No visit to Amsterdam is complete without exploring the Rijksmuseum, the Van Gogh Museum and the contemporary art museum Stedelijk. However, did you know that Amsterdam has more than 50 museums? Some of them are quite quirky, some almost bizarre. So, on your next trip to Amsterdam, make some time for these offbeat museums in Amsterdam.
Museum of Bags & Purses
The Museum of Bags & Purses (Tassenmuseum) is the only museum in the world dedicated to such a specialised collection. Take a step back into time and see how the humble handbag evolved from the late Middle Ages to today. It’s a fascinating mix of history and fashion. There’s a permanent collection of more than 5,000 bags and purses, including some celebrity bags like those of Madonna and Margaret Thatcher.
The enigmatically named Electric Ladyland is a fluorescent art museum, the only one of its kind in the world. It has a permanent collection of fluorescent artworks, advertisements, and artefacts from the 1930s and 1950s. See a demonstration of fluorescent minerals – common looking grey stones that burst into a multitude of colours when seen under different wavelengths of light. You can also pitch in to create a piece of fluorescent art.
Located close to the Anne Frank House Museum is the Amsterdam Cheese Museum dedicated to Dutch cheese. It is essentially a cheese shop with a small exhibition area. You can get a glimpse of 600 years of Dutch cheese making through photos and videos. Cheesemongers wearing traditional Dutch clothes double up as tour guides. In addition, you get a chance to sample a variety of Dutch cheese, from fresh, unpasteurised cheese to aged Gouda.
If you love cats, make your way to Kattenkabinet, a quirky museum dedicated entirely to the feline species – specifically to references to cats in art and culture. A wealthy Dutchman, William Meijer founded the museum in 1990 in memory of his beloved cat, Tom. There are cat-themed paintings, sculptures, photographs, and posters. And needless to say, there are a few friendly cats to keep you company as you wander around the museum.
In a city of canals, it’s no wonder that there’s a museum dedicated to houseboats. The Woonbootmuseum or Houseboat Museum in Amsterdam gives you a glimpse of the houseboat life. The museum is a former freighter built in 1914 and converted to a houseboat named Hendrika Maria in the 1960s. Inside, you can see what a typical houseboat looks like – there’s a sizable living room, kitchen, bedroom, bathroom, and a skipper’s quarter complete with a sleeping bunk. There’s also a projection room where you can see a short film on the practicalities of living on a houseboat.
The Amsterdam Pipe Museum is dedicated to the history of smoking pipes throughout history. The collection traces the pipe’s origin in Northern America in 500 BC and its evolution to modern day. Take a look at iconic pipes like the Gouda churchwarden, German porcelain pipe bowls with miniature paintings, and carved wooden pipes. The museum includes smoking paraphernalia from across the world – African ceremonial pipes, Aboriginal pipes made with plant stems, carved Maori pipes, and Chinese opium pipes.
Museum Vrolik is probably Amsterdam’s weirdest museum, and that’s saying a lot! The 19th-century medical professor Gerardus Vrolik, his son Willem built up an extraordinary collection of medical artefacts. This included skeletons, skulls, and conserved anatomical specimens. Some showed birth defects, while others were of Siamese twins and cyclopean babies (born with only one eye). This museum is certainly not for the faint-hearted! The museum also has a collection of animal artefacts such as the heart of a lion and the eye of a whale and more.
Amsterdam Tulip Museum
Think Holland and no doubt you will imagine the colourful tulip fields forever immortalised in Bollywood movies. So it’s no surprise that Amsterdam has a museum dedicated to these gorgeous flowers. The Amsterdam Tulip Museum gives a historical perspective on this national icon, from the flower’s journey to the country during Ottoman times. There are fascinating insights as well. Did you know that in the 17th century, Holland was in the grips of ‘tulip mania’? The tulip was a luxury item and a status symbol. People paid vast sums of money to buy a single bulb!
So which of these offbeat museums in Amsterdam will you be visiting? If you’re looking for more suggestions on what to see and do in Amsterdam, read my Amsterdam Destination Guide.
Wondering where to stay? The canal-side De L’Europe Amsterdam (part of the Leading Hotels of the World) is a fantastic hotel in Amsterdam. Most of the offbeat museums in Amsterdam are located nearby or are an easy tram/bus ride away.
This article was commissioned by Imperia Magazine and was published in the July-August 2017 issue. Read it here.