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Amsterdam for Free

Special and often hidden sightseeing attractions for nothing

A voyage of discovery through Amsterdam does not have to cost that much. There are enough free attractions to see in the city to last the whole week. Above all, Amsterdam is one of the less expensive capital cities in Europe. In Amsterdam you can get a lot for your money and sometimes for no money whatsoever!

Some of these sightseeing attractions in Amsterdam are not only free, but of the most pleasant and surprising nature too. Their secret: they are well hidden!

Some examples:

The Schuttersgallerij (Civic Guards Gallery): paintings on the street

This is one of the surprises in the Amsterdams Historisch Museum (Amsterdam Historical Museum). In a passageway between the Kalverstraat and the Begijnhof it is possible to admire fifteen enormous paintings – portraits of the Amsterdam Civic Guards from the 17th Century. This is probably the only place in the world where paintings are simply hanging on display in the street. A glass roof of course protects them. The most famous painting of the Civic Guard is of course the “Nightwatch” by Rembrandt, which can be admired in the Rijksmuseum. The Schuttersgallerij from the Amsterdams Historisch Museum can be reached via the beautiful gateway on the Kalverstraat.
– Amsterdams Historisch Museum, Kalverstraat 92. [Google Map]

Begijnhof: peaceful medieval haven in the centre of a cosmopolitan city

The Begijnhof (B̩guinage) does not really belong to the category of unknown attractions, but is reasonably difficult to find. Here you can discover a village square in the heart of Amsterdam. Well kept lawns with tall trees surrounded by cottages, which are hundreds of years old, an abundance of flowers with a small medieval church, situated right in the middle. The Begijnhof was built in the 14th Century as a place where devout women, who did not want to enter a convent, were able to live. The oldest house in Amsterdam can also be found here Рit has a wooden frontage dating from about 1475.
– Begijnhof; the main entrance is on Gedempte Begijnensloot, off Spui. [Google Map]

‘Spanish riding school’ in the Dutch Manege

Yet another surprise: a small nondescript door in the Vondelstraat 140 leads into one of the last and most beautiful city riding schools in Europe. The Royal Riding School, better known as the ‘Hollandsche Manège’ (Dutch Stables) first opened its doors in 1882. The architect, A.L. van Gendt (who was also responsible for the famous Concertgebouw) took his inspiration from the ‘Spanish Riding School’ in Vienna. The stylish 19th Century interior, including the orchestra balcony and the attractive foyer have hardly changed.

Although the art of horse riding in the Amsterdam stables is not of the same high standard as in Vienna, the building is still very much worth a visit for enthusiasts.
– Hollandsche Manege, Vondelstraat 140 (near the Vondelpark) [Google Map]

Bridge of 15 bridges

In Amsterdam’s canal belt there is one bridge that gives a view of no less than 15 bridges! This unusual spectacle is offered by the bridge at the crossing of the Reguliersgracht with the Herengracht, on the odd-numbered side. If you stand on this bridge with your back to the Thorbeckeplein, you will see six arched bridges in a row. On the left side you will find six more over the Herengracht, one after another, and on the right you will see the next two. If you are good at math you can arrive at the disappointing total of only 14 bridges. The 15th is the bridge you are standing on.

In most of the touristic guidebooks on Amsterdam this “Bridge of 15 bridges” is mentioned. In the evening the display is even more festive because then the bridge arches are (usually…) lit with hundreds of lights. From sightseeing cruise boats you often hear a repeated chorus of “ohs” and “ahs” and the clicking of a whole fleet of camera shutters.
– Reguliersgracht/corner Herengracht. [Google Map]

Rijksmuseum garden: a curious collection of architecture

One of the least known sightseeing attractions in Amsterdam is the garden by the Rijksmuseum. This attractive garden features beautifully cared for flowerbeds, fountains and summerhouses, but also a collection of sculptures.

The ‘ruins’ in this garden are especially worth a mention. A curious collection of building fragments from ancient Holland were brought together at the end of the last century from all over the country. The result is a collection of five centuries of Dutch architecture – everything from Gothic pillars from Edam to 17th Century city gates from cities such as Groningen and Deventer.
Of special interest is the ‘Fragments Building’: a mishmash of pilasters, gables, lionmasks and festoons from monuments that were pulled down in the last century.

Entrance to the garden is free from Tuesday-Saturday between 10.00-17.00 and Sundays and holidays between 13.00-17.00.
– Rijksmuseum, Stadhouderskade 42 / Museumplein [Google Map]

Zuiderkerk: future of Amsterdam in a 17th Century Church

In the 17th Century Zuiderkerk in the heart of the city centre, visitors get a chance to see a detailed picture of the city plann¬ing and housing in Amsterdam through the centuries. The permanent section of the exhibition gives a complete view of the urban development of the city from the Middle Ages up until the present day. Temporary exhibitions are also put on concerning new plans for the city – the area around the IJ-riverbanks, for example.

