Exploring Amsterdam on a budget is not only possible, but it can also enhance the whole experience. A budget forces us to be more creative in the ways that we navigate and interact with environments and people, which is all the more enriching. I can’t tell you how often I had to challenge myself and step out of my comfort zone when traveling because of money restrictions. Today we’re turning an apparent limitation into an asset.
As a traveler with limited financial resources, I had to come up with alternatives to the conventional travel approach. This made me have to rely on other people’s kindness and generosity for a place to sleep and guidance in my itineraries. The best example of this was my experience with couchsurfing back in 2013. It was one of the most transformative and joyful experiences of my entire life. Getting hosted by people in the community made me connect to local people everywhere I was, on a much deeper level than I would otherwise. Befriending complete strangers almost overnight felt like a true gift. To a point that it felt like I was more connected to humankind.
So, my first suggestion for you to immerse yourself in a foreign culture has to be: use couchsurfing. Even if you don’t want to sleep at a stranger’s place or you can’t find a host, you can always go for a walk with a local. Having a local friend is the best way of getting to know a culture and – you’ve guessed it – it’s completely free. As for Amsterdam, there’s plenty to do without you having to spend money – or very little!
Experiencing Amsterdam like a local
|| A stroll around the NDSM (free ferry ride included!) ||
The NDSM is a cultural free haven in Amsterdam North that was born in a former industrial shipyard. You can take the most left-hand ferry behind the central station in order to get there, and it runs every day until 03.00. The ride is lovely and totally free of charge. Once there you can do a street-art tour – start with the huge image of Anne Frank, an artwork by reknown graffiti artist Kobra. You can also visit ‘Art City’ which houses ateliers of artists in the former shipyard wharf. In case you want to have a drink, I’d recommend the marvelous cafe Noorderlicht which overlooks the IJ canal. Also, this is the area where the biggest European flea market takes place, the Ij-Hallen. The entrance to this market costs 5 euro but the price of clothing starts at 1 euro! Check the market’s dates online.
|| A storytelling evening at the Mezrab ||
The Mezrab is a cultural center that hosts storytellings every Friday evening on a donation basis. Once you get there, take a seat around the carpet, grab a nourishing homemade soup (for five euros) and marvel at the English spoken stories, told by tellers from different provenances and walks of life. My favorites are “My True Story” every second Friday of the month, and “The Original Merzab Storytelling Night”, every third Friday of the month.
|| A lunch at MAOZ vegetarian ||
Albert Cuypstraat 67
Another perfect place to eat a veggie meal is MAOZ vegetarian. This is nourishing street food at its best. For five euros you get a yummy pita falafel with all the veggies and toppings you could wish for.
|| A dinner at MKZ ||
Eerste Schinkelstraat 16
Every Thursday, Friday and Saturday, the MKZ team of volunteers cooks a delicious three-course meal for which you pay only five euros! MKZ is a community kitchen with a very relaxed atmosphere, where it is easy to strike a conversation with the locals. There is no table service here, and you’re expected to wash your own dishes. Reserve your spot from 17.00 on via +31206790712.
|| A dancing evening at Pacific Parc ||
UPDATE: The older Pacific Parc no longer exists, so this description no longer applies. However, it’s still worth it to check their agenda as they often host music events.
(free entrance before 23.00)
Pacific Parc is the perfect place to go for a meal, for a drink, or dance the night away with the locals. That’s right, Pacific is both cafe, restaurant and nightclub, and the prices are very reasonable there. The place has a young and creative vibe, it is easy to meet people, and if you arrive before 23.00 the entrance is free. Also, there are usually live rock/punk/funk/afro concerts on the weekends (check their agenda online). This venue is located in the Westergasfabriek complex, a former late 19thcentury gas factory turned cultural hotspot, in the middle of the Westerpark, a beautiful green area that makes for a well-spent afternoon during the warmer season.
|| A ping-pong night at OT301 ||
A ping pong night is this exquisite event where a bunch of folks get together to play ping-pong, drink beers and listen to music. The excuse is the ping-pong, the result is a cheerful international environment (at a former squat turned cultural association), where you get to listen to a dj set, meet other folks and have the (ping pong) time of your life.
|| A concert at the open-air stage in Vondelpark ||
If you come to Amsterdam during summer, know that there are free live concerts and shows almost every day at the Openluchttheater, in the most famous of Amsterdam parks: the Vondelpark. Check their program online; there are different types of music, theatre, dance, opera, you name it. And, since you’re in the open air you can bring your own booze.”