From Rembrandt van Rijn to Johannes Vermeer to Vincent van Gogh, the Dutch have a long and illustrious track record when it comes to painting. But the absolute best museums and galleries in Amsterdam prove they’re just as accomplished in other art-related endeavours, too. Whether you go in for film, photography or contemporary art, and whether one of the city’s many curious, one-man operations or a state-of-the-art space on the River IJ, you’ll likely go away having seen something fresh, exciting and – almost always – brilliantly executed.
So if you’re looking for something cultural to do after stocking up at one of this city’s many excellent cafés and restaurants, this is where get your fill of art, history… or both. Planning to pack in the lot? We suggest investing in an I Amsterdam City Card to enjoy free entry to most.
RECOMMENDED: Full guide to the best things to do in Amsterdam
Best museums in Amsterdam
What is it? This museum is a one-stop-shop for art and history buffs, with everything from ancient sculptures and hand-crafted furniture to an actual propeller plane on the top floor. In the Gallery of Honour, see works from Johannes Vermeer and Frans Hals, plus Rembrandt’s seminal ‘The Night Watch’.
Why go? A recent, decade-long renovation gave the museum a stylish facelift without sacrificing its history or charm. Go for the Dutch Masters, stay for the ornate stained glass windows and perfectly manicured gardens.
What is it? A modern art museum that’s home to more than 90,000 eclectic pieces. In addition to its thought-provoking rotating exhibitions, Stedelijk Base presents some of modern art’s greatest hits (think Picasso, Koons, Lichtenstein and more).
Why go? Despite its premium Museum Square location and eye-catching bathtub-shaped exterior, there’s significantly less foot traffic here than in the other big museums. It means no jostling to get a proper look at Mondrian.
What is it? In the attic of this unsuspecting house-turned-museum – preserved to show visitors what a typical 17th-century Dutch house looked like – lies a highly Instagrammable pink Catholic church with epic views across the city centre.
Why go? It’s an Amsterdam history lesson of a different kind. By law, non-Calvinist public worship was prohibited at the time so, though it’s not the only Dutch home with a concealed church, it’s easily the most beautiful.
What is it? One of the only museums in Amsterdam you’ll have to stand in line for, it’s worth the wait to take a sobering look at not only the attic where Anne Frank and her family hid in Nazi-occupied Holland, but also the exhibition detailing Jewish war-time persecution.
Why go? On the picturesque Prinsengracht and next door to the monumental Westerkerk, it’s a sombre reminder of the horrors of the Second World War, but also a moving tribute to Frank’s indefatigable optimism.
What is it? Home to more than 1,400 pieces of Vincent van Gogh’s work, including 200-odd paintings, this is the most visited museum in town – ironic, considering the artist was never acclaimed in his own time.
Why go? If seeing the artist’s ‘Sunflowers’ paintings in real life is on your bucket list, this spot is not to be missed. But it’s also worth a visit to learn more about van Gogh’s tumultuous private life and discover his lesser-known works.
What is it? A canal-side photography museum that hosts a rotating series of exhibitions and champions the work of up-and-coming photographers at its annual ‘Foam Talent’ event.
Why go? Had your fill of Dutch Masters? Seen enough van Gogh to last a lifetime? Foam is the place for when you’re looking to shift gears and discover the world through a fresh lens.
What is it? The Dutch are masters of the water, mostly out of necessity (Amsterdam’s canals keep the sea-level city from sinking) but also because they’re entrepreneurial – see the Dutch East India Company or VOC. The National Maritime Museum reflects both sides of this obsession.
Why go? This one’s great for families, with enough fascinating exhibits and installations to avoid a holiday mutiny. There’s also a replica VOC ship docked outside the main building that’s ripe for exploring.
What is it? A celebration of all things cinematic, this museum hosts a permanent exhibition charting the history of film, plus revolving shows on acclaimed directors. It also screens films across four on-site cinemas.
Why go? The museum’s breathtaking exterior reflects its modern approach to art and cinema. It’s also a good opportunity to take the free River IJ ferry across to Amsterdam’s cool but less touristy Noord district.
What is it? Charting the history of the humble handbag from the late Middle Ages to the present day, this 5,000-piece fashion museum is a stylish and expertly curated tribute to an everyday object we might otherwise take for granted.
Why go? Where else could you see a silk French bridal bag from 1725 alongside the purse Madonna carried to the 1996 ‘Evita’ premiere? Perhaps even more impressive, the collection was amassed by just one couple, Hendrikje and Heinz Ivo.
What is it? A satellite of the world-famous Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, this museum hosts regular exhibitions that focus on Dutch art and history, but often on Russian culture too.
Why go? Thanks to the Russian outpost’s prestige, this museum has particularly impressive pulling power. Past hits have included shows on Italian neoclassical works and Dutch Golden Age portraits.
What is it? Tucked down a quiet Jordaan street, this museum pays tribute to everything bright, brash and technicolour. View fluorescent art from the 1950s and watch grey minerals light up in kaleidoscopic patterns under flashing lights.
Why go? Despite the odd opening hours and by-appointment-only tours, this is a one-of-a-kind chance to immerse yourself in what museum founder Nick Padalino calls ‘participatory art’.
Looking for somewhere amazing to stay?
Converting historic buildings into contemporary hotels can go so, so wrong. But in Amsterdam, as ever, things are different. Whether it’s a dormant bridge keeper’s house converted into a playful suite or a printing factory-turned-boutique hotspot, Amsterdam’s hotel scene is a goldmine of beautiful (and comfy) redesigns.