How to spend a weekend in Amsterdam on a budget!
Updated: May 26
(This post was originally published on 11/18/2015, and was last updated on 5/24/2021)
One of the biggest reasons I wanted to study abroad in the UK was because I knew it would be easy to visit a lot of other places in Europe. The first destination I picked was Amsterdam, and I even convinced my flatmate, Rowan, to come along with me. Being the broke university students that we are, we chose to take the overnight bus from London to Amsterdam, and that certainly was an adventure! This involved 8 hours on a bus, including 2 hours on a ferry, and almost no sleep. However, we only paid around £30 ($42) return, plus about £10 ($14) return for the train between Portsmouth and London.
Day one - Saturday
We arrived in Amsterdam around 8 am, which was about 2 hours before most shops and museums open. We caught the tram from the coach station, which was Fortunately, the reception at our hostel let us take advantage of the continental breakfast. Free food and it helped pass the time!
We stayed at the Han Brinker Hostel, which was super bare-bones, but it worked for us! They offer dorm beds starting at €20, and private double rooms starting at €34. This price includes free breakfast, and the hostel is in a good location.
Filled up with toast and coffee, we decided to head out to check out the city. Our first stop was the Royal Palace of Amsterdam, which is located in Dam Square, in the center of the city. Tickets are €10 for adults and include a free audio guide. The architecture and decoration in the palace were beautiful, and it was very interesting to learn about the transformation of the building from City Hall to the Royal Palace.
After we had finished in the palace, we wandered around the city for a while, checking out some of the shops. We discovered that cheese shops give out free samples, so we spent the afternoon wandering between the cheese shops testing all the varieties. The winner? Goat cheese with truffles. Delicious.
Be sure to check out the Amsterdam Cheese Museum. It's free to enter and you can learn all about the cheese-making process while tasting the yummy cheeses.
Another good foodie find was a chocolate shop called Urban Cacao, which is in the Jordaan area. You can watch as they make the chocolate, and trust me, the chocolate bars are worth the price - at the time I paid €6 for a bar. I had the sea salt and caramel chocolate bar, and I genuinely still think about that chocolate, even 5 years later!
Our next stop was Vondelpark, Amsterdam's largest park. to burn off some of the calories we had just consumed. Being November when we visited, it was a bit drizzly, but during the nicer months, I can see this being a great place to rent some bikes and have a picnic lunch. One of my favorite features of the park was the lost and found wall where people could hang things they had found so they could be reclaimed by their owners. This included a variety of hats, mittens, and keys. Such a cool idea!
We spent the evening eating chocolate crepes and wandering around the Red Light District. I knew I couldn't leave Amsterdam without seeing it, and poor Rowan got dragged along with me. Definitely an experience, especially considering its fame, however, I think I would be content if I didn't go back again. We did go at around 7 pm, which was a bit of a rookie mistake. Things don’t really start coming to life until around 9 pm - this is definitely something to keep in mind if you want to check it out. Side note: photography in the Red Light District is illegal.
Amsterdam travel tip: Coffee shops are establishments that sell weed. If that's what you're into, these are the place to go. If you're just looking for a coffee, make sure to choose a cafe instead of a coffee shop!
Day two - Sunday
If you want to see the Anne Frank House, make sure you head there early in the morning before the queues get too long, or book tickets in advance. Due to it being the shoulder season, our wait wasn't as long as it could have been during the summer months, but we did get there at 8:45 and still ended up waiting for about 45 minutes. It is definitely worth the wait, but this is definitely something to keep in mind, especially if the weather isn't great or you're traveling with young kids!
Tickets for the Anne Frank House are €14 for adults, €7 for ages 10-17, and free for children under 10. Photos are not allowed inside, out of respect for those who lived there. This is definitely a somber place to visit, so it might not be the best place for rowdy children. I first read the Diary of Anne Frank around age 11, and it was so moving to see the secret annex. The true horror of the Holocaust really sunk in upon walking around the house and seeing all the places Anne wrote about. After visiting the annex, you end the tour in a new wing with exhibits about the Holocaust in general. For adults and older children, I would definitely put the Anne Frank House at the top of any list of things to do in Amsterdam.
As our afternoon stop, we decided to check out the Rijksmuseum. This place is huge – definitely on par with the Louvre. We spent a good three and a half hours wandering around the different galleries. The entrance fee is a bit steep at €20 for adults (under 18s are free), so this might not be the best place to visit if you're on a budget and not a huge art museum person. I did enjoy the visit - Rembrandt’s Night Watch is there, and I really liked seeing the gallery of period clothing and accessories.
With a couple of hours left to spare before our bus back to London, we decided to wander around the flower market in central Amsterdam. Coincidentally, there also happens to be plenty of cheese shops in this area, so we made sure to do a bit more sampling before leaving. We also went to a local supermarket to pick up some snacks for the return coach trip. I love visiting supermarkets in other countries to see what they offer and trying to decipher their packaging without knowing the language. Make sure to try the stroopwafels. They are caramel-filled round wafer cookies, which are delicious! After stocking up on snacks, it was time to head to the coach station to begin the 13-hour journey home.
Amsterdam travel tip: Make sure to watch where you're walking. The Dutch are serious bicyclists and don't like having tourists walk in the bike path. Luckily the pedestrian paths and bike paths are clearly marked!
We saw a lot of Amsterdam in the two days that we were there, and we both felt like it is a great destination for a weekend trip. However, there's still so much I didn't see, and I can wait to get back again someday! On my next trip, there are three top things I want to do:
Rent bikes and ride around the city
Take a canal cruise and see Amsterdam from the water
Visit the Van Gogh Museum (€19 adults, free under 18)
Public Transport: I found Amsterdam to be pretty walkable, but if you want to use their public transport system to help get around, day tickets are €8, with discounts for multiple days. Single tickets are €3.20. There is a lower ticket price for children 4-11.
Accommodation: Cheaper double hotel rooms are €125 or less per night, and a small apartment on Airbnb is around €150 per night.
Language: Most Dutch people speak perfect English, so don't worry about a huge language barrier. If you want to learn some basic Dutch before you visit, buy a phrasebook or check out Duolingo.
Day Trips: The Netherlands is a pretty small country, especially by North American standards. You can easily add a day trip to another part of the country. Some popular day trip options are:
- Delft, where the famous blue and white Delft pottery is made
- Lisse, to see the tulip fields
- Zaanse Shans, a small village complete with windmills and a wooden clog maker
- Or venture abroad to Belgium - cities such as Brussels, Ghent, and Bruges are all about a 2-hour train ride from Amsterdam!
Nothing says Amsterdam more than bikes and canals!