9 October 2017

Amsterdam on a Budget for the #CheapFlightsChallenge

Amsterdam has been at the top of my travel wish list for a few years now.  It seems to have picked up in popularity recently as a destination with more to offer then what it's old seedy reputation retained; I wanted to go and explore the beautiful architecture, food and culture.  So when Cheapflights contacted me asking if I wanted to take a trip to this beautiful city I couldn’t say yes fast enough!  The catch?  I had a budget of just £500 for three days exploring the city and this was to cover flights, hotels and all expenses for two people.  Would it be possible?  I got stuck in to find out!  (For ease I’ve converted all euro prices to British sterling).

Advance Booking: Hotel and Travel

Before we headed off on our adventure there were a couple of things we had to prioritise for advanced booking, most importantly the flights and hotel.  I jumped straight on the Cheapflights website and started hunting down the best deals.  I knew we wanted flights that gave us the most time in the city but I left myself open in terms of dates to get the best deals.  The Cheapflights site scans the web to compare flights from 1000’s of different airlines, travel agents and travel sites to find you the cheapest deals available.  It's a must before you book any flight worldwide!  Using the site we found a great deal flying with easyJet for less than £100 return for the two of us.
Return flights for two: £86.96


We booked our hotel at the same time, again using the Cheapflights site.  After we purchased our flights it helpfully gave us links to a variety of hotels through different web services.  This is how we can across the Hotel Campanile which cost us less than £150 for two nights.  Although it isn’t in the city centre it is easily accessible using the metro system with trains running regularly until midnight everyday, so it’s really convenient.  The hotel is only about a two minute walk from the station so it couldn’t be easier.  The hotel itself was basic but clean and had everything we needed for collapsing at the end of a long day exploring.
Hotel for two nights: £135.70


Because of our early flight time and the distance to the airport (we flew from Luton) we thought that driving would be our cheapest option, so we booked parking through Holiday Extras, another comparison site that finds you the best deals on all the little things you need when traveling like parking, transfers, holiday insurance and more.  We chose Airparks Drop and Go who I can honestly say is the best airport parking service I’ve ever used!  Both dropping off and picking up my car were super quick and easy and the shuttle buses ran regularly, I’ve already booked with them again for when I fly to Edinburgh in November.  Pro tip: sign up to the Holiday Extras newsletter as they regularly email out 10-15% discount codes and if you take a look on their site and don’t book right away they usually send you one out the next day!
Car parking £18.85
Total £241.51


Day One

Arriving into Amsterdam airport the first thing we wanted to do was make our way to our hotel and drop off our bags.  We bought a train ticket to the nearest metro station on the same line as our hotel (£8.50 for two) and then purchased a 24 hour Metro card each (£13.29 for two) to save money instead of paying for individual journeys.  It took us around 45 minutes to make it from the airport to our hotel and about 25 minutes from our hotel to central Amsterdam.
I love a tour on the first day of visiting a new city to give you an overview of the place before you decide where to explore, and this being Amsterdam it just had to be a canal tour.  When you step out of Amsterdam’s Centraal Station you will see plenty of these tours to choose from, we oped for the lovers cruise which was £30 for two.  The tour lasted just over an hour and came with headphones so you could listen into the commentary in whatever language you preferred and take them away with you at the end.  It gave a great overview of the city and it’s history, as well as giving us some pointers for places we knew we’d be heading to, it was a great introduction to the city.  
After this we were starving so headed for dinner, after some wandering we settled on an Italian (£23.92 for two).  It wasn’t out of this world but it was perfectly fine and kept us full.  We were pretty tired after this and knew that anything too academic or that involved sitting down would lull us to sleep so we spent the remainder of the evening doing one of my favourite things in a new place, getting lost on purpose (free).  We just picked roads that looked interesting and kept walking, it keeps us awake, helped us discover a much more authentic side to the city and see things we would never have discovered otherwise.  I recommend doing this in every city you can (maybe research places to definitely avoid first) and walk as much as you can to get a feel for the area.  We did this right until it was time to get the last Metro home.
Total= £75.71


