How to Do the Largest Museum in Amsterdam

Courtesy Rijksmuseum

We map out the newly renovated Rijksmuseum.

After a ten-year, nearly $500 million renovation, Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum reopens in April. Inside the national gallery’s 19th-century red-brick fortress in the Dutch capital’s Museumplein, the likes of Vermeer, Rembrandt and Rietveld lead the way through eight centuries of Holland’s art and history. It will be open 365 days a year—almost enough time to inspect the work in each of the museum’s 80 galleries. We know you’re busy—here’s how to do almost one mile of galleries in half an hour. Promise.

  • Like most things in Holland, the main entrance of the renovated museum can be reached directly by bicycle. After much debate during the renovation, however, the entrance is set to be closed for bikes until later this year.
  • Step into the museum’s new grand-lobby twin atria, spanning nearly 25,000 square feet combined, where original touches from Dutch architect Pierre Cuypers mingle seamlessly with fresh finishes by Cruz y Ortiz, the Spanish firm charged with the renovation.
  • In the museum’s library, which is opening to the public for the first time, the best original details remain intact, namely painted ceilings, floor mosaics and cast-iron staircases. Don’t get sidetracked by the three-plus miles of books.
  • More than 30 of the museum’s galleries are dedicated to works from the Dutch Golden Age, when a rising merchant class and far-flung shipping routes fueled the country’s artistic renaissance.
  • Study an impossibly detailed five-yard-long model of a fictional battleship named William Rex, after William III of Orange, the Dutch stadtholder turned King of England. The boat decorated one Dutch province’s naval boardroom in the 17th century.
  • All across the museum’s third floor, you’ll find Dutch painters from the 17th century, like Frans Snyders, Adriaen Coorte and Jan Jansz van de Velde, who spent a serious part of their careers mastering still lifes. Feast your eyes on such tableaux as Coorte’s Still Life with Asparagus (1697).
  • The museum’s Gallery of Honor anchors the Golden Age galleries. It’s the Dutch Hall of Fame. There you’ll find works by Frans Hals, Jan Steen, Johannes Vermeer and Rembrandt van Rijn.
  • The museum has four paintings by Vermeer, and the critic Peter Schjeldahl calls The Milkmaid (1660) a “Sermon on the Mount of aesthetic value.” Contemplate the canvas, a celebration of a chief Dutch virtue from the time: the routine and careful execution of household chores.
  • A room at the center of the building is dedicated to Rembrandt’s The Night Watch (1642), the masterwork of the Dutch Golden Age and the crown jewel of the museum’s collection. You’ll want to spend some time with the painting to understand why.
  • Alexandre Dumas’s The Black Tulip recalls the tulip hysteria during the 1600s, when, so the story goes, the city of Haarlem offered 100,000 guilders to anyone who could grow a tar-colored flower. Look out for relics from the time, like a delftware tulip pyramid modeled on a Chinese pagoda.
  • Dutch works from the 1900s, which occupy the fourth floor, rest on the shoulders of the De Stijl movement. An extremely rare White Chair (1923), from designer and architect Gerrit Rietveld, recently acquired by the museum, is the new star of its extensive furniture collection.
  • In the 1960s, Yves Saint Laurent married color-blocking with the then-stylish sack dress, taking inspiration from the grid-based paintings of Dutchman Piet Mondrian. The museum acquired one of the YSL Mondrian dresses for the reopening. Another sold for $47,000 at auction at Christie’s in 2011.
  • Your journey winds down with the mid-20th-century avant-garde movement CoBrA—which takes its name from Copenhagen, Brussels and Amsterdam, the founders’ cities of origin. Catch a splash of color from one of CoBrA cofounder Karel Appel’s canvases, like this L’homme carré, or The Square Man (1951).

The Rijksmuseum reopens April 13; Jan Luykenstraat 1. For more information, go to rijksmuseum.nl.