An art gallery is one of those places that should be quiet. You walk slowly, looking at the works on the walls, occasionally stopping front of one that takes your interest for a closer examination.
An art gallery is not the sort of place where you expect someone dressed as a security guard to come up to you and ask for your view on the market economy.
“If you are happy to talk with me and some other visitors about the market economy, I will give you 3 euro,” the man offers.
It’s an interesting proposition and the cash would buy me a coffee. I agree.
I’m on the second floor of the Stedelijk Museum, one of the best art galleries in Amsterdam. Although the whole museum is focused on modern art, this section is highlighting some of the most contemporary works. I think I have just become a part of one.
The organiser of our discussion ropes in a few more people. One man says he would prefer not to do it.
I suggest that this is a good example of the market economy working well – the money being offered wasn’t worth his time and he was able to choose to walk away.
Our little group grows and I’m joined by tourists from all around the world. They’re Dutch, British, American, Spanish, Australian.
The conversation flows organically and the very literal examination of market economy turns to politics, then to the influence multinationals have in the political system, then to museums and whether they are democratic or the perfect example of the negatives of a market economy.
For the record, I argue that art galleries are actually not representative of a strict market economy because they allow everyone to see the same works for the same price and prevent the most valuable masterpieces being locked away in private homes for just the wealthy elite who can afford them.
A Dutch woman disagrees with me, saying that the act of curating art and choosing who should be displayed and given prominence is a form of market in itself and doesn’t facilitate true representation.
I’m not sure who is right (although I probably still think I am) but it’s an interesting idea to ponder. And it’s very appropriate because I am here in Amsterdam with the specific aim to explore art.
To be more exact, I am here in the Netherlands for the 125th anniversary of the death of Vincent Van Gogh, one of the most famous Dutch artists of all time.
I have been to Amsterdam before but not for any great length of time. And what I have never done before is look at the art scene here in any great depth.
When I began to do that, though, I was amazed to find out how much there is on offer in the city.
It would be easy to spend days and days visiting museums and galleries full of a range of different artworks in various media and from so many different eras.
To help you get an idea of what you could see for yourself on an art trip to Amsterdam, I’ve put together a list of some of the best art galleries in Amsterdam. There is certainly a lot more than this – but these are the highlights if you want to visit the top ones!
Van Gogh Museum
Considering my mission in the Netherlands this time is to learn about Vincent Van Gogh, I have to put the Van Gogh Museum at the top of this list. It is an incredible collection of the Dutch artist’s work with more than 200 paintings and 400 drawings.
The museum is well organised into sections that illustrate the different periods of his artistic life and show the other artists who influenced him. There are three floors and the highlights of his career are given prominent displays.
Some of his letters are also shown within the museum and there is a lot of information about his career and personal life.
The Van Gogh Museum is located at Paulus Potterstraat 7, 1071 CX, Amsterdam, Netherlands.
The Van Gogh Museum is open from Saturday to Thursday from 0900 – 1800.
On Friday it is open from 0900 – 2200.
Entry to the Van Gogh Museum costs €15 for an adult. It’s free for children under 18.
You can find out more information at the Van Gogh Museum’s official website.
Next door to the Van Gogh Museum is the Stedelijk Museum and it’s worth doing both galleries at the same time. This modern art gallery features works from famous artists like Van Gogh, Matisse, Pollock, and Warhol.
Most of them are on the ground floor, as is a large section for industrial design over the decades. In my view, the real highlight is the 20th century collection on the second floor. There are hundreds of works of different sizes and media, representing every major art movement of the time.
As I mentioned in the introduction, there are even some surprising performance art pieces happening in these rooms.
The Stedelijk Museum is located at Museumplein 10, 1071 CX, Amsterdam, Netherlands.
The Stedelijk Museum is open from Friday to Wednesday from 1000 – 1800.
It’s open on Thursday from 1000 – 2200.
Entry to the Stedelijk Museum costs €15 for an adult and €7.50 for students. It’s free for children under 18.
You can find out more information on the Stedelijk Museum’s official website.
The Rijksmuseum is the most popular museum in the Netherlands and is just a few minutes away from the Van Gogh Museum and the Stedelijk Museum. It has a huge collection of about a million objects and normally displays about 8,000 of them at any one time.
For visitors interested in art, the main attraction is the 2,000 paintings from the Dutch Golden Age including many from Rembrandt. There is also a small but fascinating collection of Asian artworks.
The building is incredible in itself and only reopened in 2013 after a ten year renovation.
The Rijksmuseum is located at Museumstraat 1, 1071 XX, Amsterdam, The Netherlands.
The Rijksmuseum is open every day between 0900 and 1700.
Entry to the Rijksmuseum costs €17.50 for adults. It’s free for children under 18.
You can find out more information on the official website of the Rijksmuseum.
The Hermitage Amsterdam is an offshoot of the famous Russian museum of the same name. It hosts several temporary exhibitions at any one time (although each exhibition often runs for more than a year).
At the moment, it has an incredible collection of enormous portraits from Amsterdam in the 17th century. They show the different guilds and social groups that controlled the city during the economic height of European maritime trade.
The main room with 35 large portraits is a beautiful sight and a real highlight.
The Hermitage Amsterdam is located at Amstel 51, 1018 EJ, Amsterdam, The Netherlands.
The Hermitage Amsterdam is open every day between 1000 and 1700.
Entry to the Hermitage Amsterdam costs €15 for an adult and €5 for children aged between 6 – 16. Children under 6 are free.
You can find out more information on the official website of the Hermitage Amsterdam.
FOAM Photography Museum
There are several photography museums in Amsterdam but FOAM is the best known of them all. It changes its exhibitions regularly to showcase photographers from around the world.
The building is an old grand house and so the layout takes you through different rooms and levels, creating an interesting way to explore various themes from a single artist.
In a smaller part of the building, some works from local and upcoming photographers are on display and available for purchase.
The FOAM Photography Museum is located at Keizersgracht 609, 1017 DS, Amsterdam, The Netherlands.
The FOAM Photography Museum is open from Saturday to Wednesday from 1000 – 1800.
On Thursday and Friday it is open from 1000 – 2100.
Entry to the FOAM Photography Museum costs €11.50 for adults. It costs €9 for students.
You can find out more information on the FOAM Photography Museum official website.
Even more art museums:
If all of those museums aren’t enough for you (and they would take about two days to see properly), here are a few more to consider.
These are a bit smaller and offer some more niche displays. I would definitely recommend trying to go to one of two of them so you can see the full range of the best art galleries Amsterdam has to offer.
Museum het Rembrandthuis
A house where Rembrandt lived and worked for several years. It has a reasonable collection of his paintings and etchings.
The Cobra Museum
Works and information about the Cobra art movement in the 1940s and 1950s, which had creative freedom and social engagement at the heart of its values.
EYE film museum
The building is a stunning piece of modern architecture on the waterfront but is slightly tricky to get to because it is on the other side to most of the tourist sites. It hosts temporary exhibitions about Dutch film and visual arts.
A photography museum that has 13 different spaces, each with their own character. It places an emphasis on the visual quality of the images and less on the idea of photography as a mass medium.
THE BEST ACCOMMODATION IN AMSTERDAM
Amsterdam is not a cheap city for accommodation but I think it’s worth paying to stay in the city centre.
It’s not the cheapest but I think the Generator Hostel is the best backpacker option.
Not your average hotel, CityHub Amsterdam is a cool idea for an affordable ‘room’.
For a great designed boutique hotel, I would highly recommend The Hoxton.
And for cool modern luxury, have a look at the awesome W Amsterdam, with a great location.