By Raphael Kadushin
Amsterdam’s trio of big three museums—the Rijksmuseum, the Van Gogh Museum, and the Stedelijk—qualify as the city’s arty trinity. But they aren’t all that the cultural capital has to offer. Once you’ve made the obligatory pilgrimage to Rembrandt’s Night Watch and Van Gogh’s sunflowers consider four smaller, under-the-radar museums, all within an easy walk from the Dylan, that offer their own kind of masterworks.
1— Museum of the Canals
Museum of the Canals (Herengracht 386) sits in a grand, double-fronted seventeenth century merchant house close to the golden bend of the Herengracht, and that’s fitting. Devoted to exploring the development of Amsterdam’s horse-shoe shaped Canal District the Museum offers a multi-media history that pays tribute to one of the Europe’s great architectural wonders. How did a marshy, waterlogged little port grow into a monumental capital? The Museum’s Interactive lesson starts with a gallery, carpeted in sand, that demonstrates how wooden piles were driven into the water, to hold the canal houses that started popping up in the sixteenth century. Then the exhibit rolls out a sensory explosion of model canal houses, miniature city landscapes, and holographic figures that evoke the evolution of the city’s liquid heart. Videos of contemporary life on the canals bring the story up to date; there is a video of the Beatles’ visit to the city, and of the day an entire car was fished out of the water.
2— Dutch Costume Museum
The newly opened Dutch Costume Museum (Herengracht 427) shows off the kind of native artistry that goes way beyond wooden shoes and white lace caps. Each regional pocket of Holland produced its own exuberant folk costumes and the seven rooms of the Museum pay full tribute to that grassroots fashion show. How elaborate did those folk costumes become? Consider the flamboyant dresses of Hindeloopen, a northern, Frisian fishing port where a dizzying mix of influences (East Asian trading partners, Nordic contacts and local artists) resulted in almost psychedelic textiles dense with swirling, jewel-toned blossoms and vines. Even the homely hair pins that snake out under the Dutch lace cap tell a cultural story that the Costume Museum eloquently evokes. The shape, size and color of the pins, it turns out, revealed whether a woman was single, married, or widowed.
3—Huis Marseille Museum of Photography
While Foam Museum tends to get more attention, it’s the Huis Marseille Museum of Photography (Keizersgracht 401) that offers the more inspired and surprising photography exhibits, unaffected by passing trends and agitprop. The Museum also frequently showcases the work of young, emerging Dutch and European photographers whose work is a real visual discovery. The recent exhibition of Scarlett Hooft Graafland’s images is typical. Capturing the ethereal wonderland of Dubai’s Red Desert, and the serene, outlier islands of a Pacific archipelago, she evokes a pure, undisturbed natural world that is quickly fading. The added bonus of any Marseille Museum visit: the chance to wander through the gallery’s own undisturbed Golden Age interior.
4— Museum of Bags and Purses
The Museum of Bags and Purses (Herengracht 573) reflects Amsterdam’s talent for both the quirky and thoughtful. Located in a sprawling canal house that was once home to a seventeenth-century Amsterdam mayor, the Museum bulges with iterations of every purse-like object ever produced, from medieval pouches to Chanel stunners. If the permanent collection of 5,000 bags, cases, purses and accessories isn’t enough the Museum also hosts temporary exhibits. A recent show, devoted to royal bags, featured everything from the Dutch royal family’s purses to, inevitably, some favorites of Queen Elizabeth, the reigning empress of handbags.
Enjoy Amstedam to the fullest with our Winter Along The Canals Package.
Raphael Kadushin is an American food and travel journalist whose work has appeared frequently in a wide range of outlets, including Condé Nast Traveler, National Geographic Traveler and the Wall Street Journal. He lived in the Netherlands as a boy and writes about Amsterdam often.