Looking for alternative and unique museums in Amsterdam? Queue at the Anne Frank House or Rijksmuseum a bit long for you? No need to panic, because Trot Op! just listed thirteen of the most unusual museums in Amsterdam: the perfect list to check off on your next city trip.
You wouldn’t say it given the hordes of drunken Dutchmen loudly getting in my way here every weekend, but compared to Amsterdam, Antwerp is a glorified provincial town. Having to admit this is a tad painful, but as far as I know I’m not blind yet and thus reality is what it is. Amsterdam is both charming and innovative, is bathing in an anything-goes atmosphere and offers visitors seemingly endless possibilities in just about every conceivable area. In short, it’s a metropolis with a name and a level of attraction we can only dream of in Belgium, and getting on a clunky tourist boat on the Bruges Canals isn’t really going to make any difference. You can do that in Amsterdam as well, and there you won’t be done with it in ten minutes.
“Amsterdam is a metropolis with a name and a level of attraction we can only dream of in Belgium.”
The result of this popularity is that the Dutch capital can get quite busy. Every halfwit with a backpack and a passport wants to go on a city trip to Amsterdam these days. As a result, it has become one of the only cities in Europe where, at the end of the day, there is actually an acute excess of tourists. This is not only noticeable in the streets, but in the most important museums in Amsterdam as well. Those who want to visit the Anne Frank House usually have to buy a ticket a week in advance, and you won’t exactly be walking around by your lonesome in the Rijksmuseum either. You simply can’t always get what you want in this life.
Discover 13 unusual museums in Amsterdam
Fortunately, the range of Amsterdam attractions is so versatile and everything is spread throughout the whole city to such an extent, you don’t even have to be in the busiest neighborhoods or museums to enjoy an extremely pleasant weekend. Let’s be honest: by now you’ve seen all you need to see of Rembrandt’s Night Watch, and there are so many sweaty dopes stumbling about on the Wallen you’ll get accidentally shoved into some canal before you know it. This is why I decided to list a bunch of more unusual museums in Amsterdam for you – I simply live to give. According to Wikipedia the city has no less than 117 museums. I selected thirteen of the most peculiar ones and then put them into a handy and – if I say so myself – bafflingly entertaining list. So today no Anne Frank House, no Rijksmuseum, no Rembrandt House, no Van Gogh Museum, no NEMO Science Museum and no Madame Tussauds: visit them in your free time; you’ll know where to find them. On offer instead: thirteen of the strangest, most alternative and most unusual museums in Amsterdam. Enjoy!*
*With an I amsterdam City Card you can enter most museums for free, and you can also use public transport without paying. Cycling is by far the most convenient means of transport in Amsterdam however, especially because the distances in this article can get a bit tricky. So take your folding bike with you or rent one on the spot. Because I am a good Samaritan, I wrote down the admission price and the possible discounts under every entry as well. You’re welcome.
1. The Cat Cabinet: an Amsterdam Museum on and for cats
You know what would immediately take a lot of insufferably boring museums to a much higher level? Let some random animals loose in it: everybody happy! A fine idea indeed, they though at the Cat Cabinet, and immediately they put their money where their mouth was. All of the art in this old townhouse is related to cats: from cat statues, cat paintings and a mourning register for your dead furry friend to a mummified Egyptian cat under a bell jar. In addition, there are also two living specimens strutting about, which seem to serve as fluffy museum wardens. They nap on tables and chairs, look bored when you take your umpteenth picture of them, and act like the whole house is theirs — and it probably is. You’ll get through the collection itself fairly quickly, so most visitors spend their time playing with the slightly contemptuous looking cats instead. There are worse ways to spend a Saturday afternoon.
