Punchy photography is packed onto the walls of this small, idiosyncratically styled canal house. More than just a museum, it’s proud of its incubator remit, juggling photography collecting courses, a beautifully conceived in-house magazine, and a long-running graduate lab that feeds into Foam's ever-excellent exhibitions. Those exhibits are where Foam shines, with up to four at once. Notables (Helmut Newton, Cartier-Bresson) get an outing several times a year, while the rest of the spot-on programming feeds shorter shows by mid- and early-career names.
Reborn in 2013 after a decade-long, $441-million revamp, this is the largest of Amsterdam’s “big three" museums. Yes, there are plenty of galleries of Golden Age paintings, though with 8,000 masterworks on display, this isn’t a niche affair. Model ships, rich costumes, and Asian art figure into the museum's well-paced chronological trot from the Middle Ages to Mondrian. The museum app, with its 14 themed tours, is well worth downloading for free from the Apple Store and the Wi-Fi is good enough to make wayfinding a breeze.
Since this offshoot of the mythic St. Petersburg State Hermitage Museum opened in 2009, it has stayed in the spotlight, staging well-attended temporary shows borrowing the best of its parent's treasures. As a satellite, there's no permanent collection, per se, but exhibits are generally inspired by the St. Petersburg outpost's holdings; expect plenty of Flemish art, and the occasional dive into Romanov history. The gift shop's worth a stop, too, for a faux-Fabergé egg, or a solid translation of War and Peace.
The cool new kid in town, devoted to art world rock stars, has enough contemporary swagger to make the neighboring [Rijksmuseum] and [Van Gogh Museum] quake in their old-school boots. Not quite on the main tourist trail, this private museum was opened in 2016 by prominent local gallerists Lionel and Kim Logchies. The permanent Banksy display, featuring a whopping 50 works (rarely seen indoor paintings and drawings, plus transplanted street murals like the beloved Girl With Balloon) by the rock-star British graffiti artist, is a thing to behold, though the temporary shows of pop-art greats are worth checking out, too. Expect to be in and out in under an hour.
Museum Van Loons
This impeccably preserved 17th-century canal house still exudes the wealth of its patrician owners, the Van Loons, one of whom co-founded the Dutch East India Company. Expect to see pastel portrait exhibitions, intriguing contemporary photographs, and site-specific works strewn across the house. Cocteau operas are performed in the canal-side garden come summertime. Note, this is very much a living house. The Van Loons still reside upstairs, which is off-limits, and artifacts are displayed in a casual, lived-in way. Stop into the carriage house-cum-café post-visit for a slice of some of the best apple pie in town.
Van Gogh Museum
This Dutch institution welcomed a record 2.165 million visitors in 2018, making it the most visited museum in the Netherlands. The Potato Eaters, Wheatfield with Crows and, yes, the postcard-perfect Sunflowers series are all among the 200-strong painting collection. But, this is more than just a rundown of van Gogh's greatest hits. Drawings and letters dive into van Gogh's depression (and that ear incident), there’s a video installation charting his rise, and works by the first generation of artists to be inspired by him are on view. Save the speed-walking for elsewhere; this is one where you'll want to linger.
Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam
The Stedelijk is less frequented than its famous Museumplein neighbors, but that's absolutely fine by us. Prioritize seeing Stedelijk Base—a whole wing dedicated to the permanent collection. A mix of 3D-printed vases, Dutch avant-gardes, and video art, the 700-piece-strong collection starts in the 1880s and continues for a century, with hits from Koons, Goldin, and co.