Cultural things to do in Amsterdam: art, film, music and architecture

If you’re looking for a city break filled with art and culture, you have to take a trip to Amsterdam! Even if you’ve visited before, Amsterdam has an enormous range of cultural attractions, many of which have only opened in the last few years. If it’s a while since your last visit to the city, there’s lots more to explore!

From world-class museums to cutting-edge architecture, there are loads of cultural things to do in Amsterdam. In this blog post, I’ll tell you about some of my favourite Amsterdam cultural attractions (including some under the radar picks) with ideas of how you can explore art, photography, film, architecture and culture in Amsterdam.

The Zuiderkerk and Groenburgwal, which were painted by Monet in 1874. These days, there are cultural attractions in Amsterdam for every taste.
The Zuiderkerk and Groenburgwal, which were painted by Monet in 1874. These days, there are cultural attractions in Amsterdam for every taste.

I visited the museums and cultural attractions listed below in November 2023. I was gifted an I amsterdam City Card for my trip but my thoughts are, as always, 100% my own and unbiased.

Film: Eye Filmmuseum

If you look across the IJ river outside Amsterdam’s Centraal railway station, you’ll see a strange, angular building on the northern bank. This is the Eye Filmmuseum, which opened in 2012 and is a must-visit in Amsterdam, not just for film buffs but for anyone who’s ever felt the excitement of going to the cinema.

The Eye Filmmuseum is a sculptural white building on the edge of the IJ river
The Eye Filmmuseum (lit up in pink on the left) is a beautiful, sculptural building on the banks of the IJ river. Since it opened in 2012, it’s been one of Amsterdam’s most important cultural attractions.

The Eye Filmmuseum prides itself on being quite unlike any other film museum. Everything here is as immersive and interactive as possible, including the temporary exhibitions.

We saw the current temporary exhibition by Greek artist Janis Rafa, which combined film, sculpture and photography to examine the relationship between animals and humans.

A wall displaying clips of lots of films and TV programmes. A woman is stood on the left, choosing which clip to find out more about next.
The Eye Filmmuseum takes a wonderfully interactive approach to showing he history of film

The permanent exhibition on the history of cinema on the lower floor is as far away from looking at stuffy objects in cabinets as you can get, with interactive viewing pods and a make your own flipbook activity.

Visiting the Eye Filmmuseum costs €15 for adults. If you have an I amsterdam City Card, entry is free.

Read my full guide to visiting Eye Filmmuseum

More things to in Amsterdam for film-lovers

  • Pathé Tuschinski is a 1920s gem near Rembrandtplein. It was voted the most beautiful movie theatre in the world in 2021.
  • De Filmhallen is the largest independent cinema in the Netherlands. You’ll find it in a converted tram depot, along with quirky shops, a food hall and bars.

Photography: Foam Fotografiemuseum Amsterdam

Foam Fotographiemuseum is one of the best places in Amsterdam to see photography exhibitions. Located on the Keizersgracht canal in the heart of the city, the museum is spread across a maze of spaces in three canalside buildings.

A photo of a woman taken through a wine glass. Her face is distorted by the shape of the glass.
A piece from the Sleeping Beauty exhibition by Carlijn Jacobs at Foam

The exhibition spaces at Foam are used to display temporary exhibitions which change regularly, showcasing historical and contemporary photographers from the Netherlands and around the world.

When I visited in November 2023, Foam was hosting an exhibition by experimental Dutch fashion photographer Carlijn Jacobs, an installation by Pakistani artist and filmmaker Hira Nabi and a retrospective of Turkish photojournalist Ara Güler’s work.

Photographs from the Carlijn Jacobs exhibition at Foam Fotografiemuseum Amsterdam
Photographs from the Carlijn Jacobs exhibition at Foam Fotografiemuseum Amsterdam

In addition to exhibitions, Foam offers workshops, lectures and guided tours. There is also an in-house café, and bookshop for visitors to enjoy.

