Art and culture in Amsterdam City Centre
Where do we even start? Art, photography, galleries, cabaret, jazz, comedy, concerts, churches, history and canal houses; there is just so much for culture aficionados to appreciate in Amsterdam Centrum - and that’s before we’ve mentioned the Museum Quarter. This handy guide to cultural hotspots in the historic centre should give you a few pointers on where to start digging, depending on your interests.
The Old Masters
Rembrandt van Rijn - have you heard of him? Rembrandt House Museum is a beautifully restored townhouse that provides a multifaceted insight into the far-reaching legacy of the legendary Dutch painter. The changing exhibition programme showcases the museum’s almost complete collection of original etchings along with pieces by Rembrandt’s predecessors, contemporaries and students. Need more uninterrupted gazing at masterful brush strokes? The Museum Quarter is built for you. Grab yourself a City Card and hop foot it straight to the Rijks and/or the Stedelijk Museum for a touch of contemporary art.
One of the oldest and most unique museums in the city, Ons’ Lieve Heer op Solder, a remarkably well-preserved canal house from the 17th century, has a secret in its attic. Follow the narrow corridors and staircases past the historically furnished living areas and kitchens until you reach the highlight: a complete Catholic church hidden in the rafters. This ornate space was built in 1663 when masses were officially prohibited to reveal an inspiring story of Dutch religious tolerance. Like surprises? This rundown of museums with secret gardens has some great suggestions for where to find more hidden gems in Amsterdam Centrum.
Situated in one of the most charming parts of Centrum, Noorderkerk is an idyllic setting for a matinee recital, regularly attracting an audience of classical experts and curious newcomers. Every August, various venues throughout the Canal Belt come alive for the magnificent Grachtenfestival. Soak up the atmosphere as contemporary and classical music is performed on various stages; by the water, and even on a floating pontoon. If you appreciate music in unusual venues, keep an eye on Amsterdam’s cultural agenda for summer open-air concerts in the botanical gardens, the Red Light Jazz Festival and various performances in more of the city’s historic churches - all known for their outstanding acoustics.
Boom Chicago has been tickling the ribs of audiences for over 25 years with its combination of comedy, sketch and improv - all performed in English. Shows touch on everything from Dutch culture to American politics, and many big names - including Seth Meyers and Oscar-winner Jordan Peele - got their start here. Don’t miss the Boom Chicago Comedy Festival each summer. Alternatively, De Kleine Komedie is one of the city’s oldest and most loved venues. Its long history can even count King Willem I and Napoleon as regulars but is now frequented by more contemporary guests staging entertaining variety shows.
Located in a former orphanage, Amsterdam Museum tells the origin story of this historic trading city, chronicling how it has maintained its culture of creativity and free-thinking for over millennia. Artworks, household items, books, archaeological artefacts and journals are all brought together in interactive displays. And if you fancy going further back in time, you can follow the tracks of the Egyptians, Greeks and Romans at the newly-renovated Allard Pierson Museum, housed in a grandiose former bank in the Red Light District.
If you’re someone that loves a good map, the largest treasure trove of municipal history in the world is stored in a monumental Art Deco building at the Amsterdam City Archives. With over 50 kilometres of objects and photographs, visitors can delve into whichever slice of history they are most fascinated by. Alternatively, check out the Grachtenmuseum for another fascinating glimpse into the development of this city built on water.
Amsterdam is fast becoming a hotspot for camera-lovers, with numerous museums, galleries and exhibitions dedicated to all things photography. Every year, World Press Photo showcases the very best of news imagery from around the globe, assembled into a travelling exhibition that takes over De Nieuwe Kerk for several months. There’s always something to catch the eye at FOAM, the internationally renowned photography gallery which showcases cutting-edge talent. Or, drop by the opulent period rooms of Huis Marseille for a varied exhibition program shown across two seventeenth-century canal houses. Keep an eye on our seasonal exhibition guide for an overview of what’s on and where.
Amsterdam’s contemporary art scene is eternally evolving, fueled by the rich programming of independent galleries and smaller exhibition spaces. De Brakke Grond is a cultural centre championing everything that is Flemish in the Netherlands; art, literature, dance, theatre, music, you name it. The varied schedule, quaint courtyard garden and atmospheric café make this unique space well worth checking out. Elsewhere in Centrum, dynamic artist-run spaces like W139 have their roots in the underground squatting movement of the 1970-80s. Read about all this and more in our guide to smaller contemporary art spaces in Amsterdam.