I’ve been in Amsterdam only for a few days so I didn’t have the chance of seeing all the museums that I liked – there are so many! Anyway, I did my best, and at a pace of a museum or two per day, here is what I found.
Very simply, some museums I visited in Amsterdam were an unexpected disappointment. Did I have too high expectations? Did I visit the wrong museums? Maybe. On the other hand some of them were just fantastic.
Here is what I saw and what I think, from meh to wow.
This museum is a joke. I knew it wasn’t great from the reviews I read, and I changed my mind various times on whether going or not. But then, you know, the ticket is just 4€ and when in Amsterdam you find yourself walking on Damrak (the esplanade just in front of Centraal Station) quite a lot, so one day I finally entered. I don’t remember anything remarkable about it. Basically it’s a collection of old, creepy puppets that are intended to show the history of sex (mainly prostitution) and on the upper floor there’s the “historical part” with a collection of black and white photos of people having sex, plus some archeological finds of rudimental dildos and such.
I went because I was curious. Also, I visited the New York Museum of Sex and that was great – still awkward and sometimes fun, but at least interesting. Maybe that’s why I expected something more from this one. I say save your 4€ and get some yummy fries at Chipsy King instead!
If I really have to say something good about it, well, the building is very nice.
Van Gogh Museum
I am sorry but meh. This was the biggest disappointment, because I really had expectations on this one. I was so excited. I felt so lucky as I could skip the long queue thanks to the free ticket I was given – thanks for that (normally the admission fee is €14)! But then, once inside, I quickly turned from excited to disappointed. I tried to keep the excitement but it was gone shortly after I entered. Nothing to do.
The thing is: I am sure the paintings are great and there are some real masterpieces in the collection, but have you seen them? Because I didn’t. The place was ridiculously overcrowded and as I heard from other people afterwards, that day was not an exception. I found myself stumbling into people, or getting my toes stepped on by someone more than once.
In order to see the paintings you can either thread your way through the crowd and find yourself too close to them, or stay away and see nothing. Your call.
I personally believe that they should put a limit to the number of visitors, as they do in many other venues such as the Cappella Sistina in Rome or even the Anne Frank Museum in Amsterdam. This way, the visit would be much more enjoyable.
Pity, because the crowd took away all the atmosphere and I had to leave after just one hour of attempts to enjoy the visit. Also, the building itself is not impressive. I may be spoiled on this one, because it’s hard to find a building interesting after you visit museums such as the New Museum or the Guggenheim in New York.
NEMO Science Center
I’m a little nerd so I always try and visit science museums wherever I go. For instance, I totally loved the Miraikan Science Museum in Tokyo, and again maybe I was a little spoiled after that one.
Again I was very excited about visiting NEMO, but once I entered I found out that the science center is mainly dedicated to children – maybe it was my fault because I didn’t make enough research in advance. For adults it’s not very interesting, and I’ll tell you why: all the scientific “experiments” that you can do at NEMO are explained in a simplistic way for kids, but in my opinion while the children only want to press buttons and don’t bother much about the phenomena behind them, adults don’t find an exhaustive description. Moreover, not all the instruction have an English version… and Dutch is not an easy language!
The entrance fee is €14, quite a lot! So unless you have kids (they’ll love it) you can just walk all the way to NEMO and enjoy the promenade on the sea, also because the building is really spectacular and worth seeing. It was designed by the worldwide famous Italian architect Renzo Piano.
The fun thing about NEMO is that among all the scientific demonstrations and experiments, you finally find yourself in the “Sex” area, which looked awkward to me as the museum is for children. I saw mothers showing their kids some videos about orgasms, masturbation and so on. That looked odd to me, but it’s probably because the Dutch people are famously known as open minded… Italians aren’t.
FOAM – International Photography Museum
Finally! Finally! Finally! A great museum. A very well spent €8,50. The quality and the selection of the photos is just amazing. The building is very nice and located in a quiet area. It’s just the right size – enough to keep you busy for an hour or two, but not too big to make you bored.
There were different collections being shown when I visited the FOAM, covering very different kinds of photography – from fashion to reportage, from travel to conceptual. Of course I was more fascinated by some subjects than others: I pretty much skipped the fashion section, with an exception for the video “A touch of evil”. This really amused me. Basically it’s a video about various Hollywood starts portrayed in gross or grotesque ways. I suggest you to look for it!
Other collections I loved at FOAM were:
“Let’s sit down before we go” by Bertien van Manen – a documentary through photos taken in Russia with basic cameras, between 1991 and 2009.
“The looks they get” by Catherine Saint Louis – portraits of Muslim people and the discrimination against them after 9/11.
“The Kuwait nightmare” by Sebastiao Salgado – a touching documentary on the struggle to stop the burning of oil wells in 1991 by the firefighters and workers. You can almost feel their pain. This is when you understand the power of photography!
World Press Photo
With the FOAM ticket you can get €2 off the entrance fee to the World Press Photo exhibit at Oude Kerk, if you go on the same day. Otherwise the ticket is €8. You don’t want to miss that!
As I wrote on their guestbook, this exhibit is worth a trip all the way to Amsterdam! It literally made me cry. Most of the photos this year are about the Arab Spring, and of course I was moved because the topic touches me in a very personal way. But still. Some photos are really indescribable, such as the World Press Photo of the Year by Samuel Aranda.
Other than that, there are many categories such as sports, nature, portraits, daily life etc. Simply fantastic. This was my favorite museum of the whole stay.
The location is very easy to find: the exhibit takes place in Oude Kerk, a church in the center of Amsterdam, just a few minutes away from Centraal Station… and in the middle of the Red Lights District! How bizarre for a church, I thought.
The exhibit is on from April 20 to June 17, 2012. If you can, don’t miss it!
Anne Frank Huis
Two tips: book in advance on the website (€9.50 for the ticket with reservation), and try to visit as late as possible. During the day, you’ll see never ending lines of people waiting outside of this small museum. I booked a ticket for 7.20 pm and arrived around 7: there was no-one in line so I was allowed to enter earlier than expected, and had the museum all for myself.
The Anne Frank Museum is a powerful experience that tells a very sad story. You will see the house where Anne Frank and her family were hiding before being caught by the Germans and taken to the concentration camp of Auschwitz and then Bergen-Belsen. You will see the original pages of her diary, and the posters and stickers on her room walls.
Everyone should visit this museum.
A very interesting part of the museum is the interactive exhibition “Free to Choose”. Basically, the visitors can sit in a big room where some videos are shown. Everyone has 2 buttons next to their seats: a green one for “yes” and a red one for “no”. The videos show videos about social and political topics, like the burka ban or freedom of speech. At the end of each video there is a question, and everyone can secretly vote. The total results are shown on the screens and… surprise! Even if we were just about 10 people in the room, there was never a unanimity in the votes. So frustrating! This really makes you think.
These were all the museums that I visited during my stay in Amsterdam. Did you also visit them? Do you agree with me or…? Feel free to share your opinions! I hope my tips are helpful. :)