Art and culture in Castles & Gardens
Filled with castles, fortress towns, gardens and museums, the Castles & Gardens area is certainly not short of culture. Learn everything about the background of the region, from the wealthy merchants that once called it home and their country estates to the part it played in defending Amsterdam from the city’s enemies.
Singer Laren Museum
Art fans should not miss the Singer Laren Museum which houses impressive collections of work from 1880-1950 assembled by Anna and William Singer in the early 20th century. Along with various changing exhibitions, the impressive permanent display is well worth a visit. In the grounds, the stunning sculpture garden - designed by renowned landscape architect Piet Oudolf - features work by contemporary Dutch artists including Guido Geelen, Maria Roosen and Famke van Wijk. Based around a theme of connection, the works meld culture and nature and are nestled in between beautiful seasonal fauna.
Naarden & The Dutch Fortress Museum
The charming town of Naarden dates from 1350 and is one of the most remarkable examples of a preserved fortified town. From the air, the town’s unique layout resembles a gigantic snowflake, comprising six bastions, a double rampart and a double ring of canals. The history of Naarden is explained at the fascinating Dutch Fortress Museum, which features canons, weapons, uniforms and an audiovisual presentation. Experience how the soldiers protected Amsterdam and its surroundings from enemies from the east, and explore the dark corners of the fortress, where the soldiers once fought, lived and slept.
Located in Hilversum’s 250-year-old town hall, this inspiring museum has a special focus on new media arts and photography. On top of a changing programme of roughly 10 exhibitions a year, the museum hosts both World Press Photo and De Zilveren Camera - the most important journalistic photo competition in the country. Keep an eye on the agenda for lectures, performances or media labs and drop by the cosy café for refreshments during your visit.
Kasteel Museum Sypesteyn
The final heir to the Van Sypesteyn family, Henri van Sypesteyn (1857-1937) built this magnificent Castle-Museum to preserve his family’s 500-year lineage. Located in the middle of the Vecht region, the castle houses a fascinating art collection and exhibition on the Van Sypesteyn family, while the beautiful garden is perfect for a walk. Be sure to check opening times as the castle is closed during the winter months.
Seen across the water, the tiny island of Pampus looks like any other island. But take a closer look and you’ll see this is no natural landmass at all, but a submerged sea fort built in the 1890s to protect Amsterdam from its enemies. Visit Pampus by boat to explore the various secret tunnels, battlements and historical artefacts dotted around the island. The fortress was once part of the Defence Line of Amsterdam and makes for a fascinating day out for visitors of all ages.
The Cobra Museum of Modern Art
The Cobra Museum is a must-see for modern art lovers, with changing exhibitions featuring the great names of the mid-20th-century CoBrA movement, such as Karel Appel, Constant, Corneille and Jan Sierhuis. There are also major temporary exhibitions of work by individual artists and their contemporaries from related movements, as well as temporary exhibitions of modern and contemporary art.
Situated in Amstelveen's ‘Old Village’, Museum JAN specialises in glass art and Dutch design. Over the years it has assembled a rich collection of modern work by the masters in this field, as well as other sculptures and paintings.
This club and live music venue with outstanding acoustics hosts smaller touring bands and acts as well as up-and-coming local musicians. The club nights focus on techno, electro and indie.
More than 20 years ago, the Netherlands' best-known interior architect Jan des Bouvrie opened Het Arsenaal in a monumental building in the fortress town of Naarden. He used it as a store and showroom for his designs. A restaurant and other interior-related shops are now also located in the building, making Het Arsenaal an important centre for anyone interested in design, gastronomy and fashion.
Defense Line of Amsterdam
The Stelling van Amsterdam (Defense Line of Amsterdam) is a 135-kilometre ring of fortifications around the city that once protected it from invaders and was added to the UNESCO World Heritage Site list in 1996. Consisting of flooded areas (inundations) and 46 forts, the area acted as a final line of defense for the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Both Muiden and Weesp are fantastic starting points for exploring the area with special bike routes that take you past the most beautiful highlights, among them Fort Island Pampus, Fort Uitermeer and Amsterdam Castle Muiderslot.
Muiden is home to the grand Amsterdam Castle Muiderslot – built around 1285 – which looms over the mouth of the River Vecht. Given its drawbridge, five towers, moat and battlements, it will probably come as no surprise that the castle and grounds have been used in several TV shows set in the Middle Ages. Many of the castle's chambers have been restored to reflect the splendour that its owners enjoyed during the 17th century. Families can take a tour through the impressive knight’s hall, towers, dungeon and armory or dress up like a real knight and try your hand at jousting.
Filled with boutiques, historical buildings and riverside terraces, the charming town of Weesp looks like a miniature version of Amsterdam thanks to its many canals. The town dates back to the 14th century and – as you’d expect – features dozens of fortifications and battlements. Weesp’s former town hall is a stately, neoclassical building and now houses the municipal museum, which is largely devoted to 18th-century porcelain crafts.
With its breathtaking rural views and bustling riverside terraces the medieval village of Ouderkerk aan de Amstel is a charming spot to spend an afternoon. In the centre of the village, the Beth Haim cemetery is a fascinating place for a tranquil stroll. Filled with ornately carved marble gravestones which feature beautiful inscriptions in Dutch, Portuguese and Hebrew, the graves belong to Spanish and Portuguese Jews who fled to the Netherlands in the 17th century, as well as their descendants.
Huizen Nautical Quarter
Stroll around the Nautical Quarter of Huizen, complete with a school, waterside café and 19th-century town hall, and be transported back to a charming Zuiderzee village. The Mayor’s residence, doctor’s, grocer’s and fish market all add to the allure, as do the boathouses across the water. Perfectly complementing the old world charm, you'll also find a range of modern facilities including a spa, bars and restaurants and a hotel.