Most cities and towns around the world have some kind of museum or another – even if it’s just a room in the city hall – but not many people make a habit of visiting the museums where they live. Instead, going to museums and galleries seems to be something reserved for travel. When the museums are good ones, this can help give you an insight into the place you’re visiting – which is, after all, part of the reason you’re there, right? – and when they’re exceptional, you won’t even feel like you’re in a museum.
One of the ways to make a museum not feel like a museum is to set it inside a former home. This is especially popular with museum homes of famous people because it satisfies the voyeur in all of us to see where so-and-so slept, wrote, ate, etc. In Amsterdam, perhaps the most famous museum home is far more somber – it’s the attic home where Anne Frank and her family lived while hiding from the Nazis during World War II. The Anne Frank House is one of Amsterdam’s most visited attractions today, so much so that it’s easy to find the building because there’s usually a long line out front. (You can buy your tickets in advance online to avoid the wait.)
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But after a visit to the Anne Frank House and a few other top-notch museums in Amsterdam, you might just be museum-ed out – and who could blame you? It’s not as if the Anne Frank House is an uplifting experience, and unless you’re a major art fanatic you can only take so many Dutch masters before your eyes start to glaze over. Thankfully, there are plenty of great alternatives to museums in Amsterdam.
For one thing, taking a boat ride on the canals or renting a bicycle and going for a spin are lovely ways to see the city and escape the confines of a museum or gallery. Poking your nose in the city’s many coffeeshops or strolling through the Red Light District is an education unto itself, even if you’re just looking. There are less obvious cultural excursions you can enjoy, however, in Amsterdam and in many other cities around the world. These include browsing the aisles of a supermarket (even if you’re not buying anything – the candy aisles are always fascinating), watching locally-produced TV shows (sometimes the commercials are more than half the fun), going to a music show (there are lots of opportunities to do this in Amsterdam, even if it’s a band you’ve never heard of), or wandering into a completely residential area to find a bar that’s tourist-free.
These places won’t have a gift shop at the end or sell postcards to help you commemorate your visit, but you’re likely to have an interesting story or two afterward.
photo by termie