Like most well-known museums in Europe, tickets should be booked in advance for the following museums in Amsterdam: Anne Frank House, Rijksmuseum, and the Van Gogh Museum. If you have a Museumkaart (which is only for residents of the Netherlands) or an I amsterdam City Card (where museum entrances are free of charge), you should still reserve a spot in advance, especially for the Anne Frank House.
Sam actually lent me her Museumkaart (it is a museum card that allows holders completely free entry to over 400 museums for an annual fee of €54,95) to reserve tickets in advance. As a result, I booked the Van Gogh Museum for the early morning, Rijksmuseum after lunch, and the Anne Frank House for the late afternoon.
Van Gogh Museum Entrance Fee: €17
You can purchase your tickets in advance here
Was van Gogh a misunderstood genius? During his lifetime, he barely sold any paintings and he was pretty much broke by the time of his death. And now, he’s widely celebrated and his works are now considered iconic or masterpieces and hang in famous galleries and museums all over the world. What changed?
I loved van Gogh’s artwork since I was a child – the colors of the vase of sunflowers and the brushstrokes and dreamlike quality of his “Starry Night” were some of my favorites. Funnily enough, I always thought his “Starry Night” piece was in Amsterdam but it’s actually hanging in the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York City this entire time! Right in my own backyard! Anyways, I also loved his self-portraits. The fact that an aspect of his face was constantly changing with each portrait dependent on his mood or important periods in his life. They were intensely reflective of his mental and emotional state – when he cut off his own ear, when his beard is unkempt, when he has sunken eyes. I found it all so fascinating for some reason and the best part about the Van Gogh Museum is that an entire section on the ground floor is filled with his self-portraits.
This museum is really great for those who want to learn more about van Gogh. A lot of the museums in the States don’t really provide a lot of context behind some of the masterpieces and this museum was a great way to learn about the life and times of Vincent van Gogh. That he had an entire period where he only painted peasants and manual workers. He believed that farmers were closest to God due to the nature of their work, plowing and sowing and working closest to the earth and nature. You also really got to see his relationship with his brother Theo. They were so incredible close; Theo constantly encouraged his brother during his periods of depression and was one of the few people Vincent van Gogh corresponded with. They have a few letters of correspondence on display at the museum. In the end, Theo died within six months of Vincent van Gogh’s passing as his health rapidly deteriorated after the death of his brother. Theo’s wife became the sole possessor of Vincent van Gogh’s work and she was the lynchpin in catapulting van Gogh to stardom posthumously. She strategically started donating his works to certain art exhibitions and galleries and was the key player in his fame after his death.
There is so much more I can write about this museum but the rest is best for the viewer to observe and enjoy on their own. I spent about 2 hours in the museum – it’s fairly small and I believe photography is not allowed (at least not in the spring of 2016 when I was there). I definitely recommend going in the morning to avoid the crowds.
After the museum, I headed over to Vondelpark, stopping by a cute cafe called Vlaamsch Broodhyus on the way to grab a quick breakfast. Vondelpark is like Amsterdam’s version of Central Park with its lakes and gardens and bike paths and open-air theaters. It’s a really nice area to just walk around or ride a bicycle and just enjoy nature.
The park is also near De Foodhallen which is pretty much a Food Hall with various vendors selling cheeses, meals, and desserts. They take only card due to sanitation reasons so make sure your card has a chip in it! I ordered the truffle bitterballen from De Ballenbar, a cheese plate from Caulils Kaas, and various tarts from Petit Gateau for dessert.
Rijksmuseum Entrance Fee: €17,50
You can book tickets in advance here
After lunch, I had to head back over to Rijksmuseum. It’s a great museum where you can see Vermeer, Rembrandt, and other famous Dutch painters from the Golden Age. I saw Vermeer’s “De Melkmeid” which is an incredibly special piece. The fact that Vermeer invested in lapis lazuli (which was more expensive than leaves of gold) was brilliant – even after a few centuries the blue has not faded! Other painters used indigo dye which tends to turn purple over time due to oxidation. But as you can tell from the painting, the blue is still very vibrant. It’s ironic that I see this painting in Amsterdam because it was actually on loan to the Met back in New York City for a special exhibition, but I had missed my opportunity of seeing it back home.
Rijksmuseum also has a cute garden in the back with tulips, chairs, and a large chessboard. It’s a great way to relax and take a breather from all the museums without feeling claustrophobic with all the people.
My last museum of the day was the Anne Frank House. Out of the three museums, this one should probably be booked first because it’s the one museum that runs out of tickets really quickly. As previously mentioned, even with a Museumkaart or I amsterdam card, tickets need to be reserved (you just won’t be charged the ticket fee).
Anne Frank House Entrance Fee: €9
You can reserve tickets up to 2 months in advance here
I still have a hard time describing what it was like to visit the Anne Frank House. I learned about it in elementary school when my fifth grade teacher had brought in Miep Gies for the upperclassmen one year to educate us what it was like to take part in hiding Anne Frank and her family during the Holocaust. And growing up in Los Angeles and having been to the Museum of Tolerance on school trips, which I found to be extremely haunting, with the Anne Frank House, it was so much more emotional on a different level. We read her diary as part of the school curriculum when we are children but seeing this house, seeing where she stayed, how they hid so carefully for so many years, watching the video of Otto Frank describing his feelings after reading his youngest daughter’s diary, her private thoughts, her dreams, her hopes, her political leanings – I honestly felt part of my heart break. No matter how many decades pass, sometimes the wounds just feel so fresh and so raw. Imagine learning so many sides of your precious child without ever having the chance of telling them how proud you are of them, how witty and intelligent you find them to be, seeing them explore romantic relationships but never fully realising them. Just watching Otto Frank talk about how parents truly never know their children was so heartbreaking. I think my feelings for this museum affected how I saw other visitors. Some were taking selfies and photos that I just found incredibly inappropriate for the setting and the atmosphere. I wish people had a little more respect and really tried to pay attention to the significance of the house and its history and the stories of the victims and the survivors. I definitely recommend visiting the Anne Frank House when in Amsterdam because I find it incredibly important to remember that genocide is a horror that still occurs to this day and that these victims are real people – people with hopes and dreams and a future, just like us.
To round out my day, I went to Pannenkoekenhuis Upstairs for some Dutch pancakes to cheer me up. I actually had this place on my list on recommendation from a dear friend of mine who had visited Amsterdam herself a few months prior. This particular restaurant is super tiny – it has only four tables and can only seat up to 12 people. It’s probably the smallest restaurant in Europe. I ordered the Koning Dutch pancakes (€12,50) because I was obsessed with strawberries during my time in Belgium and the Netherlands and honestly, it was so melt-in-your-mouth delicious. The best part was that while I was eating my pancake, another group came in and one of the girls tried to order the same thing and learned that I ended up getting the last of the strawberries!
After my pancake adventure, I met up with Sam since at this point she was done with work. We took her dog out for a walk and then went to a bar to meet up with one of her colleagues and spent the rest of the evening relaxing and hanging out! The best thing about going to Europe in the springtime is that the sun sets around 22:00! I found it so fascinating that I had to film a quick video of how bright it was outside despite the time being 21:00!