Amsterdam’s Top 10 Museums
Amsterdam is one of our favourite cities in the world. We love its huge range of top notch cultural experiences. When we lived in Amsterdam, we filled our weekends visiting the latest exhibitions. Curious which museum we like the most? Continue reading! And let us know what you think in the comments.
10. Ons’ lieve Heer op Solder
Ons’ lieve Heer op Solder (Our lord in the attic) houses in a 1630 canal house. The owner converted the top floors into a hidden/secret church (schuilkerk) in the 1660s. Despite the freedom of thought in the Dutch Republic at that time, there was no real religious freedom. Dutch citizens were supposed to be Reformed Protestants. The Dutch Republic tolerated other Christian religions, but they could not practice in public. Hence the need for hidden churches, although in reality they were a public secret.
This museum gives insight into that period of Dutch religious history. It’s a pretty building and the church itself is nice and intimate. Located in the red-light district, it’s a good change from the drinking and smoking tourism.
Go here if you want to know more about Dutch religious history or see another site to the red-light district.
9. Rembrandt House museum
The Rembrandt House museum was the house of the famous Dutch painter between 1639 and 1658. In 1658 Rembrandt went bankrupt and this house and his belongings were auctioned off. Thanks to that auction’s list, we know how it looked and what objects he had. This list made it possible to restore the house back into its original state and fill it with much of its original objects.
The museum provides a window into the life of the painter. There are no Rembrandt paintings here. But there are some paintings by his teachers and students. The museum also has a large collection of Rembrandt’s etchings.
Go here if you want to know more about Rembrandt and learn some context and background to many of his works. If you’re looking for his famous paintings, go to the ‘Rijksmuseum’.
*Or go to the Hermitage which has a big exposition of Rembrandt’s work from the Russian state collection.
8. Museum van Loon
Museum van Loon is a canal house museum which is obviously housed in a canal house. This house was built in 1672 and its first occupant was the Dutch painter ‘Ferdinand Bol’. Various wealthy families lived here until Hendrik van Loon bought the house for his son in 1884. This family gives its name to the museum and descendants of the family lived here until it became a museum in 1960. When they restored it back into its 18th century splendour.
Go here if you want a view into the lives of the wealthy merchants of the Dutch Republic. There was a time when a most of the houses would have looked very much like this one. Alternatively, go to the Museum Willet-Holthuysen which provides an almost similar experience.
The Hermitage Amsterdam is the Dutch branch of the world-famous Hermitage museum in Saint Petersburg, Russia. The museum houses in the ‘Amstelhof’, a former retirement home for elderly women. Amstelhof opened in 1682 and served as a retirement home until 2007. Part of this history is also on display in the museum. The museum hosts two or three different exhibitions per year with works from the Hermitage in Saint Petersburg.
Go here if the current exhibition has your interest. The quality of the works on display is usually very good. But be aware that ticket prices differ per exhibition and can be high.
6. Anne Frank house
The Anne Frank house is another museum in a canal house. This house was built in 1635 and served as the office of Anne Frank’s father Otto Frank company from December 1940. The family went into hiding here from July 1942 until their betrayal in August 1944.
The Nazis deported the family to Auschwitz, where they separated the women from the men. Anne’s mother died from starvation in Auschwitz, saving all her food for her daughters. In October 1944 Anne and her sister were relocated to Bergen-Belsen. Here they both died somewhere early in 1945, probably from Typhoid. Otto Frank survived the war and would go on to publish Anne’s diary.
The house has been restored to show the situation during their hiding. The museum added the next-door house to allow more visitors to enter and have extra exhibition space. With over a million visitors per year, expect to stand in line, so go either early or at the end of the day.
Go here if you want to know more about World War II in the Netherlands, the plights of its Jewish citizens and Anne Frank and her family in specific. It was here that she started writing ‘Diary of a young girl’ when only 13 years old. This diary still inspires and touches people all over the world.
5. Huis Marseille
Huis Marseille is the oldest photography museum in the Netherlands. It houses in two canal houses and has one room restored in Louis XIV style. There are several different exhibitions throughout the year. The focus is on documentary photography.
Go here if you love photography. It’s less crowded than FOAM and the exhibition have a more natural flow to them. The topics of the exhibitions tend to be more political relevant.
Foam is Amsterdam’s’ second photography museum. It’s also housed in a canal house on the Keizersgracht so its’s easy to combine with Huis Marseille. Foam tries to attract bigger crowds with household names. Often has great retrospectives of famous photographers. These exhibitions tend to focus more on glamour and portraits of famous people. Usually there are four different exhibitions on at the same time. Also with attention for upcoming photographers.
Go here if you like photography and have an interest in more main stream art. The museum is a bit of a maze, so it can be hard to follow the flow of the exhibitions. The small rooms can feel crowded, especially on weekends and holidays.
Both Foam and Huis Marseille have their strengths and we recommend visiting both. But if you are strapped for time or on a tight budget, see what’s on where and pick what interest you most.
3. Stedelijk Museum
The Stedelijk Museum (Municipal museum) is the best modern art museum in the Netherlands. It has great works by Cezanne, van Gogh, Malevich and Mondrian and some good pop-art and CoBrA works. Yet, mismanagement and housing problems plagued the museum since the 2000s. It closed for almost a decade and failed to make an impact since its reopening. The museum leans on its previous fame and success too much. A recent remodeling of the collection and the interior hasn’t improved the situation.
Go here if you like modern art. The period from 1880 to 1980 is well covered and there are various gems on display.
The Rijksmuseum (National museum) predates its current building and was founded in 1800. It moved to this dedicated building, designed by Pierre Cuypers in 1885. Cuypers also designed the central station which has a very similar style. The museum building was completely restored in the first decade of the 20th century. Now the building is an attraction on its own. The museum has re-emerged as the most popular museum in the Netherlands, drawing over 2 million visitors yearly.
The Rijksmuseum covers the complete Dutch history. It also includes art from its former colonies and trading contacts. The main draw of the museum is its ‘Golden Century’ collection of Dutch art from the 17th Century. Dutch masters like Rembrandt, Frans Hals and Vermeer form just the basis of an exhaustive collection.
Go here for the Rembrandt’s and the 17th Century masterpieces. And don’t forget the Asian wing which is also very interesting. Skip the 19th century collection unless you are particularly interested in that period. That part of the collection is not as strong as the rest.
1. Van Gogh museum
The Van Gogh Museum is the one must see museum in Amsterdam. If you have only time for one museum, go here. It is the best artist dedicated museum in the world. On display are top quality pieces from Van Gogh covering his entire professional career. The works of art are combined with his letters to give a personal context to the works and form a better connection with the artist.
The collection is expanded with works by artists who inspired Van Gogh like Delacroix and Millet. There are also works by artists with whom he worked, like Cezanne. And the museum shows artists who he inspired like Van Dongen.
Visit this museum if you have even a remote interest in art.