The near flow field of an axially symmetric water jet at Reynolds numbers from about 1,000 to 10,000 is investigated using laser-induced fluorescence (LIF), laser Doppler anemometry and particle tracking velocimetry. Spanwise and streamwise vortices are detected on the longitudinal plane and on cross-sections. Attention is focused onto the effects of rigid or free boundaries sideways to the nozzle outlet (no-slip or free-slip conditions), and particularly on the start up, growth and interaction of large vortical structures. On average, for the free-slip jet these structures develop more gradually and closer to the nozzle than for the no-slip jet; the local mixedness (derived from LIF measurements) is also higher for the free-slip case. Moreover, the measured velocity field decreases more slowly, with a longer potential core and a higher shear layer (momentum) thickness for the free-slip rather than for the no-slip conditions. The relation between spanwise and streamwise large-scale vortices is clarified by the observation that the ejection of fluid in cross-sections through streamwise vortices is coupled to the pairing of spanwise vortices on the longitudinal section.