Amsterdam is an international harbour city with a vast array of cultural venues. It's a place where the architecture is diverse, where the museums and art galleries are plentiful and where the music scene hosts numerous festivals which are popular among visitors from all over the world. Theatre, opera and ballet admirers will find that the performances staged in this city are of the highest artistic value. Whatever entertainment you are seeking, you'll find it in Amsterdam.
Throughout the years Amsterdam has established a reputation as one of Europe’s foremost cities in terms of architecture and design. This reputation is not only due to the picturesque 17th-Century rings of canals, but also to the modern architecture developing naturally between the facades of historical buildings.
Amsterdam, a frequent destination for architectural hobbyists, is not a very large city, but the popular sites of interest are all easily accessible and represent a variety of architectural styles: Classicism, Historicism, Art Deco and Functionalism. The Dutch capital is also an important art centre where world-famous artists such as Van Gogh and Rembrandt created exceptional pieces of art. Nowadays, their works may be seen in the Van Gogh Museum, Rijksmuseum (State Museum) and the Rembrandthuis (The Rembrant House Museum).
The majority of Vincent Van Gogh’s works have never left the Netherlands and more than 200 paintings and 500 drawings are on permanent display in the Van Gogh Museum, which was designed by Gerrit Rietveld. Van Gogh’s artwork is presented unadorned and divided into stages according to the chronology of their creation and the location where the artist resided when painting. The second floor hosts colourful paintings that Van Gogh produced during his stay in the south of France. There, among multiple riveting masterpieces, you will also find the famous 'Sunflowers'. The museum also displays works by other artists such as Toulouse-Lautrec and Paul Gauguin, who were contemporaries of Van Gogh. Changing exhibitions highlight the different points in the artistic development of the painters.
Rembrandthuis is a charming little house where Rembrandt lived for twenty years until he was forced to move out due to bankruptcy in 1658. Interestingly enough, his bankruptcy came about when the commissioners of 'The Night Watch' turned out to be entirely dissatisfied with his painting, which consequently ruined his career. Currently, the house is faithfully restored and displays more than 250 of Rembrandt’s drawings, as well as a collection of paintings by his teacher, followers and other artists.
Rijksmuseum, or the State Museum, on the other hand, is by now the largest museum in the Netherlands. It is a monumental Neo-Renaissance building designed by Cuypers. Every year, more than one million people visit this major European museum of Western European decorative arts and painting. In the recently renovated Philips Wing, the finest works from the 17th-Century collection, known as The Masterpieces, are on display. Altogether, more than 400 works are exhibited, among them is 'The Night Watch' by Rembrandt. Landscapes, individual portraits, seascapes, domestic scenes and Dutch still-lifes give an excellent overview of the life in the Netherlands during the Golden Age.
Amsterdam is also home to De Nederlandse Opera (DNO), the leading opera company in the Netherlands. It is renowned for its theatrical and adventurous performances, as well as its mixed repertoire of classic and modern operas. Presently, it is located in the Het Muziektheater, a modern building designed by Cees Dam which opened in 1986. DNO was established after World War II as a repertoire company with a permanent ensemble that was to tour extensively throughout the Netherlands during the postwar period. In 1964, it was renamed The Dutch Opera Foundation and they started to invite different artistic groups and soloists for every new production. The French-Lebanese theatre director has been the artistic director of DNO since 1988, whereas the chief conductor, Ingo Metzmacher, joined much later and has held his post since 2005.
Boom Chicago is another popular cultural venue in Amsterdam. It is an improvisational and sketch comedy theatre, established in 1993 by a group of American tourists who named it after their hometown. In its early stages, it wasn't included in Amsterdam's official list of theatres because it was considered a foreign enterprise. Over the years since its founding, Boom Chicago has become a part of the cultural life of the city and it is home to long-running stage performances with incredibly high ticket sales.
Boom Chicago is also popular outside the Netherlands. The company travels to theatre festivals around the world such as the Chicago Improv Festival, the Edinburgh International Festival and the Singapore Comedy Festival. It addresses important modern-day issues such as the dangers of the emerging extreme right politics, the conspiracy theory, xenophobia in the Pim Fortuyn Dutch society, government bureaucracy and the 9/11 attacks. A typical feature of the show is the intertwining of social and political issues with traditional cabaret elements – a style which increases the popularity of the show among the regular audience and the critics alike.
On the music scene, the most famous and most respected symphonic orchestra in the Netherlands is the Concertgebouw Orchestra, considered to be one of the world's finest orchestras. The Royal title was given to the orchestra by Queen Beatrix in 1988. Since then, the orchestra has had only six chief conductors, which is unique for orchestras of this age and caliber and is one of the many reasons why this particular orchestra has such a distinctive character. It has made nearly one thousand recordings which have all contributed greatly to its reputation. The name of this orchestra, Concertgebouw, means concert hall in Dutch.
Many festivals, all of which keep the city bustling with cultural life, attract tourists to Amsterdam. One of these is the Amsterdam Literary Festival – an international writers and book event held annually in May. Visitors of the festival can have their books signed and may talk in person to internationally renowned writers. The festival also provides a range of panels and discussions of interest for emerging poets, novelists and screenwriters. Writers who have taken part in the festival include the comedian Sandi Toksvig and bestselling authors such as Kate Mosse and Sarah Waters, to name just a few.
Another popular festival which takes place in Amsterdam is the Holland Festival. It is the largest festival of performing arts which has been held every June since 1947. It includes opera, theatre, music and modern dance. The festival features some of the top performers and artists in the world as well as emerging performers. Each segment of the festival offers a wide variety of themes as the programme features both classical works presented with modern undertones and contemporary pieces, all under the watchful eye of the Artistic Director of the Holland Festival, Pierre Audi.
The largest documentary film festival is the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam, which was first held in 1988. Since then it has been taking place every year in the Leidseplein area in the centre of the city. Many cinemas and institutions in Amsterdam help the organisation. The objective is to promote documentary films and present them to a larger audience. Different prizes are awarded for the best films in particular genres.
Amsterdam offers a wide variety of cultural events that gather to the most sophisticated tastes, ensuring that your visit to Amsterdam remains memorable.