My Rijksmuseum Layover in Amsterdam
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
Here you’ll find very interesting but harder to categories objects that still deserve some attention.
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.
Antique Shopping Nearby
on the corner of
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.
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.)