to Amsterdam North. This is handy if you plan on travelling to that side of the city. The departure ports have a digital timer so you’ll know when the next ferry will arrive.
You likely know that the Dutch love to bike. The entire country is built around biking so renting one for the length of your trip is often a fun thing to do. It’s inexpensive (although more expensive than a metro pass) and you get to see the city like a local. There are dedicated bike lanes everywhere with their own signals so you’ll feel safe riding around.
If you’re travelling outside of Amsterdam, you’ll likely have to take the national train. It’s inexpensive and you can use your OV-chipkaart to pay. Just make sure you have at least 20€ on your card. Many interesting cities are less than an hour away by train, so they’re worth checking out if you have the time.
Amsterdam on a budget – Accommodations
The reality is that there are no cheap Amsterdam hotels in the city centre. However, there are plenty of great neighbourhoods such as Amsterdam-Zuid (south), Amsterdam-West, Eastern Docklands, and Plantage that have affordable accommodations. You may have never heard of any of these areas, but they’re a quick tram ride (15-20mins) to the touristy areas. These neighbourhoods also have fewer tourists, so they can be fun to explore. Here are the best cheap Amsterdam hotels.
There are a few hostels in Amsterdam and some of them have great locations. While they’re cheaper compared to hotels in the city, they’re also more expensive compared to hostels in other parts of Europe. You know what to expect here: dorms and shared bathroom facilities. Here are some Amsterdam hostel recommendations:
As mentioned, there are plenty of budget hotels in the city, you’re just going to have to stay outside of the city centre. These are 2 star and 3 star properties where space is limited. If you just need a clean place to stay, the following budget hotels in Amsterdam will be just fine.
Mid-range hotels in Amsterdam are a bit subjective. They still fall under the 2-3 star property range, but they typically are located in slightly better locations. You can find decent hotels around Dam Square, Museumplein, and Rembrandt Square. If you have a little more money to spend, consider the following mid-range hotels:
I don’t really consider apartments in Amsterdam to be cheap, but they can be a decent value for small families since you get more room compared to a hotel. The other obvious advantage is that you’ll likely get access to a kitchen and laundry. Here are some apartments in Amsterdam that are worth checking out:
Amsterdam on a budget – Attractions
Although you could opt to not pay to go into attractions, Amsterdam is home to two of the top museums in the world: The Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh Museum. It would be wise to pay to go into at least one of these museums. Alternatively, you could just use the I Amsterdam City Card which gives you access to 70+ museums and attractions, unlimited use of public transportation, free bike rentals, and a free canal cruise. The cost is 65/85/105€ for 24/48/72 hour passes.
If you prefer to not pay anything at all for attractions, your best bet is to just wander around neighbourhoods and squares. Vondelpark, Rembrandtplein, Dam Square/Royal Palace, Jordaan/The 9 Streets are the most popular areas.
Although you have to pay to get into many of the museums, you can also appreciate them from the outside. Anne Frank House and Museumplein. You should obviously also take a stroll through the Red Light District and Chinatown to see the culture. Sitting by one of the canals (or the grand canal) can be quite relaxing. You can also check out the Old Church, the Begijnhof, and New Church for free.
Pro-tip, if you want some cool and free views of the city, head over to the OBA library of Amsterdam beside Centraal Station. You can also climb the exterior of the NEMO Science Museum as there’s a public garden.
Amsterdam on a budget – Food
I’m going to warn you now, food in Amsterdam is not cheap. It’s one of the more expensive cities I’ve been to. What’s even more annoying is that service is often slow at restaurants and portions are small. That said, there are quite a few inexpensive ways to eat.
Amsterdam has various Supermarket chains that are found every few blocks. The most common store is Albert Heijn, but Jumbo and Lidl are also found throughout the city. You can obviously save money by purchasing snacks and prepared meals. Albert Heign even has ready to cook meals if you have access to a kitchen.
Dutch frites (french fries) are the best. They’re double deep fried so they’re soft on the inside but crunchy on the outside. Most frite shops have more than 30 sauces to choose from but note that you need to pay for each one you order. A small order of fries is about 4€, while a large is 7€. Manneken Pis is the most famous brand.
Herring is a fish found locally that is popular among Dutch people. It’s usually smoked and comes with onions and pickles. Think of it more as a snack, but for 2-3€ each, you can get two and call it a meal.
If the idea of smoked fish with onions turns you off, an alternate is kibbeling. It’s basically chunks of deep fried fish served with garlic sauce. Every fish stall/shop in Amsterdam will have it available and it should cost about 4-5€ for an order.
There are many snack bars around the city that serve fast food from different countries. I’m talking about American, Duth, Indonesian, Chinese, and Suriname cuisine. It’s rather inexpensive and can be quite tasty since it’s something a lot of Dutch people grow up on. If you’re near KNSM-eiland, check out De Piraat.
Traditionally found in pubs and snack bars, bitterballen is deep fried meatballs served with a mustard sauce. There’s really not much else to say about bitterballen as it tastes exactly how you’re imagining it.
You’ve probably realized by now that the dutch like to deep fry just about anything. Croquette is very common in Amsterdam and it’s usually filled with potatoes. However, now you’ll find just about anything in croquette from fish to noodles. It’s a bit heavy, but it’s inexpensive. It’s also funny to say you ate a noodle croquette.
When it comes to cheese, the Dutch don’t disappoint. All the Gouda cheese is produced locally so it’s really cheap. If you’re in the supermarket, I suggest buying a block and snacking on it throughout the day. A decent sized wedge of cheese will likely cost you around 5€.
A dutch sausage on a bun is locally known as a Broodje Rookworst and only costs around 2-3€. This is one of the cheapest snacks you’ll find in the city. It’s not exactly the fanciest of meals, but it is a traditional meal.
Over the last few years, falafel sandwiches have become incredibly popular. The falafel is actually served in a pita as opposed to a bun, and it comes packed with veggies. It shouldn’t cost you more than 6€ for a falafel sandwich and you’ll be stuffed.
Although Amsterdam on a budget can be done, it’s not always the best strategy. Why penny-pinch when you’re on vacation when you can do it at home instead? No really, skip eating out when you’re at home, so you won’t feel guilty about spending when you’re on holiday. For more budget travel inspiration, check out my guides on Bali, Japan, Dubai, Italy, Paris, and Disney World.