The renovation of the city and supplementary housing construction in Amsterdam are clearly illustrated by means of scale-models, slides, drawings and photos. Several architectural walks through Amsterdam are possible in a number of languages. The folders that accompany this exhibition are available in Dutch and English.

The Zuiderkerk was built between 1602-1611 as the first Protestant Church in Holland by the Amsterdam city architect Hendrick de Keyser. The church, built in the Dutch Renaissance style has a magnificent church tower with a carillon built by the famous 17th Century bell-founder Francois Hemony.

Entrance to the Zuiderkerk is free; open Monday to Friday from 12.00 – 17.00, and on Thursdays also from 18.00 – 20.00.
– Zuiderkerkhof 72 (near St Anthoniebreestraat). [Google Map]

The ‘one and only’ Normal Amsterdam Peil (NAP) in the Stadhuis (Town Hall)

In the passage between the Stadhuis and the Muziektheater (Opera House) on the Waterlooplein, it is possible to see the ‘one and only’ Normal Amsterdam Peil (NAP): a bronze button indicates the exact NAP water level. This bronze button acts as the standard from which the levels above sea in nearly all European countries are measured. Next to this standard, approximately half a metre under ground level, three glass columns rise out of the floor. The water in two of these columns indicates the current water level of the sea at Flushing (Vlissingen) and IJmuiden. The waterlevel in the third column bubbles terrifyingly high above your head, to a height of almost 5 metres. The seawater reached this level during the disastrous floods in Zeeland in 1953.

On the wall of this passage is a cross-section of Holland between the IJsselmeer and the North Sea, hereby giving an illustration of just how well the Dutch control their water situation.
– Stadhuis/ Muziektheater, Amstel 1 / Waterlooplein [Google Map]

Lunchtime concerts in the Concertgebouw and the Stadhuis

Amsterdammers and visitors are treated to a number of free lunchtime concerts every week (October to June). On Tuesday at 12.15 the doors open at the Boekmanzaal (a part of the Amsterdam Stadhuis/Muziektheater) for a concert from 12.30 – 13.00.
The programme consists of chamber music, which is performed by some of members of the permanent ensembles in the Muziektheater: the Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra, the Choir of the Netherlands Opera and the Netherlands Ballet Orchestra.

At the Concertgebouw there is a free concert on offer every Wednesday from 12.30-13.00. These concerts take place in either the Great Hall (Grote Zaal) or the Recital Hall (Kleine Zaal). Often these concerts involve public rehearsals by orchestras such as the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra (Koninklijk Concertgebouworkest), who perform ‘officially’ later that evening.
– Concertgebouw, Concertgebouwplein 2-6 [Google Map]
– Town Hall, Amstel 1 [Google Map]

Ferry over the River IJ: a free boat trip

Between the city centre of Amsterdam and North Amsterdam lies the IJ, the oldest part of Amsterdam’s port. It is in fact a bay of the previous Zuiderzee (now known as the IJsselmeer). It is possible to cross the IJ 24 hours a day by ferry on a free trip, which lasts about five minutes. Admittedly such a straightforward crossing is hardly adventurous but from the ferry you do get a wonderful view of the expanse of water, the shipping and the banks of the IJ.

The ferry, the ‘Buikersloterwegveer’, leaves daily landing stage number 7 behind Central Station (the Ruyterkade), and travels between 6.30 and 21.00 every 7.5 minutes; the rest of the time it leaves every quarter of an hour.

A smaller ferry, the ‘IJ-Veer’, leaves from landing stage number 8, which transports passengers to a more easterly point on the Northern bank of the IJ; this ferry only runs from Mondays to Fridays between 6.35 and 18.05.
– Ferry landing stages, behind Central Station [Google Map]

Floating Flower Market on the Singel

The flower market on the Singel between the Munt tower and the Konings¬plein is one of the most colourful, sweet-smelling sightseeing attractions in Amsterdam. The Singel is one of the oldest canals in Amsterdam. Of special mention are the goods, which are set out on floating stalls. A tradition stemming from the time when all flowers and plants were daily transported by boat, fresh from the horticultural regions around Amsterdam. The flowers are still delivered daily but the lorry has now repla¬ced the water transport.

Since 1862 this market has developed into one of the most famous flower markets in Holland. Everything that grows or blooms can de found here – from Dutch tulips and geraniums to indoor cypresses and ‘mano’ bulbs from the Easter Islands. In December of course an overwhelming collection of Christmas trees in all shapes and sizes are also on sale.
Open: Mon/Fri 9.00 – 18.00; Sat 9.00 – 17.00.
– Singel, between the Koningsplein and the Muntplein [Google Map]

United Europe on the Roemer Visscherstraat

On the Roemer Visscherstraat in Amsterdam it is possible to make a trip around seven European countries within one minute. Ever since 1894 a row of houses has stood here built in the style of seven countries: Germany, France, Spain, Italy, Russia, Holland and England.

