I'm writing this post about how expensive it is in Amsterdam because of avocados.
Let me explain. When a friend from London visited recently she couldn't believe the price of an avocado in my local supermarket. She told me that avocados cost twice as much in the most expensive London supermarkets and I do believe her, although to me avocados here still seemed pricey enough. However, it's true that because of its huge agriculture industry, one of the things Amsterdam has an abundance of at affordable prices is fruit and vegetables but the conversation got me thinking about how expensive Amsterdam is compared to other places, and what it costs to not only visit Amsterdam, but also what it costs to live in Amsterdam. After five years living and working here, and writing a ton of content about visiting the city too, including a guide to visiting the city on a budget and also finding over 100 free things to do in Amsterdam, I feel almost qualified to answer these questions, or at least I'm going to give it a jolly good go. So, sit back and read on to find out the answer to the all-important question that many people have asked me over the years: Is Amsterdam expensive?
How Expensive Is Amsterdam, Really?
As you can probably imagine, it's hard to answer this question objectively. What is expensive to me is positively bargainous to someone else, and what I think is quite cheap could actually be bank-breakingly costly to someone else. To give you some context, I am a freelancing 36-year-old from the UK who used to live in London and works part-time while also looking after my children. I would describe myself as earning a comfortable part-time income, and when my earnings are combined with that of my partner (who is fro Sydney, Australia and he runs his own business here in Amsterdam) I would say we're well-off compared to most, but we're probably not what you would describe as rich. Aside from bills we mostly spend our money on travel (as you will know if you've read this blog for any length of time) and when we do, we like to enjoy luxury resorts and very special travel experiences. By contrast, we don't have very lavish lifestyle at home. We don't have a car, we try not to buy more than we need (though I have a weakness for vintage clothes and books, and my partner likes gadgets), and we eat out maybe two or three times a month (at most!), but of course having young and fast-growing children has meant seem to have a constant outgoing of cash just clothing, feeding and keeping them happy. So that's what kind of lifestyle we lead, just to give you some context of where we're coming from. Also if you're interested, you can read our reasons for why we live in Amsterdam here.
Anyway, let's crack on with some more information that will actually answer the question of whether Amsterdam is expensive or not.
Coming from two of the world's most expensive cities does mean that nearly all places around the world are "cheaper" for us, however, it is true that we have not lived in either of those cities for over seven years now, and we have been living in Amsterdam for long enough that the costs of life here have become more or less our baseline. So my personal instinctive answer to this question is Amsterdam is not ridiculously expensive, but it's not a cheap place to live or visit.
That said, I do still find myself marveling at how much cheaper some things are in Amsterdam compared to London. One of these things is eating and drinking out. You can still easily stumble upon a bar serving a glass of prosecco or large glass of wine by the glass for €3-4, which is nearly unheard of in London. When we were in Sydney last year, it cost me the best part of €10 to have a coffee and a slice of banana bread, something that would be €5-6 in even the trendiest Amsterdam coffee spots. We can go out for lunch as a family to a really decent place in our local area or another busy part of town and only spend €20-25 (with many a small beer each), something that would probably mean one of us going without food if we were in London, Sydney or many other cities!
It's also true that since I moved to Amsterdam in the summer of 2013 (and we lived here briefly a year before that in 2012) I have noticed a steady but very real increase in the cost of living. Rents have gone up, house prices have soared, and yes, even eating out is a little bit more expensive. As a popular European city that is actively growing and attracting both tourists, this trend is likely to continue.
People like to look at a city's housing market to make some kind of assessment on whether it's expensive or not. and If that is the case then I would say that yes, Amsterdam is expensive and is getting more so all the time. The housing market bubble here is being blamed on Brexit luring companies to leave the UK and relocate here, and this is also having a knock-on effect on the rental market too. Both are very competitive so if you are considering moving here to live, you will have to act quickly if you do want to rent or buy a house (when we bought our two-floor apartment in De Pijp last year we had our first viewing on the Monday and by the Friday we had signed a buying contract - this is very normal!).
There is also a general consensus among Dutch people - especially those not living in the city - that Amsterdam is a lot more expensive than the rest of the country, and there are many who feel that the increase in living costs is forcing locals out of certain areas or away from the city completely. As our family grows (I'm due to give birth to our second child any day now!) we are actively trying to buying a bigger home, but we know that we cannot afford to up-size and stay in the same area. In the last two years, at least three families from my son's daycare have left Amsterdam for nearby towns and cities because they want a bigger home but can't afford it. And these are all people with incomes that I imagine far exceed the national average. So yes, Amsterdam is becoming more and more expensive for Dutchies too.
However, as is also the case with a popular tourist destination, there are ways and means to visit Amsterdam affordably, and indeed there are plenty of free things to do here, however, I would maybe say that living in Amsterdam is not going to be cheap by the average person's standard. Read on for more information explaining these viewpoints.
Is Amsterdam Expensive to Visit?
