Overview : Public art, when done well, can tell a story of a city and its people that no museum can. Amsterdam has hundreds of pieces of public... more »
Public art, when done well, can tell a story of a city and its people that no museum can. Amsterdam has hundreds of pieces of public... more » art. I've chosen 18 that I think tell a story about Amsterdam and its residents. I've chosen pieces for their artistic value, their historical interest and/or how they reveal qualities of Amsterdammers.
There are two unnumbered "minor" POIs at the end of this guide. These are unnumbered to keep the guide's distance manageable. If you don't mind adding three miles to your journey I recommend adding the piece in Westerpark after POI No. 4 and the piece in Oosterpark after POI No. 12. less «
Bicycling: I have chosen to start this tour at the MacBike bicycle rental shop at Central Station, but there are several reputable... more » bicycle rental companies in town including Mike's Bicycle Rental, Bike City, Orange Bike and Yellow Bike. Check with your hotel or B&B for the location closest to you. Rental shops can instruct you on how to secure your bicycle, where to park your bicycle and how best to cycle in Amsterdam. Pricing and services offered are fairly consistent for all these companies.
Four essential bicycle tips are stay to the right, always use hand signals when turning, cross tram tracks at as close to a right angle as possible and when indecisive pull over to the side to figure things out. less «
We are using Amsterdam Central Station as a starting point for this family-friendly tour of Amsterdam. The GPS starting point is outside MacBike's Central Station office if you want to rent bicycles, which is the recommended mode of transportation.
The ride from Central Station to our first public artwork will take you through one of the busiest ... Morepedestrian traffic areas of Amsterdam, so ride carefully, and use your bell liberally. Once you reach the Singel Canal the crowds will thin and you can take more time to notice the varied gables of the canal-side houses.Less
Our first public artwork is situated on a cobblestone terrace above the Singel Canal. Here you'll see a large statue of Multatuli (1820-1887). Multatuli (a pen name for Eduard Douwes Dekker) was a novelist who wrote about the abuses of colonialism in the Dutch East Indies, earning him the role as Holland's conscience in the 19th century. As you... More look north along the Singel you will see the copper dome of the Neo-Classical Round Lutheran Church, which opened in 1671.
Continue west, crossing over the Herengracht and Keizersgracht. You are now in the western canal district. In the 17th century (known as the Dutch Golden Age) these neighborhoods were home to the wealthy merchant class that ran Amsterdam. In 2009 the canal ring became protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
There are four main canals that ring the old center. They are (in order as you move away from the center) the Singel (old Dutch word meaning circle or belt), the Herengracht (Gentleman's Canal), Keizersgracht (Emporer's Canal) and the Prinsengracht (Prince's Canal). The Singel was dug around 1450, while the other three were dug in the early 17th century.
Before crossing over the Prinsengracht you will turn right to follow the canal until you reach its intersection with the Brouwersgracht (Brewer's Canal). Once you cross over the Prinsengracht you will be in the most storied of Amsterdam's neighborhoods, Jordaan (pronounced Your-Dahn).Less
Theo Thijssen (1879-1943) was an educator, writer and politician who was born to working-class parents in the Jordaan neighborhood. This statue of Thijssen (outside the cafe that bears his name) shows him at his favorite occupation: teaching children. He is a beloved figure in Amsterdam,and there is a school named after him and a museum honoring... More his life in the Jordaan.
Thijssen's efforts at reforming the Dutch school system in the first half of the 20th century had a huge impact in modernizing Dutch public schools, and society, for generations to come.
Cafe Thijssen is a friendly, cozy place to have a coffee, beer or snack before moving on to our next stop.Less
Noorderkerk was opened in 1623 for the residents of Jordaan. Its plain exterior matches the traditionally working-class parishioners. The sculpture outside Noorderkerk's main entrance is our next piece of public artwork. It depicts three figures bound together with the inscription "Eenheid de sterkste keten," which loosely translates to "The... More strongest chains are those of unity." The statue, created by Sophie Hupkens in 1992, commemorates the bloody Jordaan riots of 1934 against government austerity measures to cut unemployment benefits during the Great Depression. The protesters were successful and the government did not cut the benefits.
From here you can continue to POI No. 5 on Marnixstraat or add an optional stop (one of the "minor" POIs at the end of the guide), Herman Makkink's untitled sculpture in Westerpark. For instructions to Makkink's sculpture see its POI at the end of this guide.Less
This is the first of four pieces on this tour that were created by Amsterdam's "Unknown Sculptor." I love the idea that a sculptor is creating public artwork that just shows up one day (with the blessing of the city of course). This piece was the first by the Unknown Sculptor, appearing in 1982.
