The city’s historical museum is partly housed in a former convent and partly in a 17th-century orphanage and is pleasantly situated around a cobbled courtyard. Telling the story of Amsterdam’s progression from simple fishing village to world power in the 17th-century Golden Age, the displays kick off superbly with the interactive exhibition Amsterdam DNA, which takes a whistle-stop tour through the main stages of the city’s history, illustrated by Old Dutch Master paintings, maps, tools, armor, and religious sculpture. After that, however, things tail off as you are led through gallery after gallery of poorly organized artifacts; one highlight is the 1677 scale model of the Koninklijk Paleis (Dutch Royal Palace).

The Schuttersgalerij (Civic Guards Gallery) stands outside the museum entrance, a narrow, glass-roofed walkway linking Kalverstraat to the Begijnhof. It has been transformed into a public art gallery currently displaying 15 bigger-is-better, 17th-century portraits of the city’s heroic musketeers, the Civic Guards. Elegantly uniformed and coiffed, these militia companies once played an important role in the city’s defense but degenerated into little more than decadent banqueting societies. Their portraits are accompanied by a vast wooden sculpture of Goliath and a miniscule David, plus photographs of Amsterdam’s contemporary elite side by side with the magical Barbara Broekman carpet representing the 179 nationalities of Amsterdam.