Amsterdam: first and foremost capital of the Netherlands, but also the city of canals, the Red Light district, beautiful old streets, green city parks and busy shopping streets. But did you know there are also over 75 museums in Amsterdam?
Big and popular versus lesser known
Looking forward to a little shopping spree or fancy a weekend of culinary indulgence? Amsterdam has what you are looking for. But beware: all that shopping and eating can make you long for a bit of culture. Luckily, there are over 75 museums in Amsterdam so there is bound to be one that is right up your alley. The big museums on the Museum Square are very well known: there is the classic Rijksmuseum, the modern Stedelijk Museum and of course the Van Gogh museum. The Anne Frank House and the New Church on the Dam also attract many visitors.
There are also a lot of smaller museums in the city. Ever heard of the FC Ajax museum or the Diamond museum? And of course Amsterdam wouldn’t be Amsterdam without a proper sex museum. So, whether you are travelling with sports fanatics, cat lovers, children or fashion victims: Amsterdam has a museum (or two) for you.
Amsterdam Museum Top 10
Because choosing from over 75 options is not the easiest, Best of Amsterdam wants to help by presenting to you the Amsterdam Museum Top 10. Our list is compiled based on personal preferences from the editors of Best of Amsterdam, combined with reviews and tips from our website’s visitors.
10. BODY WORLDS: The Happiness Project
Trying to be happy in life is always a good idea. Especially since it is scientifically proven that happy people live longer than unhappy people. BODY WORLDS: The Happiness Project gives visitors the opportunity to literally see how the body responds to the phenomenon of happiness. How? By putting on display over 200 human (!) specimens.
This permanent exhibition is interactive in character and it shows for instance what effect smoking has on the lungs and drinking alcohol has on the liver. Both are not things to be too happy about! Complete human bodies are interchanged with smaller specimens and interesting facts and figures.
BODY WORDLS: The Happiness Project is part of a larger exhibition that travels the world under the name BODY WORLDS. In 1977 anatomist Gunther von Hagens discovered the so-called plastination method that makes it possible to stop the dehydration and decay of the human body. Thanks to Von Hagens’ invention we are now able to look at the inside of a body with our own eyes to see how it functions and responds to outside influences.
Interesting fact: a few years after discovering the plastination method, Von Hagen founded a special program for people who want to donate their body to BODY WORDLS after their death. A special program was thought to be necessary, because donation to this project means your body will live on forever. Know what you are getting yourself, of better said: your body, into!
9. Stadsarchief Amsterdam – City Archive Amsterdam
Amsterdam was given city rights in 1342, so it is safe to say that it is a city with quite a history. The City Archive Amsterdam documents this history. Here, you not only find governmental archives, but also those of private companies and institutions that are connected to the city of Amsterdam.
For centuries, painters, filmmakers, writers and photographers took their inspiration from daily life in the city. The body of work they left us functions as the starting point for various temporary exhibitions in the City Archive, like for instance the sketches of the painter Breitner. But also important companies for Amsterdam like the Heineken brewery have been given special exhibitions.
The building that houses the City Archive is an old bank. The old heavy doors that used to give access to the vault are still there to proof it. Nowadays, they give access to the permanent exhibition. There is also a theatre were you can watch old films of Amsterdam. In the adjacent bookshop you can buy all the books that were written with the archive as their main source.
In 2007 the City Archive moved to their current building. It was the biggest move known to the city of Amsterdam: over 40 kilometres of archives had to be moved!
8. Kattenkabinet – Cat Cabinet
Seventeen years filled with sleeping, eating, lying down in the sunshine and the occasional stretching of your limbs. Not per se the right ingredients for an exciting life. Still, when John Piermont Morgan died in 1983 a museum was founded in remembrance of his life. A life he has spent as described above. Bob Meijer, who lived together with Morgan, opened the doors of the Cat Cabinet in 1983. Cat Cabinet? Yes, J.P. Morgan was a cat. Bob Meijer’s cat to be precise.
And mister Meijer loved his cat. With every milestone in his life, Meijer gave his cat a present. On his fifth birthday Morgan had his portrait painted by an Amsterdam painter. On his tenth birthday he had his statue made and on his fifteenth birthday a book was presented filled with poems about cats.
In the Cat Cabinet J.P. Morgan has to share the limelight with other cats. The collection of the museum consists of posters, statues, paintings, lithography’s and photographs of cats. The goal of the collection is to give an overview of the role of cats in art and culture throughout the centuries. Even if you hate cats, the Cat Cabinet might still be worth a visit. The building the museum is located in, is an old canal house with lots of original furniture and details.
Always wondered how it is possible that we can see rainbows in the sky or why it is always so strange to hear the sound of your own voice? And who can explain how lightning works? The answers to these – and to a million other – questions can be found at NEMO. NEMO is the biggest science centre of the Netherlands and it is must visit for both young and old. As long as you have a curious mind, you’ll enjoy yourself at NEMO.
NEMO is an interactive museum that lets you explore the worlds of chemistry physics and even teaches you how your brain works. All across the museum you can do different types of experiments in order to help you understand all the big and smaller questions you might have about ordinary things.
Architect Renzo Piano, who is also responsible for the Centre Pompidou in Paris, designed NEMO’s big green building. Do take the elevator to the top floor. Here you’ll find the biggest roof terrace of Amsterdam that gives you a great view of the city centre thanks to being almost 22 metres above sea level!
How did people in the 18th and 19th century live in the Netherlands? What did their houses look like and what professions did they have back then? A visit to the Zaanse Schans is like travelling back in time: you can learn all about what it was like living in the Netherlands a few centuries ago.
