5 of Amsterdam's finest museums

Whether you're whizzing through Amsterdam with a few hours to spare or just dipping a toe into the vibrant Dutch capital, if you do only one thing, it has to be mastering its mega museum scene.

Amsterdam is simply chock-full of weird and wonderful museums. You've got everything from world-famous collections to niche-curio at the likes of The Pipe Museum and the Museum of Bags & Purses.

Summer afternoon in Amsterdam © Yasonya - Fotolia.com
Summer afternoon in Amsterdam © Yasonya - Fotolia.com

You can also enjoy a taste of the traditional at The Canal Museum and The Tulip Museum, while the fabulously futuristic-looking NEMO Science Museum with its excellent rooftop terrace and cascading fountains is a hit with young and old.

Visiting Amsterdam: what better way to reach this city of canals than by boat? Book your berth with TUI River Cruises* and you could be sailing the Dutch waterways in no time.

However, you can't come to Amsterdam and miss out on its world-class collection of fine and modern art, including some familiar local faces and an ode to its mighty maritime past.

Here, we look at five of the finest museums that collectively tell the story of Amsterdam and the Netherlands while simultaneously celebrating some of its most famous residents.

1. Rijksmuseum

The Rijksmuseum takes centre stage with pieces from revered Dutch and international artists. Rembrandt puts on a good show with a vast collection including what is arguably his best-known painting, The Night Watch. Dating from 1642, it dominates its very own Night Watch Gallery on the second floor.

Henry Moore sculpture outside the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam © Peter Horree - Alamy Stock Photo
Henry Moore sculpture outside the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam © Peter Horree - Alamy Stock Photo

Anyone with an interest in naval matters should seek out artworks by both Willem van de Velde (father) and Willem van de Velde II (son). Prepare for epic battle scenes and proud Dutch victories over the English fleet, such as The Capture of the Royal Prince by Van de Velde II in around 1670.

Also, the galleries dedicated to the 1600s, 1700s and 1800s display a huge variety of paintings, sculptures, fine china, models and other artefacts that go some way in demonstrating the once-unstoppable might of the Dutch Empire. With a real focus on the Dutch Golden Age, these galleries chart the rise and fall of the Dutch colonial era around the globe.

2. Van Gogh Museum

You can see a few of Van Gogh's sketches and paintings - including a well known self portrait for 1887 - in the Rijksmuseum, but for a more in-depth look at the man behind the canvas, you must make time for the Van Gogh Museum, which is handily located very close to the Rijksmuseum.

Inside the Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam - photo courtesy of Holland Media Bank
Inside the Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam - photo courtesy of Holland Media Bank

Expertly curated, it could easily swallow you whole but if you're short on time, pay a few euros extra for the multimedia guide, which includes a tour of the highlights. See more of his self-portraits and unmissable works such as Almond Blossom, Shoes, The Bedroom and, of course, Sunflowers.

3. Hermitage Amsterdam

The Hermitage Amsterdam is home to a mind-boggling collection of international masterpieces. Working in conjunction with its namesake in St Petersburg, the Hermitage Amsterdam is able to rotate pieces by some of the most acclaimed artists in history.

The main theme here, perhaps unsurprisingly, gives a nod to the history of Dutch-Russian relations, with portraits, textiles and jewels that tell a wealth of stories. It's a display of international friendship, collaboration and (some, at least) shared interests.

The building is also part of the collection: first opened in 1682, the riverside Amstelhof served as a retirement home for over 300 years until the museum took up residence in 2009.

4. The National Maritime Museum

Meanwhile, the Het Scheepvaartmuseum - aka The National Maritime Museum - serves up a beautiful blend of history and art in one and is an absolute must for anyone with a flicker of interest in how the Netherlands was, for a time, home to the world's largest port and owner of the world's most powerful fleet.

The National Maritime Museum, right in the heart of old Amsterdam © C Messier - Wikimedia Commons
The National Maritime Museum, right in the heart of old Amsterdam © C Messier - Wikimedia Commons

Here, too, the building is a feature: a former 17th-century arsenal, it recently underwent a massive revamp. Exhibitions are spread across three (North, East and West) wings and cover everything from The Tale of the Whale (the history of whaling) and the slave trade to great naval victories at sea.

Maps, decorative busts, an interactive guide to the port today and so much more await. Outside in the dock, you can even clamber aboard the replica 18th-century East Indiaman Amsterdam and be dazzled by the gold detail of the Royal Barge.

5. Stedelijk Museum

The oldies may be goodies but contemporary art has a home in Amsterdam, and the Stedelijk Museum is a wonderful place to start for modern art lovers.

While there's always a temporary exhibition to enjoy, it's The Collection in the basement that's especially good. A celebration of art and design from 1880 to the present day, it showcases around 700 objects from abstract paintings and vintage posters to retro furniture, photographs, video installations and 3-D printed items.

5 more things to do in Amsterdam

You've culture-vultured your way around the city's finest museums and now have a little time to spare: why not round off your whistle-stop tour with one of the following highlights:

  • Drink - the Dutch love their beer, so you're never far from a good watering hole in Amsterdam. The Heineken Experience is naturally popular, however, many of the smaller, indy craft brewers have trendy taprooms worth trying - De Prael and Two Chefs Brewing, for example. Alternatively, stop by a so-called 'brown bar' such as Café de Doktor for a 'bier' on the go.
  • Eat - Amsterdam's super-cool Foodhallen has rightly soared in populairty since it opened in 2014. This eclectic indoor market has a bar at its core and around 20 stalls dishing up everything from sushi, noodles and dumplings to steak, tapas and veggie delights.
Take your pick from around 20 stalls at the Foodhallen © Franklin Heijnen - Flickr Creative Commons
Take your pick from around 20 stalls at the Foodhallen © Franklin Heijnen - Flickr Creative Commons
  • See - make for A'Dam Lookout in Amsterdam Noord where a neon-lit lift will shoot you up to the 20th floor in 20 seconds. Thrill-seekers can test their nerve on the rooftop swing or simply grab a drink and enjoy the view across the city and port from the SkyDeck.
  • Do - do as the locals do and explore the city on two wheels. You can hire bikes on your own or book a cycle tour with an expert guide to discover otherwise unheard tales. You'll breeze through Vondelpark, the city's largest public park, and zig-zag between the traffic - nerves of steel and minimal faffing required for the main roads!
  • Cruise - getting from A to B has never been so relaxing: buy a hop-on/hop-off river cruise pass to easily and speedily navigate Amsterdam's canal ways. It's also a great way of seeing the different central neighbourhoods and avoiding the traffic.

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Kirsten Henton

Kirsten Henton
Posted on Wednesday 22nd May 2019 in: City Culture Europe

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