Amsterdam’s Best Museums
Once a simple fishing village on the Amstel River, Amsterdam is now a world capital with over 800,000 inhabitants and the third-most visited city in all of Europe (London and Paris take the first two spots). Quiet canals, narrow streets, instantly recognisable architecture, bicycles, tulips, things you can’t do in most other countries – the capital of the Netherlands is as multifaceted as it gets.
Of course, you can’t be a world-class city without having world-class museums, and Amsterdam certainly has its fair share. The difficulty isn’t so much in finding a museum – there are over 400 in the city – but determining which ones are worth the precious little time you have to spend in the “Venice of the North.” So, here are a few suggestions for some of the best that Amsterdam has to offer.
If you have time to see only one museum, skip the rest and head straight to the Rijksmuseum. In Amsterdam since the early 1800s, it is the most visited museum in the city and one of the top art museums in the Netherlands. The culture and history of the city are expressed through more than 1 million works of art. The Dutch Masters, of course, have a large presence in the museum, but there is plenty more to see. Model ships tell the story of when Holland ruled the seas. The national print library (Rijksprentenkabinet) is there, as is the largest historical art library in the country. A ten-year, $440 million renovation was completed in 2013, so once again all the rich treasures of the Rijksmuseum are open to the public. It is located at Museumstraat 1.
If contemporary art is more up your alley, the Stedelijk is the place for you. Opened in 1874, it’s the largest collection of modern and contemporary art in the city. The oldest pieces in the collection date to the 1870s, and the 90,000 works represent all major movements of art and design from the 20th and 21st centuries. See works by Koons, Goldin, De Kooning, Mondrian, Kandinsky, Pollock and Warhol as well as Cézanne, Matisse and Van Gogh. The collection also includes 3D-print vases, Dutch avant-garde work, posters, industrial design, sculpture, photography and video art. The Stedelijk is open 365 days a year and is located at Museumplein 10.
Van Gogh Museum
Van Gogh is certainly one of the world’s most beloved artists, and the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam houses the largest collection of his works in the world. Two hundred paintings and over 1,000 drawings and letters are within its walls. The rooms are arranged chronologically, so visitors can trace the path of the troubled artist’s life and career. A video presentation documents his life as well. The museum also holds works by other artists – Van Gogh’s predecessors, contemporaries, friends and those who were inspired by him, including Cézanne, Gauguin, Monet, Seurat, Sisley and Toulouse-Lautrec. Temporary exhibits can be seen in the modern annex. The Van Gogh Museum is easily the most visited museum in the Netherlands. It is located at Paulus Potterstraat 7. Visitors under 18 enter for free.
Anne Frank House
Almost everyone knows the tragic story of the young Jewish girl who, along with her family, hid from the Nazis in concealed rooms during the height of World War II. She documented her experience there from 1942-44, and her diary has been read by millions all over the world. The 17th-century canal house in Amsterdam where she wrote her poignant journal was opened as a museum in 1960. For many, visiting the house, and especially the secret annex where the family hid for two years, is a deeply moving experience. It remains virtually the same as it was more than 70 years ago. The Anne Frank House is the third most visited museum in the Netherlands, but because of its small size, it is often necessary to wait in long lines to get in. It’s best to get tickets online, and even at that, the wait can be up to two months. If you don’t have tickets, please see your Concierge as they may be able to assist you. The Anne Frank House is at Westermarkt 20.
The Hermitage in St. Petersburg, Russia, holds a revered place among the world’s greatest art museums. Hermitage Amsterdam, located in a 17th-century building on the River Amstel, is the largest satellite of that renowned institution. Opened in 2009, it hosts two permanent exhibitions plus temporary exhibitions borrowed from its namesake in Russia. The temporary exhibitions change about every six months. Hermitage Amsterdam is at Amstel 51.
Opened in 2001, FOAM – short for Fotografiemuseum Amsterdam – is a small museum that you can spend a lot of time in. As the name suggests, it is a museum of photography as well as video and multimedia. The work of well-known photographers is featured alongside that of young and up-and-coming ones. Displays are rotated every two to four months. Lectures, radio shows, a print shop, café and library are all found within its walls. FOAM is located at Keizersgracht 609. Children under 12 are free.
Rembrandt House Museum
One of the Netherlands’ most famous native sons lived and worked in this house from 1639 to 1656. The Rembrandt House Museum has been completely renovated and reconstructed to show what it looked like when the Dutch Master called it home. The works on display include etchings and the artist’s odd and eclectic collection of items from all over the world. The house is at Jodenbreestraat 4.
To be sure, there are many, many museums scattered throughout Amsterdam. If you just can’t get enough, you might also check out the Allard Pierson Museum (archeology), Dutch Resistance Museum, Kattenkabinet (a museum dedicated to cats), Scheepvaartmuseum (maritime-themed), Erotic Museum, Sex Museum, Cheese Museum, Tulip Museum and Torture Museum. If you plan to visit more than two or three of the city’s many museums, look into the iAmsterdam card and Museumkaart, as you’ll save significantly on admissions.