Born in The Hague to a patrician family, his early training is obscure; a recent suggestion suggests an apprenticeship with Willem Danielsz. van Tetrode, known in Italy as Guglielmo Fiammingo, a pupil of Benvenuto Cellini who had returned to the Netherlands. Another possibility is that he was apprenticed to a goldsmith, his brother-in-law Simon Adriaensz Rottermont. Both possibilities are suggestive in view of de Vries' virtuoso casting technique and refined finish.
However this may be, he left home and travelled to Florence, where as early as 1581 he is documented working in the studio of the master Mannerist sculptor Giambologna, a Northerner like himself. Three of the Virtues and some of the putti for Giambologna's Grimaldi Chapel, in San Francesco di Castelletto, Genoa (1579), have been attributed to Adriaen de Vries. In 1586 he was called to Milan to assist Pompeo, the son of the ailing Leone Leoni, whom he succeeded as master of one of Italy's largest bronze-casting studios; for Leoni de Vries provided three heroically-scaled saints for Leoni's high altar at the basilica of San Lorenzo at the Escorial.
This led to his brief appointment as court sculptor to Philip II's son-in-law Charles Emmanuel I, Duke of Savoy in Turin. In 1589-94 he worked for the first time in Prague, making busts and reliefs for Emperor Rudolf II. These sculptures are now housed in Vienna and at the Victoria and Albert Museum, which possesses a bust of Rudolf in bas-relief. He left Prague in 1594 for a visit to study in Rome. On his return through Germany he executed two fountains in 1596 for the city of Augsburg, the Mercury and Hercules and the Hydra fountains, which may still be seen in Maximilianstraße.
De Vries returned in 1601 to Prague, where Rudolf made him Kammerbildhauer. He remained in Prague after Rudolf's death in 1612, though the Imperial court returned to Vienna, until his own death in 1626. During this late period he found a new patron in the Prince of Liechtenstein and received sculpture commissions from several German cities; he was also commissioned to make a Neptune fountain for the gardens of the king of Denmark's royal palace, Frederiksborg. One of the statues from this fountain is now displayed in the Rijksmuseum.
The Rijksmuseum Neptune is the one sculpture by de Vries to be found in his native Netherlands, where he was scarcely known until the exhibition mounted by the Rijksmuseum, the Nationalmuseum, Stockholm, and the J. Paul Getty Museum in 1999. The biggest collection of De Vries sculptures is now to be seen in Stockholm, Sweden. In the closing phase of the Thirty Years War, the Swedes pillaged Prague and took a great many statues, in particular duke Albrecht von Wallenstein's garden statues, that used to adorn his palace on the lesser side of Prague. The original statues are now to be found in the royal domain of Drottningholm outside Stockholm; bronze relicas populate the Wallenstein Palace in Prague, now seat of the Czech senate. Another famous work by de Vries also now at Drottningholm was the Hercules Fountain, made for Fredensborg Palace, Denmark. These sculptures were also taken as prizes of war during the Swedish-Danish war of 1658.
Partly as a result of the disturbances of the Thirty Years War and the dispersal of his major works Adriaen de Vries had no direct follower.
A new Museum De Vries at Drottningholm Palace opened in 2005. It houses a remarkable number of statues by this great master.