Museumplein & the West: The district for art and culture 

Think of Amsterdam holidays and, beyond its reputation as a vibrant hub of nightlife and picturesque canals, the city shines through its art scene. Amsterdam's museum district, centered around the spacious Museumplein, is home to the city's most esteemed collections. The Rijksmuseum stands as the largest, flanked by the Van Gogh Museum and Stedelijk Museum, showcasing a wealth of artistic treasures. Not far from this cultural hotspot lies the Vondelpark, Amsterdam’s largest and most inviting green space, offering serene landscapes ideal for a leisurely picnic amidst a day of museum hopping.

1. Museumplein

Extending south from Stadhouderskade to Van Baerlestraat, Museumplein’s wide lawns and gravelled spaces are used for a variety of outdoor activities, from visiting circuses to political demonstrations. There’s a war memorial here too, made up of a group of slim steel blocks, commemorating the women and children of the wartime concentration camps. 

2. Rijksmuseum

This is the big one. The Rijksmuseum is without question the country’s foremost museum, with one of the world’s most comprehensive collections of 17th-century Dutch paintings, including twenty or so of Rembrandt’s works. These paintings from Amsterdam’s Golden Age are the museum’s main pull, but the Rijksmuseum also owns an extravagant collection of art from every other pre-twentieth- century period of Dutch art – from paintings to applied art and sculpture. All are now shown to best advantage, following the 2013 completion of a refurbishment that cost millions of euros.

Seeing many of these artistic treasures in the flesh is a special experience, no matter how much of an art lover you think you are. Bear in mind that queues can be long, especially in summer and at weekends, so try to book online ahead of time, or come early in the morning.

3. Moco Museum

The Museum Quarter has burnished its artistic credentials with the opening of the Moco Museum of modern and contemporary art. Occupying a substantial, early twentieth-century brick building close to the Van Gogh Museum, the Moco concentrates on temporary exhibitions, which have featured the likes of Banksy, Warhol and Yayoi Kusama.

4. Van Gogh Museum

The Van Gogh Museum, comprising a world-beating collection of the work of Vincent van Gogh’s work, is one of Amsterdam’s top attractions. The museum occupies two buildings, with the museum entrance to the rear via the ultra-modern curved annexe, and provides an introduction to the man and his art. There are usually small supporting displays here too, mostly putting van Gogh into artistic context with the work of his friends and contemporaries: the museum owns paintings by the likes of Toulouse-Lautrec, Cézanne, Bernard, Seurat, Gauguin, Anton Mauve, Charles Daubigny, Pissarro and Monet.

All of Van Gogh’s key paintings are featured, displayed chronologically, starting with the dark, sombre works of the early years such as The Potato Eaters and finishing up with the asylum years at St Rémy and the final, tortured paintings done at Auvers. Everyone knows some Van Gogh, but this museum provides an incredible and rounded view of the tortured genius’s work.

5. Stedelijk Museum

The Stedelijk Museum has long been Amsterdam’s number one venue for modern and contemporary art and design. It is housed in its original 19th-century home with an interestingly-shaped extension, which some have nicknamed ‘the bath tub’. Inside, the museum focuses on cutting-edge, temporary exhibitions of modern art, from photography and video through to sculpture and collage. 

Among many highlights is a particularly large sample of the work of Piet Mondriaan, Kasimir Malevich and Marc Chagall, as well as a number of works by American Abstract Expressionists Mark Rothko, Ellsworth Kelly and Barnett Newman, plus the odd piece by Lichtenstein, Warhol, Robert Ryman, Kooning and Jean Dubuffet.

6. Concertgebouw

Much of the distinctive elevated hood above the IJ tunnel is occupied by NEMO, a (pre-teenage) kids’ attraction par excellence, with all sorts of interactive science and technological exhibits spread over six floors.

7. Vondelpark

Every great city needs green lungs, and in compact Amsterdam, the leafy expanses of the Vondelpark are especially welcome. This is easily the largest and most popular of the city’s parks, with its network of footpaths used by a healthy slice of the city’s population.

The park possesses over one hundred species of tree, a wide variety of local and imported plants, and – among many incidental features – a bandstand, an excellent rose garden and a network of ponds and narrow waterways that are home to many sorts of wildfowl.

There are other animals too: cows, sheep, hundreds of squirrels, plus a large colony of bright-green (and very noisy) parakeets. During the summer the park regularly hosts free concerts and theatrical performances, mostly in its own specially designed open-air theatre.

8. Oud-West

Just north of the Vondelpark, the up-and-coming neighbourhood of Oud-West is home to craft coffee joints, diverse cuisine and buzzy markets. Close enough to the centre but very much a cool residential district, Oud-West is one of the best local areas to seek out a sense of Amsterdam living beyond the tourist trail. Check out the stylish design shops and bars housed in early 1900s buildings; it’s easy to spend a lazy morning pretending to be a boho local.

9.De Hallen

All of Oud-West’s charms converge in the fabulous De Hallen. With food, fashion and film (in the form of indie cinema De Filmhallen) all meeting at a converted tram depot, De Hallen might just be the coolest spot in the whole city, and one could make a strong case for it being Amsterdam’s true cultural hub. So, in a nutshell, you simply have to go here. It also makes for perfect Instagram fodder. 

Check out the incredible Foodhallen, where you can indulge in every manner of street food from popular local names, or stop for a drink at one of the bars.

10. Street Art Museum Amsterdam (SAMA)

Street art in Amsterdam is a big deal – big enough for Amsterdam to have museums

dedicated to it. Located in the spacious, diverse area of Nieuw-West (located – unsurprisingly, given its name – west of Oud-West), Street Art Museum Amsterdam (SAMA) is a growing collection of over 200 art pieces. It also offers street art tours of the local district, where the graffiti contrasts well with the leafy neighbourhood.

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