Jewish Quarter Walking Tour (Self Guided), Amsterdam

Amsterdam has been the center of the Dutch Jewish community from the 16th century up until the Second World War. Once crowded with open-air stalls, smoking factories and tenement buildings, the Old Jewish Quarter still retains several moving reminders of the Jewish community that was torn apart during the war. Follow this self-guided walk to explore several key sights in the area, which have much to reveal about the century-long Jewish contribution to Amsterdam’s history.
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Jewish Quarter Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: Jewish Quarter Walking Tour
Guide Location: Netherlands » Amsterdam (See other walking tours in Amsterdam)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 10
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.0 Km or 1.2 Miles
Author: clare
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Waterlooplein Flea Market
  • Rembrandt House Museum
  • Pinto House
  • Gassan Diamonds
  • Uilenburger Synagoge
  • Jewish Historical Museum
  • Portuguese Synagogue
  • Dockworker Statue
  • National Holocaust Museum
  • Hollandsche Schouwburg
Waterlooplein Flea Market

1) Waterlooplein Flea Market

No trip to a city is usually complete without visiting the local bazaar and/or street market. The Waterlooplein Flea Market in Amsterdam is one such destination not to be missed. By far one of the most interesting places in Amsterdam, this is also one of the oldest markets in the city. With patience, you can find almost anything under the sun here – from trendiest attires and old military uniforms to jewelry, antiques and electronics. You can even get yourself a great deal on a tattoo as well – there is nothing this flea market doesn’t have.

Built in the early 19th century, this was a renowned successfully operating Jewish market until the Second World War when the Jews were banished. After the War, the market was revived and thenceforth has been a popular pit stop for tourists and locals alike. The market is crude and gives a perfect bazaar feel. Here you can shop, haggle or just look over the displayed merchandise.

With over 300 stalls, this flea market is quite large to browse through quickly and, with a wide array of items on offer, it is rather difficult to make a speedy choice. Therefore, make sure to allot yourself sufficient time for the visit.

Why You Should Visit:
Great place for an afternoon stroll, cultural immersion and treasure hunting (if you have the inclination and patience).

If money-saving is valued, do a walk-around of the market before buying.
Many items (like hats and sunglasses) can be found at numerous stalls, and prices vary from stall to stall.

Opening Hours:
Mon-Sat: 9:30am-6pm; closed on Sundays
Rembrandt House Museum

2) Rembrandt House Museum (must see)

Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn (or Rembrandt for short) is a 17th-century Dutch painter deservedly regarded as one of the most prominent artists of the Dutch Golden Era, a period when the Dutch Empire was at the peak of its power and fame. Above the many talents Rembrandt possessed, he was an exceptional painter whose main specialization were portraits, self-portraits, battle- and biblical scenes. Throughout his life, Rembrandt had created over 300 pieces of art including paintings, sketches, etchings, and drawings.

The house-museum of Rembrandt is a well-preserved building on Jodenbreestraat in Amsterdam, a home in which the artist had lived and worked for almost two decades, creating some of his most notable masterpieces. It is within these walls that Rembrandt was commissioned to make his magnum opus “The Night Watch”. The mansion was built in 1607 and, prior to Rembrandt, had housed a number of artists and merchants; Rembrandt himself acquired the property in 1639.

Complete with a vast collection of Rembrandt's etches, paintings and drawings, the preserved furniture and ambiance of the building allow visitors a glimpse into the artist’s daily lifestyle. Moreover, the frequent demonstrations (paint mixing and print-making) make the visit extra special and educational.

Although Rembrandt himself was not a Jew, the paintings often reflect his life among the Jews in the city – scenes from the Old Testament and many faces and figures of Amsterdam's Jewish community.

Why You Should Visit:
A home, a studio, a museum, and a great insight into the master and extremes of his life.

Reserve some time to step into the little shop inside the museum. You can find some really nice, good quality souvenirs at reasonable prices, and most likely, you will want to buy something for yourself!

Opening Hours:
Daily: 10am-6pm
Pinto House

3) Pinto House

One of the few survivors of all the development along St Antoniebreestraat is the Pintohuis, which is now a public library. Easily spotted by its creamy Italianate facade, the mansion is named after Isaac de Pinto, a Sephardic Jew who fled Portugal to escape the Inquisition and subsequently became a founder of the Dutch East India Company.

