When it comes to the best Amsterdam museums, there are lots of contenders. The top 5 most visited museums in Amsterdam included the Rijksmuseum, Van Gogh Museum, Anne Frank House, NEMO, and the Stedelijk, but there are many other fine museums to explore.
For ease of use, I broke this article into sections that will help you find the best museums that are worth taking some time out of your visit. If you are planning to visit several museums, you might like to get the iAmsterdam card which includes both unlimited transport in Amsterdam and free entrance to most of the museums below.
You can get the iAmsterdam card for 72, 48 or only 24 hours. If you intend to see lots of things, the card can offer really good value for money as well as offer a solution to buying tickets since paying with cash is no longer allowed on trams and buses.
When you use a regular card, you have to remember to check-in and check out by touching your pass against the card reader. It can be easy to forget during your visit, but the iAmsterdam card won’t penalize you since it has unlimited travel. If you’d like to plan your visit more thoroughly, check out the map at the end of this guide to help you plan your day-to-day itinerary!
Here are the contents of today's post:
- 1 Best Classic Art Museums in Amsterdam
- 2 Contemporary Art Museums in Amsterdam
- 3 Best History & Culture Museums in Amsterdam
- 4 Canal House Museums
- 5 Only in Amsterdam: Best Experience Museums
- 6 Best Amsterdam Museums to Visit with Kids
- 7 Top Free Amsterdam Museums
Best Classic Art Museums in Amsterdam
The Rijksmuseum is bound to be the cultural highlight of your Amsterdam trip. The museum collection is bound to have something for everyone: from the famous Night Watch, to an array of distinguished Golden Age painters, to their wonderful hidden library, an array of naval artifacts and so much more.
The collection is truly sizeable which means you will likely spend at least half a day perusing. Luckily, this is easily combinable with other museums on the Museum Square, which means whatever day you pick out for your visit will be fully dedicated to museums!
I love this museum and recommend it wholeheartedly, which is why it’s included on my Amsterdam itinerary for first-time visitors, but due to the size of the museum, you’re most likely to not see it in its entirety.
P.S.: Insider tip – I was pleasantly surprised by Rijksmuseum’s cafe! If you wish to try a typical Dutch lunch, try their Still Life lunch which serves a delicious sandwich with ‘Beemster’ cheese. I loved the taste, and I say it as someone who abhors sandwich lunches after 3 years of them!
Van Gogh Museum
The Van Gogh Museum houses the biggest collection of the painter’s art, second to none. The most famous paintings on display include his self-portraits, The Bedroom, Sunflowers, Almond Blossom and many others. Tickets are available in advance and online only and may be unavailable on the day.
There are ticket machines at the entrance but your best chance to get a ticket on the day is to come early in the morning to get your timeslot.
Rembrandt House Museum
Born in Leiden, Rembrandt spent the majority of his life, however in Amsterdam. This museum is Rembrandt’s old apartment. Rembrandt House Museum hosts various fun art activities that will show you how Rembrandt made his art, including etching and paint preparation demonstrations. The main exhibitions seek to give you a complete picture of Rembrandt’s life and art during that time.
The Dutch branch of the St. Petersburg Hermitage museum is definitely worth a visit. Its exhibitions often include works of art lent by its sister museum, and its collection of Dutch painters is also on rotation, with many works from the Golden Age period. The temporary exhibitions are often connected to Russia.
The National Maritime Museum
You will definitely notice the National Maritime Museum from the outside thanks to its recreated VOC frigate moored next near the NEMO museum. The frigate is fully explorable and an utter delight for kids and adults alike, but the museum also surprises with the sizeable collection of naval themed art and artifacts that shine a light on the naval success of the Dutch throughout the ages. It is rather larger than you would expect, so you will need plenty of time to explore.
I also had a chance to visit the interactive VR “dare to discover” journey which takes you through the conquering of the water throughout the life of Amsterdam, and The Netherlands in general. It takes you along for a ride on a VOC ship and things develop from there. Admission to the VR experience is included in the price of the entry ticket.
Contemporary Art Museums in Amsterdam
Amsterdam has a lot to offer in terms of contemporary art for any medium, from architecture, to film. These museums are perfect if you want to expand your horizons and try something new—or perhaps contemporary is not new to you at all—in this case, welcome! As an aside, if you are interested in getting to know a different side of Amsterdam, check out my alternative Amsterdam guide.
