The best sights and attractions in Amsterdam
Anne Frank Huis
Prinsengracht 263 was the 17th-century canalside house where young Jewish girl Anne Frank and her family hid for two years during World War II. Today it's one of the most popular attractions in Amsterdam, with almost a million visitors a year. Having fled from persecution in Germany in 1933, Anne, her sister Margot, their parents and four other Jews went into hiding on 5 July 1942. Living in an annexe behind Prinsengracht 263, they were sustained by friends who risked everything to help them; a bookcase marks the entrance to the sober, unfurnished rooms. But on 4 August 1944 the occupants were arrested and transported to concentration camps, where Anne died with Margot and their mother. Her father, Otto, survived, and decided that Anne's diary should be published. The rest, as they say, is history: tens of millions of copies of the diary have been printed in a total of 55 languages. In the new wing, there's a good exhibition about the Jews and their persecution during the war, as well as displays charting racism, neo-Fascism and anti-Semitism, and exploring the difficulties in fighting discrimination; all have English texts. To avoid the famously long queues, arrive first thing in the morning, or book a queue jump ticket online. Interestingly, the Amsterdam South apartment the Franks previously lived in now hosts persecuted writers from around the world.
Amsterdam's largest green space is named after the city's best-known poet, Joost van den Vondel (1587-1679), whose controversial play Lucifer caused the religious powers of the time to crack down hard on those who engaged in what was termed 'notorious living'. The campaign helped bring about the end of Rembrandt and Vondel; the latter ended his days as a pawnshop doorman. Vondelpark is the most central of the city's major parks, its construction inspired by the large development of the Plantage, which had formerly provided the green background for the leisurely walks of the rich. It was designed in the 'English style' by Zocher, with the emphasis on natural landscaping; the original ten acres opened in 1865. The park has actually sunk some two to three metres (seven to ten feet) since it was first built - some larger trees are in fact 'floating' on blocks of styrofoam or reinforced with underground poles. There are several ponds and lakes in the park - no boating, though - plus a number of play areas and cafés; try 't Het Blauwe Theehuis (Round Blue Teahouse; and the always charming Café Vertigo at the Nederlands Filmmuseum. The NFM is less of a museum and more a cinema with a café attached and a library nearby. Keep your eye out for a huge Picasso sculpture in the middle of the park, and the wild parakeets who were mistakenly released in 1976. Around the corner - and providing a unique place for coffee - is the epic Hollandsche Manege (Vondelstraat 140, 618 0942), a wood
The best museums in Amsterdam
Jewish Historical Museum
Housed since 1987 in four former synagogues in the old Jewish quarter, the Jewish Historical Museum is full of religious items, photographs and paintings detailing the rich history of Jews and Judaism in the Netherlands throughout the centuries. A recent revamping has created more warmth and a sense of the personal in its permanent displays, which concentrate on religious practice and Dutch Jewish culture; among the exhibits is the painted autobiography of artist Charlotte Salomon, killed at Auschwitz at the age of 26. An excellent children's wing crams interactive exhibits on aspects of Jewish culture (including a nice one on music) into its space. The temporary shows explore various aspects of Jewish culture, while the Jonas Daniël Meijerplein site, with its Dock Worker statue commemorating the February Strike of 1941 in protest against Jewish deportations, is right across the street, beside the Portuguese Synagogue.
This excellent photography museum, located in a renovated canal house, holds regular exhibitions of works by shutter-button maestros like August Sander as well as advertising from local agency KesselsKramer, and shows covering local themes such as Amsterdam crime scene photos (plus universal themes like Kate Moss). They also organise talks and events for the photographically obsessed.
A note to all those historical museums around the world that struggle to present their exhibits in an engaging fashion: head here to see how it's done. Amsterdam's Historical Museum is a gem: illuminating, interesting and entertaining. It starts with the very buildings in which it's housed: a lovely, labyrinthine collection of 17th-century constructions built on the site of a 1414 convent. You can enter it down Sint Luciensteeg, just off Kalverstraat, or off Spui, walking past the Begijnhof and then through the grand Civic Guard Gallery, a small covered street hung with huge 16th- and 17th-century group portraits of wealthy burghers. And it continues with the museum's first exhibit, a computer-generated map of the area showing how Amsterdam has grown (and shrunk) throughout the last 800 years or so. It then takes a chronological trip through Amsterdam's past, using archaeological finds (love those 700-year-old shoes), works of art and some far quirkier displays: tone-deaf masochists may care to play the carillon in the galleried room 10A, while lesbian barflies will want to pay homage to Bet van Beeren, late owner of celebrated Het Mandje. Amsterdam has a rich history, and this wonderful museum does it justice.
An outpost of St Petersburg’s Hermitage museum opened in Amsterdam in 2009 with a star-studded, 30-hour ceremony. Set in a former 19th-century hospital complete with 17th-century courtyard, the building has two vast exhibition spaces, a concert hall and a restaurant. The museum mounts two exhibitions a year, borrowing items from the three-million-strong collection of its prestigious Russian parent. The Hermitage’s riches owe much to the collecting obsession of Peter the Great (1672-1725), who came to Amsterdam to learn shipbuilding and the art of building on waterlogged ground – the latter knowledge he applied to his pet project, St Petersburg. Peter befriended local doctor Frederik Ruysch, perhaps the greatest ever anatomist and preserver of body parts and mutants in jars. Ruysch enjoyed constructing ghoulish collages with gall and kidney stones piled up into landscapes; dried veins woven into lush shrubberies and testicles crafted into pottery. The scenes were animated with dancing foetus skeletons. After kissing the head of a preserved baby, Peter paid Ruysch 30,000 florins for the lot (much of it is still on display in St Petersburg’s Kunstkammer collection). Some of Peter’s prized souvenirs – including Rembrandts – came for a visit in 2013 during an exhibition dedicated to the great man. Other exhibitions included ‘Gauguin, Bonnard, Denis’, ‘Greek Gold’ and ‘Nicolas and Alexandra’.
Amsterdam’s best art galleries
EYE Film Institute
Formerly the Filmmuseum, this is the most important centre for cinematography in the Netherlands, specialising in major retrospectives and edgier contemporary fare. There's a permanent exhibition space, as well as free-to-access education area, with 'EYE'pod screening booths. The amazing cybershark-type building dominates the northern waterfront and is worth the free ferry ride in itself.
CoBrA Museum of Modern Art
Artists such as Karel Appel, Eugene Brands and Corneille were once regarded as little more than eccentric troublemakers; they've now been absorbed into the canon. This museum provides a sympathetic environment in which to trace the development of one of the most influential Dutch artistic movements of the 20th century. They've also now started having exhibitions of more modern artists to attract more visitors.