This piece is dedicated to all of us history geeks, bespectacled freaks that actually dig cultural places (you know, us annoying little turds that told the teacher when she forgot to give us extra homework, yes, I am proudly one of them). Basically welcome to your haven fellow worms (short for bookworms, is there a museum equivalent…?)
Amsterdam is literally a minefield of history and culture. As mentioned before it is the land of the cutest building facades that are protected by global constitution, and until two centuries ago it was the most powerful city in the world, as the largest port and trade centre (read : slaves). The Dutch even now are people who love the unknown, and who are keen on knowing other cultures in order to adopt their bet qualities – even though not all of them admit it.
For anybody who knows this, it comes to no surprise that Amsterdam has 800.000 permanent residents, 1.500.000 tourists average per season and the astonishing number of 91 (!) museums. To me, as a newbie tourist in eastern Europe, it was like being locked in a Willy Wonka’s factory – I was running around for a month, with a strategic list of timeslots so I would not miss any of the ones I wanted to see. I skipped the too obvious tourist traps like Torture Museum, Handbag museum (oh, yes), Vodka Museum (that one I admit did not know existed till very recently) etc, and focused, as one does, on the ones that I could learn stuff from. And even with my high expectations they managed to surpass them all.
Not only full of knowledge and poignant atmospheres, the following places are beautifully designed and include great cafes and/or restaurants so one might have a sip of verse muntthe (fresh mint tea) in order to take it all in. Plus they are open most of the time so one can hop in even to avoid the occasional rain. Let us begin :
Masterpiece of art inside and out, more royal looking than the actual palace (sorry King Willem). Huge and full of important art that I have yet to see anywhere else, covering the prehistoric ages to the modern era. You will need at least 8 hours to check it out (I went 2 days in a row) but it will be totally worth it.
I mean just look at it!
To be fair the whole Museumplein – Museumsquare is a gem, but Rijksmuseum is definitely the crown jewel.
FOAM Photography Museum
Other than my home and my office, I must have spent more hours in FOAM than anywhere else in Amsterdam. Photography is an art that I like even when I do not like what I see; but even if you visit once, you will definitely appreciate the modern clean space. I do recommend visiting twice and more if you have the time as they change the layout with every exhibition, again hosting some of the most famous artists worldwide.
The home of Rembrandt and his art collection. Unlike most he was rich and well known at his own time, and he ended up broke because of his love for expensive things, most of which are exhibited in one of the rooms of this building. Its highlights are the two workshops that show how he made his paint and his prints.
That one I was avoiding for quite a while as I really do not get modern art, I am one of those idiots that laugh at a canvas painted blue and think “When I drew like this in kindergarden I was sent home with a note that I might have a learning disorder” but my best friend was visiting so we just had to be those idiots together. I was indeed more surprised than I could tell! As a fact Stedelijk and MOMA in NY are the largest and most famous museums of the genre, with the best artists crooning to be exhibited there so even if you do not like it, you will appreciate it.
The Royal Palace
Kindly check visitor hours and days as it is not always open to the public. Lots of influences from the Greek mythology and impressive without being overwhelming like other palaces.
Museum Van Loon
Or relevant(eg Museum Het Grachtenhuis), as this is basically a canal house that is kept is a former state and exhibited in order for us to experience how those merchants and their families conducted their everyday business.
Diamond Museum Amsterdam
So sue me, I loved it. Did you know that Amsterdam used to be the top 1 place in Europe for diamond mining as well? Well me neither. Also lot of interesting gem facts plus the opportunity to watch the craftsmen doing business and creating sparkling miracles out of murky glass.
This section I will actually leave blank as there was not a single place I went and thought “Well that was a waste of time and/or money”. it is a matter of taste after all, and if you wish to spend your precious time in tourist traps who am I to judge? (outside this piece)
THE NOT AS GOOD AS ADVERTISED
Because of the millions of tourists, some places have gained a lot of fame, in my opinion inadvertedly. That is why I will list them so you know to de-prioritize them especially if you are pressed for time.
Anne Frank House
So what do you expect if you read a description about a closet sized room behind a bookcase?
A closet sized room behind a bookcase. And that is all you are getting after waiting for 3.5 hours (on average) outside this building. Of course World War II is among the most important events of modern history but unless you are really bad at visualising, this place does not have a lot to offer.
Van Gogh Museum
Overrated, as opposed to Rembrandt’sHouse which is underrated. Van Gogh’s most important work is it different places. I enjoyed it as you learn quite a lot about the man behind the myth and his character, plus they have recordings of his personal letters to his brother which are quite moving.
Only worth it for the terrace and if you are max 12 years old. The description “For kids of any age” is painfully untrue.
Quite cute and interactive but you learn nothing more if you have been to the Rijks.
Sadly, very sadly, nothing you do not learn in a good biology textbook.
Leidseplein : How to
So after all this culture even a geek needs to let their hair down eh?
Glad to hear it. Here is a list of places that you will be able to enjoy almost like a local, or at least to not drink lukewarm beer while being trampled by tourists, starting from Leidseplein and expanding throughout the city.
Aaaaaaaaand that’s that folks. Happy culture-Amsterdamming!