There are many reasons to visit Amsterdam, but art, design and culture have to be near the top of the list for anyone working in a creative field.
One of the world’s most beautiful cities, dominated by its pretty canals, Amsterdam has had a long and deep-rooted love affair with art and architecture, and that's continuing today as designers, agencies and media companies flock to this newly hip, creative hub.
But if you're on a city break or layover, where should you go to soak up the atmosphere? We recently spent time in Amsterdam – it's a short flight from the UK via KLM Royal Dutch Airlines – and checked out some of the coolest places to visit. Here are our top picks.
When you come out of the central station in Amsterdam (which is about 20 minutes from the station by train), most people head out the front, towards Dam Square and the bustling city centre. But if you instead come out the back, you’ll see a striking looking, modern white building on the northern bank of the River IJ that's well worth a visit.
A free commuter ferry will take you across the water, and they run constantly, so you won’t have to wait long. Then once you’ve admired the external architecture of this beautiful building, which only opened in 2012, wander inside where you’ll soon find yourself in cinephile heaven.
The EYE is a wonderfully realised combination of arty cinema, national film archive, cinematic museum and a cafe with stunning river views. Both in the museum proper downstairs (which is free to enter) and throughout the building, you're surrounded fascinating relics from film-making’s past, including early equipment and classic movie posters. And if you don’t want to pay to see a film, you can even watch one for free in one of several special digital booths.
Back around the other side of Amsterdam’s central station lies the public library. Not much of a pull there for non-Dutch speakers, you might think. But it’s a must-see for creatives, both for its beautiful architecture and for the best views in Amsterdam.
This sheer size of this towering building is impressive: occupying a whopping 28,000 metres squared across seven floors, it’s Europe’s largest public library. Opened in 2007, its design (conceived by Jo Coenen, former state architect of the Netherlands) is cutting edge, minimalist and avowedly ecological. It feels, in short, more like an art gallery than a library, and the views of Amsterdam from its large windows are simply stunning.
Whenever you need to check your emails or do some work, head here and either take advantage of the ample desk space or huddle into one of the space-age work pods. It's much more chilled than Starbucks, and it won’t cost you a penny!
In the same street at the Openbare stands what claims to be the world's first virtual reality cinema. Essentially it's not really a cinema, but a cool bar, with a curtained-off area where you can pay a very reasonable 12 Euros to spend 20 minutes watching a series of short virtual reality films using a Samsung Gear headset. You're sat on a swivel chair, so you can spin round in 360 degrees as the action takes place, and you can bring your beer in with you as long as you're confident enough not to spill it.
The owners make it all easy and fun for you, and there are four programmes to choose from. We went for the 'Journey' selection, which was topped off by a virtual ballet that proved to be quite a strange and enriching experience. Although it would a bit of waste of money heading here if you've already got a virtual reality setup at home, for novices this is a great way to get a taste of this exciting new technology.
The VR Cinema is open from Wednesday to Sunday, with regular screenings between 2pm and 10pm.
There are many big art museums in Amsterdam (and we’ll get to those in a second), but if you’re interested in contemporary art then you’ll also want to check out some of the hipper independent galleries. And you don’t get much cooler than KochxBos.
Known for first introducing the public to artists like Mark Ryden, Femke Hiemstra, Yoko d'Holbachie and Lori Early, Kochxbos describes itself as “the first independent North-European low-brow/pop-surrealist gallery”. Although it’s a tiny place, you can feel the spirit of cutting-edge art flow through you as you peruse some pretty amazing artwork.
The gallery is open Wed-Sat, 10am-6pm although it may be a good idea to phone ahead, as the first time we tried at 5pm on a wet Wednesday afternoon, they’d shut early and gone home for the day.
5. Go Gallery
Just round the corner from KochxBos is the Go Gallery, another small, independent gallery displaying contemporary art, this time with a more street-art vibe. Suitably enough, there’s an 11m tall mural on a building nearby (by artist duo The London Police), so you can’t fail to find it.