The Cat Cabinet: Herengracht 497. Price: €10 (50% discount with I amsterdam City Card). www.kattenkabinet.nl
2. STRAAT: the world’s biggest street art museum is in Amsterdam
Centre of Amsterdam a bit too crowded for you? Jump on a ferry behind the Central Station (towards Buiksloterweg) and cross the water. You’ll end up in the much quieter but no less interesting Amsterdam Noord. There you’ll find the NSDM Wharf: one of the city’s most unique sites. Once the largest shipyard in the world, this is now a creative hub full of startups, associations and a popular restaurant (see photos below). The same location is home to STRAAT: an impressive street art museum in a massive old ship hangar. Although one can ask oneself the question whether street art in a museum can still be considered street art (they ask the same question themselves by the way) the answer seems to be irrelevant looking at the end product. More than 150 monumental works by the biggest names in the industry are housed here. Some of them are true masterpieces, and this is exactly what I miss in a lot of modern art today. Everyone is so focused on delivering an – often deceptively shallow – message, they regularly forget to make something actually worth seeing/beautiful. The result is often semi-intellectual clutter for your average hipster to pretend to stare at it in deep thought. Street artists still know how to amaze with the beauty of their art. Some of the works showcased here are gorgeous to the point of emotion. Not to be missed.
Street Museum Amsterdam: NSDM-Plein 1. Price: €17.50 (25% discount with I amsterdam City Card). www.straatmuseum.com
3. NXT Museum: a museum about New Media Art
NXT is also located in Amsterdam North: a museum that focuses on what they call New Media Art. Everything you see here is set up via digital installations. The result is trippy to say the least: strange Chinese games that philosophize about identity, the material world and the question of whether a soul can suffer in hell when there is no body left to feel the pain; impressive LED projections of your moving self and entire rooms that seem to spin around in psychedelic colors and patterns. Very unique and refreshing experience, especially compared to the average standard museum. Contractually I’m not allowed to write about it, but a visit to another typical Amsterdam attraction (you know which one) before you walk in here doesn’t seem like the worst idea.
NXT Museum Amsterdam: Asterweg 22. Price: €24.75 (€18.50 with the I amsterdam City Card). www.nxtmuseum.com
4. Museum Vrolik: browsing through the human anatomy
From Amsterdam North we travel all the way to the south of the city, where the AMC hospital is located far outside the city centre. There you will find Museum Vrolik next to the hospital’s main entrance: the anatomical museum of the University of Amsterdam. It was named after Gerard and Willem Vrolik, who were professors of anatomy here in the 19th century, piling up an amazing mountain of human remains in their cellar in the process (for research, no need to panic). After their deaths, this collection was donated to the university by the probably slightly troubled benefactor who found it, where they promptly turned it into a small museum. The exhibition is not exactly for everyone. You’ll see specimens in formaldehyde of just about every part of the human body, but there are also a lot of examples of physical abnormalities and disorders on display. This is a bit morbid to walk through, but very fascinating nonetheless. Don’t go if you’re a hypochondriac, or you’ll immediately have a whole laundry list of new diseases to add to your imaginary list.
Museum Vrolik: Meibergdreef 15, just enter the main entrance of the hospital. Price €7.50 (no discount). www.museumvrolik.nl
5. Micropia: learn all about the noble microbe
Speaking of diseases: you often pick them up from bacteria and other microorganisms. Still, microbes are essential for anyone who doesn’t want to immediately drop dead on the spot. You can learn all about microbes and other creepy crawlers in Micropia. This is a museum in the Artis Zoo – one of the oldest and most beautiful attractions in Amsterdam – for which you can buy a separate ticket. It‘s a modern and interactive exhibition, teaching you about the exact things crawling on your face every day. You can even scan yourself to get a more or less correct estimate of the actual number (it’s in the billions by the way, just so you know). Furthermore, you’ll discover the unreal places microbes can survive in and you can’t, there is a catalog of just about all kinds of poop in the world to marvel at, and you can help digital patients get rid of their infections through an interactive game. Feeling lucky? Then wait at the kiss-o-meter for some long-legged Dutch blonde to pass by and try and steal a kiss from her to see how many microbes you guys can exchange. Confidence is key.
