Shortly after learning that we were moving to Germany, my husband and I happened to be at a dinner with someone who was stationed there a few years earlier. She quickly launched into descriptions of all her favorite experiences and travels from her time in Germany. She made every activity, destination, and culinary adventure sound so amazing that we were ready to go straight home and start packing our luggage. Of all the places that she mentioned, Amsterdam stood out as her favorite, so it easily won a space on our must-see list.
Park & Ride
We made the easy drive up to Amsterdam during a long weekend and took advantage of parking areas just outside the city. Visitors can park for small fees and then take public transportation into the heart of Amsterdam, or find free parking along residential streets. By utilizing suburban parking areas, drivers help prevent the city from becoming congested with cars, which makes it more welcoming to cyclists and pedestrians. Locations and instructions for how to use the park and ride areas can be found here. Several high speed trains include Amsterdam on their routes if visitors want to avoid driving completely. Once you arrive in the city, you have endless options of what to do during your visit. We chose to spend a day exploring two of the city’s most famous museums: the Van Gogh Museum and the Rijksmuseum.
Van Gogh Museum
As you can probably guess from the name, the Van Gogh Museum features work by the famous Dutch artist Vincent Van Gogh. The museum breaks up Van Gogh’s work by time periods. Visitors learn about his often overlooked early paintings that are more traditional and use a limited range of colors compared to his later work. Exhibits explain how Van Gogh’s style evolved during the 1880s after he spent time in Paris with other artists who influenced his work. He began to experiment with contrasting colors, and the style that makes his work recognizable around the world emerged. During our visit, we took advantage of the audio guides with family programs that were available for free since our kids are under the age of thirteen. Our kids excitedly played games on the guide that encouraged them to find specific images in paintings and to use a color combination tool to recreate the tones that Van Gogh used in his work. The guide was so engaging that we occasionally had to remind the kids to take time to look at the amazing artwork surrounding us. It isn’t often that an art museum keeps the attention of everyone in our family, but the combination of well-arranged artwork, revealing explanations, and engaging audio guides made our visit to the museum a highlight of our trip.
The Van Gogh Museum is located at Museumplein 6, Amsterdam. You can visit vangoghmuseum.nl and click on “Plan Your Visit” for detailed directions on how to locate the museum. The website includes a link that allows you to book tickets in advance so that you can avoid long lines at the entrance. Tickets cost €17 for adults, and visitors under 18 enter the museum for free. You can also reserve audios guides through the website. Audio guide are available in ten languages and can be checked out for €5 for adults and €3 for children between the ages of 13-17. Audio guides are available for free for children under 12 with their families, and free printed children activities are available at the information desk when you arrive at the museum. The Van Gogh Museum is open Sunday through Thursday from 9:00 AM to 6:00 PM and on Fridays from 9:00 AM to 10:00 PM.
After spending the morning at the Van Gogh Museum, a short walk brought us to the Rijksmuseum where we spent the afternoon. The Rijksmuseum is considered the museum of the Netherlands. It combines art and history to provide a full impression of Dutch culture from the Middle Ages to today. The museum’s wings are organized by time periods; printed guides in English available at the information desk helped us map out our visit. The Rijksmuseum, like the Van Gogh Museum, proved that Amsterdam knows how to craft a museum that appeals to the entire family. The special collections area included exhibits on weaponry and ship models that kept our sons’ attention, while our daughter appreciated the fashion and delftware displays. Our family enjoyed how artwork, such as paintings depicting catastrophic flooding or great battles, shared Dutch history. The Gallery of Honour featured works by greats like Vermeer and Rembrandt, which only confirmed how expansive and impressive the museum’s collection is.
The Rijksmuseum is located at Museumstraat 1, Amsterdam. It is open daily from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM. Tickets can be purchased online in advance at www.rijksmuseum.nl/en. The museum is busiest on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays between 11:00 AM and 3:00 PM, so purchasing tickets in advance can really cut down on time spent in entrance lines to the museum if you visit during these days and times. Tickets are €17.50 for adults, and visitors under 18 can enter for free. Detailed directions on how to locate the museum once you arrive in Amsterdam can be found on the museum’s website.
By the end of the day, we had spent hours wandering the halls in two of Amsterdam’s great museums. The fact that our whole family enjoyed all of those long hours reflects just how well the museums present their collections and the effort put forth to appeal to all ages. It’s likely that Amsterdam will be one of those places that we rave about when it’s our turn to meet someone who is moving to Europe.