Insider Tips to Skip the Line, Beat the Crowds
Wondering which best Amsterdam museums you should visit on your upcoming trip? I enjoy visiting new places I’ve never been to and learning new things. Naturally, museums are my favorite places to visit when traveling. Amsterdam is home to seventy-five excellent museums. And it was not easy to select only a few during my short four days in Amsterdam (Click to see Amsterdam Itinerary). If you are facing the same challenge, I got you! Here is my list of best museums to visit in Amsterdam and useful tips for each museum to help you save time, money, and efforts.
Updated on May 25, 2020. The original article was published on May 22, 2019.
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Van Gogh Museum
Van Gogh Museum is the most visited museum in the Netherlands. The museum has the most extensive collection of Van Gogh’s artworks in the world. You will be delighted to find his precious paintings, including a series of Self Portraits, The bedroom, Almond Blossom, Sunflowers, and Irises. The museum’s collection is not limited to Van Gogh’s paintings; it includes artworks that inspired and influenced Van Gogh such as Japanese prints and Paul Gaugin’s paintings. Also, the museum dedicates a floor to show a ton of letters he exchanged with his brother Theo and other fellow artists.
Why Visit the Van Gogh Museum?
Have you ever wondered how his painting style changed completely from the Potato Eaters to the Starry Night? Visiting Van Gogh Museum is like reading his biography. You will get a glimpse of his lives and his quirky world, learn about his struggles leading up to the famous ear incident, and understand his paintings in depth.
Did you know? Van Gogh’s most famous painting – The Starry Night – is not in Van Gogh Museum. You can find it at the Museum of Modern Arts in New York City.
Book Van Gogh Museum Fast-Lane Tickets here. | Admission: €19 for adults. €10 for students. Ages under 18 enter for free. (Included in I Amsterdam Card, Holland Pass (Gold), Museumkaart.) | Hours: 9 am – 6 pm (Close at 9 pm on Fri.) | Open Google Map for Van Gogh Museum Location.
Pro Tips | Van Gogh Museum
Skip the Line: Reserve a Time Online
Even if you have any pass that gives you a free pass to Van Gogh Museum, book your entrance time online (i Amsterdam card holders). That way, you can skip the line. If you purchase tickets online, you will get to select your time as part of the process.
Pick Up Your Tickets before Lining Up
Before standing in line at the entrance, get your tickets at the ticket office in the building across from the museum. You can’t purchase tickets at the museum entrance. Even if you have a museumkaart or I Amsterdam Card, you have to exchange with the paper ticket unless you booked your time slot online.
No Entrance after 4:30 pm
The museum closes at 6 pm. However, the last entrance is at 4:30 pm.
Join the Introductory Presentation on Van Gogh
The museum offers an introductory presentation on Van Gogh. During one-hour presentation, a curator introduces the lives of Van Gogh and his key paintings. The Q&A session at the end of the seminar allows the audience to ask the expert any questions about the exhibit or Van Gogh.
I very much enjoyed this presentation. It was entertaining and educational to understand how Van Gogh’s arts have developed/changed throughout his lives. I am not sure how regularly this presentation is offered. On the day I went, it was at 11 am and 1:30 pm. Pay attention to the announcement or ask the front desk for the time.
Get the Audio Guide
If you cannot participate in the presentation or want to have a better understanding of the exhibit, I highly recommend investing €5 (multiple languages available) for an audio guide.
Check the numbers next to the painting. (Not all pictures will have a corresponding number.) The audio guide is helpful to understand what you want to pay attention to and listen to the story.
Follow the Flow of the Exhibit
One thing I liked about the Van Gogh Museum is the flow of the exhibit. All his artworks are curated in a chronological order, which helps to understand how Van Gogh’s painting has developed over the years.
At the time of my visit, the museum had a sensory exhibit next to the lobby. Inside the exhibition is like exploring Van Gogh’s world – how he saw things through his eyes. I saved this visit to the last.
It took me about 3.5 hours to explore the permanent collections and special exhibit, plus one hour for the presentation. If you are a fan of Van Gogh, I recommend allowing yourself enough time to appreciate his artworks. However, if you prefer to take the highlight course, you can finish in one hour.