The Unknown Sculptor works are owned by the city... More of Amsterdam on the condition that the sculptor's identity not be revealed. This results in much mystery and speculation (including the idea that Queen Beatrix is the artist).
At different times over the years this piece has disappeared and then reappeared in the same spot with a different color or as part of a larger installation.
Our journey to the next point-of-interest takes us along the quiet and picturesque Bloemgracht, the most beautiful of Jordaan's canals. Our destination is the "Homomonument" on the Keizersgracht in the shadow of Westerkerk.Less
"Homomonument" commemorates all gay men and lesbians who have been subjected to persecution because of their homosexuality. When it was inaugurated in 1987 it was the first monument of its kind in the world. The design is by Dutch artist Karin Daan.
The three triangles, each measuring 10 meters (30 feet) on each side, together form a larger... More triangle connected on each side by a thin row of pink granite bricks. This larger triangle measures 36 meters on each side.
The alignments of the three points of the larger triangle are symbolic. One points toward the National War Memorial on Dam Square. One points toward the house of Anne Frank, a Jewish girl who was deported to her death by the Nazis. The third points toward the headquarters of COC Nederland, the Dutch gay rights group founded in 1946, making it the oldest continuously operating gay and lesbian organization in the world.
On the triangle pointing toward the Anne Frank House is engraved a line of poetry by the Dutch Jewish gay poet Jacob Isral de Haan (1881-1924): "Naar vriendschap zulk een mateloos verlangen" ("Such an endless desire for friendship"). The text is from his poem "To a Young Fisherman."
A short ride along the Prinsengracht will bring us to our next public artwork at Johnny Jordaanplein.Less
This square is named after 20th century Dutch folk singer Johannes Hendricus van Musscher, whose stage name was Johnny Jordaan. He is known for singing folk songs about Amsterdam in general and the Jordaan in particular. His statue in this square is joined by his fellow musicians Tante Leen, Manke Nelis and Johnny Meyer. The music that this group ... Moremade in the 1950s-1970s still defines Jordaan's folk music culture.
The ride to our next POI will take us out of Amsterdam's center and into a neighborhood called Old West.Less
One of the most controversial artworks in the city is this piece of a man seeking salvation or healing high above a busy Amsterdam street. Three huge ladders erected against a glass facade support the man, whose arms are raised.
What makes this artwork even more interesting (and controversial) is the fact that it sits atop a public mental health... More clinic. "How to Meet an Angel" represents the gradual healing process that the clinic's clients have to contend with on a daily basis, as well as the active attitude that this requires. The placement of the clinic is historically significant because this is the spot where a "mad house" was established in the 17th century.
The sculpture by Russian-American couple Ilya and Emilia Kabakov caused quite a stir when it was installed in 2009. If you want to stop and contemplate the piece while enjoying a cup of coffee and snack I recommend the Koffie Salon, which is 1 1/2 blocks south on the same side of the street. The outdoor patio offers a nice view of the sculpture.Less
To find our next POI, walk through the tree-lined paths to the north of the busy intersection of Stadouderskade and Leidsestraat. This area is known as Leidsebosje, or Little Leidsesquare Forest.
If you look up at one of the large branches you will find a little iron man sawing on the branch. This wonderful little find is also by the Unknown... More Sculptor and was placed here in 1989. Notice how the tree branch has begun to grow around the iron saw.
The trip to our next stop is a five-minute bike ride to Museum Square, the center of Amsterdam's art and music scene since the late 19th century.Less
Ravensbruck was a WWII concentration camp for women, just north of Berlin. This monument was installed in 1975 and was created by artists Joost van Santen, Guido Eckhardt and Frank Nix.
The stainless-steel column emits light and sound signals
that are captured and reflected through 11 stainless-steel panels. Engraved on the front of the panels... More are the words: "Women of Ravensbruck 1940-1945" and "For she continued to say no to the utmost against fascism."
Engraved on the back of the panel is: "In memory of the 90,000 women and children and 20,000 men who were killed in the Ravensbruck concentration camp." Many of those who died in Ravensbruck were Jews taken from their houses in Amsterdam's old Jewish Quarter.
