Despite its petite size, the Netherlands packs an enormous cultural punch. Its architecture, cityscape, and history are so unique. Below are some of the engaging, thought-provoking, informative cultural exhibitions we visited in our time there:
Museum of the Canals (Amsterdam): This newer museum is housed in a double fronted townhouse on Herengracht, right in the heart of the city. It tells the story of the urban-planning and construction of Amsterdam’s canals, including a scale-model of the underground machinations required to build on the silty marshland beneath Amsterdam. This museum is a fully multi-sensory experience, allowing you to feel the sandy bottom of the canals and hear the city’s early engineers discuss its design.
Escher in the Palace (The Hague): This museum was a trip through the fantastical, geometric, topsy turvy mind of Maurits Cornelis Escher. It takes you from his days of more realistic painting of the Italian coastline to mind-bending tessellations of birds into fish and other impossibly interconnected images. On the top floor, there are various immersive experiences which allow you to test the reality of Escher’s images and place yourself within his optical illusions.
Mauritshuis (The Hague): This museum of classical Dutch painting features many of the stars in the nation’s collection, including Vermeer’s “Girl with the Pearl Earring” and Rembrandt’s “The Anatomy Lesson.” I was particularly struck by the luscious still lives of food! Each platter made my mouth water.
Below are some Dutch sites that we didn’t get to on this trip, but have enjoyed in the past:
The Rijksmuseum (Amsterdam): This palatial collection on Museumplein houses many works of Rembrandt, the master of light, as well as the other “Dutch Masters.” Its shining feature is the enormous and strikingly skillful “The Night Watch,” but the vast seascapes of naval battles are also not to be missed.
Van Gogh Museum (Amsterdam): Just across Museumplein from the Rijksmuseum is this homage to one of the greatest Dutch painters, Vincent Van Gogh. His impressionism and use of vibrant color is the perfect counterpoint to the darkness of the earlier Dutch masters.
Anne Frank Huis (Amsterdam): Walking through the crawl space where the Frank family hid during World War II is a chilling window into the terror felt under the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands. We are so lucky that Anne preserved her memories in writing, so we can get a glimpse of what her family, and other Jewish victims of the Holocaust faced. This site is an absolute must.
The Heineken Experience (Amsterdam): Craft beer culture has taken off in the Netherlands, and is slowly displacing the long-held tradition of one bar, one beer. (See: Gebrouwen door Vrouwen and Brouwerij ‘t Ij). Yet, Heineken is still the city’s beloved classic. I loved walking through the entire brewing process, from stewing hops, to smelling the fermentation, to drinking a free beer at the end! NOTE: One of my favorite things about the Netherlands is that, rather than chugging an entire pint, it is perfectly acceptable to avoid bloating by ordering a fluitje or biertje (only 200ml!).
The National Maritime Museum (Amsterdam): This is one of my favorite museums in Amsterdam. That may be because Victor gets adorably geeky around paintings of Dutch sailing vessels, but the Dutch’s seafaring history is fascinating! Definitely worth a visit if you have the time.
What other museums have you been to in the Netherlands that we should visit on our next trip? Any in Rotterdam, Eidhoven, or other cities we should add to our must-see list?