Amsterdam’s pretty streets are lined with cafés, restaurants and quirky boutiques with cyclists zipping past.
But Amsterdam isn’t all about its red-light district De Wallen and Coffeeshops (yes, it’s all one word, and no, we’re not talking about Starbucks.) Amsterdam is a very cultured place, complete with actual museums and everything. Crazy, right? As you might imagine, many Amsterdam museums are filled with art, but there’s more to this city than just Van Gogh.
Wondering where to start? Check out our guide to see the best museums in Amsterdam.
You’ll never be stuck for choice with museums in Amsterdam. From the touching Anne Frank’s House, to Van Gogh’s beautiful collection of work to a fun science museum at NEMO, Amsterdam’s list of museums is never-ending. So read our guide and make the most of your Amsterdam holidays.
In 1957, the Anne Frank Foundation set up the Anne Frank Museum. The space is set in the premises on Prinsengracht, where the young diarist and her family hid from the Germans during World War II. Since the posthumous publication of her diaries, Anne Frank has become extraordinarily famous. In the first instance for recording the iniquities of the Holocaust, and latterly as a symbol of the fight against oppression in general and racism in particular. A visit typically takes in the main body of the building - the premises of what was then the Frank business, including the ground-floor warehouse and old offices. This part offers several well-chosen displays setting the historical scene. Exhibits provide brief biographies of those who sought refuge here and information on the Franks’ Dutch helpers. You’ll also see the entrance to the Secret Annex, or achterhuis, which was separated from the rest of the house by a false bookcase. Simply one of the most moving museums in Amsterdam.
In a large and thoroughly refurbished old canal house, Amsterdam’s leading photography museum FOAM (short for Fotografiemuseum) is achingly fashionable. Its temporary exhibitions - of which there are usually four at any one time - features the best (or most obscure) of contemporary photographers. FOAM prides itself on its internationalism, though it does give space to famous or up-and-coming Dutch photographers like Carel Willink, Frido Troost and Otto Kaan. FOAM also offers guided, walk-through tours and photography workshops, both of which are extremely popular.
Looking for a museum suitable for children? Look no further! Resembling the prow of a ship, the massive, copper-green elevated hood that rears up above the entrance to the River IJ tunnel was designed by the Italian architect Renzo Piano in the 1990s. Inside is NEMO, a large and popular science and technology centre whose various interactive exhibits combine to create a (pre-teenage) kids’ attraction par excellence. Spread over three main floors, there’s plenty of interest here. From interactive exhibits spanning the most distant corners of the globe in the ‘Life in Universe’ section, to ‘Sensational Science’ revealing the facts behind common phenomena such as light and sound.
The Stedelijk Museum, just along the street from the Van Gogh Museum, has long been Amsterdam’s number one venue for modern and contemporary art. It’s housed in a big old building that’s been dramatically transformed to a design by Benthem Crouwel Architects, though the end result has not been to everyone’s liking: the facade looks a little like a giant bathtub. Jarring as it is, the eye-popping building contains the excellent Stedelijk Base, a creative exhibition space designed by Rem Koolhaas and Federico Martelli - thin freestanding walls encourage guests to weave their own route through the 750-plus artworks. The museum focuses on cutting-edge, temporary exhibitions of modern art - from photography through to sculpture and collage - supplemented by a regularly rotated selection from the museum’s large and wide-ranging permanent collection.
Facing out towards the Singelgracht canal, at the head of Museumplein, sits the internationally famous Rijksmuseum. Designed in the early 1880s by Petrus J.H. Cuypers (1827–1921), the leading Dutch architect of his day, Cuypers specialized in Neogothic churches, but this commission called for something more ambitious. The result being a reworking of the neo-Renaissance style then popular in the Netherlands. The place is complete with towers and turrets, galleries, dormer windows and medallions. There’s no argument that the building makes a grand statement - and one indeed that matches the museum’s collection. Inside sits an extravagant range of Dutch paintings, including many wonderful canvases from the seventeenth-century Gouden Eeuw (Golden Age). There’s also a vast hoard of applied art and sculpture. The most impressive of Amsterdam museums regarding architecture.
