Aside from the Anne Frank House which is a deeply moving experience (care is needed to avoid too much of a crowd) I'd recommend one of two canal houses that have been preserved in their original state from Amsterdam's Golden Age and each house won't take too long to wander around if you're pressed for time. My favourite is Museum Van Loon but Museum Willet-Holthuysen has it's charms.
I agree with all recommendations here. If you have time to get out of town and want to experience an amazing mix of nature and art, I highly recommend Kröller-Müller Museum. It is about 1.5 hours drive or a little over 2 hours via public transport. Rent bikes and ride around the park. It is still something I remember so fondly from my travels there 25 year ago.
Jillian, one of my favorite museums in Amsterdam is photography museum Foam (FOAM- FOtomuseum AMsterdam). It's located in an old canal house and always has great exhibits. I'm a photographer myself, and I go there to get inspiration. It's fairly small, so you don't need a lot of time, and it is very centrally located. You can buy tickets online here but generally you won't have to. Enjoy!
The Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam is a good choice if your taste arcs more toward modern and contemporary art. They're mounting a huge Matisse exhibition this spring and summer for which you can purchase a time-slot ticket online. Prices are slightly higher than usual because of the Matisse exhibit, but it looks like it will be great.
The Rembrandt House Museum is interesting because it puts you in an historical environment in which the artist worked. Etickets are available.
I have to concur on the Van Gogh Museum. I've not been to another museum that creates such an emotional connection to the artist and allows such a view into his psyche. Given the way his life ended, I found it to be very affecting and not a happy-go-lucky experience. Very much worth your time, though.
The Anne Frank House is of course also very moving and should be seen. The trouble for me is that, at least during my experience there, some people were clearly there because it's "the thing to do" and they were unbelievably disrespectful in their attitudes and behavior.
If I were to only do one, the one that you absolutely can't miss is the Van Gogh Museum. Even if you don't LOVE his work, it's one of the best museums I've seen as far as teaching you about the artist. The work is in chronological order, so you learn about his life and can see the progression of his style until his death.
If you have time for a second, go to the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam. I did both in a day with time to walk and eat and relax, so it's possible. They're also both very close to each other. I didn't get tickets ahead of time for either.
I didn't get to the Anne Frank House, but my daughter went and loved it and friends have raved about it. That might be another one to do, possibly instead of the Rijks. For that one, you do need to get tickets ahead as lines are insane.
Rijksmuseum Amsterdam is a given if you're going to be in Amsterdam.
But Rembrandt House Museum is very cool, because it's a combination art museum and historic house. You can see where Rembrandt lived and worked from 1639 to 1656. The original interior has been restored, and you can see his original sketchbooks and notes. It feels almost like a time machine where you get to look over the shoulder of one of the great masters at work as he hones his craft, tries and rejects many different styles, and develops ideas that will later turn into finished paintings that you'll see in other Amsterdam museums. Close your eyes, picture yourself in 1640 and you can almost feel what it's like to be in a artist's workshop during the height of the Renaissance.
I agree with Jurriaan that Foam is a real nice one! It isn't big, so you are done after an hour. I defintaley prefer the Rijksmuseum Amsterdamabove Van Gogh Museum. The Rijksmuseum is in a beautiful just renovated old building and has a lot of great work. Not only paintings but also lots of other art. And if you want to see Van Gogh, they also have some Van Gogh paintings in the Rijksmuseum.
The Anne Frank Houseis also really impressive, but there are indeed huge lines!
The just re-opened Rijksmuseum Amsterdam is very beautiful. At the moment they have 'late Rembrand' exhibition. Extra paintings are being shown during this exhibition. So if you are into the 17th/18th century art, this is definitely the place to go.
Like everybody else says also the Van Gogh Museum is great. For me I did not enjoy the Anne Frank House but that is mostly because you are kind of being pushed through the small house. It is too crowded during the daytime. If you go there, i really recommend to go first thing in the morning.
If you like cocktails/beers then go to the House of Bols, the Cocktail & Genever Experience (opposite of Van Gogh museum). It is fantastic. Heineken Experience museum is a bit further away but also really good.
But what i miss from the others is that the biggest museum is the city centre itself. Of course it has the canals but also some boutiques shops in 'Negen Straatjes (nine small streets). A canal tour or bike tour is a must to do. Moreover, a couple of great things to do very close to Amsterdam:
- the windmils of Zaanstad in Zaanse Schans (10 min by train) you can cycle around the big canals/windmills of Zaanstad and use the free pond. It's gorgeous and typical dutch.
- the cheese market every friday in the morning in Alkmaar (30 min by train) (not sure if it is the season already but you can ask the VVV/tourist information close to Central Station)
Have a great time in my country!