ARTIS-Micropia: Plantage Kerklaan 38-40. Price: €17.50 (free with the I amsterdam City Card). People with a subscription to the Antwerp Zoo can enter Artis for free at all times. www.micropia.nl
6. Electric Ladyland: a fluorescent basement experience in Amsterdam
Electric Ladyland is a tiny museum full of fluorescent art named after Jimi Hendrix’s album. You’ll find it in Nick’s basement: a good-natured American who reminds me of Leo from That 70’s Show in all of the best ways. For five measly euros, you can listen to the man’s passionate talk for an hour – and this is surprisingly interesting. Half of the basement was converted into a psychedelic luminous cave full of buttons to press. There are also lots of stones and minerals on display. At first sight this seems about as boring as it gets, until Nick shines a blacklight and a UV lamp on them and the whole thing comes to life in a wild color storm. Nature sometimes – look at me – comes up with wonderful, magical things. Nick is quite proud of his collection and considers it his life’s work. Always pleasant to listen to someone talking about a true passion.
Electric Ladyland: Tweede Leliedwarsstraat 5. Price: €5. By appointment only. www.electric-lady-land.com
7. The Museum of the Mind: a trip into someone else’s brain
The Museum of the Mind is hidden in the beautiful Hermitage building, and focuses on so-called Outsider Art. This is art by people who want nothing to do with the established artistic world or movements and just do their own thing without prior knowledge or education. Not infrequently, these are also people with certain obsessions or mental issues. The museum doesn’t have a permanent collection. Currently running: For the Love of Art. This is an exhibition in which artists try to show their chaotic inner world to the outside. The art ranges from colourful Pokemon-like figurines to wild drawings full of conspiracy theories – think Mark the Moon Man, who’s been yelling space travel is fake at every university in Flanders for the last three decades – and a seemingly endless pile of filled-in medical forms from a woman who kept track of her physical and mental state three times a day. It’s not Rembrandt or Vermeer and you won’t understand half of it, but it’s still an interesting visit, be it just to put yourself into someone else’s maelstrom mind for a second.
Museum of the Spirit: Outsider Art, Amstel 51. Price: €17.50 (free with the I amsterdam City Card). www.museumvandegeest.nl
8. Museum Tot Zover: a museum about death
Museum Tot Zover is a small but fun museum located in a cemetery outside the city center. It focuses on normalizing death and the rituals that accompany it. The collection provides insight into how different cultures and religions deal with their dead, and showcases old and new ways of grieving. This ranges from portraits of dead family members and death masks to, for example, a modern design chair made from the ground up bones of the recently deceased. This way you can always have a sit on granny’s lap, even years after the poor old crone went tits up. In the last room of the exhibition, a single coffin is waiting for you in the dark – there is no better metaphor for life itself. You can crawl right in to test it out for a bit. Close the lid and then there is only silence: surprisingly soothing experience.
Museum Tot Zover, Kruislaan 124. Price: €10 (free with the I amsterdam City Card). www.totzover.nl
9. Our House: submerge yourself in the history of electronic music
You know what else would make the average museum way more interesting? Blow some nice tunes through it once in a while. Our House is a new and completely unique museum on the history of house, techno and other electronic music styles. The museum is located in a discotheque that still welcomes party-goers at night. A ticket is not exactly cheap, but you get a lot in return. A drink of your choice to start, but also two interactive light and music shows: a solid trip down memory lane for everyone young in the nineties. In between you can work on your own DJ skills on all kinds of digital installations, you can create your own beats on a soundboard on the wall and you can admire different artifacts from the industry (such as the helmets worn by The Chemical Brothers and Deadmau5). The whole show lasts just under an hour and a half and is more than worth the money. Time and effort were invested here.
