An Amsterdam city guide for art lovers

From its age-old museums to its world-class contemporary art galleries, Amsterdam is a special destination for art lovers of all kinds.

The Gallery of Honour within the Rijksmuseum. Image credit: Erik Smits
The Gallery of Honour within the Rijksmuseum. Image credit: Erik Smits

It’s not difficult to trace the impact the Dutch have had on art and culture around the globe. Throughout the last few centuries, the country has produced countless influential artists, inspiring future generations to create beautiful objects. 

During your next visit to Amsterdam, soak up this stunning legacy at these museums and galleries, which showcase a world of both historic and modern-day artistic treats.

Rijksmuseum: In the historic center of the city

The Rijksmuseum. Image credit: John Lewis Marshall
The Rijksmuseum holds an incredible selection of works. Image credit: John Lewis Marshall

Founded more than 200 years ago, the Rijksmuseum boasts Amsterdam’s most impressive collection of masterpieces. Featuring more than 8,000 works drawn from the last 800 years of Dutch artistry, this is where you’ll find essential names like Van Gogh, Rembrandt, and Vermeer.

Spread across 1500 meters of gallery space, the Rijksmuseum’s collection of paintings and applied arts form an enlightening circuit, which recounts the emergence of fine art in the Netherlands. The museum highlights many famous works such as Van Gogh’s acclaimed “self-portrait” from 1889 and Rembrandt’s “Jewish Bride”. There’s also a superb selection of contemporary furniture and fashion.

What to do nearby

Once you’ve tired yourself out, it’s time to get a coffee. You can find some of the best in Amsterdam at Back to Black, a comfortable café and coffee roaster that’s only a short stroll away. Meanwhile, MOMO Restaurant & Bar serves innovative Asian fusion dishes alongside a stellar cocktail menu.

Van Gogh Museum: In the bustling square of Museumplein

Irises by Vincent van Gogh. Image credit: Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam (Vincent van Gogh Foundation)
“Irises” by Vincent van Gogh. Image credit: Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam (Vincent van Gogh Foundation)

The Van Gogh Museum is constantly bustling with people for a reason — it offers the world’s largest collection of works by the legendary artist. Situated in Museumplein alongside many other top-notch galleries, the Van Gogh Museum presents 200 paintings, 500 drawings, and 700 of Van Gogh’s personal letters. 

Since opening in 1973, the museum has provided an unparalleled look into the life of the famously troubled artist. With Van Gogh’s influence virtually unmatched, the museum regularly hosts exhibitions focusing on his contemporary’s work, including Paul Gauguin and Kazimir Malevich.

What to do nearby

Alongside the city’s massive influence on art history, Amsterdam has a long-standing tradition of cocktail making. Opposite the Van Gogh Museum, the House of Bols is an immersive museum dedicated to the world’s oldest distillery. If you’d prefer a pint, head into nearby Vondelpark and find the Blue Tea House. This well-known landmark is the perfect place to sample some local brews.

The Pufferwall at the House of Bols. Image credit: House of Bols
The Pufferwall at the House of Bols. Image credit: House of Bols

For those who favor modern over classical art, the Stedelijk Museum is Amsterdam’s best. The permanent collection showcases more than 2,500 artworks from the most important Dutch and international contemporary artists. Some iconic names you’ll come across include Andy Warhol, Pablo Picasso, and Jackson Pollock. 

Outside of the main collection, the Stedelijk has a fascinating program of exhibitions, which present a healthy mix of today’s forward-thinking artists. With an unmissable facade famously shaped like a bathtub, the Stedelijk Museum is an art lover’s sanctuary.

What to do nearby

Right around the corner from the Stedelijk Museum is the much-loved eatery The Seafood Bar. At the helm is co-founder Fons de Visscher, who has been fishing in the local waters for almost 30 years. Putting his expert knowledge to good use, the restaurant is renowned for its fresh and sustainably caught shrimp, salmon, scallops, and caviar, among other delights.

Fresh seafood abounds at the Seafood Bar. Image credit: Erick Leinberg
Fresh seafood abounds at the Seafood Bar. Image credit: Erick Leinberg

For something a little darker, Cannibal Royale is a choice spot for barbecue fans. Surrounded by gruesome decorations, this cool late-night destination specializes in decadent pulled-pork burgers and juicy steaks.