FOAM contemporary photography museum
The collections of the Photography Museum of Amsterdam are very innovative, thought-provoking and conscious of the social context of its exhibitions. If you have some flexibility, join the free guided tour. It takes place every Thursday evening at 7.30 PM in English. You can book your spot here.
Another museum on the Museum Square, Moco Museum is the destination for contemporary art and famous for a Banksy exhibition sourced from private collections. The art is usually highly thought-provoking and there are many interactive art installations that you can enjoy. There is a permanent collection that includes works by such masters as Yayoi Kusama, Andy Warhol, and others. Read my review of the Moco Museum here for more details.
Stedelijk Museum of contemporary art and design is one of Amsterdam’s most visited museums. The exhibitions include a mix of both modern and classic painters and choose artists from all over the world. Factor in about 1,5-2 hours for your visit. This museum is best suited for lovers of modern art style and can be a bit hard for a beginner as it is a comfort zone stretch and more high concept compared to the Moco Museum, for example.
This beautiful museum on the other side of the IJ is a 7-minute ferry ride away from Amsterdam Central. Focusing on film, its permanent exhibition focuses on its history and technical aspects, while the rotating displays welcome artists from all over the world. Check out the museum’s film showings as well, as they screen titles that are unlikely to premiere on the big screen. After your visit, relax in the cafe with a view of the water.
Best History & Culture Museums in Amsterdam
Anne Frank Huis
During your visit to the Anne Frank Museum, you will be able to visit the Secret Annex where Anne and her family hid during the war before being discovered and sent to their death into the labor camps. Anne Frank Museum is undoubtedly one of the most popular Amsterdam museums.
For that reason, the tickets must be pre-booked on the internet, as only 20% of the tickets are released on the day, with most of them available online in advance. Book your tickets at least 3 weeks in advance to have the biggest choice of time slots.
The Amsterdam Museum is nestled cozily in between Amsterdam’s busiest shopping streets in a building that used to belong to an orphanage which was operational up to the 1960s and is referenced in the exhibitions as well. This museum is dedicated to Amsterdam’s history throughout the ages, including its establishment as a big trading center, through the height of the Golden Age and to modern times.
The museum manages this in quite a modern way, and also offers a critical perspective on the city’s activities, including its participation in slavery, the establishment of colonies, and a sober look at the policies that once might have been viewed as tolerant but now can also be viewed through the lens of self-interest. This is the place to go to learn more about Amsterdam and get lost in its secret corners.
If you are interested in anthropology and different cultures, you will find the ethnographic Tropenmuseum a great addition to your Amsterdam experience. The museum’s exhibitions have a very modern and forward-thinking feel, with many of them dedicated to indigenous people across the world.
The museum also often explores the connections of the Netherlands to their former colonies, the difference of customs, fashion, and religion and modern interpretations of these differences by poems, artists and descendants.
Royal Palace of Amsterdam
Originally built as a Town Hall, this building has quickly become the Royal Palace, and is still in use by the Royal Family on special occasions. The Palace is open for visitation on particular days and the schedule is available on the website. The audio guide included in the ticket price is terrific and will give you context on the architectural details, the purpose of the rooms, notable visitors, the preparations that go into a royal visit and much more.
Museum of Bags and Purses Amsterdam
The Museum of Bags and Purses is one of my personal favorites, as it lives on the intersection of fashion and history, and delivers on an amazing visitor experience. Prepare to travel through the ages as you climb the staircase, progressing from a time when purses were hidden inside a woman’s pocket-less skirts, to modern times and luxury collections. One of my favorite parts of the museum is the collection of trunks used in travel. Whether you’re interested in research or just love aesthetically pleasing bags, this museum is bound to surprise you.
Jewish Historical Museum
Discover the Jewish Quarter of Amsterdam by starting your journey in the Jewish Historical Museum. The entry ticket also includes free entry to all of the locations in the Jewish Quarter, including the Portuguese Synagogue, National Holocaust Museum and The Hollandsche Schouwburg (open until 1 June 2020). The latter two are currently undergoing renovations and will be closed till 2022.
The Jewish Historical Museum exhibitions vary from art collections to concerts, and, of course, exhibits dedicated to the history of the Jewish population in Amsterdam through the ages.
Canal House Museums
Museum of the Canals
Amsterdam’s canals are declared part of the UNESCO heritage, so it’s only logical that one of the canal houses was turned into the Museum of Canals, where the 400-year long history of the city is told. This museum has a particular focus on architecture and history, and as it is, it is not a residence house. It is quite small and can be viewed in half an hour. Follow the audiovisual tour to get a full perspective and learn how Amsterdam was built.