Pinto bought the property in 1651 and promptly had it remodeled in grand style, the facade interrupted by six lofty pilasters, which lead the eye up to the blind balustrade. The mansion was the talk of the town, even more so when Pinto had the interior painted in a similar style to the front – pop inside to admire the beautiful ceiling frescoes, featuring lots of gold and soaring birds. More recent additions are found by the entrance: spot the little cherub reading a book, a reference to the building’s current manifestation as a "bibliotheek".

Opening Hours:
Mon-Fri: 10:30am-5:30pm; Sat: 1-5pm
Free admission
Gassan Diamonds

4) Gassan Diamonds

Gassan Diamonds occupies a large and imposing brick building dating from 1897. Before World War II, many local Jews worked as diamond cutters and polishers, but there’s little sign of the industry hereabouts today, this factory – once the largest diamond-polishing factory in the world and the first to use steam power – being the main exception. Free one-hours multi-language tours include a visit to the cutting and polishing areas, as well a gambol around Gassan’s glittering collection of watches, diamonds, and jewelry (you are unlikely to find much in the way of bargains, though).

Opening Hours:
Daily: 9am-5:30pm
Free admission, frequent tours
Uilenburger Synagoge

5) Uilenburger Synagoge

Round windows with the Star of David adorn the elegant, detached Uilenburger Synagoge from the year 1766. This typical synagogue in the heart of the Jewish Quarter replaced a house of prayer from the year 1724, which consisted of two floors. A party room, which later served as a kosher poultry slaughterhouse, could be found on the ground floor, with the synagogue now located above it. Synagogue services, music performances, and other meetings organized by the congregation of Beit Ha'Chidush (BHC) once again take place here following an extensive restoration in 1997. There are typically three Shabbat services each month: two on Friday evenings and one on Saturday morning, as well as services on Holidays.

Beit Ha'Chidush (BHC) is an independent modern and progressive community where anyone with a Jewish background, either paternal or maternal, is welcome. People with a non-Jewish partner are more than welcome to attend the services together with their partner. BHC is a community based on equality and inclusiveness and welcomes individuals of all genders and sexual orientations.
Jewish Historical Museum

6) Jewish Historical Museum

Cleverly shoehorned within an impressive complex of four Ashkenazic synagogues dating from the 17th and 18th centuries, this is the major museum of the Jewish Cultural Quarter, with less focus on the Holocaust and more on all aspects of Jewish life, and the relationship between the Jewish community and the city of Amsterdam. Being one of a kind in the entire country – and perhaps the world – the Jewish Historical Museum has in its possession some of the rarest documents, artifacts, and manuscripts placed in clear context.

Known as "Mokum" in Hebrew, Amsterdam was a haven for Jews for a long time, where Jewish communities like the Sephardic from the Iberian peninsula and the Ashkenazi from Central and Eastern Europe sought refuge and flourished. Although parts of the same ethnic group, these two communities had a huge economic divide and belonged to different strata of society.

What makes this museum so engaging is, without doubt, its curation. It explains clearly the difference between the different Jewish diasporas, and the effect that having these two groups had on society in the Netherlands. Furthermore, there is a reconstruction of the synagogue where you learn about the beauty of worship and Judaism in daily life, and also exhibits about Jewish people in industry, as compared to the impoverished ones in the city’s history. In short, they have pretty everything here, including a kosher daily and a good bookshop. A combined ticket allows entrance to other Jewish sites as well, such as the beautiful Portuguese Synagogue, the developing Holocaust Museum, and the Children's Museum.

On Saturday and Sunday, a market pops in the adjacent square, so consider utilizing the weekend.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 11am-5pm
Portuguese Synagogue

7) Portuguese Synagogue

The option of enjoying religious freedom is what brought a majority of Jews from all over Europe to Amsterdam. The city has over the years earned a reputation for being tolerant and offering equal rights to individuals of every community.

The Jewish community first took refuge in Amsterdam in the late 15th century. Fleeing from Spain and Portugal, they enjoyed religious freedom in the Netherlands like no other. During that time, the Dutch Republic was also at war with Spain. To avoid further mishap, the refugees called themselves Portuguese Jews.

