Judging from all the blog posts I read before my trip, Amsterdam’s biggest tourist draw seems to be its Red Light District and its several not exactly legal “coffee” shops. What I didn’t learn is that Amsterdam is actually FULL of museums. So if you’re up for some history and culture, stick with me. This isn’t another post about the Red Light District, sorry. #notsorry
On our first night in Amsterdam our after-dinner stroll took us by The Cheese Museum, The Tulip Museum, The Cow Museum (I’m not joking.), and The Rubber Ducky Shop. (Not a museum, but, seriously?) These are all little one-room shops at street level with a similarly sized museum attached downstairs or behind the shop. Well, except for the Cow Museum…that was just the one room where you couldn’t buy any of the cow figurines, but you could buy knickknacks that had nothing to do with cows. Amsterdam is weird.
Anyway, these small museums are just the beginning! Luckily, Holland provides a couple different options for saving on visits to museums, because entrance fees can add up pretty quickly! One option is the Iamsterdam card, this is good if you’re the type of person who won’t spend very long at any one museum and can easily get through multiple sites in a day. The cheapest Iamsterdam card is €57 for only 24 hrs. This wasn’t going to work for us because I’m the type of person who can easily spend a full day in only one wing of a museum. At €59, the museum card offers free or discounted entrance to museums for 31 days with the option of applying online for the full card if you’ll need it for longer. This card, unlike the other, also lets you save on museums in other cities in Holland, not just Amsterdam! So if you’ll be visiting other cities, this is the better option. You can either purchase the card online or at any participating museum.
*Important Note: Some museums still require timed entrance tickets. You’ll definitely save yourself some time and hassle if you check online ahead of time to see if you need to reserve a timed entrance ticket for the museums you wish to visit. It’s definitely a lot easier to purchase these tickets online ahead of time than to go searching for wifi so you can make them from your iphone after standing in line outside in the rain for an hour only to realize you’ll never get in… I won’t tell you how I know…
I bought my museum card in Delft at the Prinsenhof Museum. I made the day trip out of Amsterdam to visit the hometown of Vermeer, my favorite painter (Read previous posts about Delft), but made a detour to visit this museum after it was highly recommended by the Delft Information Center. The focus of the Museum Prinsenhof is mostly on the history of William of Orange, the rebel leader who led the fight against the Spanish rule of the Netherlands. Orange, the ancestor of the Dutch Royal Family, was assassinated in the former monastery turned residence, turned current-day museum and the bullet holes can still be seen in the wall. While I wasn’t familiar with the political history of the Netherlands, this museum’s fantastic use of technology including screens, projections, and surround sound, really put you in each moment of history portrayed. My lack of knowledge didn’t feel like a disadvantage because I had so much fun in the experience. It was so well done in fact, that truth-be-told, the whole place gave me that excited haunted house kind of feeling where you want to grab someone’s arm and jump behind them!
Use of Screens
The museum eased you into the experience with 4 TV screens each with an attached earpiece. On each screen could be seen an actor in character calmly sitting on a chair. As soon as you picked up the earpiece the character came to life, revealing their story to you. I listened to the tale of a noblewoman and wronged wife who had been married off to a man who eventually had her imprisoned in a madhouse so he could remarry. I thought the use of actors embodying persons related to the history the museum was portraying was a very engaging technique. Making the stories personal immediately engaged me in the history.
The final room in the museum contained a circular display case holding objects but this was surrounded by a circle of I don’t know how many TVs 2-high. I wasn’t kidding about easing you into the experience. To view the objects on display you had to walk into the center of the ring of tvs. Images and music swirled around you. It was mesmerizing, but also an overwhelming amount of visual stimuli.
Use of projections & surround sound
In one room a video projection on a wall depicted troops and fighting and the room was filled with the accompanying noises of marching, weapons clanging, and ominous music. From this room you are perfectly positioned to watch the murder of William of Orange over, and over…and over. As you walk through this room, you’re facing the grand staircase which will take you upstairs to a display about Delft Blue Pottery and Dutch innovation, or in the time of William of Orange, a large dining hall. Every two minutes or so, a silhouette projection of a man will appear on the pillar at the base of the stairway. He raises his gun, fires, turns, and runs, at which point the apparition disappears. Each time you hear the shots ring out. Orange had been coming downstairs after a meal when the assassin shot him. The bullet holes are visible low on the wall near the first few stairs. Despite it only being a projection, I didn’t really want to have to continue up the stairs past this apparition! I briefly peeked at the bullet holes and then darted past the first two stairs hoping to make it before the man raised his gun yet again.
Upstairs, away from the sounds of an encroaching army and shots hitting the wall, the room full of Delft Blue pottery on display felt calming. I learned that the technique for painting the blue designs came from China and the East India Company, which had had a major presence in Holland, had shipped the pottery worldwide. As I was admiring the pottery, I turned around and there was a projection of a man (another actor) on one of the large wooden doors in the wall and he was speaking to me! From the English subtitles at the bottom I gathered that he was a potter and he asking us, the audience, to consider taking up pottery as a profession and to come back tomorrow to talk to the master. Then he too turned and disappeared into the door.
Finally, to proceed to the gift shop from the museum’s last room you had to descend through a circular stone staircase. I kept wondering if a projection of some sort would pop out at me. I braced myself, but nothing appeared.
Because I was trying to fit several museums into my day before returning to the train, I went through the Prinsenhof Museum faster than I would have liked. Therefore, I don’t think I picked up as much of the history as I should have. Leaving the museum, I wasn’t sure I could relate anything I had learned in there, but I certainly would go back because it had been a creepy/exciting experience overall.
Check in next week for part 2 of Museum Hopping in Holland: Amsterdam Canal House Museums
Have you ever been to a museum that gave you the shivers (in a good way)? What kind of techniques have you experienced at a museum that you absolutely loved?
Plan Your Visit
Entrance Fee: €12
Save $$: Free with Museum Card
Address: Sint Agathaplein 1, Delft
Hours: Mon-Sun 11-17hr