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.
Engage in a game of chess in the Rijksmuseum gardens, accessible with no entry fee.
The Rijksmuseum’s collection includes masterpieces representing the best of Dutch painting from the 17th-century to modern times. Among its most iconic works are paintings by Vermeer, Frans Hals and Rembrandt.
Rembrandt’s 17th century masterpiece Night Watch is displayed in a new hall at the Rijksmuseum 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 revisit 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.
The largest collection of Van Gogh’s works—200+ paintings, 500 drawings and 750 written documents—is in Amsterdam’s Van Gogh Museum.
Within the walls of these compact venues, you can explore everything from contemporary art (Stedelijk), pop/street art (Moco) 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.
Situated in a houseboat on the Prinsengracht, the little Tulip Museum traces the history of the Netherlands’ most famous flower.
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.
Dedicated to presenting the “Rock Stars” of contemporary art, Moco occupies 13,500 square feet on two floors of what was originally a stately private home—one of the first built on Museumplein.
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.
Paintings, furnishings, and knickknacks inside Museum van Loon reveal the grandeur of the Dutch Golden Age.
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 of Museum van Loon, a formal garden 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.
While Amsterdam’s thriving Jewish Quarter around Waterlooplein is consigned to history, a new Jewish Cultural Quarter preserves its legacy. The Jewish Historical Museum is its most important monument.
For Film Buffs and Feline Fanciers
The striking EYE Film Institute is an homage to international cinema. On sunny days, a terrace beckons for lunch or just contemplating the world of the moving image.
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 with the watery Ij as a backdrop.
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.
Even if cats aren’t your thing, a visit to Katten Kabinet may be worth the small entry fee just to enter a posh canal house where Dutch gentry once dwelled.
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. 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.
In 2004 Katten Kabinet served as a set for the Hollywood blockbuster Oceans 12. A gift shop on the first floor proffers cat-themed posters and souvenirs.
Hi Melissa ! Thany you very much for this article ! What a surprise ! Thank’s to you, I’m going to visit the KattenKabinet Museum ! And hopefully, the price is very cheap ….
OK, super cool about all the museums, so excited to see Amsterdam! Do you have any info on the floating flower market? A friend of mine told me that was something to look out for!
AND as two of us our filmmakers, we will definitely be going to EYE, and OF COURSE stopping to see Katten Kabinet!!! How cool, Amsterdam just seems better and better!!
Even though the Bloemenmarkt is touristy, I still love it and have bought hundreds of bulbs + plants there. It’s on my “Must See” sights Wanderlist on my AFAR Guide to Amsterdam (http://www.afar.com/highlights/the-bloemenmarkt-worlds-only-floating-flower-market?context=wanderlist&context_id=21077). You can check out the whole guide here: http://www.afar.com/travel-guides/netherlands/amsterdam/guide,
as well as highlights categorized into Wanderlists here: http://www.afar.com/travelers/melissa-adams/wanderlists. Don’t overplan your trip too much, though. Sometimes it’s better to let the city lead you!
Melissa, this is great, thanks a lot!
It’s always really nice to hear from locals what they think of their city’s museums. Katten Kabinet and Museum Van Loon are the kind of places the regular tourist would bypass – not enough renowned painters, no international special exhibit. But they seem to have a true warm atmosphere, to be small places where you would actually enjoy hanging out, rather than these enormous rather cold Museums where the Art frowns at you from above and the picture-taking crowd keeps frantically pushing their way past you.
I’ll make sure to stop in both when I come and visit Amsterdam!
Both Katten Kabinet + Museum van Loon are in gorgeous 17th century canal houses, which is part of the fun. Enjoy!
I study public history and museum studies so any suggestions for new museums are always extremely appreciated. As Katten Kabinet sounds like my favorite type of museums, small, personal and quirky. Definitely added to the things I want to do in Amsterdam.