It’s hard to select only 5 important museums in Amsterdam, and more considering that I live there. There are more than 70 museums in the city, and I’ve visited the majority of them. Art museums like Rijksmuseum, Van Gogh or MOCO have become indispensable, and other historical museums like Anne Frank House or Rembrandt House Museum are essential as well. Also, there some other less visited ones but very curious and interesting like the Sex Museum, the mysterious Museum Our Lord in the Attic or the Museum Van Loon. And, I can’t forget the NEMO which is perfect for kids.
There are plenty of options so, after having visited all the relevant museums in Amsterdam, I’ve selected 5 that will surely make your trip a complete experience.
5 Important museums in Amsterdam
The first important museum in Amsterdam is a mandatory visit. It’s about art and history of The Netherlands. We can find Egyptian, Asian and, obviously, Dutch Art. I’m sure you know some of its paintings like: The Milkmaid, The Merry Drinker, The Night Watch, The Jewish Bride, Banquet of the Amsterdam Civic Guard or Woman in Blue Reading a Letter. These and other pictures of the Golden Age are exhibited here, they’re a big value for the museum. However, not all are paintings. During the visit we can see mockup ships, vintage pistols, antique furniture and even beautiful dollhouses. The visit is very entertaining.
The museum is large and you may feel lost. I suggest to take a map and, although you don’t need to stop in each room, make the complete route starting from the ground floor. In this level, the Delft ceramics are the focus, there is Dutch porcelain and also a small Asian pavilion amongst other rooms.
Going up to the next floor, we get immersed in the 18th and 19th centuries. Now, you’re seeing antique furniture, more paintings and portraits like the one Van Gogh made of himself. You can not miss the Cuypers Library, the oldest art library in The Netherlands. However, the most popular paintings are on the second floor, in the called Gallery of Honour. Behind these doors we reach the gallery which exhibits for example The Milkmaid of Johannes Vermeer, The Night Watch of Rembrandt and others paintings of Frans Hals and Jan Steen.
The last floor is about the 20th century. In these rooms, there are furniture, paintings, and other modern objects. This part is less visited and the smallest of the building.
And the end of the visit, you can take a walk in the gardens. You can also access from outside, it’s free.
Information to plan the visit to the Rijksmuseum
You’ll need at least 2 hours to see all the museum. I suggest buying the tickets in advance to avoid queues so you can get directly inside with the barcodes printed on them. There is a free cloakroom. You can take pictures without flash and record. Also, they have free WiFi in the building and a cafeteria to rest after the visit.
There are two guided tours, one focuses on Rembrandt and other on the most important pieces in the museum. The tours are 1 hour long and cost 5 euro each, excluding the tickets. I haven’t visited the museum on a guided tour so I don’t know if it’s good option or not. Anyway, I think that 1 hour is too short time to see all the museum.
Another important detail is the accessibility for people with a visual impairment. The official website indicates that you can go inside with your assistance dog and an extra person (your companion) that doesn’t need to purchase a ticket. Also, there is a special guided tour to discover the museum activating your nonvisual senses. The museum is totally accessible by wheelchair, you can read more about it here.
If you need more information (prices, opening hours, etc) you can check the Official Website of the Rijksmuseum.
2. VAN GOGH MUSEUM
This art gallery should be in your bucket list if you visit Amsterdam. Here is the biggest collection of art of Vincent Van Gogh. Although everything in this museum is about Van Gogh you can discover paintings from other artists of the same period. These paintings help to visualise the artistic period that Van Gogh lived and help you understand why he didn’t have success. Also, paintings inspired by his style, and Japanese paintings that inspired him (and that he even tried to copy in his own way). During the visit you see several objects which were useful to him because he used them like models. He couldn’t paint something if he couldn’t see it (for that reason there is a stuffed bat in the museum).
The most important works that you probably know already are: The Potato Eaters, The Yellow House, The Bedroom, Sunflowers or Almond Blossom. There are some others with a curious history that will surprise you: Still Life with Bible, Head of a Skeleton with a Burning Cigarette, Wheatfield with a Reaper and several self-portraits where he seems to paint another person.
However, why wasn’t Van Gogh popular until after his death? He became well-known because of the letters he wrote to his brother. The letters were discovered after he died and, in these, he explained many things about his paintings, and also added sketches. Knowing what an artist (with a mental illness) thinks about his works is so important and unique that this awakened interest of everybody, so they started considering his work with great interest.
Information to plan the visit the Van Gogh Museum
The museum is divided in two buildings. The first is dedicated to Van Gogh and the second one has temporary expositions. There is a cloakroom, WiFi and a cafeteria like in the previous museum. It is forbidden to take photos or video except in the main hall).
The length of the visit depends on how you organize it. I’ve visited this museum 3 times, and I’ve tried many options.
The first option it’s going on your own. However, unless your previous knowledge about Van Gogh is good, you may not know what you’re looking at. .It’s the perfect way to waste your visit, don’t do it.
The second choice is listening to the museum audio guide. I’ve tried this as well and it makes the journey eternal because the audio guide is a bit too detailed. Even so, if you are passionate of Van Gogh and you want to stay half day into the museum, maybe it’s your option.