In 1961 a collection of original houses, sheds and mills was transported to the Zaanse Schans in order to bring back to life the days from the past. The result is one big open-air museum.
The area where you find the Zaanse Schans is the oldest industrial area of Western Europe. There once were over 600 mills here! Today, there are 10 working mills left for you to visit and explore. Rebuild workshops show you all about the original Dutch crafts like cheese making and of course the making of wooden shoes.
All the little shops at the Zaanse Schans offer the best souvenirs like the famous Dutch cheese, jewels and Delft blue porcelain.
Download the special Zaanse Schans application for your smart phone that gives you extra information on all the things you can visit in the area.
Do you fancy travelling in style to the Zaanse Schans? Then you can also get there by ferry, cruising along the canals past the Hembrugterrein, once a secret military terrain.
Amsterdam is always crowded with pedestrians, bikers and trams so you need to keep your eyes open and watch where you’re going. Easy enough if you can see, but imagine for a minute walking through Amsterdam being blind. It seems impossible to get from A to B without getting hurt! But it is not, you just need to learn to trust your other senses.
CtheCity makes it possible to experience Amsterdam in the complete dark. With the help of blind guides you get to smell, hear and feel Amsterdam. Feel the grass of the Vondelpark under your feet, smell the fresh fish at the Albert Cuypmarket and cross the busy Kalverstraat without bumping into other people.
In CtheCity typical scenes of life in Amsterdam are rebuilt in the complete and utter dark. All the guides are blind and are trained to help you trust your own senses in the dark where you literally cannot see anything. And that can be quite scary! It is so dark inside that even watches with illuminating numbers are forbidden.
CtheCity was founded out of respect for the talent of blind people to see without using their eyes. A lot of people with visual handicaps unfortunately are without jobs. CtheCity, together with the restaurant Ctaste that is of the same owners, creates a working environment where not seeing anything actually isn’t a handicap.
Foam is the photography museum of Amsterdam. The museum presents itself as a place of inspiration and a meeting place for people who love photography, actual photographers and designers. FOAM doesn’t have a permanent collection on display. Instead, they change exhibitions a few times a year, showcasing both young talents as more established photographers.
Besides being a physical museum, FOAM also publishes a magazine that is internationally renowned. At FOAM Editions you can buy limited edition prints from young talent. FOAM also seeks out interesting partners in the city to work with, resulting in original projects throughout the city.
FOAM is also interesting for those who want to learn more about photography. They offer all kinds of workshops for aspiring photographers with themes like portrait photography or landscape photography. Every Thursday you can sign up for free guided tours of the museum (also in English).
Living in a canal house is not for everyone. The amazing waterside location brings not only great views, but unfortunately also very high costs. This wasn’t any different in the 18th and 19th century. Only the rich lived in the beautiful canal houses. Like for instance the Willet couple.
Abraham Willet and Louisa Willet-Holthuysen lived in a monumental house at the Herengracht at the end of the 19th century. Their old house is now a museum, so that we can see for ourselves how the wealthy people from Amsterdam used to live.
Abraham Willet had a passion for collection art and Louisa Willet-Holthuysen came from a rich family. They made a good couple! The Willet collection consists of Venetian glass, silver and German porcelain and it is one of the oldest private collections that is still intact. The whole collection is on display in the museum and new pieces are still added to it.
It is not just the art collection that makes a visit to Willet-Holthuysen a good idea. The house itself is also very interesting to see. Unfortunately there is not much left of the original furniture of the Willet’s, but the house is beautifully decorated in 19th century style.
Some women only buy shoes, while other women never have enough bags. This last category will have a blast in the only bag museum of Amsterdam – and the biggest of Europe! Bag museum Hendrikje shows the history of Western bags and purses from the 15th century until today.
Of course you can find here on display the famous Chanel 2.55 and the bag fashion house Hermès named after Grace Kelly: the Kelly bag. Besides the iconic bags there are also a lot of bags from more contemporary designers like Miuccia Prada, Vivienne Westwood, Karl Lagerfeld and Dutch designers like Hester van Eeghen en Vlieger & Vandam.
The bag is an accessory, but it is above all something that people really use. This has always been the case, as can be seen from the bags dating back to the 15th century when pockets in clothing weren’t as common as they are now.
Bag museum Hendrikje has a broad collection that is on permanent display and next to that temporary exhibitions are organized to emphasize certain themes from the history of bags and purses.
Hendrikje Ivo founded this museum in 1996. She started collecting bags after she found a special antique bag with a turtle shell that intrigued here. Her private collection was the starting point for the museum.
Since 2009 it is no longer necessary to travel to Russia if you want to see the famous art collection of the Hermitage in St. Petersburg. In that year a Dutch dependence opened in an historical building right next to the Amstel river. Here, special exhibitions are organized that bring the art of the Russian museum to the people of Amsterdam and its visitors.
The complete collection of the original Hermitage consists of over 3 million pieces that were collected during the course of 3 centuries. Around 65.000 pieces of art are on permanent display in St. Petersburg, the rest is locked away in archives. The collection holds pieces from Ancient Egypt, but also from artist of today. The Hermitage has one the largest collection of Rembrandt van Rijn paintings: with 20 paintings they top that of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam (19 paintings).
You can shop in the Hermitage museum shop and have a Russian inspired lunch at Neva, the museum restaurant named after the river that is close to the Hermitage in St. Petersburg.
The 65 museums that did not make our Top 10 are of course also worth a visit. You can find more information on our website, so do have a look around!
Do you miss a particular museum in our list or maybe one of our entries didn’t do it for you? Please tell us by filling in our contact form or by replying to this post.