1) Civic Guards' Gallery: See 17th-century Art for FreeJust inside the Kalverstraat gate to the Amsterdam Historical Museum is a glass-roofed walkway that houses impressive 17th-century portraits, on display to the public at no charge.
The subjects of the 15 huge paintings are the Amsterdam Civic Guards that served in the 1600s. The most famous Civic Guard portrait is, of course, The Night Watch in the Rijksmuseum; these paintings have a similar but more formal feel than Rembrandt's masterpiece.
Kalverstraat 92 -- Open during museum hours
2) Begijnhof: Find Quiet Respite in the Middle of AmsterdamWhen you enter the Begijnhof--a hidden courtyard of cottages originally built in the 14th-century for a group of pious, charitable women (the Beguines)--you're instantly transported from busy central Amsterdam to a tiny village. You'll find a well-kept lawn and flower gardens, centuries-old houses, a small medieval church and tall trees whose rustling leaves you can actually hear in the unusual silence.
Also here is Amsterdam's oldest house (one of the city's only two remaining wooden houses), dating from 1475. Women still live here, so groups aren't allowed and guests are asked to visit in quiet reflection.
Gedempte Begijnensloot (alley just off the Spui) -- Open daily 9 a.m. - 5 p.m.
3) Lunchtime Concerts: Hear Free Performances at Concertgebouw and MuziektheaterEvery Wednesday, from September to June (the cultural arts season), at 12:30 p.m., the Concertgebouw treats visitors to a 30-minute concert, which is often a public rehearsal from world-renowned orchestras or ensembles that will perform "officially" later that evening.
On Tuesdays, from October to June, also at 12:30 p.m., the Boekmanzaal room at the Amsterdam Stadhuis/Muziektheater complex (often called "Stopera") hosts free concerts performed by one of its permanent ensembles: the Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra, the Choir of the Netherlands Opera and the Netherlands Ballet Orchestra.
Concertgebouw: Concertgebouwplein 2-6 (off Van Baerlestraat)
Stadhuis/Muziektheater: Amstel 1 (near Waterlooplein)
4) Rijksmuseum Gardens: Discover a Curious Collection of ArchitectureMany visitors don't realize they can wander through the sculpture, hedges and rose bushes of the Rijksmuseum Gardens without paying a dime -- or, uh...a 10-eurocent. During the ongoing renovation of the museum (to be completed in 2012-13), the Renaissance and Baroque Gardens remain open to the public.
A free printed guide provides background on the impressive statues, fountains, ponds and five centuries of salvaged Dutch architectural pieces -- including Gothic pillars and 17th-century city gates -- that make this an exceptional Amsterdam attraction.
Jan Luijkenstraat 1 or Museumplein -- Open daily 9 a.m. - 6 p.m. (Baroque Garden closed on weekends)
5) Ferry over the IJ: Take a Free Boat TripBetween the city center of Amsterdam and North Amsterdam lies the IJ (pronounced "eye"), the oldest part of Amsterdam's port. If you're itching for a boat ride, why not enjoy one for free? While it is quite a straightforward and short trip (about five minutes), the ferry ride to the northern banks affords visitors an expansive view of the Amsterdam waterfront.
The Buikersloterwegveer ferry (landing 7) operates 24 hours a day, leaving every 7.5 minutes between 6:30 a.m. and 9 p.m., and every 15 minutes the rest of the time. The smaller IJ-Veer ferry (landing 8) only runs Mon. - Fri. between 6:35 a.m. and 6:05 p.m.
Ferry Landings Behind Centraal Station