Cultural Itinerary for Amsterdam

Frankie Thompson's guide to Amsterdam's cultural side

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Frankie Thompson

Frankie Thompson
HomeAway travel expert

Amsterdam Many know that there are more bikes than people in Amsterdam, but it's a lesser-known fact that there are more museums per capita in Amsterdam than any other city in the world. That's a whole lot of culture. Thanks to Amsterdam's compact size you can easily navigate your way through history and the canals from the Rijksmuseum and Rembrandthuis to the Anne Frank House on two wheels, on foot or by public transport.

That said, there is much more to culture in Amsterdam than just museums – which its thriving art, design and theatre scenes go a long way to prove.

Frankie's Verdict on cultural Amsterdam

  A city of neighbourhoods. Too few visitors to Amsterdam explore outside of the Red Light District and the three main ring canals – Prinsengracht, Keizersgracht and Herengracht – and that's a great shame. In Amsterdam's old neighbourhoods – helpfully referred to as Old West, Old South and Old East – you'll find some of the city's best restaurants, bars and shops, full of local character. Once a much neglected part of the city, Amsterdam-Noord is home to more concept stores, converted warehouse music venues and other hotspots than Amsterdam's young trendies can keep up with. Best of all there's a free boat that will take you there from Centraal Station.

  Get on yur bike It's hard to deny the charm of Amsterdam's cobbled streets, miles of flat cycle paths and yes, the ease with which you can criss-cross the city on a bike. There are, however, a few ground rules visitors to Amsterdam should know before they start pedalling. Keep right, keep on cycle paths and watch out for trams as well as cars when crossing traffic. You'll also notice that the Dutch cycle as though they are invincible; this doesn't mean you should do the same!

 Architecture. It's hard not to fall in love with the facades of the 17th- and 18th-century houses that line Amsterdam's canals, and there's plenty of charm in the 19th- and 20th-century red-brick homes in the inner suburbs. What many forget, however, is that Amsterdam is home to a number of much-admired examples of post-modernist architecture, including the exotic sounding Java Island which used to serve as shipping docklands. And don't overlook the Amsterdam School of Architecture, a style found in abundance in the Riviereenbuurt and Diamantbuurt of Old South.

 Food, fashion and families. Amsterdam has great potential to surprise those who assume there's no foodie scene to be found. From "huiskamer" neighbourhood restaurants to "gezellig" (cosy) corner eetcafés and one of the city's 12 Michelin-starred restaurants, come to Amsterdam with an appetite and you won't be disappointed. Nor should you forget your wallet; from the flea markets at Waterlooplein and IJ-Hallen to the boutiques lining the 9 Streets, Amsterdam is a shopper's paradise. Having said all the above, it's fair to mention how family-friendly the Dutch capital is; children are welcome in restaurants, most museums have excellent children's guides and you'll often find small parks and play areas hiding in most residential areas.


Top places for culture


Rijksmuseum & Stedelijk Rijksmuseum & Stedelijk

Like regal neighbours gazing at each other across Museumplein, the Rijksmuseum and Stedelijk Museum offer enough historic and contemporary culture to keep you busy for over a week, so at least dedicate a few hours to each of them. Extensively renovated from 2004 until 2013, the Rijksmuseum is the country's leading hub of history and art, featuring the work of Dutch masters like Vermeer, Steen and Rembrandt. Stedelijk picks up where the Rijks' leaves off with its focus on contemporary art and design. It was also refurbished last year and is host to regularly changing temporary exhibits featuring some of the biggest names in Dutch modern art and design.

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Amsterdam's old cinemas Amsterdam's old cinemas

Scattered across Amsterdam is one of Europe's finest collections of old cinemas, the most famous of which is arguably Pathé Tuschinski, an elaborate Art Deco building close to Rembrandtplein. Impressive from the outside, it's even more glamorous inside, but it isn't actually the city's oldest cinema. That is an honour held by Movies, the name for the 1912 cinema on Haarlemerdijk, which has been lovingly restored inside and out. More Art Deco can be enjoyed at Rialto on Ceintuurbaan, which is a great place for catching the latest world cinema releases. Heading further east you'll find 1940s minimalist Kriterion, which was a key location for resistance activities during the Second World War and back on the Prinsengracht you'll find the small but perfectly formed De Uitkijk, Amsterdam's second-oldest cinema.

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FOAM Museum FOAM Museum

The opening of FOAM in Amsterdam in 2002 caused more than a few ripples in the photography world and they haven't really settled yet – this museum and HQ for an international network of leading photographers continues to pursue its mission to make photography more accessible to those who enjoy it. With regularly changing exhibits, it's no wonder that one visit never really feels like enough. FOAM also has regular children's workshops, hosts evening dinners and provides free tours in Dutch Sign Language.

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The Chapel of the Parrot The Chapel of the Parrot

It's hard to ignore many of Amsterdam's churches, like the tall Westerkerk (next door to the Anne Frank House, which is also unmissable) and the imposing Oudekerk in the centre of the RLD. There is, however, one church that is very easy to miss – but you really mustn't: The Chapel of the Parrot or "de Papegaai", whose old wooden doorway is squashed between two shops on Kalverstraat, the city's main shopping street. So-called to deflect attention from the Catholic masses that were held there during 16th-century Protestant rule, inside is a beautiful and surprisingly peaceful church. Complement your visit with a stop at nearby Begijnhof, where a lay order of Catholic women lived for centuries, again tolerated during the reformation; it's also home to Amsterdam's oldest house.

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The Hendrijke Museum of Bags & Purses The Hendrijke Museum of Bags & Purses

An essential stop for any accessory obsessed visitor to Amsterdam, the Hendrijke Museum of Bags and Purses began as a personal collection. By the 1990s the Ivo family realised they had enough to fill a museum. So, that's what they did in the family's home in nearby Amstelveen. Their collection continued to grow and it's astonishing to think that only a fraction of the full collection is currently on display within the walls of an elegant 17th-century canalhouse on Herengracht. There's a fascinating amount of history tucked inside the hundreds of bags and purses on show in one of the world's finest fashion collections. The museum is also home to a charming café overlooking the house's gardens where you can treat yourself to one of Amsterdam's best afternoon teas.

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Main image
Rijksmuseum & Stedelijk by Reinoud Kaasschieter
Amsterdams Old Cinemas by kellinahandbasket


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