Rodney Bolt, The Daily Telegraph, February 25, 2014
Our Amsterdam expert chooses his favourite museums and art galleries, including lesser-known institutions.
At last re-opened after a decade-long renovation, the Rijksmuseum is home to renowned Rembrandts, including The Night Watch, plus a grand company of other Old Masters from Frans Hals and Jan Steen to Ferdinand Bol and Jan Vermeer. Delftware, glittering gold and silver, centuries-old costumes, and furniture fit for royalty all add to the bounty. My own favourites are an exquisite 12th-century Buddha in the Asian Pavilion, and the ornate 17th-century dolls’ houses (showpieces for adults, not playthings). The Old Masters section is least crowded in the late afternoon, and if the children are getting tetchy, a 1917 bi-plane at the top of the west wing might do the trick.
Museumstraat 1, 1071 XX, Museum Quarter
0031 20 674 7000; www.rijksmuseum.nl
€15; children 18 and under, free
Van Gogh Museum
More of the tortured artist’s paintings and drawings are collected here than anywhere in the world, from The Potato Eaters, through Sunflowers, to Wheatfield with Crows. There are over 200 paintings in all, plus many more drawings, letters, and works by others that inspired him. The imaginative special exhibitions here often top the list of what’s on in town for me, as they are fed not only by an enormous archive, but also often with prized works from other collections around the world, thanks to the Van Gogh Museum's top-rank trading potential. Pre-book online to avoid long entrance queues.
Paulus Potterstraat 7, 1071 CX, Museum Quarter
0031 20 570 5200; www.vangoghmuseum.nl
€15; children 17 and under, free
Daily, 9am-5pm, except Fri until 10pm
Stylishly revamped after a long closure, the Stedelijk showcases modern and contemporary art from the huge municipal collection. For most of the 20th century, Stedelijk directors managed to snap up work from hot new art movements before the rest of the world was really taking notice, such as paintings and work on paper from CoBrA and De Stijl, and major pieces by Mondrian, Kandinsky and Malevich. There’s a rich collection of design and applied art, too, with video art and up-to-the-minute new work also get a good showing. Do seek out the Appelbar,the Stedelijk’s original refreshment kiosk downstairs, adorned with bright murals by CoBrA artist Karel Appel.
Museumplein 10, 1071 DJ, Museum Quarter
0031 20 573 2911; www.stedelijk.nl
€15; students and children aged 13-18, €7.50; 12 and under, free
Daily, 10am-6pm, except Thu until 10pm
Anne Frank House
The attic rooms where the Frank family hid during World War II, reached through a door behind a hinged bookcase, are bare of furniture yet almost unbearably poignant, with magazine pictures pasted on the walls by Anne still in situ. The rooms downstairs, which housed her father’s company office, have been restored in period style, and the buildings alongside hold Anne’s original diary and other manuscripts, as well as interactive exhibitions on human rights. Avoid gargantuan queues by pre-booking online.
Prinsengracht 263-267, 1016 GV, Canal Belt
0031 20 556 7100; www.annefrank.org
€9; children 10-17, €4.50; under 10s, free
Nov-Mar, daily 9am-7pm, except Sat to 9pm; Apr-Jun, Jul, Sep, Oct, daily 9am-9pm, except Sat to 10pm; July and August, daily 9am-10pm
Museum Van Loon
A peek indoors at the home of an Amsterdam patrician family. The 17th-century canal-side mansion, one of the most splendid in town, has been magnificently restored, to the last lick of gilding and tinkling chandelier. There are other canal-house mansion museums in town, but this is my favourite, as it somehow retains the atmosphere of an (admittedly extremely grand) family home. The characterful Van Loon family portraits are worth a special look. And don’t necessarily save this visit for a rainy day – there’s a beautiful formal garden out the back.
