Amsterdam has plenty to offer. From an interesting architecture centre to learning about Holland’s most famous nineteenth-century writer, there is lots for you to see - and it’s all for free!
Amsterdam’s tiniest museum, the Multatuli Museum, occupies the birthplace and family home of Eduard Douwes Dekker (1820-87), Holland’s most celebrated nineteenth-century writer and a champion of free thinking, who wrote under the pen name Multatuli. Dekker worked as a colonial official in the Dutch East Indies for eighteen years, becoming increasingly disgusted by the graft and corruption. He returned to Amsterdam in 1856 and spent the next four years encapsulating his East Indies experiences in the elegantly written satirical novel Max Havelaar, which enraged the Dutch merchant class, but is now something of a Dutch literary classic. The museum’s one room is filled with letters, first editions and a small selection of his furnishings, including the chaise longue on which he breathed his last. This is one of the best free museums in Amsterdam for sure!
Sitting pretty on the waterfront, ARCAM, the Amsterdam Centre for Architecture, is housed in a distinctive aluminium and glass structure designed by the Dutch architect René van Zuuk. The modern design was much praised at the time of its construction - the building does look rather disconcertingly like the head of a golf club. Inside, a small gallery area is used for an imaginative programme of temporary exhibitions on contemporary architecture in general, and future building plans for Amsterdam in particular. ARCAM also publishes a number of specialist architectural books, maps and leaflets on Amsterdam, and these are on sale here too.
Part glassed-in passageway, part art gallery, the Amsterdam Gallery - the Civic Guard Gallery - is an adjunct to the Amsterdam Museum. Traditionally, it was hung with huge group portraits of the Amsterdam militia, but nowadays the paintings are regularly rotated and feature more modern groups - ballet choreographers and Ajax football stars, for example. That said, look out for Bartholomew van der Helst’s Governors and Governesses of the Spinhuis, which is often on display and captures both the sternness of the institution and its daily routine.
An outdoor museum moored on the long jetty between ARCAM and NEMO are the antique boats and barges of the Museumhaven, which together make an informal record of the development of local shipping. The earliest boats date from the middle of the nineteenth century, and plaques, in English and Dutch, give the historical lowdown on the more important vessels. Amsterdam free museums - which are outdoors! - don’t get much better than this.
Originally a theatre where Jewish artists could perform without obstruction, De Hollandsche Schouwburg (the Dutch Theatre) was turned into a Jews-only theatre by the Germans in October 1941 - and was the main assembly point for Amsterdam Jews prior to their deportation in the summer of the following year. Inside, there was no daylight, and families were in conditions that echoed those of the camps they would soon be transported to. After the war, no one was quite sure what to do with the building, but eventually the facade was restored and the front section refurbished. The ground floor now holds an eternal flame in front of a list of the dead, and four short films tell the story of the theatre and its turbulent history. On the stairs is a small display on the theatre before the war, and on the floor above there’s an excellent exhibition on the plight of the city’s Jews, with lots of occupation photos and a number of poignant film clips. By contrast, the old auditorium at the back of the building has been left as an empty, roofless shell. A memorial column of basalt on a Star of David base stands where the stage once was, an intensely mournful monument to suffering of unbelievable proportions. Searching for Amsterdam holidays? Enjoy having a look through our fantastic selection of breaks. There’s plenty to explore in this ever-popular city.