Gasp if you will, but Amsterdam was never very high on my list of places to visit. I always assumed that behind the glittering veneer of perfectly synced cyclists, unreal tulip fields and artsy cafes that appeared while scrolling through Instagram feeds, were unwashed and dirty streets like most, big, tourist-infested cities.
I couldn’t have been more wrong.
[Not about the tourist infestation. That part was pretty accurate.]
But let me tell you with all the conviction of a person truly, madly, deeply in love with a city – Amsterdam is way ahead of its peers (take note, Paris and Rome) in the running for the World’s Cleanest Capital (if there was such a thing).
Although known to most of the world as the city where vice runs amok, there’s a lot more to do and see in the Dutch capital beyond the red-light district and the coffee shops proffering pot brownies. So, if you, like me, enjoy immersing yourself in the history and culture of a city while staying on the straight and narrow, and pinching your hard earned pennies in the process, then this post is for you.
Without further ado, here’s a list of my personally curated (just trying to make it sound fancier than it is) halal and budget-friendly things to do in Amsterdam.
Quick note: I’ve skipped some of the most popular things like the Anne Frank House, museums and Dam Square since you’ll find them on pretty much any ‘What to do in Amsterdam’ list. Doesn’t mean they aren’t worth experiencing, though.
1) See one of the last few windmills in the city
For most of us the word ‘Amsterdam’ is pretty much synonymous with tulips, cheese and WINDMILLS. However, there are, in actuality, only 8 windmills still left standing within the confines of the city out of the hundreds that once dotted the Dutch landscape. But you know what THEY say – did you even go to Amsterdam if you didn’t get a single Instagrammable windmill photo?! And ‘THEY’ are not to be ignored.
2) Rummage your way through Albert Cuypstraat
One of the cheapest places in all of Amsterdam and the largest outdoor market in the Netherlands, Albert Cuyp has stalls for anything and everything, six days a week (minus Sundays). From traditional Dutch food to clothes and souvenirs, you’ll be hard pressed to not stop and poke around stalls every few feet.
Tip: Try not to get any electronic stuff here unless you’re willing to risk your moneys. Most of it is made in China and not very good quality. I bought a camera charger out of utter desperation and, of course, it didn’t work so…. c:
3) Fill up on stroopwafels
These wafer thin waffles are made fresh right in front of your eyes if you get them from a street market/corner. I suggest doing this at least once because the process is as enjoyable as the product. When warm they promptly melt in your mouth. I guarantee you’ll be hooked or your money back (wait, I’m just dispensing free advice so um, forget the money thing). You can also get packaged ones to stash secretly at home on your way back. Secretly because you won’t want to share them with anyone else c:
4) Explore the journey of cheese and enjoy free samples
Cost: Free (however, please don’t blame me if you end up spending your entire trip’s budget on an assortment of cheese).
Cheese shops are peppered throughout the city but that’s not even the best part. How could it not be, you ask? Quite a few of these will offer free short tours of how cheese is made, complete with literal towers of cheese wheels.
You also get to try out samples of ALL kinds of cheeses from smoked jalapeno cheese to lavender goat cheese (yep, that’s a thing and it’s pretty damn good).
The one we went to was a Cheese and More shop by Henri Willig at Bloemenmarkt.
5) Gaze at one of the best views of the city + swim in books
There are lots of vantage points across Amsterdam but the view of the city’s historical district from the Amsterdam Public Library (OBA) is one of the most breathtaking. At least, that’s what I hear. We made our way down there but couldn’t get to the 6th or 7th floors because of some renovation work 🙁 Sob story aside, it was still a worthwhile trip because hanging out at libraries is one of my favourite pastimes, especially when I’m surrounded by 1.5 million books!
Quick note: The 7th floor terrace is only open during the warmer months BUT the 6th floor with its ceiling to floor glass windows also offers an amazing panoramic view.
Photos above by: Kristina Kutena http://kutena.nl
6) Eat your weight in halal budget food
If you know me even a tiny bit, then you knew this was coming. Head down Lange Leidsedwarsstraat or Prinsengracht and sooner or later you’ll come across charming little cafes offering all kinds of pizzas and pastas for just €5. Quite a few of these are owned by Turkish or Arab immigrants and offer halal options.
We ended up at Gino’s Port Carrara on 2 out of the 3 days we were in the city. Would’ve been there all three days but we only discovered it on day 2 *shrug* One pizza and lasagne was enough for three of us. Some of the best and cheapest food we had in all of Europe!
Btw, a paper cone of piping hot, thick and crispy fries is also a very honoured Dutch tradition. Along with toppings like mayonnaise, applesauce or curry ketchup.
7) Stroll through the world’s only floating flower market
Picture colourful flowers, fascinating souvenirs and all kinds of plant seeds (including weed!). The fragrance of fresh flowers lingers in the air in Bloemenmarkt, located on the Singel canal, dating all the way back to 1862.
8) Catch a free ferry ride
Most tourists head out the front of Centraal Station, never exploring the other side. That would’ve been us too if I hadn’t spend days poring over every blog post/travel guide ever written about Amsterdam (#tinyexaggeration). Why should you explore the back? Because that’s where you’ll find the river IJ and the free ferry that will transport you across it to Amsterdam Noord (North).
There are a number of different ferry routes but two of the the most popular ones are to Buiksloterweg and NDSM. The Buiksloterweg route only takes about 3-5 minutes but the NDSM one is longer and takes approx. 30 minutes. Buiksloterweg is where you’ll find the Dutch Film Museum, the EYE Building and Tolhuistuin. Pick your route based on how far you want to travel on the river and what you’d like to see when you get to the other side.
9) Immerse yourself in local culture with a picnic at Vondelpark
Cost: Free + whatever snacks you pick up at the closest supermarket
The insanely huge 37 acre Vondelpark features an open air theatre with live concerts in the summer. Sunny days see hordes of locals heading down fully equipped with their disposable barbecue and other picnic paraphernalia. The only warning I’d like to insert here: don’t get lost. Take it from someone who did…more than once.
10) Try raw herring (not for the faint of heart)
Cost: €2.50-€4 per piece
Beloved by locals, there are fresh herring stalls at almost every street corner in the summer. From afar, it seemed like quite a treat, watching people picking it up by its tail and sliding it into their mouths as though fulfilling the most delicious craving.
Still worried that the raw flavour might be too overpowering for my unacquainted taste buds, I got mine with a bun and pickle. Even as I excitedly bit into it, the fishy smell gave it away – this wasn’t for me. I couldn’t have more than a couple of bites, only drawing satisfaction from the fact that I had at least crossed it off my list of things to experience. Never again. If you’re made of stronger stuff, I wish you all the luck!
Bonus: Explore the free Rijksmuseum at the airport
In case the €20 entrance fee for the actual Rijksmusuem is more than you can squeeze into your tight budget, you can get your small dose of Dutch artistic masterpieces at the free Rijksmusuem at Schipol airport. It’s located past security between lounges 2 and 3.
Note: I also skipped the ‘I amsterdam’ sign since it’s no longer located in the museum quarter as of December 2018. However, if you’re really into getting a picture with it you can still find a smaller version of it at the Schipol entrance.
Have you done any of these things in Amsterdam? Which ones would be on your list when you visit? I’d love to know! Let’s chat about it in the comments.
You can also read more of my European (mis)adventures over here.