Diary: Amsterdam’s Museum Night

When in Amsterdam... - Blogged


When people ask what is so great about Amsterdam? This blog entry is one I will direct them to first. This is why Amsterdam is the cultural capital of the Netherlands. Long live museum night!

The 12th annual Amsterdam museum night was held on Saturday night. Every year a much anticipated event and definitely a top 5 night of my Amsterdam calendar. The night was sold out by Saturday afternoon, 25 000 tickets. 42 of Amsterdam’s 52 museums were open to 2 am with after parties at Amsterdam’s prominent clubs through to the early morning.  

2100hrs
Late start to the evening as had to do the regular Saturday night Red Light District Tour. A great bunch of people who had planned on joining for the museums but couldn’t get hold of tickets.

2115hrs: The Meeting Point
Group meets at a central location at Café t’Nes in the city centre. The boys pre-roll their joints and a run to the super market is made for traveling beers. Everyone in the group prioritises 3 museums they would like to see. 

Like Amsterdam the group is a mix: born and breed Amsterdammers, Swedish, French, Solomon Islander and the obligatory Australian.

The Zoo and the newly renovated maritime museum were prioritised.   The Amsterdammer pulled rank and said a family member needed to be supported at one of Amsterdam’s smaller museums.

Bikes lights in hand we left Café t’Nes and headed to our bikes.

2130hrs: Museum 1: Willet Holthuysen House
Entering the house is like stepping back in time. The marble entrance, cloak room to one side, we de-robed and each purchased a glass of champagne.

Sipping bubbles in this museum was the perfect start our museum night.  The museum is small and not as popular as others in Amsterdam. There was no line up and the crowd was dressed to impress and sophisticated just like the interior of the house.

The Willet Holthuysen house was left to the city of Amsterdam by Mrs Louisa Willet Holthuysen in 1895. She was the last resident of the house. The splendid 17th century canal house was a centre for Amsterdam’s cultural elite. Louisa and her husband Abraham were collectors of art and regularly entertained in their day showing off new additions to their collection.

The House for the night had been handed over to fashion. A guest curator and designer Alexander van Slobbe showed elements from the workshop, Shanghai Gesture. Beautiful woven textiles and fashion were displayed. There was a boutique shop full of up and coming Dutch and Belgian designers. 

The amazing 18th century garden had been turned into a fashion shoot with large lights and fashionable types filling the terrace. The group’s Amsterdammer introduced us to smartly dressed man who was one of the judges of the fashion competition. We sipped bubbles in the garden’s courtyard as they talked in Dutch about family and fashion.


After our bubbles we walked around the Grand Canal house imagining what it would be like to be a lord or lady of the 19th century. Louisa’s last will and testament has been faithfully observed by the city. The house is a testament to the elite of Amsterdam in a bygone era.

On exiting we ran into a friend who was an accredited photographer for the night. He said that the line for the Zoo was ridiculously long. Passing on the information to the group we decided head for the nearby botanical gardens.

2230hrs: Museum 2: De Hortus Botanicus
Five minutes bike ride and we were at the world’s oldest Botanical Gardens. 1960s surf rock n roll from a live band could be heard spilling out of the giant green houses as we locked up our bikes. At the entrance was a mechanical surf board with a throng of people vying for a turn. 

As we walked through the 300 year old gates to the gardens, Amsterdam was left behind .

The Palm Greenhouse at the gardens is celebrating its centennial so the theme for the night was everything tropical. The Australian showed us a eucalyptus tree and took a leaf and started blowing on it. Two elderly Dutch women who had a good seat among the 7 500 visitors shared a cheeky can of Amstel beer with us that the boys had smuggled into the gardens. After a dance and look at some of the 4000 plant specimens  it was time for the next museum.

2345hrs: Museum 3: Amsterdam’s Tattoo Museum
Another five minutes by bicycle we were in front of the new Tattoo Museum. Established by Henk Schiffmacher, the founder of Amsterdam’s famous Hank Panky tattoo parlour and has tattooed the likes of the Red Hot Chile Peppers, the line was long. This is where the supermarket beer came into its own. Each of the group opened a beer and what seemed like no time we were at the front of the line and refreshed.

The new museum addressed everything tattooing. The night was also the museum’s grand opening. The place was full of the who’s who of the tattoo world. The Solomon Islander in the group was enormously proud that there was a sizable exhibition on tattooing in the South Pacific. Solomon Islands, Samoa, Tonga and the Maori of the New Zealand were all mentioned for their tattooing culture.

The museum was filling up so after a visit to the rest room we headed for the exit.

As the group exited the Solomon Islander saw the owner Henk Schiffmacher. He thanked him for mentioning his little country on the other side of the world. The Amsterdam personality asked if he had any tattoos and on showing his tribal scarification the Solomon Islander was invited back at a later date to tell more of the Solomon Islands.


A brush with fame as we left, could the night get any better?

0045hrs Museum 4: Portuguese Synagogue
The decision was sudden as we cycled back towards the centre of town. The Synagogue was open! A rare treat. None of us were from a Jewish background but the 3 storey building is an Amsterdam Architectural wonder that survived Nazi occupation.

Before the WW II Amsterdam was the Jerusalem of the West. We were all interested to see what was left of Amsterdam’s once thriving Sephardic Jewish community.

What a delight. In the forecourt was a tent with falafel for sale. The vegetarian in the group yelped with excitement. We decided to check out the interior before taking a much needed food break.

Security was firm but understandable. All of the men received skull caps on entering. The Solomon Islander with his Jewish cap atop his afro was definitely a memorable image of the night but so was the synagogue. 

The room was impressive. Lit with over a thousand candles, warm and cheerful was the crowd. It was like a Jewish dating event with 20 and 30 somethings all talking to one another in their groups and checking each other out. 

The crowd was entertained by a jazz trio. The wonderful piano and double bass warmed the spirits of everyone.

With our warm jazz glow we exited for a tasty falafel in pita.

0115hrs: let’s make a run for it: Museum 5: Amsterdam’s Maritime museum
Amsterdam’s Maritime museum was recently reopened after 7 years of closure for refurbishment. Amsterdam has a rich maritime history. The city was home to the famous Dutch East Indies Company, the largest transportation company in the world for 200 years. One of the group had been before and we were all keen to see what work had been done.

As we arrived at the impressive building many people were leaving. We entered the great inner court and were surprised to see it full of people dancingto a local DJ.

The night at this museum had been dedicated to Sonic Architecture and the courtyard was a kaleidoscope of lasers lights and a 360 degree soundscape controlled by the DJ. We quickly tackled two of the four wings and were enthralled by model ships hundreds of years old and globes depicting the known world 400 years ago.

At this time of the morning the highlight was the trippy room dedicated to the sea. Fluorescent neon lights, warped mirrors and sea like vegetation presented a surreal aquatic experience. The group adorned hats of sea creatures and danced around the room as sting rays, sea horses and tropical fish.

0200hrs Museums closed

After a few minutes of searching we found our bikes. After a discussion about which after party to go to we all decided to head our different ways. No use spoiling a great night with lining up at a club. Experience told us the lines would be long. East, west and south members of the group pedalled their bicycles.

As I put my head down to sleep images from the night swirled in my head: Jazz, tattoos, ships, tropical rainforest, fashion, canal houses, art, music and my trusty bike. Thank you Amsterdam.


photo link of national newspaper