EUROPE, Netherlands, PLACES

Amsterdam Museum Grab-bag

Every corner you turn in Amsterdam, it seems like you happen upon another museum, art gallery, church or exhibit, and that’s even before you start on the endless specialty walking tours! So with limited time, how do you ever choose? We ran into this problem while planning our trip earlier this year – with only a few days to see the city, we had to narrow down our list.

Even the stairwells in the Kattenkabinet are crowded with feline imagery.

While we saved plenty to do for future trips, I think our final selection was a nicely varied “grab-bag” of museums and tours. Read on for some places to add to your list:

For the art lover: Rijksmuseum

The atrium in the Rijksmuseum is nearly as breathtaking as the paintings themselves.

One thing that struck me about the Rijksmuseum was how accessible it was to those of us who don’t know much about art. Stationed near the most famous works, like Rembrandt’s Night Watch and Pieneman’s The Battle of Waterloo, are informative cards in multiple languages that teach you everything you need to know about the artist, the subjects, the technique, and the interesting bits of knowledge behind every painting. The museum’s free maps also point you to the “must-see” pieces in each gallery.

Vermeer’s “The Milkmaid” is one of the most recognizable paintings in the Rijksmuseum.

The nearby Van Gogh Museum is also a wonderful museum if you’re interested in Van Gogh’s life and work in particular, but if you have to pick just one, the Rijksmuseum is an intricate building with seemingly endless paintings, furniture and artifacts from around the world and throughout time.

  • €17.50 adult, under 18 free
  • 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. daily
  • Book ahead to avoid lines

For the history buff: Badass Amsterdam Tours

Elyzabeth, the amazing historian/guide behind Badass Amsterdam Tours.

We love taking walking tours when we visit a new city, but since we have been to Amsterdam a couple of times, we were hoping to find something a little more focused for this visit. Luckily, “Badass Amsterdam Tours” practically fell into our lap. Elyzabeth, company founder/blogger/ guide/badass woman herself, was a perfect guide to the best of Amsterdam’s “hidden” history. Elyzabeth’s tours focus on the badass women in Amsterdam’s history, from medieval times to the modern age, who don’t quite get the credit they deserve in museums and popular history books.

In addition to leading both private and guided tours, Elyzabeth pens a fantastic “advice column” by the badass women “we never learn about in history class.” Her website is worth a visit, whether you take a tour or not.

For the cat lady: KattenKabinet

This small black-and-white sign is the only indication that the canal house in front of you is filled with paintings of cats.

If you’d prefer to be home snuggling with your feline than strolling the galleries of the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam’s KattenKabinet provides the best of both worlds. Located in a restored 17th-century canal house, the walls of each room are filled floor-to-ceiling with (you guessed it) paintings, photos and sculptures depicting cats. From Toulouse-Lautrec and Picasso to posters from cat-centric movies, the collection is truly… the cat’s meow. If you’re lucky, you may even cross paths with some of the live kittens roaming the museum’s many rooms.

  • M-F 10 a.m. – 5 p.m., weekends 12 p.m. – 5 p.m.
  • €7 adult, €4 student, under 12 free

For the sociologist: Red Light Secrets Museum of Prostitution

In the Red Light Secrets Museum of Prostitution, you get a chance to see how it feels to be on the other side of the window.

We expected the Red Light Secrets museum to give an overview of the history of prostitution in Amsterdam, but the museum’s content was much more stark, raw and fascinating than we could have prepared for. The museum is located in an old brothel and gives visitors an inside look at how the “world’s oldest profession” really works in the modern age. Prostitution is legal and regulated in the city, so the information in the museum is truly unique and answers every question you could have about the life of sex workers in Amsterdam.

A longtime sex worker took us (via audio tour) through the everyday experiences of sex workers in the city, from renting a room, to dealing with famous clients, to watching their friends go through horribly violent experiences. We felt much more informed and sobered while walking through the Red Light district after visiting the museum.

This is one of the few museums that is open into the evening hours (open until midnight), so book ahead and visit earlier in the day if you want to avoid lines. Definitely worth a visit, but leave the kids at home.

  • Open 10 a.m. – midnight
  • €9.50 or €8 for “off peak” (between 10 am and noon entry)
  • Book ahead! Cheaper online

For the one who would rather be hiking: Hortus Botanicus

In the lush environment of the Hortus Botanicus temperate house, it was easy to forget it was below freezing outside.

The Hortus Botanicus is Amsterdam’s botanical garden, and is a stunning little escape from the (relatively) busier streets. We visited on a bitterly cold day, and loved feeling like we were “outside” while enjoying the warm climate of the garden’s several glass houses. While I wouldn’t prioritize this on a first trip to Amsterdam, it’s a lovely place to visit when you feel like you’ve hit all the “must-sees.”

  • Open daily 9 a.m. – 5 p.m
  • €9.50, €5 students and children 5-14


What’s your favorite museum to visit in Amsterdam?

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