Ditch the lines and get VIP treatment at Amsterdam’s many public and private museums, where customized tours provide a unique insight into the social and cultural development of the city.
Pointing to the rhododendrons and magnolias in various states of bloom on a sunny spring day at the Museum Van Loon, Philippa van Loon recalls playing hide and seek in this Golden Age paradise when the stately home was her personal playground.
“I used to have a big bouncy ball in the garden,” she reminisces. “We had barbecues and I even had a disco party for my 21st birthday. It’s hard to imagine now.”
The Van Loons have inhabited the property since 1884. In the 1950s, realizing that this intact canal house with its equally intact art collection was a rare gem within the city’s weary post-war canal belt, Philippa’s father set up a family foundation to preserve it.
The Museum Van Loon, where Philippa still lives with her own family today, has been open to the public since 1973. Lovingly restored as the Grand Canal house where Dutch Master Ferdinand Bol was the first tenant in the 17th century, it welcomes visitors to roam the garden and peruse the original artwork, or take a guided tour during opening hours or afterwards. A glass of cava awaits those on these exclusive private visits.
In the dining room, where guests have been feasting since 1672 amid Persian carpets, cabinets stocked with 18th-century Dutch china cabinets and van Loon family portraits by the likes of Jan Miense Molenaer and others, exclusive meals can be arranged for up to 45 people. Private dining is also offered in the coach house.
The House of Six is another canal house whose original family, the Six’s, has been collecting and sharing art for four centuries, first on Keizersgracht, later at a palatial dwelling on the Amstel. Now the 11th generation of Jan Six’s inhabits the family house, viewed by appointment only, whose visitors have included John F. Kennedy and Tsar Alexander II. They come to see a stunning collection of Golden Age furniture and family portraits, including Rembrandt’s 1654 painting of the first Jan Six, an Amsterdam art collector and mayor. This is said to be the most valuable of the Dutch Master’s works still in private hands.
“There is so much culture in this city,” says Annemarie de Wildt, a curator at the Amsterdam Museum. “After you’ve seen the Rijksmuseum and the Stedelijk, there are still many different treasures, all part of a rich cultural mosaic.”
Among them are Our Lord in the Attic, or Ons’ Lieve Heer op Solder, and the Museum Willet-Holthuysen, two more of the city’s 17t- century canal house museums that also offer private tours. The former is the city’s most famous hidden Catholic church, while the latter illustrates the 18th- and 19t- century socialite lifestyle of the Willet-Holthuysen family. To view the Venetian glass, German porcelain, weapons and rare art history books, as well as painting and prints, book a guided tour.
Nihon no hanga, a private museum whose prestigious collection includes some 2,000 Japanese prints mostly from the early 20th century, offers private visits by appointment. Collected by Elise Wessels and her husband Cees over a period of 25 years, the most outstanding collection of its kind outside Japan is displayed in sober style on Keizersgracht. A Japanese-inspired stone and bamboo patio allows for quiet reflection in the heart of Amsterdam’s canal belt.
For an off-the-beaten-track experience, literally, make an appointment at the Royal Waiting Room tucked away on platform 2B at Amsterdam’s Central Station. Built by Rijksmuseum and Central Station architect Pierre Cuypers for the House of Orange, this recently renovated neo-Gothic wonder is still used by today’s royals, including Dutch Queen Máxima, who departed by train with her Belgian counterpart Mathilde of Belgium for the opening of Utrecht’s revamped station last year.
But it’s not only the smaller institutions that provide private visits. Nearly all the major art museums offer group tours tailored to every artistic whim. The Rijksmuseum puts particular focus on Rembrandt. At the Van Gogh Museum, experts take you on an hour-long journey around the life and work of this revered legend.
Amsterdam’s history museums can also be perused in private. Het Scheepvaartmuseum, which documents 500 years of maritime heritage in a replica of a Dutch East India Company ship, offers diverse tours and dining packages. The Anne Frank House runs introductory group programs for 15-35 people followed by a visit to the house where the Frank family hid until they were betrayed and deported to concentration camps in 1944. The guided and customized tours at the Amsterdam Museum reflect the city itself, whose unique blend of public and private attitudes has shaped its character to this day.
This article is part of the magazine Amsterdam Luxury Selection dd September 2017.Request additional information >