While visiting some small art galleries can be intimidating, Go Gallery’s owners Farud and Oscar seem to have gone out of their way to create a relaxed vibe that makes visitors feel at home. They can also tell you a lot about what’s on their walls, which is all created by skilled artists, some of which are studying at the nearby Rietveld Academy.
If you’re a fan of Northern European interior design, or just curious to see some cool and creative stuff, here’s a place in the same area as the KochxBos and Go galleries to make a beeline for.
The showroom, shop and hotel of the contemporary design studio Moooi is filled with wondrous creations, from objets d’art to furniture and beyond. Opened in 2008, its 700 square metres provides ample space to showcase its vision for beautiful and creative interiors. It’s open to the public Tuesday to Saturday from 10am-6pm (except 31 May).
You can’t visit Amsterdam without visiting the Van Gogh Museum. Devoted to the work of both Vincent Van Gogh and his contemporaries, this major global attraction can be found at the appropriately named Museum Square in Amsterdam South. It’s about a 45-minute walk from the central station, or you can take one of the regular #2 or #5 trams, which takes about 10 minutes.
As you might expect, the museum contains the largest collection of Van Gogh's paintings and drawings in the world. But if that sounds like it might get samey, don’t worry. The museum does an excellent job in not only showcasing his art, but telling the fascinating story of the artist’s life and how work changed the development of European art forever.
The other artists on show here are not to be sneezed at either. The museum has sculptures by Auguste Rodin and Jules Dalou, and paintings by the likes of Paul Gauguin, Édouard Manet, Claude Monet and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, to name but a few.
Expect queues at peak times though! This is a very popular place to visit, so you’ll need to factor in a lot of time to get in and get round. The museum is open daily from 9am-5pm, Fridays until 10pm.
Amsterdam’s other best-known museum is the Rijksmuseum, the national museum dedicated to arts and history in the city, which first opened in 1885. Again, located in Museum Square, it’s a very imposing looking building, but inside everything is sleek, modern and beautifully organised.
There’s a huge amount to see here. The museum has on display 8,000 objects of art and history from the years 1200–2000, which includes work by artists such as Rembrandt, Frans Hals, and Johannes Vermeer. And as well as the permanent collections, there are also some fascinating temporary exhibitions.
At the moment that includes “Good Hope. South Africa and The Netherlands from 1600”, which traces the uneasy relationship between the Netherlands and its African settlers in a way that provides a fascinating new perspective on an age-old subject.
The Stedelijk Museum may less famous than the last two entries on our list, but for lovers of modern and contemporary art and design, it should be number one on your list.
The museum spent most of the 20th century acquiring works from exciting new art movements while they were still in their infancy. As a result, its permanent collections are now packed with important works from the likes of CoBrA, De Stijl, Mondrian, Kandinsky and Malevich, while the latest temporary show is a truly arresting selection of work by Swiss painter and sculptor Jean Tinguely.
Based in Museum Square, the Stedelijk Museum is less busy than its neighbours, the Van Gogh Museum and Rijksmuseum so you have more of a chance to enjoy this huge and varied collection of modern art in relaxed surroundings. And even if you don’t have time to go in, still take a few moments wander past and appreciate the stunning architecture.
The Stedelijk Museum is open daily from 10am-6pm, Fridays till 10pm.
Right now, when it comes to nightlife, the TonTon Club is the place to be. Bright young things flock to this lively bar filled with a variety of retro games, including pinball tables, air hockey, shoot em ups, driving games, Jenga and old-school board games.
With a healthy mix of locals and travellers, the atmosphere in this bar is fun and friendly, and even on a rainy night in the middle of the week it was packed to the rafters. A 10 minute walk from the central station, the TonTon Club is open Mon-Fri 4pm to midnight and Wed-Sun noon to midnight.
If you want to travel to Amsterdam for some creative inspiration, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines runs flights from seventeen UK airports to Amsterdam daily. To find out more, visit www.klm.com. Or check out KLM's suggestions for Amsterdam.
Main image courtesy of Adobe Stock