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Yes, you CAN visit the Rijksmuseum in 2 hours!

I’m not a museum person. That’s not to say I’m not interested in art, or natural history, or science, or whatever the museum is about.

It’s just that I don’t have the patience to concentrate on one thing for very long. At the same time, I’m not physically up to it; for some reason standing still makes my back hurt within a fairly short time, while I can walk for a far longer time before I have any back problems.

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The red-brick museum has a square entrance framed by two turrets. In the center is a large archway, with is the entrance to a bike tunnel through the building. On either side of that is a smaller tunnel for pedestrians. People carry umbrellas on the sidewalk, while people in the bike lane are bundled up against the cold.
The main entrance to the Rijksmuseum

So if I visit a museum, it needs to be either a very small museum or a very short visit. Which is why I rarely go to museums: at €17.00 (the Louvre) or €22.50 (the Rijksmuseum) or $30 (the Metropolitan Museum of Art), for example, a visit doesn’t seem worth the money if you’re only planning to stay a short time.

Friends from out of town

When a friend of mine from the US was in Amsterdam for just one afternoon, along with his son, on their way to other obligations elsewhere in the country, I went to Amsterdam to meet them. They wanted to see the Rijksmuseum, as well as walk around the city a bit.

So that’s what we did: we walked across the city, enjoying the leaning buildings and picture-postcard canal views.

A red brick row house, three stories tall with very big windows. The ground floor is relatively even, but the two upper stories lean noticeably to the left. There are red lights above the ground floor windows.
Notice that this particular leaning building is in the red-light district.

A short visit to the Rijksmuseum

What with the walking and stopping for lunch, we ended up with about two and a half hours left to see the Rijksmuseum. If I’d been on my own, I would have headed for the more modern art on the top floor. I love the riddles inherent in abstract art: what does it mean? Is my interpretation what the artist intended?

I’m glad, though, that I suggested the Golden Age masters in the second floor Gallery of Honour. It seemed to me that, being from Boston, my friends had plenty of access to modern art at home. They were in Holland, and Holland means the Golden Age: Rembrandt, Vermeer, and so on. After all, many of the buildings we had just admired on our stroll were from the same period of wealth and creativity.

Note added in December 2019: The term “Golden Age” is falling out of favor here in the Netherlands. It may have been golden for the Dutch merchants who built Amsterdam, but it was anything but golden for the inhabitants of the Dutch colonies who were so poorly treated by their colonial masters. It was unimaginably cruel for the enslaved people that the Dutch sold across the Atlantic Ocean too. The profit that helped build Amsterdam came in large part from the slave trade or in trading commodities obtained through slave labor.

A row of Golden Age landscapes on the wall, and 9 visitors, backs to the camera, viewing the paintings.
Visitors enjoy the Golden Age paintings lining the Gallery of Honour in the Rijksmuseum.

By the way, you can read lots of good information about visiting Amsterdam at the Netherlands Tourism website.

You might also like to check out my series on small museums and other sights to see in Amsterdam: they’re perfect for people with shorter attention spans like me!

Rijksmuseum Highlights

The newly-remodeled Rijksmuseum presents a selection of its Golden Age paintings arranged on both sides of a long, straight hall, with its crown jewel at the end: The Night Watch, by Rembrandt.

The painting of The Night Watch fills the background. In front, a crowd of visitors, backs to the camera, views the painting.
The Night Watch gets a lot of attention at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.

Many of these paintings were familiar to me, of course, and that’s part of the joy of it: “Oh, I know that one! It’s by Vermeer! Wow, it’s much smaller than I thought it would be. And look at the detail!”

Looking at these paintings in person rather than on a computer screen reveals detail that cannot be reproduced: individual brushstrokes, texture, and so on. It was a joy to see these Rijksmuseum highlights again after so many years. The last time I was in the Rijksmuseum was sometime in the late 1980s.

