A world away from the Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh Museum are a number of Amsterdam’s quirkier and quieter museums. From human-sized cats to self-playing pianos, the exhibits these attractions contain offer visitors a more unusual experience. These museums aren’t always easy to find, so read on to discover where they are – and what you can expect to find inside.
Tucked away in a building along the Herengracht, one of the three main canals in the city, is the Kattenkabinet – a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it museum celebrating the humble moggy in all its forms. Kattenkabinet’s collection is spectacularly varied, from portraits of Lenin with his favourite pet to various feline sculptures. There’s even a life-size Grizabella from the musical production Cats, which is impossible to miss. The museum was established by William Meijer in 1990 who wanted to mark the passing of his cat with an appropriately grand tribute.
Museum of Bags and Purses
A little further along the Herengracht, in the direction of the Amstel, is the quirky Museum of Bags and Purses. Inside its canal-side doors is the world’s biggest collection of, you guessed it, bags and purses. The museum includes over 5,000 items, some dating as far back as 1600 A.D. and others that were once worn on the arms of celebrities. Most of the exhibits belong to Amstelveen-based antique dealer Hendrikje Ivo, who established the museum along with her husband and daughter in 1996.
Walk east along the Herengracht from the Museum of Bags and Purses and you’ll arrive at Museum Willet-Holthuysen, a 17th century canal house named after the last private owner, Mrs. Willet-Holthuysen, who donated the property to the city in her will. The double-fronted Herengracht 605 has a wide collection of 18th and 19th century furnishings and offers a glimpse of what life was like during Amsterdam’s Golden Age. In addition to the ornate ballroom, grand dining room and stunning conservatory, visitors are free to explore the French-inspired symmetric garden.
The Pianola Museum
West of the city centre, in the Jordaan district, lies the Pianola Museum – an institution dedicated to all things automatic piano. It may be among Amsterdam’s littlest museums, but the attraction, aside from its collection of self-playing instruments, contains more than 30,000 rolls of perforated music. Almost all of these can be played on the pianolas – just make sure you don’t start an unintended sound clash with one of the other visitors. Kasper Janse, the museum’s curator, is very welcoming and speaks excellent English.
Red Light Secrets
At first glance it looks like just another set of neon-lit red windows, but the people behind these panes are actually visitors who’ve managed to find Red Light Secrets, the Museum of Prostitution. As well as posing in one of the infamous windows, complete with costumes, you’ll learn everything there is to know about the world’s oldest profession and its links with the Dutch capital. It takes around 40 minutes to walk around the various exhibits, including the different categories of brothel.