Amsterdam is world renowned for its art – from the great masters through to more contemporary stars. Long-time art lover Alice Fewery spent a weekend exploring the galleries and museums of the Netherlands’ capital and here share’s her top five picks (along with a few eateries between, of course)…
This spring I visited Amsterdam for the first time, along with my parents and husband. We went partly to experience the astounding natural beauty of tulip season and partly to explore the narrow streets and canals by bicycle (clichéd but unmissable). But, for a family of art lovers, the main draw of the Dutch capital was its wealth of art galleries and museums – perhaps unparalleled by any other city in the world.
Amsterdam is a true art-lover’s paradise. From the staggering collections belonging to the major galleries to the independent offerings which line the streets in the Spiegelgracht district, the city is just groaning with artistic heritage, and art’s influence is evident everywhere you go.
Here I’ve selected my top five gallery picks (though be aware that there are many, many more). Alongside some food and drink recommendations that can be found nearby, in case you want to avoid the queues at the museum cafés.
Top of my list was the cavernous Rijksmuseum (the Netherlands’ most visited museum), which reopened in 2013 after a ten-year renovation. Situated on Museumplein, it’s an impressive building in its own right.
Inside, the atrium is modern, minimalist and spacious. While upstairs some of the world’s best known paintings – Vermeer’s Milkmaid and Rembrandt’s The Night Watch to name just two – are displayed in the enormous, high-ceilinged ‘Gallery of Honour’ – which, with its vaulted roof and stained-glass windows, feels more like a cathedral than an exhibition hall. It is one of the most beautiful, serene and inclusive gallery spaces I have ever encountered.
After worshipping at the altar of the great masters, be sure to visit the 20th Century galleries on the third floor, where you can find an eclectic mix of fashion, photography, furniture, design and even an aeroplane.
The ‘Moco’ (or Modern Contemporary) museum is housed in a beautiful traditional style mansion opposite the Rijksmuseum. Privately owned, its aim is to make modern art accessible to the general public. Until the end of August it is displaying more than 50 works by street artist Banksy, along with some works by Dali. This quirky and imaginative gallery was perfect for whiling away a drizzly afternoon.
The largest collection of artworks by Holland’s favourite artistic son is contained within two architecturally stunning buildings on the edge of Museumplein. Designed by Gerrit Rietveld and Kisho Kurokawa, they create a perfect contrast to the impressionist masterpieces contained within.
Because the galleries are arranged chronologically, you will be treated to a multi-sensory biography of this tragic painter. Learning everything there is to know about Van Gogh with help from early sketches and letters, the objects he owned, his own artworks and those of his contemporaries. Be prepared for an arrest on the senses on walking into the room where Sunflowers and Bedroom in Arles are hung on opposite sides of the same wall.
This innovative photography organisation displays the work of established photographers alongside emerging ones, challenging your perceptions and stimulating your interest at the same time.
With several exhibitions on at any one time, there’s usually something to suit every taste (past exhibitions have included Helmut Lang, William Eggleston and Richard Avedon). The building is located in a traditional canalside warehouse on the Keizersgracht, a ten-minute walk from the city centre. If you’re looking for an extra special souvenir, consider investing in one of the ‘foam editions’ – an ever-changing collection of limited edition prints from featured artists.
The final in the big trio located on Museumplein is modern art gallery Stedelijk. Its striking white ‘floating’ design (nicknamed ‘the Bathtub’) looked particularly spectacular in the spring sunshine, meaning that even the queue to get in was artistically pleasing!
The museum itself houses an incredible 90,000 objects, from painting to installation and industrial design. Its must-sees include works by Marc Chagall, Andy Warhol, Willem de Kooning and Gilbert & George. Don’t forget to visit the fantastic art bookshop on your way out for a dazzling array of publications from the classic to the eclectic.
Where to eat in Amsterdam:
For coffee and a light bite…
Omelegg -Set yourself up for the day with an omelette from the city’s first omelettery – frequently voted the best breakfast in Amsterdam.
Back to Black Coffee – Delicious coffee and homemade cakes are on offer at this trendy coffee shop and roastery – perfect for beating that mid-afternoon slump.
Café Brecht – Step back in time in this ‘living room’ style café complete with comfy armchairs, lampshades and vintage china. Serving a range of lunch options and snacks as well as great Italian coffee and German beers.
Piadina – Refuel with a mouth-watering Piadina (a flatbread, folded and filled with a variety of typical Italian ingredients such as mozzarella or prosciutto) at this buzzing lunch spot.
For something more substantial…
Rijks – Housed inside the Rijksmuseum, young chef Joris Bijdendijk leads the team at this Michelin-starred restaurant, cooking innovative dishes influenced by classic Dutch cuisine.
Wink – For a more intimate dining experience, visit Wink – a small, family run restaurant in De Pijp with a carefully curated weekly menu and expertly chosen wine list.
Where to stay in Amsterdam:
Just around the corner from both the Van Gogh Museum and the Rijksmuseum – this is a great spot to base yourself if you’re in town for the art. Set across four typical townhouses, rooms are pared back and stylish and the staff couldn’t be friendlier.
Address: Jan Luykenstraat, 44, Amsterdam, Netherlands
Only a short walk from the Rijksmuseum and Rembrandt Square, this 9-room boutique hotel is a great launchpad for city-exploring.
Address: Utrechtsedwarsstraat 79, 1017 WD Amsterdam, Netherlands
If all those museums aren’t enough, this design hotel has all the art you could dream of. In keeping with its trendy Eastern Docklands setting, the boutique gem plays host to regular art exhibitions year-round, showing off all the best artists in the city.
Address: Oostelijke Handelskade 34, Amsterdam, Netherlands
Getting to Amsterdam:
Amsterdam’s Airport Schiphol is set south west of the centre and easily accessible via train, bus or taxi. Eurostar operates between London St Pancras International and Amsterdam (currently with a change at Brussels).