Budget Travel

How to enjoy Amsterdam's canals, cafes and culture on a tight budget

Amsterdam is one of Europe's favorite city break destinations, however with its small size and immense popularity, you should be prepared for high prices. However, with a few advance planning and some inside know-how, Amsterdam can be surprisingly affordable.

Visiting at quieter times, scouting out bargain fares and snapping up accommodation deals can reap big rewards. Once you're within the city, finding cheap eats and discounts on attractions, and figuring out the very best transport options will even keep costs down.

Remember too that you could often find cheap deals to get to Amsterdam, whether you come across air, boat, bus or train. Here are some tips to create your financial allowance stretch further in Amsterdam.

Daily costs in Amsterdam

  • Hostel room (dorm bed) in winter/summer: from EUR18/30 (US$20.35/34)
  • Basic accommodation for two (with shared bathroom) in winter/summer: from EUR55/70 (US$62/79)
  • Basic hotel room for two (with ensuite bathroom) in winter/summer: from EUR80/145 (US$90.50/164)
  • Self-catering apartment (including Airbnb): from EUR150 (US$169.30)
  • Public transport ticket (one hour/day ticket/one-day Amsterdam Travel Ticket): EUR3.20/8.50/17 (US$3.60/9.60/19.20)
  • Train from Schiphol airport to Centraal Station (one-way): EUR4.60 (US$5.20)
  • Coffee: EUR2 -3.50 (US$2.25 -3.95)
  • Sandwich: EUR6 -11 (US$6.80 -12.45)

Avoid peak times to reduce accommodation

Accommodation will probably be among the biggest-ticket components of your trip. Based on when you're traveling, it may be a good idea to secure your bed for that night before booking your transport, so you're not trapped by sky-high prices and limited availability. Dynamic pricing means rates can vary wildly according to demand; generally, the further in advance you book, the low the cost.

Late fall (October/November) to springtime (February/March) is invariably the cheapest time to travel because the weather turns winter. Accommodation prices begin tulip season (around mid-March to May) and through the warmer months (April to September), and soar during major holidays.

Book well ahead for optimum times, particularly Easter (March/April) and King's Day, the Netherlands' national day, which falls on 27 April (or 26 April when the 27th falls on a Sunday). Even just in winter, booking rooms at Christmas and Year attracts reasonably limited.

Amsterdam also fills up during high-profile festivals and events, so it is effective keep close track of the tourist authority's calendar to find out what's on on your trip. Rooms and apartments booked through Airbnb and other websites can provide savings, but real bargains are rare thanks to government restrictions on private lets.

Visit mid-week to find the best deals

Any season, Amsterdam is a hugely popular place to go for weekend breaks, because of it's very easy international connections, superb cultural attractions and legendary nightlife, making Friday and Saturday the most expensive nights to stay at hostels, hotels or rental apartments.

Sunday nights are usually the cheapest of, followed by bookings for that first couple of times of the week. The cost of transport to Amsterdam can also be typically cheaper mid-week. Visiting outside of weekends also means fewer crowds at attractions and restaurants, giving you more flexibility with your schedule.

Choose the best-value place for your stay

While accommodation costs are generally highest within Amsterdam's central, canal-encircled, Unesco World Heritage-listed old city, properties situated quite a distance out often aren't cost-effective when you element in transport costs and traveling time.

Neighborhoods fringing the middle, for example Jordaan, free airline, Plantage, the Eastern Islands, Oosterpark, the region east from the Amstel river, and the area south of Vondelpark offer value and simple transport links.

A cool, often overlooked area is up-and-coming Amsterdam Noord, on the northern side of the IJ river, that is easily reached from Amsterdam Centraal Station by a quick, free ferry ride (the metro also runs here).

Consider options to flying

Flight comparison websites (such as Skyscanner and Kayak) are handy for tracking down deals on travel arrangements to Amsterdam from all corners around the globe. However, trains may go out cheaper for short-haul travelers, especially once you take into account travel some time and costs back and forth from the airports at either end.

Amsterdam is well connected to destinations over the European mainland, and Eurostar now has direct services from London to Amsterdam, with a travel time of under four hours.

You can also find some great discount deals on tickets for that overnight DFDS ferries between Newcastle-upon-Tyne in the UK and the port of IJMuiden, 27km (17 miles) northwest of Amsterdam. While they're slow, onboard facilities include restaurants, bars and ranging categories of cabins, and native 382 bus runs from IJMuiden to Station Sloterdijk on the Amsterdam metro.

Buses are usually the cheapest – and slowest – method to reach Amsterdam. Major international operator FlixBus has comfortable coaches with facilities including power sockets and wi-fi.

