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Rijksmuseum — Not just Rembrandt’s Night Watch

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Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam
The Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam — the premier art museum in the Netherlands

Most popular museum in Amsterdam

The Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam is the most important art museum in the Netherlands. It is dedicated to Dutch art and history. The museum’s collection delights locals and tourists alike.

In pre-pandemic year 2018, the museum attracted 2.3 million visitors. That makes it the most popular museum in Amsterdam, and the entire country of the Netherlands.

The Rijksmuseum is a must-see for any visitor to Amsterdam, and the 17th century masterpieces by Rembrandt, Frans Hals, Johannes Vermeer and Jan Steen are particularly popular.

We are talking about world famous paintings such as The Milkmaid by Vermeer, Self-portrait by Van Gogh, The Merry Family by Jan Steen and Rembrandt’s Night Watch.

They are among the artists whose paintings are exhibited in the Gallery of Honour.

The Gallery of Honour is an extended corridor directed towards a clear focal point: the Night Watch Gallery. Here, Rembrandt’s famous Night Watch painting has pride of place. Mind you, currently the painting is being meticulously restored. However, the painting remains on view during the restoration process, which you can observe in person.

On view in the side alcoves of the gallery are 50 masterpieces by the great artists of the seventeenth century.

TIP: Short on Time? Take in Just the Highlights

A visit to the Rijksmuseum can easily take 2-5+ hours.

But if you are short on time or energy, go ahead and see only the Gallery of Honours and the Night Watch Gallery. You can comfortably view both in about 35-45 minutes.

Rembrandt’s Night Watch (which isn’t actually the Night Watch)

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Rijksmuseum Tickets

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Brilliant Approach: Art Presented in Context

During its most recent renovation, the Rijksmuseum made a complete thematic change. Usually museums arrange their art collections by materials: paintings, furniture, glass, silver and so on. One visits these collections in chronological order and starts anew with each genre of art.

The Rijksmuseum, however, has combined its collections so that as you walk from room to room, you go through a timeline in which the art objects are shown in context. For example, you see a painting of a family eating at the table, and next to it the matching dishes and cutlery. This gives the viewer an incomparable sense of time, place and beauty.

The collection focuses primarily on Dutch art from 1100 to modern times, with a particular emphasis on the Dutch Golden Age, which spans roughly the 17th century.

The museum holds more than 1 million works of art. But rather than overwhelm visitors with a seemingly endless array of exhibits, only about 8,000 pieces are on display at any given time. Other works are shown in rotation as part of special exhibitions.

This “art-in-context” and “less-is-more” approach is extremely satisfying, leaving visitors in awe rather than bored and overwhelmed.

Rijksmuseum
The Rijksmuseum, one of the most majestic buildings in Amsterdam

The highly successful renovation of the Rijksmuseum

The Museum, which first opened in 1885, recently underwent an extensive, 10-year renovation project in which the building was restored to its original splendor. The majestic building itself is worth the price of admission, we think. The grand re-opening took place in April, 2013.

Whereas countless earlier restorations and ‘improvements’ had turned the museum into a confusing, often overly dark labyrinth, the Rijksmuseum now is an inviting, welcoming place.

The best-known paintings — including Rembrandt’s Night Watch — are easily accessible, so even a quick visit to the museum will leave you suitably impressed.

The Rijksmuseum reopened in April, 2013, after a 10-year restoration project

Rijksmuseum Collection

The Rijksmuseum has over 1.1 million objects in its collection. At any time some 8.000 are exhibited across 80 galleries.

Its gallery of prints (Dutch: prentencabinet) contains a further 850.000 works on paper.

The suggested walking route is 1500 meter (4921.25984 feet — close to a mile) long.

If you don’t want to walk that much, you can take a look online: about a quarter of the entire collection has been digitized.

The Rijksmuseum’s website makes it easy to search and browse.

Moreover, the Rijksstudio allows people to collect and share images, or even to use them to create posters, Ipad covers, and so on.

The collection was started when William V started acquiring pieces just for the hell of it, and has been growing ever since: it now includes Dutch paintings from the 15th century until around 1900, as well as decorative and Asian art.