Visiting Foam Fotografiemuseum costs €15.00 for adults. Entry is free with the I amsterdam City Card.

More places to see in Amsterdam for photography buffs

  • The beautiful Amsterdam City Archives has a photo exhibition telling stories which represent key periods in Amsterdam’s history, along with a collection of autochromes, which are some of the earliest colour photographs.
  • Huis Marseille, Museum for Photography is 10 minutes’ walk east along the Keizersgracht from Foam. It showcases exhibitions by Dutch and international photographers alongside gems from its own collection.

Digital art: Nxt Museum

The Nxt Museum is one of Amsterdam’s newest destinations for experiencing digital art and technology.

Located in Amsterdam Noord, Nxt provides the space and technology for digital artists to explore themes like artificial intelligence, sustainability and humans’ relationship to technology.

The Swam Study XIII artwork by Random International. Columns of flickering lights hang from the ceiling.
The Swam Study XIII artwork by Random International

When I visited, I saw an exhibition by postdigital art group Random International. I’d seen one of their works before at London’s Roundhouse and was already a fan, so getting to see more pieces at Nxt was fantastic.

I particularly enjoyed Swarm Study XIII, which was inspired by the murmurations of starlings, and Living Room, which uses beams of smoky light to create a kind of structure. The “bars” of light were so realistic I caught myself trying to squeeze through them!

The Living Room piece by Random International. A dark room is punctuated by bars of light. Some people are stood in empty patches.
The Living Room piece by Random International at NXT Museum Amsterdam

The Random International exhibition is on until 30 June 2024.

Tickets for Nxt Museum cost between €19.75 and €24.75 for adults and must be booked in advance. If you have an I amsterdam City Card, you can get in for €18.75.

More places to experience modern art in Amsterdam

  • STRAAT is Amsterdam’s museum for street art and graffiti, set in a 8000 m2 former NDSM shipyard.
  • Stedelijk Museum – Museum of Modern Art is on Museumplein, close to the Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh Museum. The vast collection includes works by Andy Warhol, Piet Mondrian and Pablo Picasso.
  • Moco Museum is an independent modern and contemporary art museum featuring works by Banksy, Dalí and more.
  • Museum of the Mind | Outsider Art displays often raw, unconventional works crafted by artists operating outside the mainstream art world.

Immersive art: Fabrique des Lumières

Fabrique des Lumières is an immersive art experience, set in an old gas factory in the Westerpark area. The experience uses the giant spaces of the old factory as a canvas for the projected exhibitions, which are all set to music.

The Dalì immersive exhibition at Fabrique des Lumières. Dali paintings are blown up to an enormous size and projected across the walls of an old gas factory.
The Dalì immersive exhibition at Fabrique des Lumières

What’s on display changes regularly; when I visited there was a Dalì and Gaudì exhibition. The Gaudì part was particularly well-suited to the space, with swirling shapes from the famous houses in Barcelona rolling across the walls before the scene changed to the Sagrada Familia cathedral.

The Gaudì immersive experience at Fabrique des Lumières. A massive industrial space is filled with a colourful, moving projection of the Sagrada Familia cathedral.
The Gaudì immersive experience at Fabrique des Lumières

While you’re inside, you can just wander around, sit down or go up to the viewing platform to see the whole space from above. I found just sitting in the corner and taking it all in to be really relaxing, and our guide said that lots of people end up lying on the floor and listening to the music as the visuals move around them.

Tickets for Fabrique des Lumières cost €16 for adults. I amsterdam city card holders can save €4.

More immersive experiences in Amsterdam

  • Rembrandts Amsterdam Experience takes visitors on a 5D journey through the life of Amsterdam’s most famous painter.
  • The Rembrandt House Museum is in Rembrandt’s former home and lets you step back in time to the 17th century to see how Rembrandt lived and worked.
  • The Upside Down is a fully immersive social media experience, with rooms themed around contemporary Dutch culture.

Architecture: Huis Willet-Holthuysen

The Huis Willet-Holthuysen is a beautifully preserved historic canal house museum on the prestigious Herengracht canal.

