Between the Heinekens, pay-to-play girls bathed in red light, and the bevy of hash cafes, your wallet suddenly appears a pale shade of empty. Believe it or not, as broke as you may be, you can still find entertainment in the land of wooden clogs and bikes. Get on the OTP's trashy tram to ride out the tough waters of dead broke and travel Amsterdam for free.
Walk Through the Red Light District
You don't have to put out (any cash) to experience Amsterdam's Red Light District. A stroll around the narrow canals will put you face-to-face with more floss than your last trip to the dentist. You'll know you're there when you see scantily-clad chicks dancing by the glow of a red light. Sure to be an interesting stroll if you can manage to walk straight or rent a bike to relieve the tension.
The stalls at the Waterlooplein Market are some of the best places to laze away a few hours in Amsterdam on the cheap. One of the city's most beloved squares, with over 300 stalls, you'll find all sorts of interesting things you don't need (and hopefully can't afford to buy anyway). Play dress-up with the old army gear, browse the ancient relics, and score cheap spray paint if you get a wild graffiti craving.
The Jordaan area of Amsterdam used to be a working class neighborhood that has transformed into one of the trendiest parts of the city. Located just across from the Anne Frank House, while Jordaan is quiet, it's packed with art galleries, bars, shops and restaurants. Cruise the Nine Streets, a part of Jordaan made up of three-by-three blocks of roads interwoven with canals. Roam around, window shop in the unusual stores, take some photos and feel your wallet breathing a sigh of relief in your nerdy money belt.
Bridge of 15 Bridges
Lots of canals means there is no shortage of bridges in Amsterdam and one of the coolest free things to do is find the Bridge of 15 Bridges. Head to the bridge where Reguliersgracht and Herengracht meet on the odd-numbered side. Facing away from Thorbeckeplein, you'll have views of six arched bridges in a row. To your left, there are six more over the Herengracht, and to your right, two more. That's only 14 bridges for you math whizzes, but the 15th bridge is the one you're standing on, genius. Go at night when everything is lit up and go buck-wild on bridges.
Five minutes in Amsterdam and your life will probably be threatened by a bike. Keep your eyes up in Vondelpark, a public, 120-acre park west of Museumplein and Leidseplein where bikes zoom by and runners fill-in the remaining space. Take a breather on one of the grassy areas, or in the open air theater, The Vondelpark Openluchttheater. From June-August, there are music, dance, theater and cabaret performances (all free due to the theater's subsidy from the city government.) If you'd like to keep things stationary, noteworthy statues in the park include: "Joost van den Vondel" by Louis Royer, "The Fish" by Pablo Picasso and "Mama Baranka" by Nelson Carrilho.
It took a train or plane to get to Amsterdam, but why stop there? Get on a boat! Grab a ferry from behind Centraal Station across the Het IJ for free. Choose from three routes: two of them head across the river and a tad east, while the third is a more scenic north to west journey. All offer nice views of the industrial part of the harbor, and you can either make a quick round-trip of it, or hop off and explore the northern Amsterdam, a part of the city most tourists skip.
Evil Art Gallery
The Totalitarian Art Gallery is a curious place with all sorts of random propaganda from yesteryear. There are creepy paintings, signs, toys and other memorabilia collected from countries with little or no morals. Great for history fans, you'll find the gallery in the Jordaan area at Singel 87. All of it is free to see and the gallery is open Thursday-Sunday, from 12:00pm-6:00pm.
That Old Nieuw
Nieuwmarkt is one of the oldest parts of Amsterdam. Look for the large castle with gates and turrets that seem ever-so-slightly out of place in contrast to the nipples of the surrounding Red Light District. In Nieuwmarkt, you'll find all sorts of funky bars, cafes, Buddhist temples and ironically, a convent. Go for the daily market, or if you're in Amsterdam over the weekend, the organic food market on Saturdays and antique market on Sundays. The best thing do here is grab a drink and watch the freakshow roll by.
The Schuttersgallerij (Civic Guards Gallery)
This sche-cret of the Amsterdams Historich Museum is located in a passageway between Kalverstraat and the Begijnhof. Here, you'll find fifteen massive paintings of the Amsterdam Civic Guards from the 17th Century. Perhaps the only place in the world where paintings simply hang on display in the street (with only a glass roof to shield them from the elements.)
Since the US Department of Agriculture gets all bent out of shape if you try to bring back anything alive, your best bet is to visit the Central Flower Market and take pictures. The open-air flower market, right in the middle of the city center, is a full block along the Singel Canal and is lined with shops selling seeds, bulbs, flowers and, for the true renegade, grow-your-own weed starter kits.
Pop pop, fizz fizz, oh what a relief it is ... to have found so many free things to do in the Venice of the North! Enjoy all of the freed up cash in your pocket, but use it wisely; mama doesn't want to pick up a brain-dead stoner when your backpacking trip draws to a close.
-- Kyle McNichols