If you're planning a trip to Amsterdam, and you're curious what kind of budget you need to have or how much money you will or won't spend, it's important to remember that what you spend depends a lot on how much research and planning you do before. I've heard people refer to budget backpacking being generally travelling on less than $50 a day, often less in more affordable destinations (i.e. not Western Europe!). Is it possible to visit Amsterdam on $50 a day or less? Yes, I think it is, though it would be tight and you wouldn't be able to do much more than just eat and sleep! You can find hostel accommodation for under €30 (which is currently about $34 USD) and then you can just focus on doing free activities and obviously eat affordably by buying food in bulk at a supermarket. This wouldn't give you much if any extra spending money for public transport, museums, socialising, tours or other attractions. But for some people, this is how they like to travel and that suits them.
Personally, I feel a more acceptable budget for visiting Amsterdam is about $100 USD per person a day, and possibly $150 USD per couple, and you could easily end up going home with some change. Again it is very subjective whether this constitutes Amsterdam being cheap or expensive, but if I compare it to other European capital cities of the same size and wealth, I don't know how doable it would be to visit London, Paris, or Madrid on such a budget and get the same value for money. It is certainly a LOT cheaper to visit Amsterdam compared with the Nordic capital cities, and maybe only the likes of Lisbon, Berlin, and Rome come in a little cheaper, but even then I'm not going to place any bets on this. If you'd like to have a greater breakdown of costs this post is great at breaking down travel prices for Amsterdam.
One thing that is certain is Amsterdam hotels are expensive, with a recent survey finding them to be the most expensive in Europe with an average nightly rate of €192, so you will start saving money just by not staying in a hotel, or rather, choosing a hotel that's not in the centre of town. Also, when I compiled this article researching budget and mid-range hotels, there are plenty of decent ones that cost less than this. So be smart about where you stay and you can already avoid the biggest cost for visiting Amsterdam. If you're visiting Amsterdam and want ot do a number of the most touristy activities - i.e. visit museums, go on a canal boat tour etc. then you can also save money by getting an Iamsterdam City Card, or by booking your museums, tours and canal boat rides in advance online.
There are many ways to save money in Amsterdam. First of all read through my list of over 100 things to do in Amsterdam for free, and also check out the budget-friendly Amsterdam accommodation listed in this post. You can also save a lot of money by choosing to stay outside of the city centre - something I recommend doing anyway because you will generally get more space and value for your money, and you will also see a side of the city that not all visitors do. If you're curious about which area you should stay in, check out this neighbourhood guide with suggested places to stay in Amsterdam. You can also be a bit picky about when you visit Amsterdam as accommodation prices will be more in the peak summer season and quieter in the winter months. (And by the way it doesn't matter what time of year you visit Amsterdam in terms of what you can do here because there are lots of fun things to do in summer, autumn and winter.)
Is Amsterdam Expensive to Live In?
If you're actually thinking about Amsterdam as a place to live, not to just visit, then the question, Is Amsterdam Expensive? can take on a whole new meaning. As research for this post I found this great resource which breaks down the cost of living in Amsterdam, though I do disagree with some of the costs entered. Personally, I think you can eat out cheaper (unless you like to knock back four pints/bottles of wine or more each) and I get many of the groceries listed a lot cheaper, especially if I go to my local market, Albert Cuyp, and other less popular (and tourist-friendly!) markets in the suburbs will be even cheaper.
But when it comes to rent, and other costs of living like taxis, public transport and utilities, I think it is a fairly accurate round-up of costs. So yes, you'll see that living in Amsterdam is not cheap, and as I've already mentioned it's likely to get more expensive too. However, these costs do mostly refer to the centre of the city and it does get gradually cheaper as you move away from within the main ring canals, and then also away from the older neighbourhoods. However, this is also likely to change as more and more people also move out.
As with every city, if you're prepared to shop around, do a bit of research and take advantage of special offers you can keep living costs down. The good news is that things like healthcare are affordable and subsidised for those who can't afford the government-capped health insurance contributions. Education from the age of 4 (and sometimes earlier) is free and childcare is subsidised based on your income. Taxes are progressive in the Netherlands meaning the more you earn the more you pay with it being capped at 52% for highest earners so yes, you can say that the Dutch pay a high level of tax, as will you if you live in Amsterdam, but it's my experience that you get this back in terms of the healthcare, education and welfare benefits on offer, but that is very much my personal opinion - I know others would disagree!
The other thing you should know (if you didn't already!) is that the Dutch are famous for being thrifty or savvy with their money (I'm trying to avoid a rude way of saying they can be tight!) so businesses often run special offers, shops will regularly have sales, and tipping is far from a culture here in Amsterdam. (You can find out more about the tipping etiquette in Amsterdam here.)
I guess to summarise, yes, Amsterdam is not cheap to live in and many people will consider it expensive to both visit and live in. But it's also true that compared to other major cities that are among the most popular tourist destinations and business hubs in the world, Amsterdam is still comparatively affordable, and you don't have to spend a lot of money to either visit or live here, depending on what it is you want from the city.
And by the way, if you're wondering, an avocado in Amsterdam is between €1-2 depending on where you shop... so get yourselves to those daily markets!
If you're looking for more Amsterdam travel advice, check out the following posts to plan your trip:
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Frances M. Thompson
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