Our House, Amstelstraat 24-26. Price: €24.99 (25% discount with the I amsterdam City Card). www.our-house.com
10. Red Light Secrets: a glimpse of life in Amsterdam’s Red Light District
Red Light Secrets is an interesting museum on the Wallen, telling you about the history and daily reality of the most famous red light district in the world. A museum about sex so to speak, but much less trivial than the somewhat childish Sex Museum a little further on. The building used to serve as a brothel itself and this atmosphere was kept. Through all kinds of rooms you walk through the life of a sex worker, and in the end you too will experience what it feels like to sit behind a window luring clients – not the most pleasant feeling by the way. Meanwhile, on the info boards and through an audio guide voiced by a Russian prostitute – you’ll learn a lot of interesting facts of the trade. For example, did you know the average paid shag only takes about six minutes? Easy money you’ll say, until you read they all run ten hour shifts. At the end of the tour you can leave a note with one of your sensual confessions on the wall. There are absolutely hilarious stories to be found here. Feel free to post your own anecdotes in the comments below. 😉
Red Light Secrets, Oudezijds Achterburgwal 60H. Price €14.50 (25% discount with the I amsterdam City Card) www.redlightsecrets.com
11. The Black Archives: teach yourself about The Netherlands’ black history
The Black Archives is – as the name suggests – an archive, but also serves as a cultural centre and an exhibition space showcasing the black history of the Netherlands. Currently, Facing Blackness is running here, showing you how people of colour were (and sometimes still are) represented in Dutch books and media. This makes for some sobering images. There are quite some relatively recent (children’s) books on display with titles I won’t even write down here. They also built a cardboard tower full of extracts from (mainly Belgian) comic books, in which the many African stereotypes were blurred. Unfortunately this makes for a tower of considerable height, and none of us even noticed while reading these comics as a kid. The entire debate concerning Black Pete is of course documented as well. Not the most comfortable exhibition, but one that is very needed.
The Black Archives, Zeeburgerdijk 21. Prijs: €10 (geen karting). www.theblackarchives.nl
12. The Amsterdam Torture Museum: a treasure trove for the connoisseur
Amsterdam, like a number of other cities, has its own Torture Museum. In this case it’s a small and dark exhibition in a building on the waterside. You can enjoy a rich collection of torture instruments here, while at the same time getting some tips on how to actually put them to use. Everything is quite rudimentary and you’ll get through it in about 30 minutes, but for those of you building a sex dungeon, it could turn out to be quite interesting. The final word before you go out again does give food for thought. “Torture has never been eradicated. Even in Western democracies, the executioner’s work continued to exist. How many people today are calling for the reintroduction of the death penalty? Would today’s audience really be so different from the mob that used to cheer on the executioner?” A pertinent question. To be honest, the Torture Museum in Bruges is larger and they use convincing wax figures to make the whole thing a bit more realistic. Knowledge is power.
Torture Museum Amsterdam, Singel 449. Price: €9.5 (no discount). www.torturemuseum.org
13. The Amsterdam Cheese Museum: literally just a cheese shop
To finish things off, I’ll be talking about a museum that isn’t actually a museum. The Amsterdam Cheese Museum is no more than a cheesemonger’s devious ruse to lure people to his business. There’s no extensive exhibition on the how and why of cheese making, but a minimal display in the basement of a shop you first have to get through. Since the exhibition is free and you can also taste some samples along the way, this shouldn’t be whined about as long as you know what to expect. It’s not the Rijksmuseum, but at least they’re not ripping you off. Every smart business decision that doesn’t hurt anyone should be respected. Two houses away you’ll find the Amsterdam Tulip Museum, which most likely suffers from the same flaw.
The Amsterdam Cheese Museum, Prinsengracht 112. Price: completely free. www.cheesemuseumamsterdam.com
Unusual museums in Amsterdam: where to stay?
For this article, Trot Op! worked with the lovely people at I amsterdam. For more information about Amsterdam as a destination and for all the discounts you can enjoy with the I amsterdam City Card, click here.
During my weekend in Amsterdam I stayed at Pension Homeland. It’s located on a former navy site, a five-minute bike ride away from the Amsterdam Central Station. This used to be the building for the sailors to sleep in. From the outside it doesn’t look like the hippest place, but indoors everything was kept in vintage sixties style. My room was a small but cosy apartment and there’s also a restaurant, a café and even a microbrewery to enjoy. The site itself is an oasis of peace surrounded by water, one kilometre from the busiest part of the city. There’s also a sauna floating in the dock. Keep your trunks on though: everyone on the water can see you. www.pensionhomeland.com
So dear friends: this was my top thirteen of the most unusual museums in Amsterdam. Good for a solid weekend I think. Have I forgotten some interesting entries? Don’t agree with my list? Do you have venues to add? Let me know in the comments below.
Looking for alternative destinations near Amsterdam? Then read all about Haarlem, Laren and Hilversum, or about nearby Flevoland. Want to go on holiday elsewhere in the Netherlands? Read my posts on South Limburg or the Wadden Islands.