The best not-so-known museums in Amsterdam!

Of course you have to visit Rijksmuseum, Stedelijk Museum, Van Gogh Museum and Anne Frank’s house. But you don’t need me to tell you that! So here are some tips for the second-time traveller on the lesser visited museums. I have been to Amsterdam before, but this time I was here as a part of a group “Museum Educators in Denmark”, and we go every year to a new city with inspiring museums. Amsterdam and the Netherlands have some of the best museums in Europe, because of their advances in communications and style of exhibitions. So here is some of my top picks for cultural visitor:

Amsterdam Museum


This was my favourite museum on our tour and you can bring kids as well. The past, present and future of Amsterdam: The museum tells the story of the city in film, objects, sound and is really diverse in its communication. Amsterdam DNA was chronologically build with a clear timeline, movies, sounds and presented an very informing overview of Amsterdam.

You can hear the bell towers!

The best exhibition is about the Golden Age. It tells the story of how Amsterdam became such a wealthy city due to the shipping. Some of the wealth came from slave trade and labour. Many professions like carpenters, cartographers ad artists also benefited from the massive trade and influences from all over the world. From 1600 Dutch power, wealth and culture developed in leaps, and The Netherlands was a genuine superpower!

The school children are taught in a lab (with lab coats) and are to do research on what makes a good city. The Dutch philosopher Spinoza is helping them!


The museum is located, where the city’s orphanage was from 1578 until 1960, and the children exhibition is about being an orphan. This was one of the better parts of the museum. You get a rubber bracelet from the information desk and outside the exhibition you form a group – and there has to be a child, so we had to invent one! You then take a tour through an orphanage and activating stories along the way with your bracelet. This was pretty fun, and I activated all the ones I saw. And you don’t need to be able to read to understand the feeling in an orphanage. Watch out for rats!


The orphanage exhibition in Amsterdam Museum

Het Scheepvartmuseum

IMG_3956Renovated in 2011, this maritime museum shows the most important element of the history of Amsterdam and the Netherlands: the shipping and the sea faring trade. Without this, Amsterdam would not have been so wealthy and important. The Netherlands and all the oceans around the world were swarming with Dutch sailors. Without ships the Dutch Golden Age would never have happened!

The museum is huge, and it havs several exhibitions. Behind the museum you can find two ships: The Royal Barge made of gold and a full scale copy of the Dutch ship “Amsterdam” built in 1748. It was owned by the VOC or East India Company, which traded in spices and established colonies! It was supposed to sail to Asia for trading, but wrecked outside Hastings. It is still there! You can go on deck and see the canons, the captains very low quarters and smell the tar. I got seasick, so I didn’t go downstairs…

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One of the temporary exhibitions is about Whale catching, and it gave a fantastic insight into instruments and necessities to get the much-sought-after oil from the whales. The whaling exhibition is very fun (subject aside) with a giant whale and games and secret corners.

The museum is filled with artifacts and objects, and it is communicated very well through films, sound, games, where you can be a trading sailor and more.

Tropen Museum

IMG_3916A former colonial museum, which now calls itself an ethnographic museum (but same purpose and collection). It is “a museum about how we talk about other cultures ” – in the words of an employee. The museum primarily shows artifacts and tell stories from the former former Dutch colonies such as New Guinea, Indonesia, Surinam, and many more.

Trying to avoid stereotyping, they nowadays develop their exhibition with focus groups and together with the portrayed subjects. This means they also focus more on themes than countries! There was an exhibition on Rhythm & Roots, a photo exhibition on Aleppo and one on Body Art trying to show the ideas of body transformation as a cultural object throughout history and the world! You can also get a guided tour about love in different cultures – bring your teenagers!

The children exhibition comes highly recommended, but the current one about Morocco was only open to schools, when we were there. Rats! Kids get all the fun. They even do workshops where they cook cous-cous! I think it’s open for ordinary people in the weekend, so go then!


Body Art exhibition in Tropen Museum

NeMo Science Museum

And to continue along that line  – kids get all the fun. This is not a new kind of museum. I have seen science museums all over the world like this, that emphasizes the playfulness over learning. It is always very popular and maybe some of the art or cultural history museums could learn a trick or two – but don’ go all the way since much of the knowledge is lost in all the havoc. NeMo looks like a giant ship out in the dock and is in a very new building.

The museum has many fun activities: Guess which brain belongs to which animal, send up a rocket and do chemistry experiments. And there was an actual laboratory with lab coats for making experiments. But again mostly for children. Why are adults never allowed to do some of the fun stuff? If you have children this is the place! – We guessed most of the brains right!

Processed with MOLDIV

Hermitage Museum

Yes, this a branch of the great Russian Hermitage museums showing some of their massive collections in Amstelhof – a former hospice from late 1600. Now, they are showing an exhibition on the Russian royal family: the Romanovs. It was very well visited. But actually, it is several different museums such as the Outsider Art Museum.

I focused on the portrait gallery of the golden age with rarely seen huge paintings from the same time of “The Night Watch”, and it illustrates the story of citizenship in the Netherlands. The large hall has light show focusing on different important historical characters. So remember the audio guide.

But be sure to see Rembrandts anatomy lesson. Commissioned by the surgeons’ guild of Amsterdam, Rembrandt painted “The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Deijman” in 1656. The middle section which has been preserved to this day depicts Dr. Jan Deijman (1619 –1666) dissecting the brain of Joris Fonteijn, an executed criminal. The assistant Gijsbert Calkoen is holding the top of the deceased’s skull in his hand. In 1723, a significant portion of the group portrait was lost in a fire in the surgeons’ guild chamber in De Waag on Nieuwmarkt. A sketch of the original composition has been preserved and will be exhibited exclusively over the next three months.


Rembrandt “The anatomy Lesson II”


FOAM is an internationally operating organisation in the field of photography, based in Amsterdam. A photography museum on 3 floors! This was the museum, I was most excited about, but they were in the middle of changing exhibitions, so only 1 floor open! Ad I had walked 30 minutes in the rain to get there…I had to drink a big cup of mint tea in the café, before I again ventured out in the horrible weather. I later found out, that an hour after I left, they had opened the new exhibitions with free wine. Aaarghh!

Of course there are many more like a cat museum, and also check out the Heineken Experience for a tour made of beer.

What is your favourite museum?


Amsterdam Museum

Also check out The best museums in Stockholm, Sweden! and We’ll meet by the canal! A city guide to Amsterdam, The Netherlands