Amsterdam has hundreds of museums, some that are world class, others we’d advise you give a wide berth (yes Cheese Museum, Tulip Museum, Hash Museum and Sex Museum we’re talking to you – shops are definitely not museums!)
But if you’ve visited the Rijks and Van Gogh or maybe even explored the Begijnhof courtyard there’s another gem that is well worth including in your itinerary.
The formal name is somewhat a mouthful Museum Ons’ Lieve Heer Op Solder which roughly translates to Our Lord in the Attic – a pretty big clue to its hidden secret.
Because this treasure is not just a stunningly preserved seventeenth century house from the Dutch Golden Age (and the second oldest of the city’s museums after the Rijks) but hidden up on the top three floors you’ll discover a magnificent church in the eaves.
Back in 1663, celebrating mass was illegal but the authorities turned a blind eye to clandestine Catholic chapels known as “schuilkerks”. So in the canal house at Number 40 Oudezijds Voorburgwal (now depressingly close to the Red Light District and in what has become a rather touristy and gritty part of town) Jan Hartmann converted the attic of his home into a church which today is enjoyed by an astonishing 85,000 visitors a year.
And it’s not surprising that it’s such a draw. The 400 year old building has been amazingly preserved. Here you will see how the Dutch ate, slept and lived. Wander the corridors, see the kitchens and marvel at the tiny cupboard beds before you approach the typically narrow and steep spiral staircases that lead to the fully-appointed Catholic church in the attic.
This isn’t the only Catholic secret in Amsterdam (check out Cafe Papeneiland with its undergound tunnel for another piece of Papist history) but its well worth paying a visit.
With seating for 150 worshippers, the lavish decoration belies the modest exterior of the house and thanks to it being turned into a museum in 1888, it is amazingly still in active use with a regular Sunday mass.
We really love this museum, despite the number of visitors who come to explore its secrets, it somehow still feels quiet and a bit of a hidden secret. On arrival there are free headsets available for self-guided tours which are available in most major languages. It’s well worth using them to get a real sense of the 17th Century way of life. Fans of Jessie Burton’s The Miniaturist or Tracy Chevalier’s Girl With A Pearl Earring will be particularly enthralled giving them a chance to go beyond the page and really feel what it must have been like to live in Amsterdam 400 years ago.
For younger kids (5-10 years) there is a scavenger hunt available called ‘Ladybug in the Attic’ and for older kids there is a tailored audioguide called “Feast! In the Attic” in which the children can learn about the origins of Christian holidays such as St Nicholas, Christmas, Easter and Whitsun.
Be sure to put this magical museum on your list for a real understanding of Dutch life in the Golden Age. And if you’re trying to persuade your Instagram-loving youngsters to visit, just remind them there aren’t that many other attractions that include a 400 year old pink church!