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My Rijksmuseum Layover in Amsterdam

Main hall, Gallery of Honor Rijksmuseum

I like to book my international flights with a long layover in an “extra” city.  This lets me sneak out of the airport and enjoy a new place for the day before moving on to my actual destination.  If you can get past the jet-lag, this is great option because really, nothing starts off an incredible trip to Turkey like lunch beside Notre Dame in Paris!

So when I visited Israel last year, I made sure to take care of some unfinished business in Amsterdam with a layover specifically designed to see the re-opened Rijksmuseum.  The renovations went far beyond repairing the structure; the museum today presents a truly innovative approach to art and culture!  It was well worth the extra stop in Amsterdam.

rijksmuseum re-opening countdown clock

The Rijksmuseum’s “Night Watch”-themed reopening countdown clock teasing me back in April 2013.

During my previous trip to Amsterdam, the Rijksmuseum was just weeks away from reopening.  Even the small collection of masterpieces that had been on display elsewhere were being installed in their new home and therefore out of view.  While I enjoyed the canals, historic homes, and the Van Gogh Museum, I left Amsterdam feeling like I missed out on a big chunk of Dutch art.  Now with my 10 hour layover, I was determined to fix this!

The “New” Rijksmuseum

atrium, Rijksmuseum

The new light filled atrium in the Rijksmuseum.


Main hall, Gallery of Honor Rijksmuseum

The incredible main hall, the Gallery of Honor, at the Rijksmuseum is lined with Vermeers and other masterpieces.  The hall is punctuated by Rembrandt’s “Night Watch” on the far end.

I was expecting to see amazing art treasures (and I did), but I was even more impressed by what the new Rijksmuseum had become.  More than a gallery for displaying art, this museum told the history of the Dutch people.  The exhibits of ceramics, tools, maps, and personal objects pulled in a type of anthropological analysis that I have never seen incorporated into an international “art” museum.  I loved the shift in attention!

In many ways, art depends on its historical and cultural context for interpretation.  More so than any other culture in Western Art, the Dutch created paintings that pulled from real life.  It makes perfect sense then for the Rijksmuseum to reunite the art with the historical portion.

Portraits of important 17th century Dutch businessmen

Portraits of important businessmen along with the history of the Dutch East India Company.

Aside from the main gallery, or Gallery of Honour, dedicated to the Rembrandts, the Vermeers and other masterpieces, most paintings were mixed in where appropriate, so domestic scenes were alongside furniture, individual and group portraits with components of the vast Dutch maritime trading empire and pieces from Southeast Asia along with the trappings of colonialism.

Blue ceramics and the Dutch home

Blue ceramics, furniture, family portraits and a bed tell the story of Dutch home life.

Dutch wood room

Wood paneling and furniture from a 17th century home.

A massive ship model with maritime paintings.

A massive ship model with maritime paintings.

I was so much more enriching to see personal or utilitarian objects alongside great works of art.  For example, after several display cases of tankards, carved pipes and small game boards, we come to Frans Hals’ “Portrait of a Man” (c. 1635).  It’s a gorgeous painting and in a more traditional art museum we may just notice his informal, casual pose and the painting’s loose brushwork.  But having just seen object related to middle-class leisure time, I couldn’t help but think about this man’s daily life.  I don’t think I’ve ever looked at a non-staged portrait and imagined the subject drinking beers with his friends, stepping over dirty cobblestones on his way home, and then smoking a pipe by the fire.  A portrait really becomes more interesting alongside historical objects.  The curators really did a brilliant job setting up the new Rijksmuseum galleries.

"Portrait of a Man" by Frans Hals (c. 1635) Rijksmuseum

“Portrait of a Man” by Frans Hals (c. 1635) Rijksmuseum

Dutch painters box

I particularly loved this artist’s box that contains pigment pots, tiny oil jars, a compass, silver coins, and a pipe.

Don’t Forget the Basement

When visiting the Rijksmuseum, you have to save some time to visit the basement.  Here you’ll find some galleries dedicated to European Art and the very mysteriously named “Special Collection” area.  This is actually one of the most impressive set of a galleries in the entire museum.  In order to show more of their vast collection, the museum opted to pack the walls and shelves of the Special Collections area with artifacts.  The sheer density and variety of objects is awesome!  I’m really glad the curators decided not to keep these items in storage.