Like Tiffany said below, if you go to one museum, make it the Van Gogh Museum. I'm not a huge museum, and especially art museum person, but I was really impressed. I believe I read recently that ticket prices were going up for it, so you may look at getting tickets online ASAP.
Rijksmuseum Amsterdam was cool, but of all the museums I went to in Amsterdam, it wasn't my favorite. My favorite historical museum was the Anne Frank House, largely in part because I was obsessed with World War II history as a young lad, and her bio was one of my favorite books when I was a kid. Definitely go during an off-peak time, like early on a weekday morning, because the line was out of control when I was there.
Last, but not least, my favorite museum type experience in all of Amsterdam (and maybe all of Europe) is the House of Bols, the Cocktail & Genever Experience. It's one of the best cocktail experiences I've ever seen (and really close to the other museums listed above), because cocktails. It walks you through the history of Bols genever, which is the oldest spirit/distillery in the world, and what gin came from. It's a really interactive museum and then it ends with you going up to this machine that selects a cocktail for you based on your tastes, and then a bartender makes it for you. I wrote about it on my blog (link below). Another cool experience like that is the Heineken Experience, which says a lot since I don't even like Heineken.
Anne Frank House and the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam are the obvious choices for good reason. The Anne Frank house is very small and can be a bit stressful if you're claustrophobic, but if you get there right when it opens or you go at night (it's open until 8 or 9pm during the summer and might be open late as early as April as well) crowds are manageable. The Rijksmuseum recently underwent a massive renovation and it is now fully open to the public once again. It's massive - not quite as huge as the Louvre or the Prado, but you'll need at least half a day to do it justice.
As far as Museum #3, I enjoyed the Van Gogh Museum (just 2 blocks from the Rijksmuseum and can be combined with the Rijksmuseum in one day). It's a decent size and has a comprehensive collection of works from throughout Van Gogh's career. The Resistance Museum east of the city centre is an excellent look into what life was like during the Nazi occupation and I ended up taking much more away from it than I thought going in. If Jewish history interests you then the Jewish Historical Museum and the Portugese Synagoge nextdoor in the city centre are interesting. Dress modestly if you plan to visit the synagogue. If you're into art (especially modern) then I'd recommend the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam or you can spend hours checking out the galleries in the Jordaan neighbourhood or the Nieuw Dakota gallery. The Museum Van Loon is in a restored 17th century house and gives great insight into what life was like for wealthy Amsterdamers during that time.
The city centre museums such as the Sexmuseum, the hemp museum, and the torture museum are tourist traps. If you want to check them out just to say you've seen them then do so, but they're overpriced and not all that informative.
I know for a fact you can buy tickets to the Anne Frank House, Rijksmuseum and Van Gogh museum in advance, and you can also buy a Rijks/Van Gogh combined ticket, but I'm not sure about the others...maybe the individual websites might give you the right info.
And lastly, if you do go to Amsterdam, do the local residents a favour and don't partake of a certain herb. There is strong local support for repealing Amsterdam's lenient pot laws because the locals are sick and tired of tourists coming to Amsterdam for just that one purpose and being on their worst behaviour under the influence. You can save a lot of time and money by smoking weed at home.
Van Gogh Museum! Make sure you get the tour guide radio.
Don't miss the Van Gogh Museum! It's so nice, and small. Lovely!
In addition to Van Gogh Museum, Rijksmuseum Amsterdam and Anne Frank House - I would say Museum Hermitage Amsterdam you can see art you would otherwise have to go to St. Petersburg to see, as well as the newly renovated Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam for modern art, the National Maritime Museum with a history of Maritime trade and a reproduction Dutch East Indies company ship, and the Amsterdam Museum at Kalverstraat 92 for an cool view on how the city developed over time.
Something I find that makes the museums more interesting is using the audio guides. I really enjoyed the format of the audio guide for the Van Gogh Museum. At many of the historic monuments, like the Koninklijk Paleis Amsterdam and Museum Ons' Lieve Heer op Solder (my personal favorite, a hidden church), these guides are free. If you do go to Rijksmuseum Amsterdam, download the Rijksmuseum app on your phone and bring headphones. The app is free and there is free wifi in the museum, so it will save you a few euro.
Just the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam
Everyones taste is different, though:
- Rijksmuseum Amsterdam re-opened recently and has a huge view on art. Would be my number 1 choice.
- Van Gogh Museum, of course, interesting art, and if anyone asks you from the states, you'll have a conversation start, everyone goes there.
- Tropenmuseum, this has a great exhibition on body paintings and worldwide signs etc. Not quite sure till when this is.
- Filmmuseum in North Amsterdam, all about film of course and history. It's a free ride across the Ij river behind the central station. A huge white building you can't miss. Cool thing in 'Noord' is the whole view of the city, so you can spend a couple of hours on that side in industrial amsterdam, with new restaurants and cafe's berlin style.