With priceless artworks by some the most important artists ever to have created and invaluable historical collections, Amsterdam's museums and galleries astound for their quality as well as their quantity. Despite the Dutch capital's compact size, scores of options abound across all genres, spoiling visitors for choice.
These are the best museums Amsterdam that you won't want to miss.
Rijksmuseum: best for Dutch masterpieces
Rembrandt’s epic The Night Watch, Vermeer’s Milkmaid and Jan Steen's The Merry Family are just a taster of the Golden Age gems among the paintings at the Rijksmuseum. The museum is also a spectacular setting for collections spanning Delftware porcelain to exquisite dollhouses, with sculptures gracing the rose-filled garden outside.
Completed in 1885 to house the country's and monarchy's collections, Pierre Cuypers' rambling neo-Gothic and Dutch Renaissance building is a national treasure in itself.
Van Gogh Museum: best for the artist's legacy
Some 200 paintings and 500 drawings make up the world's largest Van Gogh collection at Museumplein's Van Gogh Museum. Learn about this legendary Dutch artist's life and travails through vividly colored creations like Sunflowers, The Yellow House and Wheatfield with Crows, and 700 hand-written letters (you can listen to recordings). Works by fellow artists including Gauguin (with whom Vincent shared the 'yellow house' in Arles in the south of France), Monet and Toulouse-Lautrec provide further context.
Stedelijk Museum: best for modern and contemporary art
The third jewel in Museumplein's crown, Amsterdam’s Stedelijk Museum, occupies a neo-Renaissance former bank and aptly named 2012 extension, 'the Bathtub'. Picasso, Matisse, Mondrian, Lichtenstein and Jeff Koons are among the artists represented in its 100,000-strong permanent collection's rotating exhibitions held alongside cutting-edge temporary shows.
Museum het Rembrandthuis: best residence museum
Rembrandt worked on The Night Watch at this grand Nieuwmarkt canal house, where he ran the Netherlands' largest painting studio from 1639 until the 1650s. When the house was sold to pay his creditors, the inventory allowed it to be faithfully recreated in 1911 as a museum. Visiting feels as if the great painter will be home any moment. You'll see his client reception room, living room, bedroom and prized 'cabinet' (an entire room) of curiosities he collected but the highlight is his studio, where he created.
Anne Frank Huis: best for WWII history
Easily Amsterdam's most moving museum, the Anne Frank Huis is a confronting reminder of WWII's tragedies, particularly the "Secret Annexe" of the office and warehouse premises where young teenager Anne and her family hid from the Nazis for over two years, until they were deported to concentration camps. After the war, Anne's father Otto, the only survivor, found Anne's diary amid the debris on his return, publishing it and preserving the empty rooms.
Joods Historisch Museum: best for Jewish history
Four 17th- and 18th-century Ashkenazic synagogues are the setting for Amsterdam's Jewish Historical Museum. Covering history of Jews in the Netherlands, it has early illustrated books, first-hand interviews, excellent temporary exhibitions and a children's museum set up like a family home showing Jewish life and traditions.
Tropenmuseum: best for world cultures
Amsterdam is one of Europe's most culturally diverse cities, with 180 different nationalities calling it home, and the sensitively curated Tropenmuseum conveys a shared sense of humanity through universal experiences such as celebration, mourning, decoration, clothing and prayer across its displays; artefacts stolen in the colonial era are eligible for restitution. Temporary exhibitions delve deeper into themes such as healing practices. The magnificent arched building was constructed in 1926 to house the Royal Institute of the Tropics (still a leading research facility).
Amsterdam Museum: best for local history
In the former civic orphanage, Amsterdam's history museum weaves together its story over the past millennium through multimedia exhibits, religious artefacts, porcelains and paintings. Displays also include the rise of bicycle use. Its Civic Guard Gallery, with group portraits featuring medieval guards to denizens like Anne Frank and Alfred Heineken, is free.
NEMO Science Museum: best for families
Five floors of hands-on exhibits at this green-copper, boat-shaped science museum make it a fantastic outing with kids. In "Life in the Universe", for instance, they can guard the planet from comets, UV radiation and solar wind with a shield, and handle a 4.6-billion-year-old meteorite, while in the "Laboratory" they can put on a lab coat and conduct experiments. On the free, panoramic rooftop deck, playing with water, flying a kite and using their body as a sundial to tell the time teaches the next generation about renewable energy.
Fashion for Good: best for future-proof fashion
A world first, this sustainable fashion museum makes you rethink what you really know about where your clothes come from and their impact on people and the planet. Exhibits look at sustainable materials and industry innovations such as recycling and upcycling, and encourage visitors to commit to positive action.
Het Scheepvaartmuseum: best for maritime history
To truly appreciate Amsterdam's history is to understand its connection to the sea. The city's maritime museum is an ideal primer, with seafaring displays such as Golden Age maps. Outside the 17th-century admiralty building, you can board a full-scale replica of a Dutch East India Company ship.
Foam: best for photography
All forms of photography – film and digital, local and international – feature at Amsterdam's foremost photographic gallery, Foam. In a light-filled canal house, it mounts four exhibitions a year, including major names, and is renowned for unearthing and nurturing new talent.
Other intriguing museums: best for niche interests
Beyond these standout attractions, even the most specialized of subjects have dedicated Amsterdam museums: houseboats (the Houseboat Museum), house music (Our House), historic trams (Tramway Museum), pipes (Amsterdam Pipe Museum), pianolas (Pianola Museum), bibles (Bijbels Museum), microbes (Micropia), plus many, many more to explore.
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