Located on Amsterdam’s majestic Museum Square not far from the Stedelijk Museum, the Van Gogh Museum, and Moco Museum, the Rijksmuseum is the national museum of the Netherlands. Visitors to its stately building will encounter a tremendous collection of masterpiece paintings, historic artifacts, and famous artworks by a who’s-who of legendary Dutch artists like Rembrandt, Vermeer, and many, many more. A high-end gift shop, Michelin-star restaurant, and a rotating lineup of blockbuster temporary exhibits make the Rijksmuseum one of Amsterdam’s absolute must-see attractions.

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History of the Rijksmuseum

The Rijksmuseum as we know and love it today has its roots in a National Gallery that was established by government decree in 1798 and first opened its doors to the public in 1800. At that time, it was housed at Huis ten Bosch, a royal palace located within The Hague. In 1808, at the order of Louis Bonaparte (younger brother of Napoleon), this national museum was moved to Amsterdam. Over the course of the remainder of the nineteenth century, the museum would continue to grow, until in 1876 it was determined that the increasingly remarkable collection required a brand-new home of its own. This building—the core of the Rijksmuseum today—was designed by Pierre Cuypers and would open in 1885.

The Rijksmuseum has been expanded and renovated multiple times in the years since, most recently undergoing a nearly $500-million renovation that has left the attraction looking as impressive as ever. Year in and year out it’s considered one of the finest museums found anywhere in the world.

Rijksmuseum Highlights

The massive permanent collection of the Rijksmuseum is said to contain roughly one million distinctive artworks, objects, and historic artifacts, with some 8,000 of these items on display at any given time throughout the attraction’s many galleries. Occupying a special place of honor within the Rijksmuseum’s holdings are its nearly 2,000 paintings from the so-called Dutch Golden Age (which by most accounts lasted from about 1590 to 1670).

Prominent among the Rijksmuseum’s biggest treasures is Rembrandt’s legendary painting The Night Watch, a dramatic work that unfolds on a huge canvas and ranks high on the list of all-time greatest Dutch Golden Age pieces. Other acclaimed artworks you won’t want to miss when exploring the Rijksmuseum include The Milkmaid by Johannes Vermeer, The Serenade by Judith Leyster, Self-Portrait by Jacob Cornelisz van Oostsanen, Worship of the Golden Calfby Lucas van Leyden, and numerous other pieces by Rembrandt.

As befits a museum with its sterling reputation, the Rijksmuseum is also known for putting on temporary exhibitions that draw visitors from all over the world. The most recent of these remarkable shows to draw international attention was the Rijksmuseum’s Vermeer exhibit, which saw almost every single one of Vermeer’s approximately 35 paintings (including the iconic Girl with a Pearl Earring on loan from Mauritshuis in The Hague) brought together under one roof. By their very nature, these exhibits are always subject to change, but recent shows of note have covered topics as diverse as modern Japanese lacquer technique, the Indonesian struggle for independence, Renaissance-era portraits, and the sculptures of Ellsworth Kelly.

More to See and Do at the Rijksmuseum

One of the crown jewels of a visit to Amsterdam, the Rijksmuseum is full of wonderful paintings, historical artifacts, and cultural treasures. Keep reading for several additional notes intended to enhance your experience. 

•The Rijksmuseum app is a free app you can download straight to your smartphone. Visitors with the Rijksmuseum app on their device can manage their admission tickets, go on self-guided multimedia tours of exhibits, access museum maps, and even present their app at the Rijksmuseum shop for a 10% discount on select items.

•For those individuals not wanting to be tethered to their smartphones for the duration of their visit—or looking to add a little something extra to their standard-admission ticket—should consider going on one of the Rijksmuseum’s guided tours. In particular, the “Best of the Rijksmuseum” guided tour runs daily and is an outstanding way to ensure you catch the attraction’s major highlights.

•Guests multiple in-house food options when visiting Rijksmuseum. The Café is a pleasant lunch spot that sells soups, sandwiches, pastries, and more in the museum’s atrium. If you just want to enjoy a quick tea or coffee, head to one of the museum’s two espresso bars—they’re located on the ground floor of the Philips Wing and near the bottom of the monumental staircase. In summer the Garden House is a beautiful choice for a bite, while Rijks Restaurant is a Michelin-star establishment that specializes in so-called Low Countries-cuisine.

•The official Rijksmuseum shop is a large, on-site store where you’ll find an incredible assortment of art posters, wall decorations, decorative accessories, books, prints, toys, and a whole lot more. It’s the perfect place to pick up a gift or souvenir to mark your visit to the Rijksmuseum and your time in Amsterdam.

•The only item you’re allowed to bring with you inside the Rijksmuseum is a small handbag. Backpacks, umbrellas, suitcases, large bags, and all other similar accessories must be checked at the museum’s cloakroom. The Rijksmuseum cloakroom is a free service under constant supervision.

Why the Rijksmuseum Should Be on Your Must-See List

In a city renowned for its world-class museums, historic attractions, and artistic sensibilities, no cultural destination in Amsterdam looms larger than the one-and-only Rijksmuseum. Simply put, the Rijksmuseum is quite possibly Amsterdam’s single greatest attraction, and no trip here is complete without visiting it. Whether you stop in for an hour to view a couple highlights or devote an entire day to roaming its lavish halls, the Rijksmuseum is sure to provide you with an experience you’ll never forget.