How to do the Rijksmuseum Right

The Rijksmuseum is the flagship art museum of the Netherlands and frequently counted among the greatest museums in the world, but all that fame and popularity comes at the cost of occasionally overwhelming crowds and long wait times at the door.  Here are a few rules of thumb to follow if you’re looking to make the most of your time at the museum, from entry to exit.  

First and foremost, get there early.  That’s the official, museum-sanctioned strategy to avoiding the bulk of the crowds.  The chaos really comes in early to mid-afternoon, but as soon as the place opens it generally gets steadily more and more crowded until around 4-5pm.  You could, theoretically, get there late and avoid some of the crowds as well, but it’s a massive museum and expensive (a ruthless €20 with no student discount) and well worth a day—or three—spent exploring. 

Second, buy online.  You get to avoid the line to get tickets, although if it’s an especially busy day you should be aware that the line to the entrance even with a ticket can get long—another reason to arrive early.  You’ll also save a massive €1 on the ticket price if you book online, and who doesn’t love savings?

Third, don’t neglect the third floor.  The central exhibition hall, or the Eregalerij (Gallery of Honour) tends to get most of the tourist love, because it’s chock full of Rembrandt, Vermeer—there are four of his paintings in the museum, which is a huge deal considering there are only 34 of his works known in the world—and other legends of Dutch painting.  The Gallery of Honour also spills out onto the Night Watch gallery, in the heart of the museum, where Rembrandt’s masterpiece sits and currently awaits restoration. Because of the high concentration of incredibly famous paintings and painters, things can get real crowded real quick. If you’re there at a crowded time of day and looking to dodge the crowds but continue seeing incredible artwork, head all the way up to the third floor—it’s here that you’ll find the museum’s considerable collection of modern and contemporary art, and despite being home to some significant works (think Mondriaan, the de Stijl movement, and other, more international names—there’s even a WWI fighter plane up here) it goes almost completely overlooked by the museums visitors.
Fourth, hit the library.  For those of us without much exposure to art history, it can be difficult to fully appreciate the importance of a painting without a little bit of context.  The Rijksmuseum provides excellent information cards that are conveniently located near the museum’s most prominent—or most interesting—artworks, and these give a detailed overview of everything from a painters’ brush strokes to the significance of subtle hand gestures in the figures depicted.  You can find them throughout the museum, not just at the obvious picks (like The Night Watch).  If you’d like even more information about what you’re looking at, get the free museum app on your phone and dive into its virtual tours and vast trove of interesting tidbits about the collection and its history.  Finally, you’d be remiss if you didn’t stop by the Rijksmuseum library at some point during your visit. Another not-quite-hidden gem of the museum, this gorgeous four-story, book lined atrium is a rarely-crowded place for quiet study—as the largest public art history research library in the country, you’d think it would get more attention.  Grab a book, take a seat, and learn about some art!

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