But if you have only a limited amount of time, head for the Dutch Masters section on the top floor. Here’s where you’ll find Rembrandt’s Night watch, the jewel of the museum’s collection, and Johannes Vermeer’s The Kitchen Maid and Woman Reading a Letter, each capturing a moment in the life of a woman from a different background.

There are also excellent selections of works by the likes of Frans Hals, Jan Steen, Jacob van Ruysdael and Ferdinand Bol.

The Rijksmuseum also has fascinating collections of silverware, porcelain, 17th- and early 18th- century dolls’ houses, model ships and armoury, and furniture that shows what canal-house interiors looked like.

And don’t forget the impressive Cuypers Library, the oldest and biggest collection of art history books in the Netherlands.

Documentary about the Rijksmuseum

The Building

If you think the Rijksmuseum’s building looks familiar, that is because it bears a striking resemblance to the Central Station. Pierre Cuypers designed both. The Rijksmuseum opened in 1885, and Central Station opened just four years later.

The Rijksmuseum has recently undergone a ten-year long renovation during which much of the layout was re-designed. If you have ever visited the museum before – and got lost in its labyrinthine innards — you understand why this was necessary:

The New Rijksmuseum’s mission is to give visitors from all over the world a representative overview of Dutch art and history from the Middle Ages through the 20th century, and to present important aspects of European and Asiatic art. In order to meet this aim, a resolution to effect a comprehensive renovation of the Rijksmuseum was adopted by overwhelming majority in the Dutch parliament in 1999.

Since the opening in 1885, architect Pierre Cuypers’ monumental building has been adapted and extended many times, making this renovation a necessity. All these changes to the original structure — a richly decorated, open, inviting and easily navigable building — turned the Rijksmuseum into a labyrinth of galleries, which visitors found difficult to navigate and where the collection could not be exhibited under optimal conditions.

The result is a building — magnificent in its own rights — that is a pleasure to visit.

Most visited museum in Amsterdam

The Rijksmuseum in 2018 attracted 2.3 million visitors. That is an increase of 9.5 percent compared to the year before (2.1 million). Mind you, more recent figures are not yet available. During the 2-year coronavirus pandemic the museum was nearly always closed.

Anyway, 2018 marked the sixth year in a row that the museum has delighted over two million people.

After its re-opening, in 2013, the museum expected to see 1.7 million visitors a year.

Rijksmuseum Address

Museumstraat 1
1071 XX Amsterdam

How to Get to Rijksmuseum — Map and Public Transport information

Van Gogh Museum Amsterdam Map
Map of Museumplein in Amsterdam, showing the Van Gogh Museum, Rijksmuseum, Stedelijk Museum, Concertgebouw, and the Moco Museum. Public transport tram stops indicated.

The Rijksmuseum is located on Museumplein (literally, Museum Square). The Van Gogh Museum, the Stedelijk Museum, the Concertgebouw, and the Moco Museum are also located here.

The Rijksmuseum is easily reached by public transport. [Get your public transport tickets here]

Trams 2, 3, 5, and 12 have stops at the Museumplein. Though the Museumplein stop is closer, debark at the Concertgebouw stop. Here you’ll get a nice, photogenic (Instagrammable) overview of the square. A short, pleasant walk brings you to the museum’s entrance.

Trams 1, 7, and 19 are also good options.

Opening Times

The Rijksmuseum is open daily from 9:00 to 17:00 (9 am to 5 pm) — including all public holidays.

Busiest Months, Days, and Times at the Rijksmuseum

Busiest months: April, May and August.

Busiest days: Monday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday — as well as on Dutch national vacation- and holidays.

Busiest times: 11:00 (11 am) until about 15:30 (3.30 pm).

In other words, there are usually far fewer people at the museum before 11 am and after 3:30 pm. The relatively quiet days are Tuesday and Wednesday.

Tickets

Avoid disappointment. Buy Rijksmuseum entry tickets ahead of your visit.

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Category: Museums, Things to Do
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An Amsterdammer last updated this post on CET (Central European Time)

   
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