Museum Van Loon
Look into the world of opulent canal living through the eyes of the Van Loon family. This museum is like a snapshot of a lifestyle long gone, but gives you an idea of what life was like when Willem van Loon co-founded the Dutch East-India Company. The 17th-century interiors and objects have been well-preserved to still offer a picture of a wealthy merchant’s life.
The house is interesting from bottom to top, including kitchens, beautifully wallpapered bedrooms, and many curios papered around, from Japanese screens, to a stunning collection of rare books. Walk through the garden and into the coach house for a coffee and a piece of apple pie. The museum also offers additional seasonal exhibitions, the latest one I’ve seen dedicated to the plantations in Suriname.
Cromhouthuis is a curious museum, in that it’s both a 17th and 18th-century Amsterdam canal house, but it combines these interiors with an extensive art collection, as the Cromhout family have been art collectors. There are collections of curios, a ceiling painted by Jacob de Wit and much more.
On the upper floors of the Cromhout House you will find the Biblical Museum which has been there since 1975. You will find rare Bible editions, archeological finds and personal stories, as well as learn about the history of Amsterdam and the role the Bible played in its society throughout the ages. The entry ticket gets you access to both museums.
If you are looking to explore the world of Amsterdam’s wealthiest, visit the Willet-Hothuysen Museum. It is filled with the atmosphere and splendor of 18th and 19th-century living. The Willet family were avid collectors and art connoisseurs. Louisa Willet-Holthuysen left the house to the city in her will, with the condition that it would be turned into a museum, and it has been operational for 120 years. This museum shows you how the entire household was run when it was still in use, from the sitting and ball rooms to the kitchens.
Only in Amsterdam: Best Experience Museums
Find out how this Dutch beer brand took over the world in this interactive museum located at the original Heineken building. What started as a business venture in the times when beer was safer to drink than water transformed into a worldwide-known brand. You will see how beer is made, stage by stage, will get to know the Heineken family, walk past the stables that are still in use, and get lots of great memories.
House of Bols
Have you ever tried genever? This juniper-flavored strong alcohol was the base for the invention of gin, and House of Bols offers a unique perspective into the distillation of spirits. There is an interactive exhibit, you can smell different scents at the smells gallery. At the end of the tour, you can try all sorts of cocktails at an additional 6 EUR per cocktail, and even a mixology class if interested.
Sex Museum Amsterdam – Temple of Venus
If you are visiting Amsterdam for the first time, you will undoubtedly want to experience its seedy side as well, so the Sex Museum will definitely satisfy your curiosity and get you into the swing of things before you head into the heart of the Red Light District. I’ve been to the museum with my friend, and we’ve had plenty of giggles—the museum really tries to elicit those!
In all seriousness, although the museum lacks the vibe of modernity, there is a solid collection of artifacts and depictions of sex in art across different cultures and ages, dating back to ancient times. There are photographs from the last century as well, which are quite amusing to look at. The museum costs only 5 EUR and is good for a short visit.
Price: 5 EUR, not included with the card | Opening hours: Mon-Sun 9:30 AM – 11:30 PM | Venustempel Sex Museum,
Hash Marihuana & Hemp Museum
Here’s another museum for the rebel in you: the Marihuana & Hemp Museum offers an in-depth look into not only its recreational use but also its history and uses in naval production, light industry, and medicine throughout the ages.
Price: 9 EUR, not included with the card | Opening hours: Mon-Sun 10 AM – 10 PM | Website: https://hashmuseum.com/
Many Dutch people opt into the houseboat lifestyle, turning boats into full-fledged apartments. One such boat has been turned into a very modest but curious museum, the interiors still decorated in the unmistakable ’70s vibe. I recommend this museum as a part of my unusual things to do in Amsterdam.
It is by no means a must, but definitely will give you an idea of the space and layout, and some history too. If you find the idea of living in a houseboat appealing, check out these houseboat hotels in Amsterdam to stay at—dare I suggest, in a much more modern style too.
Hortus Botanicus Amsterdam
If you enjoy parks and wildlife, don’t miss one of the oldest botanical gardens in the world which exists since 1638. The collection started thanks to the traders bringing a variety of plants back into the Netherlands from their voyages. Hortus Botanicus organizes free guided tours on Sundays at 2 PM. Explore the greenhouses, venture to meet the butterflies, learn all about medicinal herbs, take a canopy walk and just take a break from the city.