Use the form below to buy tickets ahead, so you don’t waste time in line at the museum:

This single hallway is perfect for a two-hour visit. Two hours in the Rijsmuseum allows you to savor any painting that interests you, but not get overwhelmed. For some of the more famous paintings, it’s worth reading the big explanatory cards that are available. They add information about details you might not have noticed on your own, such as the fact that The Night Watch was trimmed down long ago to fit in a smaller space, so that it’s now slightly unbalanced compared to the original composition. Or that Rembrandt struggled with a particular spot on the painting, revealed through an x-ray study.

Another way to see the Rijksmuseum in two hours is to take this two-hour guided tour in a small group, which includes skip-the-line-tickets.

Some of the paintings are positively photographic, particularly the landscapes and seascapes like Willem van de Velde’s The Cannon Shot. Magnificent.

Two hours in the Rijksmuseum will allow you to enjoy the Gallery of Honour in the Rijksmuseum, full of Golden Age masterworks, like this painting depicting a sailing ship firing a shot at another vessel on a calm sea.
The Cannon Shot, by Willem van de Velde

I think Vermeer’s The Milkmaid was my favorite, though: the stillness and ordinariness of the scene, the thin light shining from the side. It’s a remarkably small painting, and the detail is exquisite.

The Milkmaid, by Vermeer: one of the Rijksmuseum highlights. A young man wearing a blue sweater and a bright red baseball cap, with the brim in the back, looks at the painting.
The Milkmaid, by Vermeer, is one of the Rijksmuseum highlights.

Read my article on Mauritshuis in the Hague, a much smaller but just as impressive museum, with another masterful Vermeer: Girl with a Pearl Earring.

So, yes, it is possible to visit a museum in just a couple of hours. The keys to success are:

  1. Decide what you most want to see.
  2. Don’t try to see too much.
  3. Don’t try to get your money’s worth.

So are you a stay-all-day-and-try-to-see-everything kind of person? Or are you more the pop-in-pop-out kind of person, like me? Leave a comment below!

Visitors Information

The Rijksmuseum: Museumstraat 1 in Amsterdam (Museumplein). From the Central train station, take tram 2 or 16. From Schiphol airport, take bus 397, or take a train to Amsterdam Central and then take tram 2 or 16. Don’t try driving in Amsterdam! The traffic rules are complicated, there are bikes and pedestrians everywhere, and parking is prohibitively expensive.

Open daily 9-17:00. The museum gets very crowded on weekends and holidays, especially in the middle of the day, so your best bet is a midweek morning.

Admission for adults starts at €22.50 ($24.50). Ordering the tickets online might save you time waiting in line. Click on this link to order skip-the-line tickets to the Rijksmuseum.

(Last edited July 3, 2023)

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about Rachel

Hi, I’m Rachel!

Rachel’s Ruminations is a travel blog focused on independent travel with an emphasis on cultural and historical sites/sights. I also occasionally write about life as an expatriate. I hope you enjoy what I post here; feel free to leave comments!  Read more…
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Great advice for getting the most out of museums, the Van Gogh and Anne Frank museums were just the right size I found but I didn’t go to many of the smaller ones you’ve blogged about. I really like the photo of the Nightwatchmen by the way, I didn’t realise how big it was.

I agree with prioritizing, although that does mean you might miss hidden gems you don’t know about (Gauguin was a carver?!). Unlike you, we can easily spend the better part of a a day in a museum if we take a lunch break. But even that not enough to cover a big museum the way we’d like to.

Hi Rachel. I remember the Rijksmuseum from my visit to Amsterdam back in the 1970s. Thanks for the trip down memory lane. I would go back in a heartbeat. I do miss the great art exhibits in Seoul and the prices were reasonable. Thanks for co-hosting this week.

Hi, Rachel! Just met you today in the Journeywoman call, interrupted! Just wanted to say for short frequent trips the Dutch Annual Museum pass is great – less than 70 euro for a year, can go to many museums in the country as much as you want! And totally worth it even if you’re staying in Amsterdam for a month or more. And tea and cake at the Rijksmuseum is a highlight – it seemed to me that their champagne cake/torte might have been from the historic Patisserie Holtkamp – I still remember it 5 years later!