Keizersgracht 672, 1017 ET, Canal Belt
0031 20 624 5255; www.museumvanloon.nl
€8; students €6, children 6-18, €4; under 6s, free
Daily except Tue, 11am-5pm
The grandest and most glittering of Amsterdam’s canal-house museums was occupied by a succession of local notables, the last, Sandrina Holthuysen, dying alone, surrounded by cats in 1895. She was also surrounded by her husband’s vast collection of art and objets d'art. The house brims with paintings, ceramics, glass and silver – though I don’t really warm to the stiff, untouchable 19th-century atmosphere. The gardens behind Amsterdam’s rows of gabled houses come as a surprise to most visitors, as from the street you have no clue that they’re there. The Willet-Holthuysen formal garden is one of the most elegant in town.
Herengracht 605, 1017 CE, Canal Belt
0031 20 523 1822; www.willetholthuysen.nl
£8; children 6-18, €4; under 6s, free
Mon-Fri, 10am-5pm; Sat, Sun, 11am-5pm
Tassenmuseum Hendrijke (Museum of Bags and Purses)
The museum sounds camp, or just plain silly, but in fact it's a world-class collection, spanning 17th-century leather pouches, 1920s beaded fripperies through to the very latest Gucci, Vuitton and Prada. And it's all displayed in a splendid canal-house setting, too. Like so many of the best museums, this one has its origins in a private collection, in this case one that has grown to encompass the precious, the quirky, the historically curious, and the delicately beautiful – some 4,000 pieces in all. Put some time aside for a coffee: the museum café is in a splendid 18th-century salon.
Herengracht 573, 1017 CD, Canal Belt
0031 20 524 6452; www.tassenmuseum.nl
€9; students and over 65s, €7.50; children 13-18, €5.50; under 13s free
In a former almshouse for the aged, built in the 1680s, Hermitage Amsterdam shows off treasures on loan from the Hermitage Palace in St Petersburg, in different themed exhibitions. When it was built, the Amstelhof, as it was then called, boasted the longest façade in town (102 metres still carries quite a punch in small-scale Amsterdam). Whatever the exhibition, I love visiting the long refectory, complete with an organ for church services, and the creepily austere Governesses’ Room. Check out the 18th-century cellar kitchen, with pots so large you had to climb steps to stir them.
Amstel 51, 1018 EJ, Canal Belt
0031 20 530 8755; www.hermitage.nl
€15; children 6-16, €5; under 6s, free
Top of my quirky-museum list. It includes not only the sort of honky-tonk piano that played itself in the corner of a Wild West bar, but also more sophisticated instruments, operated using a technology we can no longer fathom. These can reproduce the exact timbre and every nuance of the pianist who punched the scroll that makes them work. The museum has scrolls created by the likes of Debussy and Prokofiev themselves, as well as works especially composed by Stravinsky. Try to get to one of the eerie concerts, where the audience sits around politely listening to a playerless piano.
Westerstraat 106, 1015 MN, De Jordaan
0031 20 627 9624; www.pianola.nl
€5; over 65s, €4; children, €3
Sun, 2pm-5pm; see the website for concert times
Jewish Historical Museum
The local nickname for Amsterdam is ‘Mokum’, from the Yiddish for ‘place’ or ‘haven’. For centuries before World War II, the city was home to one of the most vibrant Jewish communities in Europe – the force behind Amsterdam’s lucrative diamond-cutting industry, and much more besides. The museum traces the history of Jews in the Netherlands, and displays ceremonial objects, but my visits are usually to see temporary exhibitions, which highlight aspects of Jewish art, often with a local slant. The museum café is a great place to try Dutch-Jewish culinary classics, such as cod cakes, or bolus, a ginger-filled donut.
Nieuwe Amstelstraat 1, 1011 PL, Canal Belt
0031 20 531 0310; www.jhm.nl
€12; children 13-17, €6, and 6-12, €3; under 6s, free
Objects, stories, treasures and works of art from Amsterdam’s long and at times illustrious history, all form part of imaginative displays on the city’s past, present and even future. The building was formerly the Burgerweeshuis (Municipal Orphanage), founded in 1520. I’m always rather moved by the children’s lockers you can still see along one side of the courtyard. Inside, look out for Cornelis Anthoniszoon’s aerial view of Amsterdam, painted around 1538. It is the first map of the city, and an extraordinary feat of imagined perspective given that the highest point in town at the time was a church steeple.