No Photography Allowed
Photography of the exhibit is not allowed. However, the museum has a few Selfie Walls for your Instagram photos. The lobby wall projects enlarged paintings in the rotation that you can photograph as you like.
Amenities: Free Cloak Service & Wi-Fi
Cloak service is free although the museum does not keep large luggage. Enjoy complimentary wi-fi throughout the museum.
Two Souvenir Shops
Van Gogh Museum has two souvenir shops. There is also a booth outside of the museum in the Museumplein selling the replica of Van Gogh paintings and related souvenirs. I don’t know if that shop is an official seller.
↡↡ Van Gogh Museum Tickets & Guided Tours ↡↡
Rijksmuseum is a Dutch national museum in a renovated 19th-century building. It curates 8,000 masterpieces from the Middle Ages to the present day. However, the highlights of the exhibit at Rijksmuseum are the Dutch Golden Age masterpieces. The extensive collection includes The Night Watch by Rembrandt van Rijn, The Milkmaid & View of Houses in Delft (a.k.a. The Little Street) by Johannes Veneer, The Threatened Swan by Jan Asselijn, etc. The massive museum also showcases unique delftware, doll houses and Asian artifacts.
After ten years of renovation and restoration, the entire space of Rijksmuseum is aesthetically pleasing and visitor friendly. The architecture invites natural light to come in through the glass roof, which highlights hanging sculptors and stainless glass windows. The spacious gallery with cushioned benches allows visitors to appreciate the arts as long as they want.
Why Visit Rijksmuseum?
Be awed by the life-size painting of The Night Watch (Dutch: De Nachtwacht). The dramatic masterpiece by Rembrandt is one of the most famous Dutch Golden Age paintings.
Book Rijksmuseum Skip-the-Line Tickets here. | Admission: €20 at the door, €19 online. Ages under 18 enter for free. (Included in Holland Pass (Gold), Museumkaart, I Amsterdam Card.) | Hours: 9 am – 5 pm | Open Google Map for Rijksmuseum Location.
Pro Tips | Rijksmuseum
Photography is allowed
Yay! Although Rijksmuseum is popular, space is much bigger than other Dutch museums. When I visited in July, it was far less crowded than the Van Gogh Museum or Anne Frank House. I’m guessing that’s why the museum allows visitors to take photos.
Download the Free Museum App
Before your visit, download the free Rijksmuseum app. If you prefer an audio guide, you can rent it for €5. But why would you when you can use the app for free? Complimentary wi-fi is fast inside the museum. Save your money!
You can choose one of the 14 themed tours. If you want to focus on the Golden Age paintings, follow the Highlights route. It took me about 1.5 hours.
Enjoy the Gorgeous Library
Don’t forget to stop by the library. The Cuypers Library in Rijksmuseum is the oldest and largest public art history research library in the Netherlands. Everyone is welcome to use the library. But even if you do not need to conduct any research, the elegant library is worth your visit.
Stroll the Garden
The Rijksmuseum garden is an outdoor extension of the museum. This urban park feature well-manicured trees and colorful flower beds with tulips in summer, as well as sculptors. The gated garden is free to enter.
Although the famous I Amsterdam Letters have been removed, a small park in front of the museum is also an excellent place to stroll, sit on a bench, or enjoy a water fountain.
↡↡ Rijksmuseum Tickets & Tour ↡↡
Anne Frank House
The Anne Frank House opened in 1960 in cooperation with Otto Frank, the young girl’s father and the only survivor from the Secret Annex. During World War II, Anne Frank’s family and few others went into hiding in the Secret Annex behind Otto’s company building for two years. Anne’s father survived the war and Auschwitz Concentration Camp and returned home only to find his family didn’t make it. However, he found Anne’s diary and published the Diary of a Young Girl. The book was translated into 70 languages and became the world’s best seller. Otto Frank and the like-minded also put a consorted effort for years to make the Secret Annex a museum to raise awareness about antisemitism and the dangers of discriminations and prejudice.
Why Visit the Anne Frank Museum?
