Amsterdam museums – A guide to all the serious ones and all the weird ones

by Roger

by Roger | January 24th, 2009  

Amsterdam is definitely a “museum city” even though many of the most famous and popular attractions survive more on novelty value than on the normal tradition of art and history museums. Fortunately, the city has an abundance of different types of “museums” so it’s easy to mix and match the ones that interest you, without feeling like you are seeing the same things again and again.

Several of the things listed below aren’t traditional museums at all, but they are close enough that we figure it’s worth including them here so you can sort our your Amsterdam itinerary of attractions all in one spot. Many of them are included free if you buy the iAmsterdam Card, so if you are planning on visiting quite a few of them you should consider that option.

You’ll find the following categories below, so feel free to skip down to the weird ones and ignore the others:

  • Art museums
  • Historical museums
  • Contemporary museums
  • Photography museums
  • Football/soccer-based museums
  • Alcohol-based museums
  • Novelty museums
  • Sex-based museums
  • Drugs-based museums

Art museums

Rijksmuseum

This is normally Amsterdam’s equivalent of the Louvre in that it’s massive and all-encompassing, but it’s been mostly closed for renovations since 2003, and the full reopening has been pushed back to 2012 or 2013 at the earliest. In the meantime, an impressive collection of their finest couple hundred pieces is on display in a temporary wing called The Masterpieces. Rembrandt’s ‘The Nightwatch’ is the most famous piece in the Rijksmuseum, and it’s still on display.
>>more information on the Rijksmuseum

Van Gogh Museum

Internationally speaking, this one is even more famous than the larger Rijksmuseum, mostly due to the name recognition of the troubled artist whose paintings and drawings fill most of this place. In addition to a large collection of Van Goghs, there are works by some of his contemporaries on display here. This place is popular, so come early and/or prepare to wait in line.
>>more information on the Van Gogh Museum

Rembrandt House

The former house where Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn lived, worked, and sold his paintings during the middle of the 1600s. It’s fairly small but very nicely done. Its location is very central, but you don’t even know it’s there unless you are looking for it. It contains great art as well as authentic period furnishings and decorations, so it’s actually the best museum to visit for those who want just a bit of culture mixed with their Amsterdam party.
>>more information on the Rembrandt House

Stedelijk Museum

Amsterdam’s finest modern art museum is closed until the end of 2009. It had been housed temporarily in an old post office building near Centraal Station until late 2008, but the move back to the Museumplein area is taking a full year to complete.
>>more information on the Stedelijk Museum

Hermitage in Amsterdam

St. Petersburg’s ultra-famous and huge museum has an outlet in Amsterdam along the Amstel River. It’s filled with classical art and is very impressive for those who are serious about such things, but it’s closed until mid 2009 since it’s moving next door from where it had been for several years.

Historical museums

Anne Frank House

If you want to find the longest queues in Amsterdam, this is where to look. Of course, this is the former home where the Frank family and others hid for a couple years during WWII, and where Anne wrote her famous diary. You get to see the actual attic, but there is also an adjacent museum that helps tell the whole story for those who haven’t read the book, as well as more displays on discrimination and persecution.
>>more information on the Anne Frank House

Amsterdam Historical Museum

This large and comprehensive museum has hundreds of items and displays that relate to the entire history of Amsterdam. If you are even a little interested in this subject, this place won’t disappoint. But it’s a bit hard to grasp unless you are a true history buff or a big fan of the city already.

Oude Kerk (Old Church)

This is really more of a church than a museum, but it’s a very popular attraction that should be considered by real culture vultures. Those who enjoy historic cathedrals should really enjoy a visit, though it’s not well suited to those who aren’t because it’s a bit rough on the inside and it’s not very large or spectacular from any angle.

Nieuew Kerk (New Church)

The “New Church” is almost as old as the Old Church, and it’s much nicer and grander inside. In addition to being a cathedral that you can tour, the city has revolving exhibitions inside this place, most of which have nothing to do with religion. It’s very impressive, and if the exhibition on at the moment appeals to you then it’s definitely worth a visit.

Contemporary museums

Troppenmuseum (Tropical Museum)

This museum has a fairly remote location, and it’s a bit odd to even be located in Amsterdam at all, but it is highly recommended anyway. It contains various exhibitions showing life and culture from the world’s tropical areas, with vivid displays and plenty of multimedia presentations that make this place much more entertaining than most would expect.

Film museum

Located in Vondelpark, this museum does have plenty of Dutch movies in its collection, but it’s actually a fairly complete history of international cinema dating back to 1898. They have movie stills, posters, and artwork, as well as many screenings daily spread over 5 different screening rooms. If you are a film buff, this place is worth a visit for sure.

NEMO

This new museum just across the water from Centraal Station concentrates on science and technology, with an emphasis on hands-on displays. There are museums like this in most every major city in the world, and like all of those, this one is favored most by children and teens.

Dutch Resistance Museum

This museum is in a part of the city center that very few tourists normally visit, so you aren’t likely to pass it accidentally. Obviously this place is dedicated to the Dutch Resistance to the Nazis during WWII, and it’s more colorful and visually impressive than you might guess. But clearly a museum like this only appeals to a certain audience, and its odd location doesn’t make visiting any easier.

Amsterdam Tulip Museum

Many people forget the fascinating history of tulips that they learned in grade school, and this small museum that is located below a tulip shop is the perfect place to refresh your memory. If you like the various and endlessly colorful varieties of tulips, then this place is worth a visit, and the amazing history of the tulip trade is very interesting even if you are not a fan of the flowers themselves.

