There are usually queues at Amsterdam’s wonderful Rijksmuseum, Van Gogh Museum and the Anne Frank House, and for good reason.
But The Netherlands has a plethora of other smaller, fascinating museums of things we never knew we were interested in…until now.
Micropia – Amsterdam
Lens maker Antonio van Leeuwenhoek of the Dutch town of Delft was the first man on the planet to see a microbe. So it’s appropriate that Holland should be home to the world’s first museum dedicated to life too small to be seen with the naked eye. In fact it’s as much a zoo as a museum, since many of the exhibits are crawling around doing their thing. Combined tickets with Amsterdam’s Artis Zoo are available. See micropia.nl.
Micropia. Two thirds of all life is invisible…except here. Image: artis.nl
Museum Speelklok – Utrecht
Everything from delicate music boxes to mighty street organs is on display in this entertaining museum of mechanical music. The music box with a lettuce-munching rabbit is a favourite with children, while everybody loves the spectacular, very loud, dance hall organs. A tour with a guide (yes, of course they all speak English) is well worth an hour of anybody’s time in the attractive university town of Utrecht. See museumspeelklok.nl
Planetarium – Franeker, Friesland
In 1774, some feared that a conjunction of the planets would cause collisions and a collapse of the Earth into the sun. Eise Eisinga set out to show people that it wouldn’t happen. His living room is now a UNESCO World Heritage site. Mr Eisinga worked for seven years to build a handmade ‘orrery’ or planetarium in the ceiling. His working model of the planets, moving in real time, is driven by a simple pendulum clock, yet it needs only minor adjustment every leap year. It also happens to be an extraordinarily beautiful thing. See planetarium-friesland.nl
Teylers Museum – Haarlem
The oldest museum in the Netherlands began life in 1778 as a personal collection in a grand private home. The appeal is that this feels like a real old-style museum, all glowing wooden cases, creaky floors and hand-written labels. There’s a wonderfully eclectic collection of fossils, minerals and old scientific instruments, along with a respectable art collection and temporary exhibitions in a modern wing. It’s worth visiting for the original building alone. A glorious dome naturally lights the spiral staircase and the library with its wooden mezzanine reeks of history. See teylersmuseum.nl
Museum of Bags and Purses – Amsterdam
The world’s largest collection of fashion accessories began when Mrs Hendrikje Ivo found an antique German handbag, made from a tortoise shell. She bought it and carried on collecting. Things have got out of hand now. Her collection has swelled to over 4000 bags, variously historic, unusual, beautiful, celebrity-designed and celebrity-owned. Having outgrown its original home, it’s been relocated to one of Amsterdam’s beautiful old canal houses, with a lovely garden and café. There are also rotating temporary exhibitions. See tassenmuseum.nl
De Zaanse Schans – Zaandam
Tourist buses pull up at this village just outside Amsterdam, where charming old houses from around the country have been relocated, to be lived in and maintained by Dutch enthusiasts. The hordes are attracted by the opportunity to take selfies in front of windmills, as well as inside them. There are also interesting museums of cheese, clogs and (a personal favourite) clocks. It’s only 17 minutes by train from Amsterdam Central station to Koog Zaandijk, from where it’s a pleasant short walk across the River Zaan to the Zaanse Schans. See dezaanseschans.nl
I know there are numerous other Dutch museums that deserve a place on this list. Please feel free to suggest the ones I should visit next.
A Museumkaart (Museum Card) gives visitors unlimited entry (and queue-jumping rights) to most museums in the country for a month and at EUR59.90 it’s excellent value for those planning to visit four or more museums. Buy one at tourist offices or larger museums. See museumkaart.nl
Note too that many smaller Dutch museums are closed on Mondays.
First published: Sydney Morning Herald and Melbourne Age 2016