The article below was published in Pinnable’s newsletter in .

Dutch Open-Air Museum

The Netherlands for Time Travellers

The Dutch are not generally known for a keen interest in their national history, but they do seem to like the history of everyday life, which is about how ordinary people lived in the past. That is why the Open-Air Museum in Arnhem is the second-most-visited Dutch museum outside Amsterdam: it shows what daily life in the Netherlands was like from the dawn of industrialization onwards. Measuring almost ½ km², the museum houses just over a hundred authentic buildings that were teleported from all over the country, and you need at least one full day to see half of it. Last year, after much deliberation, the government managed to also squeeze in a supercalifragilistic hi-tech hands-on exhibition about the Canon of the Netherlands, the authorized version of our national history, but that’s for when it’s raining, which is, incidentally, regrettably but decidedly an intrinsic part of Dutch life almost every day.

The village at the Dutch Open-Air Museum
The village at the Open-Air Museum

When the museum opened a century ago, its main focus was on rural culture. Today this is reflected in the presence of some thirty farmhouses and other agricultural buildings, which all look idyllic, but most of them are in fact rather dull. What makes the museum really cool are the living history activities, demonstrated in various workshops, the laundry and several mills, including a flour mill and a paper mill — it is fascinating to see how rags are turned into paper there. Among more recent additions to the museum are the Freia dairy factory and the Van Gend & Loos goods shed from Tiel (which used to be the distribution hub for the Flipje’s Betuwe Jam that freed housewives the country over from having to make jam themselves), as well as a prefab house donated by the Norwegian Red Cross after the flood of 1953. These buildings often contain a small presentation that not only discusses their purpose but also calls attention to their social and economic context. Food-wise the Netherlands has never been a great nation, but while immersing yourself in Dutch culture, you might want to have poffertjes at the stall in the village square or get Arnhemse grofjes from the bakery. Occasionally, the inn serves pannenkoeken after the museum’s official closing time. Be sure to make a reservation on such days so that you have the museum to yourself after dinner.

Reader comments

My dentist

As a result of an initiative taken by the German government, the city of Arnhem got a complete makeover during the late 1940s and ’50s, and trams were replaced by trolleybuses. Railway geeks such as myself were therefore absolutely delighted when the museum opened its 1¾-km-long circular tramline in 1996, with replicas of the original Arnhem depot and the classic GETA № 76 tram. (The NS № 285 Sik shunter at the VGL goods shed doesn’t do much because of a lack of sufficient track.)


Brewery De Roskam is the only place where the Museumkaart entitles the holder to a free glass of beer, however small. Nice to know: museum brewer Patrick Leenders brews some 40,000 litres of beer per year; our local brewery here in Zoeterwoude does that every 15 minutes.


The labourers’ house from the 1970s and the Green Cross health centre I find slightly disturbing, because once your childhood is put on display at a historical museum, you know that you are officially nearly dead.