Amsterdam’s museum scene is dominated by its world-class art galleries, the most famous of which are located on Museumplein in the Museum Quarter. But there’s more to the city’s cultural scene than art in its purest sense, with maritime, Jewish and Canal District history also featuring prominently. Here’s a quick guide to what’s on offer.
Amsterdam’s museum scene is dominated by its world-class art galleries, like Stedelijk Museum (Credit: Jan van Rooij)
Also known as the Museum of the Netherlands, the Rijksmuseum is an essential stop on any visit to Amsterdam. Among the finest art museums on the planet, it’s chock-full of masterpieces from the Dutch Golden Age, including works by Rembrandt, Vermeer, Pieter de Hooch and Jan Steen. The museum also provides a broad overview of Dutch history, from the Middle Ages to the present day, and following an extensive refurbishment it now displays more than 8,000 objects – all in an entirely reinvented space.
The Rijksmuseum is an essential stop for an introduction to Dutch art, with its collection from the Golden Age
The Van Gogh Museum is the largest museum in the world dedicated to a single artist, and a testament to Van Gogh’s life, work and legacy. Spread across two buildings, the museum contains more than 200 paintings and 400 drawings by the troubled artist, including selected self-portraits and major highlights from the Sunflowers and Almond Blossom series. Notable works from many of Van Gogh’s contemporaries are also on display, including paintings by Paul Gauguin and Claude Monet and sculptures by Auguste Rodin.
Tram: Van Baerlestraat
Immerse yourself in the work of one of the most prolific Dutch artists at the Van Gogh Museum (Credit: Jan Kees Steenman)
The largest contemporary and modern art museum in the Netherlands is the third of the major Museumplein institutions. Known for the juxtaposition of its original 19th-century building with a dazzling white bathtub-inspired extension, its collection encompasses art and design from the early 20th century to the present day, and includes works by Matisse, Kandinsky, Dumas, Mondrian and Warhol. Young, up and coming artists are also well represented, with a continuous rotation of solo exhibitions.
Tram: Van Baerlestraat
Stedelijk Museum exhibits a mix of iconic modern art and up and coming talent (Credit: Jan van Rooij)
Currently undergoing a two-year renovation (though remaining open throughout), the Anne Frank House museum is dedicated to the teenage wartime diarist who hid in a secret annex along with seven others to escape Nazi persecution during the Second World War. Located on Prinsengracht, one of Amsterdam’s major canals, the museum houses a permanent exhibition on Anne Frank’s life, and meticulously preserves the secret spaces in which she and her family found refuge.
One of the best family attractions in Amsterdam, the Science Center NEMO is less a traditional museum and more an interactive children’s play area. That said, the five-storey building in the city’s docklands does contain 11 semi-permanent galleries dedicated to various science-related subjects. Areas covered include water power, smart technology and a journey through the mind, and there’s also a striking roof terrace with an open-air exhibition on renewable energy.
Science Center NEMO’s interactive nature makes it fun for the whole family
Known as much for its Canal District setting as its interior exhibits, this double-fronted canal house museum on Herengracht offers an insight into life during the Dutch Golden Age and onwards into the 19th century. Occupied by various notable families over the years, its final owner, Louisa Holthuysen, bequeathed the house to the city of Amsterdam, along with its assorted artistic treasures. Now you can admire its fine art, ceramics and silverware collections, and wander its well-preserved period rooms, including a ballroom, conservatory and servants quarters.
Metro: Waterlooplein; Tram: Rembrandtplein
Wander through a well-preserved period house at Museum Willet-Holthuysen (Credit: Hans Fonk)
Dedicated to the history of the city, the Amsterdam Museum spreads across an assortment of buildings, including the old municipal orphanage. One of its defining features is the arcade that leads to the main entrance. Known as the Civic Guard Gallery, it displays 15 large-scale portraits from Golden Age masterpieces to modern day renderings of contemporary Dutch celebrities. If you’re pressed for time, the Amsterdam DNA tour offers a fascinating, hour-long overview of how the Netherlands’ capital evolved into the vibrant, free thinking city it is today.
Situated near the old harbour, the National Maritime Museum was recently renovated and now includes a glass-roofed inner courtyard. Telling the story of how the sea shaped the culture of the Netherlands, the museum uses hands-on exhibits to illustrate more than 500 years of maritime history. It’s family-friendly throughout, with many exhibits designed especially for children. Moored just outside is the replica Dutch East India Company ship ‘Amsterdam’, where you can take an onboard tour with ‘Rinus the Rat’.
The sea is central to Dutch history, as the National Maritime Museum confirms (Credit: Eddo Hartmann)
Here at the house where Rembrandt lived and worked for 20 years, visitors can gain a rare insight into the artist’s life and times. After he went bankrupt in 1656, he made a complete inventory of his belongings in preparation for auction, and it was this list that allowed the museum to carry out such a precise refurbishment, bringing in authentic furnishings, décor and objets d’art from the artist’s time. Today the house offers a near-complete collection of Rembrandt’s etchings, as well as many works by his contemporaries.
Metro: Nieuwmarkt; Tram: Waterlooplein
At The Rembrandt House Museum, visitors can gain a rare insight into the artist’s life and times