FOAM: In Grachtengordel amid 17th-century canals

Photography is a relatively new creative medium compared to the likes of painting and sculpture, but Foam demonstrates why it’s considered just as important. Occupying a chic, light-filled building overlooking a canal, there’s wall-to-wall portraiture, documentary, and art photography from the most respected names in the industry, such as Diane Arbus, Helen Levitt, and Anton Corbijn.

Functioning as a creative hub for photography in Amsterdam, Foam also invites audiences to attend forums, symposiums and film screenings, plus many other special events.

Feast for the eyes 2018. Image credit: © Foam. Photo: Christian van der Kooy
Feast for the eyes 2018 © Foam. Image credit: Christian van der Kooy

What to do nearby

Visiting the Xtracold Icebar Amsterdam is a truly unique experience. Made from 60 tons of ice, this frosty bar operates at a constant temperature of -10 C. Head inside with a thermal coat and enjoy your two free welcome drinks. 

Set on nearby Reguliersdwarsstraat, Door 74 serves cocktails that have won awards across the globe. Supported by a series of expert cocktail makers behind the bar, each drink is certain to hit the mark as you enjoy the moody Prohibition-era fit-out.

Rembrandt House Museum: A mix of new and old in Jodenbuurt

Situated in the heart of Amsterdam, Rembrandt House Museum is precisely where the Dutch Golden Age artist lived for more than 20 years. Having been transformed into a wonderful museum, the venerable space provides an ideal setting to celebrate Rembrandt’s extraordinary life and legacy.

Filled with original art, furniture, and objects from a bygone age, there are dozens of breathtaking paintings and drawings to admire. However, it’s the 290 etchings by Rembrandt that are considered particularly special. Also, the modern museum wing hosts exhibitions on the artist’s most notable predecessors and contemporaries.

What to do nearby

Upstairs Pancakes, which opened in 1962, has to be your first choice when trying Dutch-style pannenkoeken, which are larger, yet thinner than the American variety. But with only four tables, plan ahead as this restaurant is one of Europe’s smallest.

For organic cuisine lovers, Gartine is a fine choice. Hidden down a tight alleyway, it’s treasured for its delicious eggs and lunchtime high tea. Best of all, the produce comes straight from the owner’s garden.

W139: On the edge of the Red Lights in Burgwallen Oude Zijde

Celebrating its 40th year in 2019, non-profit gallery W139 was first established as an illegal artist squat but has since become part of the creative fabric of Amsterdam, with five major exhibitions taking place each year. 

Artists from across every genre exhibit their work here, with no limitations placed upon their creative freedom. If you want to experience Amsterdam’s cutting-edge art scene and catch some artists before they become mainstream, W139 is where you’ll find them.

What to do nearby

Spend enough time in Amsterdam and you’ll quickly realize there are dozens of Argentinian restaurants. One of the best is CAU Steakhouse, which serves 30-day aged steaks imported directly from the respected beef region of La Pampa in Argentina.

The Burgwallen Oude Zijde neighborhood is virtually overflowing with bars. If you can’t decide where to head, Cafe Belgique is certain to provide a fun night out. This cozy place has eight Belgian beers on tap, with many more local and international craft creations in the fridge.

Mediamatic: In the architectural surrounds of Oostelijke Eilanden

Set in a restored canal-side bank building, Mediamatic presents provocative exhibitions and workshops on new technology and media. Spread across several distinct spaces, the gallery effectively merges art, design, and science to explore issues of sustainability, culture, and the future of unconventional materials. It also has a stylish waterfront restaurant, which serves locally-sourced vegan cuisine.

What to do nearby

Antwerp’s Delirium Cafe is recognized for having one of the largest selections of beer in the world, with more than 2000 to choose from. Its Amsterdam-based sister venue might only have 500, but that’s still more than enough to find something delicious. 

Meanwhile, SkyLounge Amsterdam, which is found atop the Hilton Doubletree, provides striking panoramic views across the city. The rooftop terrace is an unbeatable spot to sip down a cocktail.


Hudson Brown

Born and raised in Melbourne, Australia, Hudson Brown is a freelance journalist who focuses on the intersection of art, culture, and travel. You can find his work in publications such as SBS Food, Treadlie and Gobe Magazine.