Amsterdam’s UNESCO-recognized canal ring (Grachtengordel to locals) is an open-air museum filled with historic landmarks and repositories of world-class art. While the city may be renowned for works of Dutch masters like Rembrandt and Van Gogh — represented in the trifecta of world-class museums on Museumplein — its cultural scene extends to avant-garde art, contemporary theater, progressive dance, and classical ballet.
With more than 50 museums devoted to everything from pop art to tulips, cats, and cheese, the Dutch capital offers something for every taste. In a city that reveres personal expression, you’ll also find an eclectic range of street art. From giant murals like the one of Anne Frank at NDSM-Werf to quirky statues like De Blauwe Vioolspeler (“The Blue Violin Player”) in Jordaan and colorful mosaics of aliens by French street artist “Invader,” Amsterdam is laced with provocative and socially conscious artwork.
For music aficionados, the spectrum is equally broad, ranging from symphony performances to opera and contemporary jazz. Whatever floats your cultural boat, you’re bound to find experiences that resonate with you in Amsterdam.
Van Gogh Museum — Set on Museumplein, the world’s largest collection of paintings by Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh showcases “Starry Night,” “Sunflowers,” “The Potato Eaters,” “Almond Blossom,” “The Bedroom,” and other renowned masterpieces. Visitors can admire the painter’s singular style through still lives, portraits, self-portraits, and landscapes. Book a private tour, attend a walk-in workshop, or visit on the last Friday evening of the month when DJs and other creative talent add to the viewing experience.
Concertgebouw — Exceptional acoustics and quality orchestral, operatic, jazz, and world music programs make Amsterdam’s concert building on Museumplein a world-class music venue. Opened in 1888, it’s now home to the renowned Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, the Dutch Philharmonic Orchestra, and the Dutch Chamber Orchestra. Arrive by 11:30 AM to secure your seat for a free lunchtime concert, held on Wednesdays throughout the year except in July and August.
ARTZUID — Since 2009, Amsterdam Sculpture Biennial ARTZUID has brought sculptures by international artists to Amsterdam’s posh Zuid District south of Museumplein. Every odd year, from mid-May to mid-September, the installations appear on leafy Apollolaan and Minervalaan — green spaces that serve as backdrops for theatrical groupings of modern and figurative sculptures interspersed with interactive spatial installations. ARTZUID guided tours start at the ARTZUID-Pavilion on Minervalaan. A free app covering a 1.5-mile route from Museumplein to Zuid offers 24/7 access to the exhibition.
The Anne Frank House — One of Amsterdam’s top tourist attractions preserves the legacy of the teen diarist who chronicled life in the secret annex on Prinsengracht from 1942 to 1944. View the hinged bookcase that provided access to where Anne Frank hid from the Nazis with her family and four other fearful Jews during World War II. Also on display is the original red-checked diary she received for her 13th birthday, shortly before the Franks were forced into hiding. Purchase an online ticket to avoid hours in line.
Rijksmuseum — Amsterdam’s national museum on Museumplein showcases Rembrandt’s “Night Watch,” among other Golden Age masterpieces. For the most intimate experience, come at 9:00 AM when the museum opens, as the most renowned works attract hordes of viewers later in the day. Allow several hours to browse more than 8,000 objects of art and history, from iconic 17th-century art to Delft porcelain and detailed ship models. New upper level galleries dedicated to the 20th-century feature paintings, furniture, photography, posters, films, and even iconic fashion like Yves Saint Laurent’s 1965 Mondrian dress. A free app, multimedia tours, and a digital game take you deeper into the collection. Manicured gardens and an outdoor chess board are accessible with no entry fee.
Dutch National Opera & Ballet — Holland’s leading force for keeping opera and ballet alive in the Netherlands presents nearly a dozen annual productions, most to sold-out audiences. With its own choir and visiting orchestras, the company is renowned for both traditional and innovative productions. Free lunch concerts are presented most Tuesdays at 12:30 PM from September to May, except during the year-end and public holidays.
Stedelijk Museum — Nicknamed “The Bathtub” thanks to its unusual exterior, Amsterdam’s museum of modern art completes the trio of renowned museums on Museumplein. Its permanent collection offers a trip through the last 150 years of modern art in Amsterdam through such movements as Bauhaus, the Amsterdam School, De Stijl, CoBrA, abstract expressionism, pop art, and minimal art. Along with paintings by masters like Cézanne, Chagall, Kandinsky, Matisse, Picasso, Pollock, and Warhol, exhibits feature sculptures, furniture, ceramics, posters, and jewelry dating from 1870 to the present.
Royal Theatre Carré — Opened as a circus venue in 1887, this neo-Renaissance theater overlooking the Amstel River offers a full calendar of cabaret, variety shows, opera, Broadway musicals, dance performances, and pop concerts featuring such international stars as Buena Vista Social Club, Paolo Conte, and Van Morrisson. In the year-end holiday season, the venue returns to its roots with the annual World Christmas Circus. Check the Last Minute Ticket Shop in the Stadsschouwburg for discount tickets to select performances.
Eye Film Museum — Perched like an ivory spaceship on the northern bank of the IJ, this striking structure is an homage to international cinema. Interactive displays, four movie screening rooms, a museum shop, and exhibit space with rotating shows make it a must-see for movie fans. Topping the contemporary structure is the eye-popping EYE restaurant, where you can wash down a few bitterballen with beer on tap against a backdrop of the IJ.
Stadsschouwburg — In an ambiance of 19th-century splendor, enjoy the best of Dutch theater in Amsterdam’s neo-Renaissance-style municipal theater on Leidseplein. Designed like a court theater with grand stairs, red velvet curtains, golden chandeliers, and seating for different social ranks (including a special box for the king), it’s the perfect venue for a sophisticated night out on one of the city’s liveliest public squares. Many productions include English subtitles.
Street Art Museum Amsterdam (SAMA) — Aside from an office maintained for legal reasons (and as a base for student interns), this contemporary eco-museum has no walls to contain its growing collection of some 200 artworks by internationally acclaimed street artists. View much of it on a private or group tour following a 2.5-mile route through Amsterdam’s gentrifying Nieuw-West. Led by knowledgeable, local guides, the two-hour circuits take you to a range of open-air artistry on buildings and sidewalks, combined with stories about immigration, inclusion, and environmental justice.
Muziekgebouw aan ‘t Ij/Bimhuis — In a sleek, Danish-designed building on the IJ River, this contemporary music venue sports a concert hall with flexible walls, chairs, ceiling, and floor, making it ideal for intimate chamber music performances, as well as symphony productions. More than 250 concerts each season feature classical, electronic, and world music. Integrated into the building is a striking 3D black box where Bimhuis presents contemporary jazz.