The trip to our next POI will take us into the Pijp (pronounced Pipe) neighborhood and along the largest outdoor market in the Netherlands.Less
As you follow the GPS directions, walk your bike through the Albert Cuypstraat Market. The market has been operating here since 1905 and boasts more than 260 stalls. The market is open Monday-Saturday 9am-4pm year-round. Anything from fresh fruit to bicycles to clothing can be purchased here at reasonable prices.
The statue of Andre Hazes (1951... More-2004) sits just off the market route. Hazes was born in this neighborhood and came to define the genre of Dutch folk music known as "levenslied" (songs about life).
Legend has it that Hazes was asked to sing songs in the cafe opposite his parent's house when he was a young boy. He was discovered at the age of 8 when singing at the Albert Cuyp Market. From 1976 to 1989 he was the most popular singer in Holland.
A good place to eat is at a restaurant named Bazaar located at Albert Cuypstraat 182. Bazaar is a spacious restaurant that specializes in Eastern cuisine (i.e., North African, Moroccan, Turkish) with good options for children and vegetarians. The atmosphere is interesting as it is a former church that has been redecorated to resemble a mosque. Its a perfect rest point whether you're ready for a full meal, or just a coffee and baklava. Bazaar is open Monday-Friday 11am-midnight and Saturday-Sunday 9am-midnight.
Continue to the end of the Cupstraat market and turn left onto Van Woustraat to our next POI.Less
The Walraven van Hall Memorial is located in the beautiful and peaceful Frederiks Square. Van Hall (1906-1945) is known as the "banker of the resistance." Together with his brother Gijs he succeeded in "robbing" the Dutch National Bank of as much as 50 million Dutch guilders to help fund the Dutch resistance during WWII.
The money was used to... More support families of merchant-sailors who were stranded abroad when war broke out, families of killed resistance fighters, resistance groups and people who were hiding from the Nazis. Altogether the brothers supported approximately 150,000 families.
Van Hall was executed in Haarlem in 1945 and is a great Dutch hero of WWII.
The bronze monument was made by Spanish artist Fernando Sanchez Castillo and was installed in 2010. The branches on the ground are intended to be used as benches, allowing the artwork to also be used as a meeting place.
From here you can continue to POI No. 13 or add an optional stop (one of the "minor" POIs at the end of the guide), the National Slavery Monument in Oosterpark.
The route to POI No. 13 takes us across the Amstel River and into the old Jewish Quarter. As you cross the Amstel River notice on your right one of the poshest hotels in Amsterdeam: the InterContinental Amstel. It is a five-star hotel that also boasts a Michelin-star restaurant.Less
On the Jonas Daniel Myerplein, between the Portuguese Synagogue and the Jewish Historical Museum, is the bronze "Dockworker" statue that was unveiled by Queen Juliana in 1952.
This statue, by Mari Andiessen, commemorates the 1941 February Strike by the workers of Amsterdam to protest the deportation of the city's Jewish population by the... More occupying Nazis. This was the first major protest from the Dutch against the anti-Semitic actions of the Nazis. The strike is commemorated every year on Feb. 25 at this location.
It's a short ride to POI No. 14, which is contained within the entryway to Amsterdam's Music Theater.Less
Inside the foyer of the Music Theater you will find our next public artwork, the third to be created by the Unknown Sculptor. It is a statue of a violinist breaking through the floor. The statue was installed in 1991 to some controversy because the tile floor needed to be broken up to install the piece. I think the effect is stunning.
The... More inscription says:
As her delicate mushroom hat
stormy by the rough woodland sticks,
rice as music from depths untouched
up with power, allowing the marble breaks.
It's only a short 30-second ride to our next POI.Less
At the corner where the Amstel River meets Zwanenburgwal stands the Jewish Resistance Memorial, created by Belgian sculptor Josef Glatt in 1988. On the side, the text of the prophet Jeremiah laments in Dutch and Hebrew: "Were my eyes fountains of tears then would I weep day and night for the fallen fighters of my beloved people." Approximately 500... More Jews died fighting as a part of the Jewish resistance.
Each year a memorial is held here that remembers the Night of Broken Glass (Kristallnacht) in November 1938, when Jews were attacked throughout Germany. Almost every synagogue was set on fire, around 7,000 Jewish shops were broken into and looted, and Jewish property was plastered with slogans and swastikas.
Just a few steps away is our next POI.Less
Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677) is the most well-known and most influential Dutch philosopher. Spinoza's masterwork "Ethics" laid the foundation for the 18th century Enlightenment. Spinoza became known for his ideas about freedom of expression, tolerance, and freedom of religion.
