Free museums in Amsterdam
With its endless canals and adorably wonky architecture, strolling around Amsterdam is like exploring a beautiful open-air art museum. What’s more, is that anyone looking for a cultural day of sightseeing (that won’t break the bank) has numerous options. Various museums and art spaces don’t charge visitors a penny to enter, and there are fantastic free outdoor exhibitions, hidden sculpture gardens and incredible public artworks to be discovered all over the city.
Amsterdam City Archives
All stored within the monumental De Bazel building - an Art Deco gem that is well worth a visit in itself - the Amsterdam City Archives is the largest treasure trove of municipal history in the world. Take a guided tour of the period rooms or visit the fascinating (and free) exhibitions downstairs in the underground vault of a former bank.
Many people don’t realise that you can get your arty fill at the Rijks without paying a penny. The freely-accessible gardens were designed by Pierre Cuypers in 1901 and are studded with sculptures, installations, water features and colourful flowerbeds. Each summer, there is also a temporary exhibition of important public works by some of the world’s most famous 20th-century sculptors. Check out this round-up of museums with secret gardens for more floral retreats.
The first-ever museum to be built in an airport and perhaps one of the few in the world to be open 24 hours a day, Rijksmuseum Schiphol is the perfect place to cure your cultural cravings during a layover. The exhibitions are updated every few months, displaying several still lifes, portraits and iconic landscapes by Dutch 17th-century masters from the Rijks collection. Rijksmuseum Amsterdam Schiphol can be found on Holland Boulevard on the first floor of the terminal building (between the E and F Pier, Lounge 2 and 3 behind the security check).
Open Space Contemporary Art Museum (OSCAM)
OSCAM in Zuidoost is a place where art, fashion, design and craftsmanship collide. The museum was opened on the occasion of 50 years of Bijlmer to highlight the cultural diversity of the district. Check the programming for inspiring exhibitions and programs with young, well-known and unknown artists and art institutions - all free to explore.
Ons’ Lieve Heer Op Solder - Sunday Mass
Built during the 1660s, the hidden Catholic church in the attic of this remarkably well-preserved canal house reveals an inspiring story of Dutch religious tolerance. What’s more, is that the Museum Ons’ Lieve Heer Op Solder (Our Lord in the Attic) hosts a mass on the first Sunday of the month allowing attendees to experience this exceptional space for free.
GASSAN Diamond Factory
Amsterdam has a long heritage in the diamond trade and the GASSAN Diamond Factory is the perfect spot to dive into the history of this sparkling industry. Learn all about carats, clarity, cuts and the history of diamond craftsmanship on their free tour. You can even take a seat behind the grinder and learn first-hand how these rough stones are polished into dazzling gems.
Alongside the big-name institutions, Amsterdam also boasts its fair share of quirky museums, many of which are entirely free to pop into. The Mouse Mansion is one of the more unusual venues - dedicated to the squeaky characters from a children’s book series. Even during your metro transfer at Rokin Station, you can take a free peek at dozens of archaeological finds as part of the Below the Surface exhibit. This fascinating collection of oddities was excavated during the North/South line construction. Or, with a surface area of just 6 m2, Museum Perron Oost is so tiny that you can see the whole exhibition through the windows.
Independent art galleries and project spaces
Amsterdam’s contemporary art scene is thriving thanks to the array of independent galleries and exhibition spaces dotted across the city - several of which have outstanding public programmes which are completely free to attend. Curators and artists collide at FramerFramed, a long-standing project space and arts foundation in Oost. Or, for contemporary work that challenges the medium of photography, head over to The Ravestijn Gallery’s luminous exhibition hall in the Western Docklands. Likewise, Melkweg Expo has a revolving exhibition programme that is consistently playful, accessible and always free, whilst Mediamatic’s interactive installations blur the boundaries between art, science and biotech.
During a stroll through any one of the city’s character-filled neighbourhoods, public sculptures, murals, installations and a range of quirky curiosities transform Amsterdam into one giant free open-air museum. NDSM is the perfect place to begin, with a range of commissioned public art pieces and daring street art emblazoned on the former shipyard buildings. Check out this full map of artwork on view around the wharf and this roundup of outdoor art for more.
Amsterdam Sculpture Biennale ARTZUID
ARTZUID brings the avenues of Amsterdam-Zuid to life every two years with surprising works of art. Follow the sculpture route through the neighbourhood's leafy avenues as you encounter stunning modern and contemporary artworks juxtaposed with characterful spacial installations. Don’t miss the guided tours and children’s programme.
Amsterdam Light Festival
Each winter, from December until the end of January, Amsterdam Light Festival transforms the city into a real-life fairy tale, sparkling with glowing artworks that illuminate the historic bridges and waterfronts. Installations by big-name international artists adorn the canal ring, the River Amstel and several other locations around the city, taking the city’s already stunning night-time sights to an entirely new level.
Amsterdam’s public parks and urban spaces are transformed throughout the year into stunning outdoor galleries. Foam regularly takes over the public square at Mercatorplein for open-air photo exhibitions that are freely accessible to all, whilst scannable QR codes provide viewers with more information about the photographers. Likewise, you’ll often find fascinating portrait series showcased in Vondelpark, particularly during major cultural events such as Queer & Pride.