Exploring Dutch culture by bike
While you’re on a bike you’re already taking part in an integral aspect of Amsterdam culture. But there’s no substitution for the city’s astonishing array of museums and their celebration of all things Dutch. From history to art, science to photography, ancient to modern, this beautiful and compact city is bursting with treasures. This cycle route guides you through some of the best museums of Amsterdam. What you absorb within them is up to you.
Rome was not built in a day, and it would be an ambitious attempt to get round all of them in 12 hours. Best bet is to work out what level of cultural commitment you’re envisaging and check out our recommendations for food, drink, and chill spots along the way.
Is the Iamsterdam City Card worth it?
You’ll notice that tickets for these museums aren’t the cheapest things in the world. They range from around €10-20 for an adult. Iamsterdam offers a City Card which covers entry to most museums and the cost of public transport throughout the city. They cost €60 for 24 hours, and increase by around €15-20 for each subsequent day.
If you’ve got a bike – which really is a very good idea in Amsterdam (and you can see why here), then the card probably isn’t worth it unless you plan to visit more than 3 museums per day. However, if you’re a museum addict, or it’s pissing it down for your whole trip, then you’ll save some cash.
A significant omission is one of the most popular museums: Anne Frank House. Also, remember that you will only get a 25% reduction on entry to private museums such as Moco, Red Light Secrets, and Madam Tussauds.
Anne Frank House
This is no reconstruction. You will be standing in the very house where Anne Frank and her family hid during the Nazi occupation. By wandering through her home and the secret annex where she lived and where she was captured, you experience an aura that is impossible to replicate outside of the place where it really happened.
History told through stories of the people who lived it are among the most affecting. By walking the boards, studying extracts of Anne’s diary, and reading a series of exhibits, you build up a picture of the darkest and most harrowing period in European history. It’s well worth including the half hour introductory program during your visit.
There are two things to bear in mind about visiting the museum. First, you need to book tickets. These come available exactly two months in advance at 12:00 local time, and sell out extremely quickly, even at quieter times. 20% of tickets come available online each day, but these are very hard to come by. Second, time your visit well. The story and its subject matter are both harrowing and moving, so consider what else you’re doing that day before booking your time slot.
Van Gogh Museum
This is probably the most thoughtfully curated museum in Amsterdam. Devoting an entire museum to a single artist provides an opportunity to explore their life and work with depth and sensitivity.
The collection is displayed chronologically, allowing you to see the development of the man and artist. In addition to the 200+ Van Gogh paintings, hundreds of his drawings and letters give you a greater insight into the painter and his ultimately tragic struggle with mental health. Alongside his work are a selection of his influences, which opens untrained eyes like mine to the ‘how’ and the ‘why’ of his changes in style.
A solid visit to the Van Gogh would take around 1-2 hours. You’re on museumplein which is a gorgeous place to sit in the sun, and there’s an Albert Heijn if you fancy turning post-museum-chill into a picnic.
Yes, it is a giant bathtub. As much as you might wish to splash about, there’s no need to remove any clothing for this one. Do so and you risk being mistaken for one of the exhibits and won’t be allowed to leave. Or get arrested.
Anyway, this is Museumplein’s response to modern art. There’s a great selection of strange and beautiful treasures in here. Not everything is to everyone’s taste, but since when was art about pleasing everybody? It’s a great counterpart to the more classical and twentieth century art you’ll find elsewhere in Museum Square and around the city. So if you’ve had enough of Rembrandt, the Stedelijk is a good bet. If not, you’re just next to the Rijksmuseum. There’s also the Moco, which promises more than it delivers.
First of all, the museum building itself is one of the prettiest in Amsterdam, inside and out. Tropenmuseum’s central hall is particularly useful for showing off the different parts of the collection, so there’ll be no more getting lost in labyrinthine corridors and wondering if you’ve seen everything.
The focus here, is on objects from around the world. They run special exhibitions based around a particular aspect of art, culture, or way of life of another country and its people. To give you an idea, they are, at the time of writing, running exhibitions on Mecca and the Hajj, Japanese pop culture, and those working in cocoa plantations.
Their considered and outward looking approach makes it a surprising and illuminating museum experience. For food and drink afterwards, head down to Biertuin for their awesome selection of beer and hearty food, and Oosterpark for a chill spot.
Maritime Museum / Het Scheepvaartmuseum
Amsterdam has a way with positioning its museums in some of the most stunning spots. The quiet harbour by Oosterdok, just East of Centraal, is a lovely place to kick back.
The Maritime Museum is dedicated to exploration, naval conquest, and the Dutch Golden Age. There’s a lot about naval battles and their commanders, as well as the trade and the VOC which boosted The Netherlands to the position of a sixteenth-century superpower. They do not shy away from the darker sides of expansion, and offer a detailed study of colonialism and slavery. It’s well worth checking out the Amsterdam – an eighteenth century trading ship, as well as leaving time for their immersive virtual reality section, which lets you gaze around at what life would look like 400 years ago.
Amsterdam’s photography museum is housed in a bright, airy canal house on the Keizersgracht. They keep a nice balance between the old greats and new talent, and consistently find artists who deal with unusual themes and places.
If you can make it before Autumn you’ll be able to catch Bible and Dildo, Momo Okabe’s exhibition on gender identity, love and the body. There’s also one which visualises the effects of DMT, bridging the divide between the digital world, neuroscience, and tripping as well as a retrospective from Alex Prager.
You’re right by Utrechtsestraat, which houses some nice bars. Check out Cafe van Leeuwen for cosy squeeze with friendly strangers, or Bar Bitterbal for every variation of the favourite fried snack and some truly terrible music.