Two entrances: Kalverstraat 9, 1012 NX, and Sint Luciënsteeg 27, 1012 PM, Centre
0031 20 523 1822; www.amsterdammuseum.nl
€10; children 5-18, €5; under 5s, free
FOAM Photography Museum
Photography is hot in Amsterdam at the moment, and FOAM offers not only international blockbuster exhibitions by the likes of Diane Arbus and Richard Avedon, but also smaller shows by contemporary photographers, and lively lectures and forums. For a different, durable souvenir of your visit to Amsterdam, I love the idea of a Foam Edition: affordable limited editions and signed prints by up-and-coming young photographers, as well as by big names who have exhibited at the museum, available at &Foam, the gallery branch across the way.
Keizersgracht 609, 1017 DS, Canal Belt
0031 20 551 6500; www.foam.org
€8.75; students and over 65s, €6; children under 12s, free
Huis Marseilles Photography Museum
Of all the exhibition spaces on Amsterdam’s vibrant photography scene, the Huis Marseilles is the most adventurous. I always find shows here engaging – and often challenging and perplexing, too. The museum showcases new artists – in video as well as stills photography, and there’s a strong in-house collection of mainly Dutch, South African and Japanese work. The building is a fine 17th-century canal house, and exhibitions are often staged as installations responding to the period features of particular rooms. Take a special look at the ceiling painting in the Garden Room – it’s by Jacob de Wit, the leading 18th-century Dutch interiors painter.
Keizersgracht 401, 1016 EK, Canal Belt
0031 20 531 8989; www.huismarseille.nl
€8; students and over 65s, €4; children under 18, free
Stadsarchief (City Archive)
Do the words ‘city archive’ conjure images of dusty files and dull civil servants? Think again. Amsterdam has a fascinating collection of images and documents, interesting beyond the simple scope of city history. The building itself is a monumental 1920s confection of patterned brick and stonework, with Art Deco murals. While there’s no permanent display, it’s really worth checking on current exhibitions. The archive’s photo hoard is especially rich, particularly for images from the 1800s and early 1900s. Look out for work by the 19th-century photographers Georg Breitner (also a renowned painter) and Jacob Olie.
Vijzelstraat 32, 1017 HL, Canal Belt
0031 20 251 1510; www.stadsarchief.amsterdam.nl
€6; children 12-18, €3; under 12s, free
Tue-Fri, 10am-5pm; Sat, Sun, noon-5pm
Verzetsmuseum (Museum of the Resistance)
A fascinating little museum that offers a glimpse of life in the Netherlands under the Nazi occupation, and of the underground resistance movement. Forged documents, homemade radios, old film footage and more are put together in imaginative displays. I think the permanently closed door, with doorbells that elicit recorded excuses for not taking you on as an onderduijker (secret occupant hiding from the Nazis, like Anne Frank’s family) is both moving and ingenious. Information is also in English, and there’s an excellent children’s section with small-scale, recreated domestic interiors, which give a real sense of what life was like.
Plantage Kerklaan 61A, 1018 CX
0031 20 620 2535; www.verzetsmuseum.org
€8; children 7-15, €4.50; under 7s, free
Tue-Fri, 10am-5pm; Sat-Mon, 11am-5pm
Scheepvaartmuseum (Maritime Museum)
Five hundred years of maritime history is packed into the elegant Dutch classicist Admiralty Arsenal, built on the water in 1655 to stock and supply the vessels of the Golden Age. I can linger over the old maps and globes for ages, but there’s a wealth of other objects, too – fine maritime paintings, intricate models of boats, curiosities (such as a preserved whale foetus), beautifully carved figureheads. The reproduction 18th-century Dutch East Indiaman, moored in the harbour alongside the museum, is a must, from the captain’s private loo to the murky room below decks, built to accommodate 200 men.
Kattenburgerplein 1, 1018 KK, Amsterdam East
0031 20 523 2222; www.hetscheepvaartmuseum.nl
€15; students and children 5-17, €7.50; under 5s, free