Visit Amsterdam’s Van Gogh, Stedelijk and Rijksmuseum Without Line-ups
Amsterdam’s museums including the Van Gogh, Stedelijk and Rijksmuseum, are among the city’s main attractions. They’re on the same scale as those in London, Paris and Rome. And that means they’re a magnet for art lovers from around the world.
Although Amsterdam has about 75 museums including film, theatre and photography, this being Amsterdam, you’ll also find museums dedicated to the erotic arts and torture.
Our Big Three
Of all of Amsterdam’s museums, for us, the Van Gogh, the Stedelijk and the Rijksmuseum are at the top of our list. Conveniently they’re all in one big park, the Museumplein and easy to reach by streetcar.
For lovers of Vincent Van Gogh, the Van Gogh Museum is nirvana. It holds the world’s largest collection of Van Gogh’s – 200 paintings, 400 drawings, and 700 letters – and is the focal point for all Van Gogh related scholarship.
In addition to its core collection, the museum regularly features exhibitions of artists or art movements relevant to Van Gogh. Recent exhibitions include: Easy Virtue: Prostitution in French Art, 1850-1910, Munch & Van Gogh and Dreams of Nature: Symbolism from Van Gogh to Kandinsky.
We visit every time we’re in Amsterdam. The first time was the 1990 blockbuster show to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Van Gogh’s death.
Van Gogh Lovers Should Thank Theo, Johanna and Baby Vincent
A quick note on how this museum came to be. When Vincent Van Gogh died in July 1890, his art dealer brother Theo had nearly all of his paintings, somewhere between 500 – 700 of them. Then, unexpectedly Theo died just six months later leaving his wife Johanna and their new baby, Vincent, named after his uncle. As years went by, Johanna worked hard to promote Van Gogh’s art and was able to sell some of the paintings (she needed the money). In 1925, when she died, the young Vincent inherited the massive collection.
A Magnificent Van Gogh Donation to the Netherlands and the World
In a vision of inspired generosity, and knowing he couldn’t properly take care of these paintings as they aged, he loaned the collection to the Stedelijk Museum. Then he forged a lasting deal with the Dutch government. He would donate the collection on the proviso that they built a dedicated museum. This was done, and finally in 1973 after many delays, the Van Gogh museum opened to the public. It has since been renovated and expanded with a significant addition. Today, it is a top attraction, thanks to the foresight of the young Vincent.
Book Lovers, Don’t Miss the Van Gogh Gift Shop
You should allow at least a few hours at the Van Gogh, depending on how long you want to study the paintings in their core collection, and what special shows might also be on. Also, for those who still enjoy print books, be sure to visit the gift shop. They have many books and publications, some of which are otherwise very difficult to find.
The Rijksmuseum Says “This is Who We Are”
Here is Amsterdam’s version of the Louvre – the big daddy state museum built on the French model. Recently it underwent a major renovation, adding floor space and modernizing its facilities.
Opened in 1800, the Rijksmuseum bills itself as the museum of the Netherlands and truly shows off Dutch heritage through the ages. This is where you’ll find masterpieces by Rembrandt, Vermeer, Breitner, a few Van Goghs that aren’t next door and many more. You’ll also find rooms dedicated to various art movements and schools such as The Hague School and the Cobra group.
Innovative Programming at the Rijks
The Rijksmuseum also features shows that are often interactive or invite some level of participation. We particularly enjoyed the show Art Is Therapy, curated by philosophers Alain de Botton and John Armstrong that re-contextualized some of the pieces in the museum’s collection. Watch de Botton speak at the Rijks about this show.
If you’re going to the Rijksmuseum, it’s best to plan ahead to determine what you’re most interested in seeing. Like the Louvre, it is a vast museum and you can’t possibly see everything in one visit.
If you have the endurance, you could spend all day here. A saving grace is that it has a very good casual restaurant when you need to take a break.
The Stedelijk is a Beacon of the New and Avant-Garde
The Stedelijk Museum is Amsterdam’s museum of modern and contemporary art and design. Their collection includes Francis Bacon, Marc Chagall, Pablo Picasso, Jackson Pollock and Frank Stella.
What we particularly enjoyed about this museum was discovering artists and entire schools of art that were new to us. It’s easy to get stuck on a mental “Top 10” or even “Top 25” artists. These large, well-curated museums help expand that list and made new connections to the artists we were already be familiar with.
Some of the World’s Leading Product and Graphic Design
Having worked for many years in the advertising and graphic design industries, I also appreciated the design exhibits at the Stedelijk, which included both product and graphic design. The Netherlands has a long history of cutting-edge design and I was excited to see it given such prominence. I recognized many of the Alvar Aalto chairs, the bentwood chairs and tables by Cees Braakman and classics by Marcel Breuer.
We were thrilled to be there during the Marcel Wanders show. He is truly a rock star designer of the past 25 years with an oeuvre that encompasses product, furniture, interior design and graphic design. Looking at his work, you can’t help but feel you’re a total slacker in comparison. He’s a perpetual motion machine of design.
Buy Tickets for Amsterdam’s Museums Ahead of Time
Amsterdam’s museums are a big draw and there are always line-ups. Don’t waste your time in line. You can buy tickets in advance for all popular Amsterdam museums here. You’ll breeze right past the lines to enjoy the museums.
If You’re Going to a Few Museums and Attractions Get This Card Instead
If you’re in Amsterdam for at least a few days, you may want to consider the IAmsterdam City Card. You can choose one that is valid for 24, 48, 72 or 96 hours. You’ll get entrance to dozens of museums and attractions for free or at a discount, and enjoy unlimited access to Amsterdam’s public transport. The convenience alone makes it worthwhile.
Like the name suggests, it’s like a pass to the city.
Buying at the Door Should Be Your Last Choice
In our experience, buying at the door is a complete non-starter for the Van Gogh Museum. There is always a very long and slow-moving line, as they limit the number of people in the building at any one time.
I can’t speak for all of the other museums from personal experience, but I know there are typically long line-ups at both the Anne Frank House and Rembrandt House. These weren’t on our list last time, but I would think a pass would be essential.
Planning your Amsterdam Trip?
With all of the information on the Internet, we still like to have a guide book as reference. Our favorites are the Lonely Planet books. Have a look at the Lonely Planet Amsterdam books here. They’re available both hardcover and digital.
If you’re planning on staying Airbnb for the first time, click here to take advantage of our special discount which gives you the equivalent of $50 CDN off your first visit. We had a great Airbnb rental in Amsterdam – a houseboat on a canal. You’ll see a picture of it here.
If you’re planning to stay in a hotel, look here for up to date best prices for hotels in Amsterdam.
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