Day Two

Our 24 hour Metro ticket from the day before was still valid so we used that to head into the city and to our first stop of the day, the Anne Frank Museum (£16.98 for two tickets).   When traveling on a budget I think it’s important to prioritise the things you most want to do and cut back in other areas to make up for it, you shouldn’t have to miss out.  This is somewhere I’ve wanted to visit since I was a teen and first read the famous diary, so I knew there was no way I could come and not make a pilgrimage here.  Visiting the Anne Frank Museum works a little different to other museums, you can book online in advance for entry between 9-3.30PM and only those who have pre-booked will be allowed to enter during these times.  After 3.30PM non-ticket holders can queue up to enter the museum but be warned, queues can be long year round.  As this was a priority for me I’d booked my tickets 6 weeks out, but even at this stage a lot of the times were almost booked up.  The museum itself is photography-free to help preserve the building.  Seeing the annex in real life was incredibly moving and emotional, I am glad I finally got the chance to visit.  
After this we hit up another Amsterdam ‘must do’, pancakes!  We chose The Pancake Bakery which is one of the most famous traditional pancake houses in the city, situated in a 17th century storehouse.  We got a pancake each (the Canadian and the Dutch which we shared between us) for £36.42.  Although this wasn't the cheapest of meals, it was a tradition we were willing to pay for and it keeps us stuffed for most of the day, they don’t skimp on toppings that’s for sure!  
We really needed to walk off our meal after this so we headed towards the famous flower market to have a look around (free).  A lot of these stalls sell typical tourist knick-knacks and most of the flowers are in bulb or seed form, so there’s not really much to see but it’s still worth dropping in if you are en route.
From here we headed to the Rijksmuseum where we headed to the gardens (free) instead of going inside.  Art ain’t my thing.  While this popular museum does come at a cost few people know that you can actually explore the gardens for free.  It’s not very big but it is beautiful, calm and quiet with plenty interesting sculptures to look at.  A not-so-hidden gem!
At the back of this museum is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Amsterdam, the I Amsterdam sign (free).  Getting a decent photo here amongst the hundreds of people trying to do the same is a pretty difficult feat, but has become something of a necessity on any visit to the city.
We were near the Vondel Park (free) so decided to explore this green space, some of The Fault in Our Stars book takes place here after all!  This is a beautiful city park with plenty of wildlife, ponds and even an outdoor stage.  It was a great place for a romantic stroll as we wound down the day.  
On our way back towards central Amsterdam we called into the Condomerie (free), a unique, quirky shop filled with every kind of novelty condom imaginable, some are truly bizarre.  It’s just so Amsterdam and worth a 5 minute detour, although bare in mind this is another place that allows no photos inside.
By now we were ready for food, so headed back to central Amsterdam to grab I bite to eat.  We settled on the aptly named Burger Bar restaurant where we grabbed burgers and a couple of drinks for £27.47 for the two of us.  As far as burgers go it was pretty decent if not the best burger I’ve ever had.
Before the night ended we headed to the famous Sex Museum (£8.86 for two).  I wasn’t expecting much from this other than a cheap giggle but to be honest I was pleasantly surprised.  It has everything from classical representations of sex, to porn through the ages, to the outright bizarre that has to be seen to be believed.  I laughed a lot, jumped a few times and learnt a bit too!  I didn’t think we’d be here long but actually we spent an hour and a half exploring the exhibition which was well worth our 5 euros each.
After this we headed back to our hotel, our 24 metro passes had ran out by this time so the single journey came to £4.52 for us both.   
Total= 94.25


Day Three

We started the day by grabbing some breakfast toasties from a little cafe near our hotel for the grand total of £2.66 for two, before jumping on the metro (£4.52) back to the centre.  I’d got my bag with me so we headed straight for a little place called Luggage Depot to store my bag for only £3.51 for the day.  It’s run out of a record store and the staff are super friendly so I’d really recommend it.  
We headed to the Dam Square to join a three hour free walking tour, our main plan for the rest of the day.  The way these tours work is that you don’t pay an upfront fee, but you are expected to tip at the end.  Our tour guide was great but I’ll be honest, our tour was a bit of a disaster.  We got caught in one of the worst rain pours I’ve ever seen, and it DID.NOT.STOP!  Three hours of walking in heavy rain really took it out of us, it was so bad I couldn’t really take any photos for fear of breaking my camera, everything in my bag was soaked.  It’s a shame as this would have been a great way to learn more about Amsterdam but the rain was so bad we struggled to see or hear what we were being told as we were too busy hiding in our hoods!  We grabbed a much needed hot drink halfway through (£6.20) and tipped our tour guide 20 euros (or £17.72) for all his hard work.
We were pretty miserable after this as we knew we had no way of drying off.  The rain went through both my coat and jacket, I was soaked to the skin within the first half hour and all the clothes we carried in bags our bags were soaked so we headed to Winkel 43 for some comfort food.  We grabbed a platter of mixed meat, more hot drinks and shared a slice of their famous apple pies to warm us up before the airport (£17.72).


After this we were ready to go to the airport to try and dry off!  We headed back to the airport via a train from Amsterdam Centraal Station for £8.86 for both of us.  
Total= £61.19

Overall Total £472.66
So there you have it!  Three days in Amsterdam for two for under £500, I didn’t include restaurant tips and things and I’m sure I missed a beer or two off here and there so the total is probably closer to the £500 then it seems.  City travel as a reputation of being expensive but I’ve done a lot of these short trips this year and managed to spend surprisingly little.  One tip I would give you if you are heading to Amsterdam is pick up the discount flyers in the tourist information offices or in hotels, we didn’t spot these until near the end of our trip and they could have saved us a further couple of euros,  Every little helps! For further tips check out Cheapflights Amsterdam page or this Culture Trip Tavel Guide for more info.


What’s your favourite budget Amsterdam find?
*Cheapflights supplied me with £500 to spend on the trip, all words and opinions my own.
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