Amsterdam is world-renowned for some of the finest museums on Earth. The city’s piece de resistance is the Rijksmuseum, the national museum that reopened in 2013 after a decade of renovation. Originally designed by Dutch architect P.J.H. Cuypers, the palatial building was constructed over nearly a decade—from 1876–1885, after which the Rijks debuted as the Netherlands’ largest museum.
The collection includes art by Vermeer, Frans Hals and Rembrandt, whose 17th century masterpiece Night Watch is displayed in a new hall designed to illuminate every detail. Alongside works by Golden Age Masters, the Rijksmuseum displays Delftware, sculptures, artifacts, clothing, Asian art and items from maritime history that collectively re-tell eight centuries of Dutch history.
Beyond the famed Rijks and Van Gogh Museums—repositories of historic art, iconic sunflowers and tormented starry nights―Amsterdam has more than 50 smaller museums showcasing everything from contemporary art (the Stedelijk), pop and street art (the new Moco museum focused on icons like Banksy and Warhol), and photography (Foam) to ancient torture (Torture Museum), sex through the ages (Sex Museum), houseboats (Houseboat Museum), tulips (Tulip Museum) soft drugs (Hash, Marijuana & Hemp Museum) and even an award-winning gem devoted to small bags and purses: the Tassenmuseum on the Herengracht.
At NEMO, even basic physics gets a nod. Here, the whole family can learn how bridges work, what creates lightning and why things that aren’t there can be seen by the human eye.
A Return to Earlier Eras
You can step back in time at Museum van Loon, one of the best preserved of Amsterdam’s canal houses, offering a glimpse into the grandeur of 17th-century Holland. Built as a private residence in 1672, the museum was once the home of painter Ferdinand Bol (a pupil of Rembrandt).
In 1884, wealthy merchant Hendrik Van Loon purchased it as a wedding gift for his son Willem, a founding member of the Dutch East India Company, whose grandson became mayor of Amsterdam. Today, its ornate detailing, historic paintings, exquisite furnishings, and precious silver and porcelain are reminders of the splendor of an earlier era. In the rear, a garden laid out in formal style borders a coach house where the Van Loon’s collection of historic carriages and harnesses is displayed.
For a more somber look at Dutch history, visit the Jewish Historical Museum near Waterlooplein. In four restored 17th– and 18th-century Ashkenazi synagogues (plus a kosher café accessible without a museum ticket), the museum traces the history of the Jews in Holland. A special wing houses exhibits for children.
For Film Buffs and Feline Fanciers
At EYE, accessible via a free ferry from Central Station, film buffs can pay an homage to international cinema. Perched like an ivory spaceship on the northern bank of the river Ij, the striking facility encompasses interactive displays, four movie screening rooms, a museum shop and exhibit space with rotating shows.
Topping the contemporary structure is the eye-popping EYE bar restaurant, where you can wash down a few bitterballen with beer on tap while musing about cinematography against a backdrop of the watery Ij. On sunny days, a terrace beckons for lunch or just contemplating the world of the moving image. The new location in Overhoeks, Amsterdam’s new urban district across from Central Station, replaces the Film Institute’s previous headquarters in Vondelpark.
Tired of highbrow culture? Sample a lighter approach to art devoted to a single theme at one of Amsterdam’s quirkiest museums: Katten Kabinet. While professionally curated, this homage to all things feline has a humorous edge. The collection features two floors of paintings, drawings, prints and sculptures by Picasso, Rembrandt, Toulouse-Lautrec and other renowned masters, all with cats on center stage. A gift shop on the first floor proffers cat-themed posters and souvenirs. Even if cats aren’t your thing, it may be worth the €6 entry fee just for the chance to enter a posh canal house on the Herengracht, where Dutch gentry dwelled in Holland’s Golden Age.
Built in 1667 as a residence for the wealthy van Loon brothers, the structure was restored several times before affluent Dutchie Bob Meijer turned it into a museum in 1990 dedicated to the memory of his red tomcat John Pierpont Morgan. In 2004 it served as a set for the Hollywood blockbuster Oceans 12. A-list guests have included former Amsterdam mayor Jan Calkoen and American president John Adams. The present owner still resides on the upper floor of the building with his family and several felines who wander through the museum at will.