The Amsterdam Dungeon
The Amsterdam Dungeon is not quite a museum, but it’s a fun interactive experience that is part theatre, part spooky attraction house with the added bonus of a themed tour with the history of Amsterdam woven in. If you can appreciate lots of theatrics, crude jokes (don’t bring small kids), and are traveling with friends, this is going to be the perfect activity.
You are guided through the maze by actors who will lead you through the torture chambers, anatomic theatre, and tribunal, until, mercilessly, you see the light at the end of the tunnel. What I’m trying to say is, I had fun, and you will too!
Best Amsterdam Museums to Visit with Kids
NEMO is a giant playground for kids and adults alike, and I heartily recommend you include it in your Amsterdam itinerary. There are three floors of science experiments, interactive stands, a science theatre, a great rooftop terrace with amazing views over the center, and so much more.
You are bound to spend at least 2-3 hours exploring the place, and you’re guaranteed to be hungry afterward! Grab a snack in the terrace cafe or head to the nearby DoubleTree Hilton for a snack and the best view in Amsterdam.
This is Holland
This is Holland is less a museum and more an interactive experience that is enjoyable for all ages. The concept is a virtual reality 4D flight over The Netherlands, and it’s the perfect introduction to your visit. This is why I recommend including it into the beginning of your trip, since you might want to adjust your itinerary afterward to include some of the splendid spots you will be flying over, such as the tulip fields.
ARTIS Zoo + Micropia
Amsterdam’s Royal Zoo is a stop I recommend on my 3-day itinerary as the perfect break from a busy cultural schedule. The zoo has great variety, the enclosures are very well-maintained, and the Micropia museum is a great addition that will draw you into the world of microbes, an ever-present life form that goes largely unnoticed. This interactive museum is perfect for kids and adults alike.
Who wouldn’t want to explore a giant frigate? The National Maritime Museum has a full size 1749 VOC ship replica that is fully explorable on all levels. There is even an easter egg hunt that involves finding clues inside hidden compartments in the captain’s quarters. The museum is the perfect introduction to Golden Age art, as well as the history of The Netherlands.
Ripley’s Believe It or Not
Ripley’s famous museum chain reached Amsterdam and has become a major success. This museum is filled with curios, unbelievable facts, thought-provoking discoveries, and interactive displays. It holds 500 exhibits, and is famous for its purple tunnel illusion which will make your brain go haywire. If you’re looking for a whimsical museum that’s lots of fun for kids and adults, Ripley’s is the destination for you.
Price: 21 EUR, not included in card | Opening hours: 9 AM – 10 PM | Website: https://www.ripleys.com/amsterdam/
Dutch Costume Museum and Dutch Costume Photo Studio
If, when you think of the Dutch, you imagine a milkmaid in clogs and a bonnet, then you’ll like the opportunity to see these national costumes for yourself in the Dutch Costume Museum. This is a very small museum, in conjunction with the studio where you can don the costumes and take a photo to take home as a souvenir.
Top Free Amsterdam Museums
So are there any free museums in Amsterdam, I hear you asking. While there are hardly any free museums, some of the exhibits remain free for all. Here they are below:
Amsterdam Archives is a great museum and it offers free entrance to its main exhibition and the old archives in the basement, which are extremely interesting. The museum is dedicated to the history of Amsterdam and its collection varies from old photographs to logbooks, maps and city records that date all the way back to the middle ages. My favorite part is undoubtedly the architecture of the underground archives.
Civic Guards Gallery (part of Amsterdam Museum)
The gallery is a part of the Amsterdam Museum and requires no entry ticket. It houses 15 Golden Age paintings depicting civic guards which are free for anyone to view. If you do head into the Amsterdam Museum, the view from the inside gallery allows you to see all the works in more detail. The museum also has a nice courtyard where they have mementos from a time when the museum used to be an orphanage.
Gassan Diamonds Free Tour
Rather than going to the outdated Diamond Museum, you can sign up for a free tour of Gassan Diamonds. I enjoyed it very much, and you don’t need any prior knowledge of diamonds. The tour guide gives you a bit of background about the process of diamond making, then you can watch as the workers are cutting diamonds.
In the final leg of the tour, you will be able to inspect real diamonds up close and see the difference in clarity, coloring and ask any questions you have. Gassan Diamonds do promote their own products and there’s a gift shop at the exit but you are not pressured into any purchases. I found the experience much more fun and interactive than I could have expected, and it’s definitely worth your time.