Houseboat Museum

This privately owned and run museum is charming and quite interesting, especially if you are already a fan of Amsterdam. Thousands of people still live on houseboats just like this one, and this museum shows you what life is like today and in the past, and it’s more interesting than it probably sounds.

Diamond Museum

This new museum in the Museumplein area is another commercial enterprise that offers to entertain visitors with slick displays and interesting histories of the diamond trade, partly as a way to get you into the gift shop. It’s cheap to enter, and it is nicely done, so if you have an interest in diamonds this is probably worthwhile.

Photography museums

FOAM Photography Museum

This is one of two nearly identical museums, which are both located in canal houses along the ritzy part of Keizersgracht. This one is the larger of the two and its rotating exhibitions tend to be a bit easier to relate to than the other one. It’s somewhat hidden from the outside, but fans of photography would do well to look closely enough to find it, as the setting itself is almost worth the price of admission if you’ve never been in a canal house.

Huis Marseille Museum for Photography

The other photography museum in Amsterdam isn’t far from the FOAM, but the displays in this private gallery tend to be more on the artsy side, so this place is best suited to those who really like artistic photography rather than just pleasant images. It’s also in a former canal house and it’s quite nice inside, so the price is fair if you are interested in the subject matter.

Football/Soccer-based museums

Ajax Museum

Fans of Amsterdam’s famous and (sometimes) successful club football team should consider visiting the stadium and this museum, even when there is no game scheduled. If you aren’t already a fan then it’s probably not worthwhile, but if you are this is mandatory.

Alcohol-based museums

Heineken Experience

What used to be a simple tour of a disused brewery, which famously ended an opportunity to chug almost unlimited samples for a period of time, has morphed into an even larger and very slick commercial for this famous beer brand that already dominates the city in other ways. This place is very popular, in spite of the relatively high price and corporate nature. But if you like the taste of Heineken, you have to visit this place anyway.
>>more information on the Heineken Experience

Vodka Museum

This newcomer is a for-profit enterprise located in several floors above a gift shop, but it is still quite fun and slickly put together, and it fits perfectly into a visit to this city and its line-up of unusual museums. Yes, you get a shot or tiny bottle of vodka free at the end of the tour, and the collection of historic bottles and interactive video displays is also worthwhile if you are in the mood for a place like this.
>>more information on the Vodka Museum in Amsterdam

Novelty museums

Madame Tussauds

Is a ‘wax museum’ really a museum? No one seems to care, as this member of the London-based chain is one of the most popular tickets in Amsterdam. It’s expensive and usually crowded, but it’s also truly amazing the first time you see these things up close, and they throw in a theme park-style show about the history of Amsterdam at the beginning to make it feel more impressive and entertaining.

The Dungeon

This is another chain museum owned by the people who own the Madam Tussauds, and it’s not really a museum at all, but it still sort of fits this list. This is a slick attraction meant mostly for older children and those fascinated by the “dark” subject matter. You take a macabre tour of a recreated dungeon, while a guide tells stories of some of the more sinister things that used to go on in Amsterdam. Near the end you get a very short roller coaster ride.

Torture Museum

This is another private for-profit museum that exists mostly because of the foot traffic it brings in. It does have displays and devices used in the early history of torture, but it’s not very large or very fun, so it’s probably worth skipping unless you are really into this stuff.

Museum of Bags and Purses

While this place has little to do with Amsterdam, it still gets raves from fans of ladies handbags. It’s a private collection of over 3,000 bags of every variety, and the adjacent café and gift shop help make this place a worthwhile stop for everyone remotely interested in these things.

Sex-based museums

Sex Museum

This place located along the busy Damrak street, so you are going to walk past it whether you like it or not. It’s actually cheaper, larger, and way more interesting than the otherwise similar Erotic Museum a few blocks away. Most “sex museums” in most cities are ridiculous and disappointing, but this one is actually really worthwhile, and also cheap to get in.

Erotic Museum

Unlike the Sex Museum a few blocks away, this is your typical ridiculous and disappointing “sex museum” that you can find in most big tourist cities. The displays are more silly than sexy, and there is nothing compelling in here anyway. It’s more expensive than the Sex Museum, so unless you are a completist, skip this one and do visit the other one.

Prostitute Information Center

This isn’t a museum at all, but it is worth considering for a visit by those looking for unusual places while in Amsterdam. It’s free to enter, and just a few steps from the Old Church in the Red Light District, so it’s easy enough to just pop in and say hello. This store-front was founded by a former local prostitute, and is still run and staffed by ex-sex workers, and it exists as a place for visitors to get information on the local trade and get all their questions answered. If you are considering getting involved yourself this is a good first stop, but even if you aren’t this place is not embarrassing or strange inside.

Drugs-based museums

The Hash, Marihauna, and Hemp Museum

This unique museum in the Red Light District has modest goals in terms of slickness and showiness, but it does succeed in displaying many interesting aspects of cannabis culture and history. If you are a pothead, this place is definitely worth visiting. You’ll have to read the Marijuana Museum review in order to find out exactly why. But if you aren’t more than an occasional smoker, skip this place.
>>more information on the Hash, Marijuana, and Hemp Museum

Now that you know you are definitely coming:

>>Look for cheap airfare to Amsterdam
>>Look for cheap Amsterdam hotels
>>Look for hostels in Amsterdam

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