Originally built in 1685 and renovated between 1739 and 1742, this former home offers a glimpse into the life of its wealthy residents, including Amsterdam Mayor Jacob Hop.

The grand Huis Willet-Holthuysen. A double fronted 18th century house with large windows and staircases leading up to a door in the centre.
The grand Huis Willet-Holthuysen

The museum’s collection comes from the 19th century owner Louisa Willet-Holthuysen, who donated the property and its contents to the city of Amsterdam upon her death in 1895. Her eclectic collection features paintings, sculptures, furniture, silver, glassware and porcelain from the Dutch, French and Italian masters of her time.

The view through the hallways of the Willet-Holthuysen House. A beautiful hallway in a grand house leads to a table with flowers on it and a window with a view of the garden.
The view through the hallways of the Willet-Holthuysen House towards the garden room

Visiting Huis Willet-Holthuysen costs €12.50 for adults, but if you have an I amsterdam City Card, you’ll get in free.

If you’re interested in architecture, here are some other Amsterdam attractions you might enjoy:

  • The Museum of the Canals (Grachten Museum) explains why Amsterdam looks the way it does, with a detailed, immersive description of how the canal system was designed.
  • The NEMO science museum is worth visiting just for its stunning, Renzo Piano-designed building. The museum is brilliantly interactive, while the rooftop cafe has wonderful views over the city.
  • The Houseboat Museum offers self-guided tours of a converted houseboat, providing an inside look at the unique experience of living on Amsterdam’s canals.
  • The Amsterdam City Archives are housed in the giant De Bazel building, a former bank headquarters. The stunning tiled vault is must-visit for fans of Art Deco.
  • The Van Loon Museum is another historic canal house that was home to the prominent Van Loon family. It’s particularly notable for its beautiful garden.
  • Museum Het Schip allows visitors to take a guided tour through the iconic Amsterdam School-style housing complex Het Schip.
  • Arcam is a centre dedicated to architecture in Amsterdam and beyond. It offers fascinating temporary exhibitions, lectures and guided tours on architecture, city planning and urban life.
  • A canal boat tour is the ideal way to experience Amsterdam’s bridges, traditional houses and more modern highlights like NEMO and the Stopera building.

Music: Our House

Part museum, part club, Our House tells the story of house music and club culture from the 1980s to the present day. It’s been a little while since I was in a club but I loved the immersive experience.

Hitting the dance floor at the end of the Our House experience. A crowd of people are on a dance floor with large screens on two sides and laser lights.
Hitting the dance floor at the end of the Our House experience

All visits to Our House are by timed group slots – although I visited by myself and it didn’t feel weird. You’ll start off with a welcome from your host, then it’s time for everyone to gather around the dancefloor for an introduction to Our House.

After that, you can explore the exhibits (including Avicii’s keyboard and a microphone used by the Vengaboys) or go to the bar, before you’re called back to the dancefloor for an euphoric journey through the history of dance.

One of the exhibits at Our House. An animated teacher is narrating a video about the history of dance music as people sit down and watch.
One of the exhibits at Our House. This video installation narrates the history of dance music from disco, to Ibiza, to EDM.

Tickets for Our House cost €22.50. If you have an I amsterdam City Card you’ll get 20% off, making tickets €18.

More musical attractions in Amsterdam

  • The Geelvinck Pianola Museum showcases a collection of antique self-playing pianos from the early 20th century. Visitors can take guided tours and enjoy interactive concerts at this museum dedicated to mechanical musical instruments.
  • The City Archives has a temporary exhibition on dance music and club culture until February 2024.
  • The Royal Concertgebouw is one of the world’s most revered concert venues and the home of classical music in Amsterdam. If you want a closer look at what makes the acoustics in its three performance spaces so fantastic, you can take a guided tour of the building.

I hope you’ve found this article about cultural things to do in Amsterdam useful. If I’ve missed out one of your favourite cultural attractions, please let me know in the comments!

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