Vincent van Gogh (1853-90) is arguably the most popular, most reproduced and most talked about of all modern artists. So it’s not surprising that the Van Gogh Museum, comprising a fabulous collection of his work, is one of the best museums in Amsterdam. The museum occupies two modern buildings on the north edge of Museumplein, with the key paintings housed in an angular building designed by a leading light of the De Stijl movement, Gerrit Rietveld (1888-1964). This part of the museum, which is spread across four smallish floors, provides an introduction to the artist and his work based on paintings that were mostly inherited from Vincent’s art-dealer brother Theo. There are usually small supporting displays here too, mostly putting van Gogh into artistic context with the work of his friends and contemporaries. Discover the rest of the museum which owns paintings by the likes of Toulouse-Lautrec, Cézanne, Pissarro and Monet. Just one of the many incredible Amsterdam museums.
Amsterdam is famously intertwined with canals, so it’d almost be wrong if there wasn’t a museum dedicated to canals somewhere in the city. Fortunately for all you canal addicts (that’s everyone, right?), there is one… and it’s a doozy.
While Amsterdam’s canal district is especially pleasant to stroll around, there’s more than meets the eye when it comes to the world-famous canal belt. The Museum of the Canals tells the story of Amsterdam through these historic waterways, bringing them (and the city) to life with striking, interactive displays. It is, without question, one of the best museums in Amsterdam.
Located at the heart of Amsterdam’s red-light district, the Oude Kerk (Old Church) is the oldest building in the city and one of the city’s most idiosyncratic attractions. How so? Well, Oude Kerk is not another old, musty church. In the 1500s, artist Jacob van Oostsanen was commissioned to produce new works for the church, and this tradition has continued to the present day. Indeed, the Oude Kerk is the biggest commissioner of art in the entire country and visitors will find cutting edge art installations sitting next to the works of Jacob van Oostsanen and his contemporaries.
But if art isn’t your thing then you’ll be delighted to know that the view from the top isn’t bad either. The Oudekerkstorern (the Oude Kerk tower) is open to the public and offers panoramic views of the whole city.
Street art in Amsterdam is a big deal – big enough for Amsterdam to not only have one, but two museums dedicated to it. Street Art Museum Amsterdam (SAMA) can be found in the Amsterdam Nieuw-West district and contains a growing collection of over 200 art pieces, as well as offering street art tours of the local area.
If SAMA was the first shrine to street art in the city, NDSM is the largest – not just in Amsterdam, but the world. You’ll need to get a ferry across the IJ to the city’s Noord district to reach this 7,000 square-metre former welding hanger-slash-art museum-slash-street canvas, but the trip is well worth it.
Seeing as you’re over in the Noord, you may as well check out the architecturally striking EYE Film Institute Netherlands. With over 37,000 film titles, 60,000 film posters, 700,000 photographs, 20,000 books, temporary exhibitions, permanent exhibitions and a four-screen cinema, it’s a must-visit if you’re a film buff. If you’re not a film buff, the museum’s restaurant serves up views of the IJ harbour and the wider city.
If you’re looking for the most unusual museum in Amsterdam, ARTIS Micropia is hard to beat. A celebration of your body’s tiniest residents, Micropia is the world’s first museum dedicated to microbes and micro-organisms (yes, really.) Is there life on your nose? Step inside ‘the invisible world’ and find out for yourself.
Still looking for more quirky, unusual museums? You’re in luck as Amsterdam has so much more to offer. Ever fancied browsing a collection of over 5,000 handbags including the one Madonna carried at the Evita premiere in 1996? Head on down to the Museum of Bags and Purses. Are you a history buff desperate to find out more about Dutch maritime history? The Nederlands Scheepvaartmuseum (rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it?) is the place to be. Fond of fluorescents? You’re covered by Electric Ladyland – the museum of fluorescent art (sorry to disappoint, Jimi Hendrix fans.)