Even if you have read the Diary of Anne Frank, you will still find a visit to the Anne Frank House to be personal and educational. You don’t need to be a Jew to feel the absolute despair Anne and others experienced in hiding.
Book Anne Frank House Tickets here. | Admission: €12.50 for Adult (Ages 10-17: €6.50 or Ages 0-9: €1.00 booking fee ) Online Only. (Included in Museumkaart.) | Anne Frank House Hours: 9 am – 10 pm (Closed 7 pm on Saturdays.) | Open Google Map for Anne Frank House Location.
Pro Tips | Anne Frank House
After a series of booking failure, I successfully booked two same-day tickets on a sold-out day. I decided to write a separate post for others who struggle to secure tickets as I did. Read my full guide on how to get Anne Frank House tickets and everything you need to know before visiting the Anne Frank museum.
↡↡ Anne Frank Story & Walking Tours ↡↡
Moco (Modern Contemporary Museum Amsterdam) is a newly established museum in Amsterdam Museumplein. The small private museum is devoted to pop arts. The rock star of its gallery is Banksy; the museum’s collection includes 50 of the British graffiti artist such as Girl with Balloon. The Moco Garden also features Gummy Bear by WhIsBe, sculpture art by KAWS and many more.
The Big O purchased a replica of Girl with Balloon at Moco. He “discovered” Banksy at Moco and fell in love with his art. During our tour de Europe, we had a sense of his popularity with the advertisement of his pop-up exhibits in other cities. Shortly after our return, we saw his name on the headline all over the world. Girl with Balloon was sold for $1.4 million at Sotheby. Instantly, it went through the pre-installed shredder in the frame, which ended up shredding half of the art. It turned out to be Banksy’s planned stunt. Now the unharmed replica is proudly hung on the wall of the Big O’s office.
Why Visit Moco Museum?
Moco is a perfect small-size museum for people who are interested in pop arts. It’s not crowded, and the visit can be as short as one hour.
Book MOCO Museum Tickets here. | Admission: €15.50 at the door or €13 online. Ages 13-17 or Students: € 14. Ages 0-12 enters for free. (Included in Holland Pass, Museumkaart; 25% Discount with I Amsterdam Card.) | Hours: 9 am – 7 pm | Open Google Map for MOCO Museum Location.
↡↡ Amsterdam Museums You Cannot Miss ↡↡
Our Lord in the Attic Museum (Ons’ Lieve Heer Op Solder)
Our Lord in the Attic Museum is an exemplary canal house from the Dutch Golden Age. However, what’s so special about this 17th-century bourgeois house is hidden in the attic: secret house church.
During the Dutch Protestant Reformation, the Catholic Mass was prohibited in public. However, the authorities turned a blind eye on the Mass at a private home. Therefore, the hidden house church was built in the attic of this canal house.
The museum displays the well-preserved original canal house and the church in the attic. You can explore through the narrow hallways and steep stairs to see Dutch house furniture, kitchens, living rooms, etc. Be ready to be mesmerized by the glorious church with a grandeur pipe organ and collections of religious relics, all hidden in the attic.
Why Visit Our Lord in the Attic Museum?
Explore a classic example of both the 17th-century bourgeois house and house church.
Book Our Lord in the Attic Ticket with Audio Guide here. | Admission: €11.50 (Children 5-17: €5. Age 0-4 enters for free.) or (Included in Holland Pass (Silver), Museumkaart, I Amsterdam Card.) | Hours: Mon. – Sat.10 am – 6 pm, Sun. & holidays 1 pm – 6 pm (Closed on April 27) | Open Google Map for Our Lord in the Attic Church Location.
Pro Tips | Our Lord in the Attic
Get the Audio Guide – Free
The museum offers multi-language audio guides for free. You will learn about quirky and interesting facts about the house and church in the attic.
Guided tours are also available upon request at an additional fee. The tour is given in Dutch, English, French and German. For more information, email boekingen[at]opsolder.nl.
Mass is Open to the Public
The first Sunday of every month, Mass in the attic is open to the public. Available in Dutch only.