The third option, it’s a guided tour. I think it’s the most interesting way. The guide will explain you all you need to know and will make your visit more enjoyable. Also, if you have questions you can ask. This is what I did on my last visit. It is the best choice to make a good use of the time and to learn about the life and work of Vincent Van Gogh. Besides, after the visit, I had spare time to visit both buildings on my own. You can check some tours, including the one I did, on Van Gogh Museum tickets and tours – Musement.
The Museum Website has a complete section about accessibility where you can read all the information about the available facilities. Visitors who are unable to navigate their way through the museum independently are permitted to bring a companion with them for free.
If you need more information you can check the Official Website of the Van Gogh Museum.
3. ANNE FRANK HOUSE
Since 1960, this museum on the street Prinsengracht reminds us of the horror of the Second World War. In this house, Anne, her family, and other 4 people lived hidden. They were Jewish, and they wanted to avoid being arrested by the Nazis. It’s a necessary visit to not forget and to not repeat the same mistakes.
The last year 2018, more than 1,2 millions of people visited the house. It’s so famous because of the book The Diary of Anne Frank which was written by Anne. This book has been translated to more than 70 languages! The visit is very moving, it may even bring tears to your eyes. The audio guide will tell you the story so you will revive what happened. The access to the area where they lived during two years is located behind a bookcase. Two years living in rooms with covered windows, without making any noise and in almost total darkness. It’s really shocking to put yourself in their shoes.
From the street, you can’t see the place where they were hidden. The building facade of the number 263 was the factory, and there were offices and a store. They lived in the back of the factory, in The Secret Annex. On this map on the website, you can see the location. During the visit, you can see the offices of the people who helped them, a store, the rooms where they lived and various manuscripts, among which is the original diary.
I won’t tell you anything else. You should discover all the story during your visit. I also suggest to read the diary of Anne Frank, she wrote it when she was 13 years old.
Information to plan the visit the Anne Frank House
The visit takes approximately one hour. The museum has a cloakroom and a cafeteria. You can’t take pictures.
The way along the museum is linear, you’ll go into through a door and you’ll go out through another. The audio guide is available in several languages and it’ll help you to understand each room. The most important task that you should do it’s to buy the ticket in advance. The 80% of the tickets are for sale two months in advance, and the rest of them in the same day. The online tickets are usually sold out if you don’t plan in advance.
If you have any accessibility problem, there are areas that you can’t visit. The house has narrow and steep stairs and there is no lift. If you’re going in a wheelchair you can only visit the modern part of the museum, although from the website you can see all the house virtually. Also, the assistance dogs are forbidden. You can check more information about accessibility here.
More information on the Official Website of the Anne Frank House.
4. REMBRANDT HOUSE MUSEUM
The Rembrandt house is another important museum in Amsterdam. The best years of his career happened in this city, between 1939 and 1658. It’s fantastic to know how he lived and how was his daily life, it’s amazing to visit his house! For that reason this place is very important for Amsterdam, so the visit should be in your list.
Although some of his best works are in the Rijksmuseum (The Night Watch or The Jewish Bride), during the tour you can discover the complete collection of etchings and several of his paintings, as well as some other paintings made by his students and great painters like Pieter Lastman. Every day, there are live demonstrations of how Rembrandt made his etchings or how he prepared the paint in his studio.
Amongst the rooms that you can see, there is the bedroom and the living room, the kitchen, the collection of exotic objects (used like models), the room where he received his customers and the studio where he taught. The audio guide is essential to know the most interesting things about each room.
Information to plan the visit the Rembrandt House Museum
It takes more than 1 hour to do the visit following the free audio guide. It’s available in multiple languages. There are lockers to keep your jacket and bags. It’s possible to take pictures without flash unless otherwise indicated.
On the House Rules, there is some information about accessibility. Assistance dogs are allowed but wheelchair access is limited. It isn’t possible to visit the building in wheelchair.
More information on the Official Website of the Rembrandt House Museum.
5. MUSEUM OUR LORD IN THE ATTIC
Perhaps this church could be the least known museum of this list. It isn’t one of the most visited in Amsterdam, yet is very interesting. The place shows part of the history of a religious period. It’s a historically-significant building like the Rembrandt house or the Anne Frank house, for that reason I’ve added it to the list.
The museum is a house whose attic hides a church. This religious place is located in the city center, in the Red District. In this church, it is possible to go to a Catholic mass (only in Dutch) and even to get married! But why is there a hidden church in a house? In the 17th century, the Catholic worship services were banned. Afterwards, the government approved a reform, the non-protestant people could meet again but privately. Because of this, Jan Hartman built a Catholic church by merging the attics of his property.
The museum is composed of two buildings. One of them is the historical house, and the second one is a modern building. The latter is the entrance of the museum and there is a little exhibition. During the visit you can see the church but also the rest of the house: bedrooms, kitchen, living room, etcetera.
Information to plan the visit the hidden church
If you follow the audio guide, you’ll need one hour and a half to do the visit. Also, there is an audio guide and a game for kids (the game costs 1 euro) but I don’t know in which languages it’s available.
There is free cloakroom, cafeteria and you can take pictures.
The historical house is not wheelchair accessible. There is no lift and the building has only narrow and steep stairs. This is the information that you can read here. You can send them an email if you have questions.
If you need more information you can check the Official Website of Museum Our Lord in the Attic.
More activities like a route by bike along tulip fields or renting a boat in Amsterdam on Extra Netherlands.
Any contribution or question is welcome, please write a comment!