Dutch glass and pottery, Rijksmuseum basement

Walls of pottery and glass vessels in the Rijksmuseum basement

The Gun Room, Rijksmuseum basement

A wall of guns in the Arms Room, Rijksmuseum basement

Here you’ll find very interesting but harder to categories objects that still deserve some attention.

beautiful historical Dutch lock

Beautifully crafted and detailed historical lock

Delft tiles with ships

Delft tiles with ships

With all these objects, it’s not long until you find something really special.  For me, it was this lovely Art Nouveau haircomb in the Jewelry Room.

Art deco style haircomb

Art Nouveau style hair-comb

Antique Shopping Nearby

On my museum layover, I finished at the Rijksmuseum and had a little more time before I needed to go back to the airport.  Since I’d been essentially looking at antiques in the museum, I decided to stop by an antique shop I discovered on my last trip to Amsterdam, Kramer Kunst & Antiek, on the corner of Prinsengracht and Spiegelstraat.  The store is wonderfully cramped with objects on top of objects.  They also have the most incredible selection of antique Delft tiles recovered from old homes and businesses, some even dating to the 17th century.  Depending on the year and decoration, you can buy individual tiles from 45 to 250 Euros which is great if you’re thinking of collecting (and too high if you’re just looking for a souvenir).  Nothing for me this trip, but I enjoyed handling some of the pieces having just looked at thousands of historic treasures at the Rijksmuseum. 

Kramer Kunst & Antiek, on the corner of Prinsengracht and Spiegelstraat

Kramer Kunst & Antiek (Photo: Google)

Getting Into Amsterdam and to the Rijksmuseum

A layover at the Rijksmuseum is really easy if you have about 4 hours to share.  From the Schiphol airport, the 197 bus departs every 15 minutes and gets you to the Rijksmuseum in about 25 minutes.  Thanks to my 7am arrival, the museum wasn’t open yet, so I stopped by an underground grocery store for breakfast (look for the entrance along Van Baerlestraat) which I ate in Museumplein park.

Netherlands grocery store Museumplein

Grocery store under Museumplein park

It’s important to get to the Rijksmuseum early. I was able to walk right into the museum and get tickets at 9am but when I left at 2pm there were several long queues just to get into the museum and then again to buy tickets.  The safest bet if you’re short on time would be to buy tickets ahead of time.

On my museum day in Amsterdam, I made it back to Schiphol in plenty of time.  I really enjoyed my day at the Rijksmuseum and definitely recommend it whether you’re staying in Amsterdam or just passing through!

(Of course if you can’t leave the airport, there is always the mini-Rijksmuseum on “Holland Boulevard” between Departure Areas 2 and 3.)

12 Comments Post a comment
  1. Thanks so much for this extensive visit to the Rijksmuseum. I was there years ago and really enjoyed it, and had heard of the renovations, so it as wonderful to see the improved version here. Also enjoyed the rich exhibits you shared. Thank you! ☺

    Liked by 1 person

    February 23, 2015
    • Thanks! They really did do an excellent job with the renovations! Hopefully you can make it back soon. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      February 23, 2015
  2. Incredible architecture and interesting exhibitions- sounds like you make the most of your layover!

    Liked by 1 person

    February 23, 2015
    • I was really excited this worked out! Imagine being a lover of museums in Amsterdam just a week before the Rijksmuseum reopened – ouch! The renovations are just incredible; I love it!

      Now to plan my next 11 hr layover getaway… 😉


      February 23, 2015
  3. The Delft looks fab. Well jel.


    February 23, 2015
    • Thanks! I may need to start collecting some myself. 🙂


      February 23, 2015
  4. This is such a wonderful post and a gorgeous museum. My friend and I will be traveling through Amsterdam next year en route to Tanzania, so this post will go into my little file for places to visit. Thank you so much for this, and the tips on how to get there. Bonus ! The grocery store!!


    February 23, 2015
    • Sounds like you’ve got an amazing adventure planned! I hope you enjoy stopping in Amsterdam. The area around the museum is lovely.

      Glad you enjoyed the article and the grocery store note! 🙂


      February 23, 2015
  5. Christina, my partner and I visited the Rijksmuseum in late September, obviously soon after it reopened. So while I can’t compare the old and new, the new was fantastic.
    Had no idea about the basement!


    February 24, 2015
    • I’m glad you had a chance to see the new Rijksmuseum and that you enjoyed it. I’m so sorry you missed the basement! It’s a treasure trove of objects! 🙂 I guess you’ll have to swing through Amsterdam soon on your next world travels.


      February 25, 2015
  6. I love this idea! I actually went into the city once during a layover and watched the merchants setting up early in the morning. It was lovely. But I haven’t been to the Rijksmuseum yet!


    February 24, 2015

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