↡↡ Interested in Other Amsterdam Museums? ↡↡
Bonus: Museum of Bags and Purses
Update: The Museum of Bags and Purses announced its permanent closure on April 30, 2020 due to its financial difficulties caused by the global pandemic.
The Museum of Bags and Purses sits in a 1660s canal house, which previously was a mayor’s residence. The largest museum of bags in the world curates the bags and purses in Western culture from the Middle Ages to the present day. It exhibits more than 5,000 historical bags, luggage, and other accessories. Its impressive collection belongs to two private collectors – Hendrikje and Hinz Ivo.
No one says you have to visit the Museum of Bags and Purses when in Amsterdam! However, if you love purses, like me, you will very much appreciate this gem. I had one hour to explore Amsterdam on my own, so I decided to pop in and was delighted. During my visit, I also got to see a special exhibit on Italian designers. (Serious drool!)
Why Visit the Museum of Bags and Purses?
The museum is quite an exciting place where you can learn a lot about the history of purses and see eclectic collections of handbags from all around the world. Need to say more?
Pro Tips | Museum of Bags and Purses
Leave Your Husband (or Boyfriend) Behind!
I will ONLY recommend this museum if you love purses. SKIP if you are not. That said, leave your poor husband or boyfriend who has no interest in bags. (Lucky you, if you have a significant other who shares your passion for purses!) Otherwise, please don’t torture them.
Enjoy Afternoon Tea
A cute cafe in the museum offers afternoon tea. If you are in Amsterdam on a girls trip or mother-daughter trip, it’s an excellent place to spend an afternoon.
Stop by Souvenir Shop
The souvenir shop sells unique purses. Besides some Balenciaga and Miu Miu, you can find local designer bags. When I visited, select handbags were on sale up to 40% off.
No Need to Book
The museum is not crowded at all, so I don’t see the need to sweat unless you prefer to plan out your itinerary to the T. I would plan to swing by when there is an extra hour in between.
If you are visiting the museum with the Museumkaart, I Amsterdam Card, Holland Pass, or Amsterdam Pass, just show your pass.
Pro Tips to Visiting the Museums in Amsterdam
1. Book Your Tickets As Soon As Possible!
My no.1 tip for any famous museums in major European cities is to book tickets as soon as you can. If the museums offer skip-the-line tickets, it’s worth an extra few Euros to get those tickets, especially during the busy season.
No one likes to wait in line. The only way to beat the crowd is to do your diligence, plan, and get there early. It is a simple strategy that everyone seems to know; yet, it still works because most people will not follow through.
2. One Museum a Day
Although I like visiting museums, I try not to overdo it. I stick to one museum per day. Attending a museum requires some serious brain capacity.
Many key museums are located next to each other in Amsterdam Museumplein. It might seem to be the most efficient way to plan your itinerary to cramp all museum visits into one day. Please don’t. You will get exhausted. And everything will be jumbled in your memory when you return home. (Have you tried to watch two movies in one day? Anyone?)
3. Take Advantage of Amsterdam City Pass
If you love visiting museums, using Amsterdam City Pass for tourists can save you money. All of the museums I mentioned in this post are covered with Museumkaart (Dutch museum pass), including the Anne Frank House tickets. I Amsterdam City Pass and Holland Pass also include free admissions to all, except the Anne Frank House.
You will need to first check if it makes sense for you to purchase any discount pass or pay individual admission. Determine which museums and attractions you’d like to visit during your stay in Amsterdam. Check what is covered and not covered in each pass. Compare the total admission fees to the discount pass price. Then, you can decide which of the discount pass is right for you.
Most likely, I Amsterdam City Pass (click to buy) will give you the best value if you are visiting Amsterdam only – especially on your first visit. I Amsterdam City Pass offers free admissions (or discount) on both museums and attractions in Amsterdam, plus the GVB transport pass (click to buy separately).
I Amsterdam City Card
Free admission to 44 museums & attractions (Rijksmuseum, Van Gogh Museum, Canal Cruise, etc.)
Plus, unlimited use of GVB public transport!
Get GVB Daily Pass & Save $$$
Unlimited access to Amsterdam’s buses, trams, ferries and metro.
1-7 Day Pass Available.