This ‘United Europe’, also known as the ‘Seven Countries-Houses’, were built by the architect Tjeerd Kuipers, (1858 – 1942) with the intention of focussing on the history of European architecture. From right to left:
At number 20 a house featuring gothic arched windows – the inspiration
taken from romantic German architecture;
At number 22 a French Loire Chateau;
A Spanish villa at number 24 typifying Moors masterworks in Granada;
The Italian ‘palazzo’ next door at number 26 is somewhat more austere in style;
At number 28 a Russian cathedral dating from the time of Ivan the Terrible crowned by an onion- shaped dome with a cross which with a chain can withstand heavy storms;
At number 30 a Dutch house in the Renaissance-style; And the row is completed with an English cottage at number 30a.
– Roemer Visscherstraat 20 – 30a (in the area between the Vondelpark and the Leidseplein) [Google Map]

The Magere Brug: not so narrow as its former self

The so-called Magere Brug (Skinny Bridge) is probably the most famous bridge in Amsterdam. This picturesque white-painted drawbridge has spanned the River Amstel since 1672.

The Skinny Bridge

According to some Amsterdammers the bridge is named after two ladies called Mager: two wealthy sisters who lived on opposite sides of the Amstel. They supposedly had this bridge built in order to make it easier to visit each other. The real reason for the name, however, is much more simple – the bridge used to be so narrow that two people could barely cross at the same time. As time passed the bridge was replaced by a wider example and the name ‘Skinny’ was not quite so appropriate as it was.

The Magere Brug is still one of the most beautiful bridges in Amsterdam. The bridge is illuminated every evening with thousands of lights and is a popular location for both lovers and photographers.
– Magere Brug, Amstel between Keizersgracht and Prinsengracht. [Google Map]

The narrowest house in the world in Amsterdam

The narrowest house in the world is to be found in Amsterdam, on the Singel, no.7. Only one metre in breadth, it is barely wider than the front door. Naturally the people who live there have to be slim! However to be honest it is only the front of the house that is so narrow. Behind this facade the house broadens out to more normal dimensions.

Yet the narrowest house in Europe is still to be found in Amsterdam on Oude Hoogstraat 22, between the Dam and the Nieuwmarkt (New Market). This tiny house, complete with a typical Amsterdam bell-gable is 2.02m wide and 6.0 metres deep.

Another example is situated closeby, on the Kloveniersburgwal 26: a charming cornice gable, 2.44m wide, known as ‘The Small Trippenhouse’ (‘Kleine Trippenhuis’) or ‘Mr Trip’s Coachman’s House’. This is situated directly opposite the impressive Trippen-house, no.29, which is with about 22m the widest house in Amsterdam. This enormous house was built in 1660 for the very wealthy Trip brothers, Lodewijk and Hendrik, who made their fortune in trading iron, copper, artillery and ammunition. The story goes that the Trip brothers’ coachman exclaimed one day, “Oh, if only I could be so lucky as to have a house as wide as my master’s door.” His master overheard this and the coachman’s wish was granted!
– Singel 7 [Google Map]
– Oude Hoogstraat 22 [Google Map]
– Kloveniersburgwal 26 [Google Map]

Concerts from four 17th Century carillons

The city of Amsterdam has the most carillons in the world – nine in total. Most date from the 17th Century and were built by the celebrated bell-founders, Francois and Pierre Hemony who settled in Amsterdam in 1655. Hemony was the first bell-founder who knew exactly how to get the right note out of the bells.

It is still possible to enjoy the ‘golden’ sound of these bronze musical instru¬ments in every quarter of the city. Four of these century-old carillons give concerts weekly: the Westertoren (West¬ern tower) Tuesday 12.00-13.00, the Zuidertoren (Southern Tower) Thursday 12.00-13.00, Munttoren Friday 12.00-13.00 and the Oude Kerkstoren (Old Church Tower) Saturday 16.00-17.00. Passers-by are not only treated to classical music, but sometimes to pop songs including the latest hits.

Colourful barrel organs in the streets

Barrel organs belong in Amsterdam just as fish do in water. Nowhere in the world do these brightly painted musical instruments sound as beautiful as they do in the narrow streets of the city centre. They give an extra flair to the already colourful streets of Amsterdam.

Every organ has its own character, and therefore they each bear their own name and sometimes even a nickname. One, for example, owes its name “The ‘Fridge’ to the gauze with which the pipes ware closed. When the gauze disap¬peared so did the name and today this organ is known as ‘De Pipo’ after the clown which is painted upon the front.

Barrel organ music is in theory free but the organ-man very much appreciates a small contribution in his collecting-box.

This article was provided by the Amsterdam Tourism & Convention Board

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This post was last updated: May. 18, 2011