The community grew at a fair rate and about a century later in 1665, the Portuguese Synagogue was built. Also known as the Esnoga, the building back then was the largest synagogue in the world, having drawn inspiration from the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem.

Seemingly untouched by the hands of time, the Portuguese Synagogue overlooks traffic on one of Amsterdam’s busiest streets. Not much has changed in the design and interiors of the structure since the 17th century, and one can still appreciate the antiquities and grand interiors that time has no effect on. After dark, about 1000 candles light up the entire space (there is no electric light).

Why You Should Visit:
To witness the second-oldest Synagogue in continuous use in Europe.
The entrance fee also allows access to the Jewish Historical Museum across the street.

Don't skip going the various annexes to the main building (board room, winter synagogue, baths, office, candle room, mourning room, rabbinate, etc.), and make sure to go downstairs to visit the treasure chambers, which house some lovely items such as precious 16th-century manuscripts and gold-threaded tapestries, among other things. You can also see a number of books belonging to the oldest Jewish library in the world!

Opening Hours:
Sun-Thu: 10am-4pm; Fri: 10am-3pm
Dockworker Statue

8) Dockworker Statue

Outside the Portuguese Synagogue, standing on a small square in a stark, exposed position, the Dockworker statue by Dutch sculptor Mari Andriessen honors Amsterdam workers – not just dockers – who, in February 1941, went on strike to protest against the Nazi treatment of the city’s Jews. The direct causes were a series of arrests and pogroms held by the Germans in the old Jewish neighborhood of Amsterdam, in reprisal for the wounding of several Dutch police officers during a street fight.

Considered to be the first public protest against the Nazis in occupied Europe, the subsequent strike was organized by the outlawed Communist Party and spearheaded by the city’s transport workers and dockers, lasting for two days; on 26 February, 300,000 people joined the protests. On the third day, the strike was harshly suppressed by the Germans but is still commemorated each February 25 by an annual wreath-laying ceremony as well as a march past the Dockworker statue. All political parties, as well as the city public transport authorities and organizations of Holocaust survivors, participate in the remembrance.
National Holocaust Museum

9) National Holocaust Museum

Albeit still under development, this museum – housed in a former school that was next to a nursery – has an important history to tell and is well worth visiting. It focuses on how Jewish children (up to the age of 12) had to wait, separated from their parents, waiting for deportation. After the annexation of the nursery from the Nazis in October 1942, employees of the Jewish Council, who were at the deportation site, found help from the resistance and the director of the nursery to set out and rescue Jewish Children, handing them to the safety of the school. It took a lot of work, but over time the members involved became part of the most important smuggling route.

The Holocaust Museum is a very emotional experience with objects belonging to younger children being presented as well as their story. There is also an exhibit of photographs, most of which were found years after the war in personal collections or in antique shops. Many individual stories are shared through these photos and accompanying documents. Over 104,000 Dutch Jewish individuals did not survive the war.

Across the street, you can spend some time at the National Holocaust Memorial, which lists every identified victim of the genocide in the Netherlands on its wall. A tall, elegant spire sits on the top of a Jewish star, acting as the memorial's centerpiece.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 11am-5pm
Hollandsche Schouwburg

10) Hollandsche Schouwburg

The grand platform for the performing arts since 1892 was tainted as the gateway to doom for thousands of Dutch Jew families. The Hollandsche Chouwbusrg, once a popular theatre staging well known plays and dramas was renamed as Joodsche Schouwburg or Jewish Theatre after the Nazi occupation of Amsterdam.

With an intention of curtailing the Jewish population and families, the theatre was strictly meant for Jews and no other community. However, this was not the worst part. The Joodsche Schouwburg soon became the reporting point where all Jewish families were forced to report before being transported to the concentration camps.

However, after the Second World War, the plight of the theatre did not improve any further. Due to massive protests, the glory of this magnificent theatre was put to an end. In 1960, the building was turned into a memorial in honour of all the Jews who were lost in the Holocaust of the Second World War. The place that once housed the old stage now has an obelisk reflection of the tragedy.

In 1993, a memorial chapel was installed mentioning over 6,700 families roughly 104,000 Dutch Jewish individuals, who did not make it from the concentration camps.

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