The Amsterdam Guide
Picture-book beautiful, friendly, and bolstered by a history so rich that even the most unassuming buildings have a story to tell, Amsterdam is an exciting—yet refreshingly approachable—city to discover. The locals are famously forward-thinking, too, evidenced by everything from the culinary landscape, to the art scene, to the retail concepts, which all feel next-level cool. Plus, every neighborhood is compact and pedestrian-friendly, so it can all be easily accessed by foot (or bike, or boat).
Rembrandt House MuseumJodenbreestraat 4, Centrum
The Rembrandt House Museum is a nice departure from Amsterdam's more conventional museums and the long lines you'll face at nearly every one. The museum building, which was the home and studio of artist Rembrandt van Rijn from 1606 to 1669, underwent extremely sophisticated restoration work in the 1990s so that would it could continue to look and feel like a house from the 17th-century. Here, you'll see many of Rembrandt's etchings, graphical pieces, and paintings. There are also demonstrations daily that are fun for the kids—either the etching printing process or a behind-the-scenes look at how paint was made in Rembrandt's day.
Anne Frank HousePrinsengracht 263-267, Grachtengordel-West | +188.8.131.52.105
Walking through the house where Anne Frank hid for more than two years—along with her family, the Van Pels family, and Fritz Pfeffer—is incredibly affecting. Although areas of the house have of course been refurbished, many original objects remain, as well as photographs, important historical documents, and handwritten notes and letters, including the diaries Anne wrote from 1942 to 1944. With great humanity, the museum's changing exhibitions portray different pieces of the Holocaust, Anne's life, the lives of the people who hid with her, and the people who helped keep the secret annex safe for two incredibly dangerous years. On a practical note: The wait to get into Anne Frank House can be long, but it's really a must-go (and captivating for school-age kids, too), so plan ahead if you can. The museum is trying a new entry system with the aim of making it easier for more people to visit. As of May 1, 2016, from 9am to 3:30pm, the museum will only be open to visitors who purchase an online ticket for a designated time slot. After 3:30pm, you'll be able to buy a ticket at the museum.
RijksmuseumMuseumstraat 1, Museumplein | +31.20.6747.000
The Rijksmuseum is the Louvre of the Netherlands—meaning you won't see it all in one go, and it's worth returning to again and again. The Rijks first opened in 1800 under a different name but it's been in its current building since 1855. It underwent a ten-year long rebuilding and renovation process, which was completed in 2013. The heart of the museum is Dutch art from the Middle Ages all the way through the 20th-century. Not surprisingly, it's best to buy a ticket online so you don't have to wait in line at the ticket office. And like other Amsterdam museums, the Rijks is generally more quiet before 10am and after 3pm.
Van Gogh MuseumMuseumplein 6, Museumplein | +31.20.57.05.200
Although the breadth of the Rijksmuseum is impressive, there's something pretty incredible about being able to see the work of a single artist curated in great depth in one place. You'll see many of Vincent Van Gogh's most famous paintings (Sunflowers, Irises, The Potato Eaters) in the museum's permanent collection, as well as fascinating, lesser-known works in the evolving exhibition wing. There are also pieces by Van Gogh's contemporaries (e.g., Émile Bernard, Paul Gaugin, Maurice Denis) on display, which adds an interesting layer of context. All together, the museum tells a thorough story of Van Gogh's life and legacy, both of which are often shrouded in myth. Buy tickets online if you can. Also, depending on what time of year you're in Amsterdam, the museum may have extended hours, and the evenings tend to be less crowded times to visit.
FoamKeizersgracht 609, Grachtengordel | +184.108.40.206.500
Housed in a beautiful old canal-side home, Foam is the place to go in Amsterdam to see interesting photography of every medium—from both established photographers and up-and-comers. (The museum has a designated exhibition space for new talent, which is a great place to discover rising artists.) In addition to their gallery space, Foam also organizes contemporary photography events and lectures, and publishes an international photography magazine three times a year.
Kröller-Müller MuseumHoutkampweg 6, Otterlo | +31.318.591.241
Kröller-Müller is a couple hours outside of Amsterdam—you can get there by train/bus—and it is so worth it. The museum was a lifelong dream of a woman named Helene Kröller-Müller, who had one of the largest private collections of art the 20th-century has seen, acquiring close to 11,500 works of art with her husband between 1907 and 1922. The museum, which opened in 1938, is located in Hoge Veluwe National Park. The Kröller-Müller sculpture garden is one of the largest in Europe, with more than 160 sculptures on display from artists like Aristide Maillol, Marta Pan, and Pierre Huyghe. The museum is also home to the second-largest Van Gogh collection (after the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam), as well as works by Monet, Seurat, Picasso, Mondrian, and more.
Dutch National Opera & BalletAmstel 3, Centrum | +220.127.116.11.455
Seeing an opera or a ballet in Amsterdam is—in a word—magical. Housed in the canal-side Stopera building, which is also home to Amsterdam's City Hall, the Dutch National Opera and Ballet took on its current name in early 2014 to reflect the official partnership of the Dutch National Ballet, The Amsterdam Music Theatre, and De Nederlandse Opera (also renamed to the Dutch National Opera). In 2016, the Dutch National Opera and the Dutch National Ballet will share the stage for the first time in a production of Hector Berlioz's Roméo et Juliette, directed by Sasha Waltz. The rest of the programming for 2016 and 2017 looks just as wonderful.
Electric Boat Tours| +31.61.478.4078
Big group boat tours are easily accessible in Amsterdam, but lest you want your view of the city’s greatest sights obstructed by the heads of 80+ fellow tourists, a private or semi-private tour might be a worthy splurge. This is where Captain Heijn and his fleet of electric boats come in. His boats are all immaculate and emission-free (i.e. quiet and no fumes), can accommodate couples and small groups, and the cruises are 100% customizable. You’re welcome to bring drinks on board and the captain will gladly arrange dinner from a local restaurant should you wish to make it a culinary cruise.
Yellow Backie + Bike Rentals| +18.104.22.16840
Walking is great and all, but the undisputed best way to get around Amsterdam is by bike. What Yellow Backie does is allow visitors to essentially hitch a ride on the back of a local’s bike. While it’s clearly aimed at the adventurous types, hailing a Backie is a lot like hailing a cab: spot a yellow bike rack (volunteers are given them for free), yell out “Backie,” and hop on. For the traditionalists, Yellow Bike, which initiated this hitchhiking experiment, facilitates daily bike rentals and group bike tours, too.
Hortus BotanicusPlantage Middenlaan 2A, Plantage | +31.20.625.9021
This meticulously manicured oasis in a quiet neighborhood also happens to be one of the oldest botanical gardens in the world. Here you’ll find countless flower species, a butterfly habitat (kids love this part), tropical hothouses, and gigantic, night-flowering water lilies. The grounds are not too vast, so you can see them in their entirety in a few hours. As is the case with most of Amsterdam’s best activities, there’s a lovely café on site.
This long, narrow park, which is easily accessible from most parts of the city, is one of the best places to get a feel for the city—you’ll find locals everywhere with strollers, dogs on leashes, and some drool-worthy picnics. From the gate entrance around the walking path loop and back is about 2.5 miles, so it’s also a nice option for runners.
The Humble Vintage Bike Rentals| +31.62.264.0380
If you want to do as the locals do, rent a bicycle—it’s the easiest way to get around the city (and also the cheapest). Touristy bike rentals are on basically every corner, but the Humble Vintage will deck you out in cool, vintage-inspired single-speeds that won’t lose a chain on you at every corner. Ten-speeds are available.