After having lived in the Netherlands for over 2 years now, I can say that I’ve come across some rather unusual museums – everything from fashion to science, alcohol, exquisite palaces and more. Below is a taste of some of the country’s most unusual museums; museums often not featured in tourist guides – museums you should definitely know about and explore when you’re next visiting.
1. Museum of Bags and Purses, Amsterdam
Handbag lovers will appreciate this fascinating museum that demonstrates handbag designs throughout the ages. In fact, The Museum of Bags and Purses is the world’s largest collection of ladies handbags and it documents over 500 years of handbag designs from across the globe. There are some very, very odd handbags here – everything from telephone-shaped handbags, to fluffy dog handbags and even bling bling Diet Coke bags…the creativity of handbag design is limitless!
2. Teylers Museum, Haarlem
The Teylers Museum in Haarlem is the country’s oldest museum and the world’s only 18th century museum that remains fully in tact. This museum explores the natural world as well as the scientific and there are hundreds of display cabinets filled with fossils of animals you never even knew existed, oddly shaped stones and mind-blowing scientific contraptions. Most fascinating especially if you have an appreciation for the sciences.
3. The Van Kleef Museum and Distillery in The Hague
And from the life sciences we aptly continue on to the science of liqueur-making. The Van Kleef Museum and Distillery (tucked away in the city centre of The Hague) is one of the smallest museums (merely a room in size!) but also one of the most interesting. This museum, dating from 1842, explores the history of the distillery in the city and was even frequented by Vincent van Gogh who once lived just down the road! Furthermore, this is the only museum to have the very first telephone book of The Hague. Even more crazy (or worrying for that matter) is that the Van Kleef Distillery takes the number one spot in this book…even before the police or hospital!
4. Panorama Mesdag
This is the country’s largest painting – a beautiful panorama depicting the Scheveningen beachfront and dunes of The Hague. In fact, at Panorama Mesdag you can literally step into the panorama, a 19th century cylindrical canvas of 14 metres in height and 120 in circumference – it certainly isn’t just an artwork but an experience. The panorama is also the oldest 19th century panorama in existence and is hence a very important part of Dutch cultural history.
5. Corrie ten Boom Museum, Haarlem
If you’ve heard about Anne Frank then you should definitely know about Corrie ten Boom, a Christian women who risked her life to hide Jewish people during Hitler’s regime. The Corrie ten Boom Museum is about this lesser-known story. What I love here is that it’s a very personal museum (it doesn’t have thousands of tourists queuing up and hounding on its doors) although it certainly deserves the same amount of attention. At the Corrie ten Boom Museum, a tour guide only lets in a small group at a time. You’re then seated inside the ten Boom lounge and you’re told the story of Corrie’s courage and determination to save people under threat. A highly recommended and very moving experience that will leave you speechless.
6. The Huygens Museum Hofwijk, Voorburg
Situated just outside of The Hague in the suburb of Voorburg lies this magnificent building with yellow shutters – the Huygens Museum Hofwijk. The building was the summer resident of the Huygens family and dates back to the 1600s. The building and gardens show what life was like for some of the most well-known Dutch historical figures – Constantijn Huygens, a well-known Dutch politician and his son Christiaan Huygens, a physicist who was friends with Galileo Galilei, Marin Mersenne and René Descartes to name a few.
7. Het Loo Palace, Apeldoorn
Het Loo Palace is by far the most spectacular palace in the Netherlands. It is situated a little off-the-beaten-track in a town called Apeldoorn. The palace was built in the 1600s for King William the third and Mary the second of England. It was later utilised by the House of Orange-Nassau until Queen Wilhelmina’s death in 1962. It was only in the 1900s that it was restored to its former glory. I was most impressed with the well-kept gardens as well as the regal rooms – a glorious place where you need a good couple of hours to experience the entire complex.
8. Museum Speelklok, Utrecht
Music lovers will appreciate the uniqueness of Museum Speelklok in Utrecht. This museum is housed inside an old church and inside you’ll discover the most beautiful organs from decades ago in the Netherlands. There is also an excellent interactive exhibit for children and adults alike whereby you’ll get to partake in making your very own music. A most magical museum that takes you back in time.
9. Museum Boerhaave, Leiden
Now this one is a little bit weird. Museum Boerhaave, situated in the student town of Leiden, will certainly appeal to curious minds. It is a museum that combines cosmology, physics, medicine, physiology and botany all in a single venue. Really strange objects grace the shelves and in many instances you need to refer to the information boards for the historical background otherwise you’ll have no clue what you’re looking at! Moreover, Museum Boerhaave’s main collection is of the most important scientific and medical history collections in the world. This museum is so important it was awarded a place in The Times’ 50 Best Museums around the globe.
10. Escher Museum, The Hague
For those with an interest in perpective-altering art, The Escher Museum is certainly the one for you. M.C. Escher’s works are so unusual in nature that they are quite challenging and beautiful all at once. So too is the building in which the museum is housed; it was the home of the Dutch queen Emma until 1934. The Escher Museum also has a careful balance of art and interactivity, allowing the viewer to partake in optical illusions and mind-altering games making M.C. Escher’s work just so much more tangible.
Have you been to a lesser-known museum in the Netherlands that you think should make this list? Tell us in the comments below – we’d love to have your input!