Spinoza was raised in Amsterdam's Jewish community, but his... More controversial ideas dismissed him from the Jewish faith and Jewish society at the age of 23.
The statue (created in 2008) includes an image of Spinoza and next to him an icosahedron, which is a geometric form with 20 faces. This symbolizes the universe as a model, created by the human mind. The birds on the statue are rose-ringed parakeets. The roses refer to his name (Spinoza means "thorn" in Portuguese) and the parakeets symbolize Amsterdam as an immigrant city, which it was in the 17th century, and still is today.
The text on the statue is a quote by Spinoza: "Het doel van de staat is de vrijheid" ("The purpose of the State is freedom").
The trip to our last two public artworks takes us away from the old Jewish Quarter and into Amsterdam's Red Light District.Less
Gerbrand Bredero (1585-1618) was a famous Amsterdam playwright and poet who was born and lived not far from the site of this statue.
The statue was created by sculptor Peter Esser in 1968 to commemorate the 350-year anniversary of Bredero's death. The statue depicts a scene from the most famous of Bredero's works: "The Spanish Brabander." Esser... More intended this statue not just as a tribute to a great writer but also to communicate the character of Amsterdam and its people.
Our final two POIs are just a short distance away at the Old Church in the heart of the Red Light District. I suggest walking your bicycle since many of these streets are crowded and pedestrian only. Take in the red-lit windows and smells of the cannabis cafes along the way.Less
Right next to the Oudekerk (Old Church) is the fourth, and final, work on this tour created by the Unknown Sculptor. It is a bronze relief of a hand caressing a breast and is imbedded between the cobblestones in the ground. It first appeared here in 1993.
An odd place for such a work of art you say? Look around. The Old Church is in the heart of... More Amsterdam's Red Light District. A walk around the church will take you by red-lit windows housing prostitutes showin' what God gave 'em.Less
Our final POI is at the north end of the Old Church square. This statue is the only one in the world to honor sex workers. It was installed in 2007 and titled "Belle." The inscription says "Respect sex workers all over the world." The piece was created by Dutch artist Els Rijerse.
That is the end of our public art tour. The GPS track will take... More you back to our starting point at Central Station. Or, you can wander through and enjoy the Red Light District.Less
This is an optional stop, best viewed after POI No. 4. To get to Herman Makkink's sculpture in Westerpark from Noorderkerk follow the GPS route to Marnixstraat. Instead of turning left toward POI No. 5, turn right and follow Marnixstraat until the major intersection with Haarlemerweg. Turn left onto Haarlemerweg and over the Willems bridge. You... More will see Westerpark on the right. Makkink's large sculpture is found at the far west end of the park.
This interesting sculpture is made from copper, brick and bronze and was installed in 2004. The artist is Dutchman Herman Makkink, who is most well known for designing two pieces featured in the Stanley Kubrick film "A Clockwork Orange."
Makkink has said about this work: "The image refers to the human condition. We are half-human and half-animal, to our great surprise we, unasked, are to live on this earth in an almost impossible position. Only by turning our thoughts to focus on infinity can we get beyond this difficult situation."
It's a 10-minute ride to POI No. 5 back through Westerpark and along the uninteresting Marnixstraat.Less
This is an optional stop, best viewed after POI No. 12. To get from POI No. 12 to Oosterpark follow the GPS route over the Amstel River. Instead of turning left onto Weesperstraat continue on Sarphatistraat to the Muiderpoort tower. Turn right, crossing the canal and enter Oosterpark. The National Slavery Monument is in the southwest corner of the... More park.
The National Slavery Monument by Erwin Jules de Vries, Surinamese born artist, commemorates the abolition of slavery in the Netherlands in 1863 and has stood in the park since 2001. The name of the statue is "Shared Past, Common Future."
The Netherlands has a long history with the slave trade, including making a lot of money by providing the ships that transported slaves from Africa to America in the 17th and 18th centuries. Its own colonial history includes ruling areas around the world such as the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia), the Dutch Antilles and the South American country of Suriname. This monument is a testament to that history.
It is telling that this sculpture sets in Oosterpark because the surrounding neighborhoods are multicultural and contain ancestors of families who came to the Netherlands from Dutch colonies around the world.
Retrace your steps back to the GPS route. The ride to POI No. 13 takes us back along the banks of the Amstel River, past the Amsterdam Hermitage Museum, to Jonas Daniel Myerplein in the shadow of the Portuguese Synagogue.Less