Consider buying a discount card or museum pass for savings

If you're likely to see several museums, a price reduction card or museum pass can be a money-saver, but note that you'll still need pre-book entry timeslots at the sights. Before getting one, see if you're eligible for discounted entry anyway. Many sights offer reduced prices for students (bring ID), seniors over 65 and their partners over 60 (show your passport), and even for selected professions (eg artists, journalists, museum conservators and teachers) with valid accreditation.

For travelers aged under 30, an excellent investment is the digital EYC (European Youth Card), known within the Netherlands as the CJP (Cultural Youth Passport). It provides discounts on transport, sightseeing, accommodation, shopping and other travel perks in 36 countries across Europe (cut-off ages vary in certain countries). The price is EUR14 (US$15.80) and it's valid for any year; you don't have to be European and you don't have to be a student to qualify.

For older travelers, the I amsterdam City Card provides admittance to lots of museums (albeit with notable exceptions, such as the Anne Frank Huis, so check museum websites carefully). It also features a GVB transit pass, a canal cruise, and discounts at shops, entertainment venues and restaurants, also it comes with a handy planning app. Prices vary from EUR65 (US$73.40) for 24 hours to EUR130 (US$146.80) for five days,

A Museumkaart (aka Netherlands Museum Pass) provides you with free and discounted admission to some 400 museums all around the Netherlands for just one year for any cost of EUR64.90 (US$73.30) but there are several caveats: without a Dutch bank account, you'll have to buy a temporary card at among the museums approved to issue them. It's valid for 31 days (covering no more than five museums) and you can then register it on the internet and get your permanent card sent to a Dutch address (just like your hotel) within five business days.

On arrival, save money on airport transport

If you do fly into Amsterdam, taking public transport is significantly cheaper than going for a taxi or utilizing a rideshare plan to reach the center. This can also help you save a lot of time navigating the high-traffic in Amsterdam's maze of streets. Schiphol airport is 18km southwest of the city center, and contains excellent transport links, including airport buses and it is own train station, linked by NS trains to Amsterdam Centraal Station.

The convenient and good value all-in-one Amsterdam Travel Ticket includes airport travel along with the utilization of all GVB public transport services around Amsterdam. It is from EUR17 (US$19.20) for one day to EUR28 (US$31.60) for 3 days.

Get around cheaply by walking or by bike or public transport

Walking is the best way to understand more about central Amsterdam – the terrain is flat, the canal-scapes are enchanting and, best of all, it's free. Just be sure you look out for trams and cyclists as you wander.

To really roll like a local, visit a bike. Fietsen (bicycles) famously outnumber cars in Amsterdam, with inexpensive rental outlets everywhere and cycle lanes threaded over the city. If you need a practice run before entering the fray, have a spin round the leafy Vondelpark.

Amsterdam also has integrated ticketing across its excellent public transport network, such as the city's iconic trams, the metro and many city buses. Each one is run by the city's transit authority, GVB, and hour-long and day tickets are available, as well as money-saving passes. Journey planner 9292.nl makes it simple to sort out the most efficient routes.

Self-cater at Amsterdam's bountiful markets

Staying in accommodation with self-catering facilities can make a big dent inside your travel costs in Amsterdam, but even if you don't have access to a kitchen, picnics can produce a great substitute in fine weather.

Fresh produce, Dutch cheeses such as Edam and Gouda, and ready-to-eat snacks like haring (herring, chopped with diced onion on the fluffy bread roll), stroopwafels (caramel syrup-filled wafers) and poffertjes (tiny pancakes dusted with icing sugar) are perfect portable snacks to consider towards the city's picturesque canal banks and parks.

The city's biggest street market, De Pijp's Albert Cuypmarkt, sets up every single day except Sunday; fill your basket before heading to nearby Sarphatipark. Other standout markets for food shopping range from the Lindengracht Market, Noordermarkt, Ten Katemarkt, Nieuwmarkt's Boerenmarkt (farmers market), the multicultural Dappermarkt, and the roving, artisan Pure Markt.

Take benefit of Amsterdam's brilliant cheap eats

Here's some good news for budget travelers – the whole city is fertile ground for low-cost, high-quality eateries, encompassing cuisines from around the globe, as well as local Dutch cuisine. For that latter, look for Amsterdam minichains for example Stach (gourmet sandwiches and deli items), SLA (organic salads), De Bakkerswinkel (baked treats) and The Butcher (outstanding burgers) among countless others.

A fantastic taster of Amsterdam's budget dining offerings is Foodhallen, with local and international food stands set around an airy communal seating area at the tram-depot-turned-cultural-complex De Hallen. Be sure to not leave Amsterdam without savoring a coneful of crispy, fluffy Vlaamse frites ("Flemish fries") slathered from the traditional mayonnaise to fiery sambal. Try popular and recommended hole-in-the-wall friterie Vleminckx.

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