The Rijksmuseum is the world’s biggest repository of Dutch Golden Age treasures, stacked over four sprawling floors in the red-brick P.J.H. Cuypers monolith opened in 1855. A decade-long refurbishment completed in 2013 did a spectacular job in sprucing up the elegant Cuypers decorations in the central Voorhal (Great Hall) but the layout of the museum remains confusing. It’s almost sacrilegious to criticize this venerable institution, but the biggest mistake made in laying out the displays is crowding all the famous Dutch Old Masters together in the Gallery of Honour on the second floor. Over 2 million people visit this museum annually and they all want to see Rembrandt’s “The Night Watch” from 1642 (or, to give it its official title, “The Militia Company of Captain Frans Banning Cocq and Lieutenant Willem van Ruytenburch”, see box) and the wonderful works by Jan Steen, Jan Vermeer, and Frans Hals, so be prepared for impenetrable throngs. “The Milkmaid” and “The Merry Drinker” are truly mesmerizing close up, so you’ll have to bear with the crowds.
Elsewhere in the museum are glorious collections of tulip vases, fine silver, glassware, and Delftware, forming the greatest collection of Dutch Golden Age treasures in the world. There are endless galleries stuffed with Asian and Indonesian artifacts brought back by marauding Dutch trading vessels. In a nod to more modern times, there are works by CoBrA artist Karel Appel and De Stijl designer Gerrit Rietveld. Don’t forget the sculpture exhibitions in the gardens.
A note for families: two rare furnished 17th-century dollhouses should be a highlight for children, by bringing the Dutch Golden Age to life for them in a way no amount of "real" stuff could. The dollhouses' owners commissioned craftsmen to copy objects and ornaments, and the contents are exactly as they were in those days, only in miniature. Tiny seashells occupy a display cabinet. The tapestry room walls are covered with silk, the ceiling and the fireplace mantel are painstakingly painted, and Italian marble paves the hall floor. Silver spoons rest on the dining table and the family initials are embroidered on the napkins. Look carefully, and you'll even see pins stuck in pincushions.
Lines are always long so either reserve a ticket online before your visit or turn up on the dot of opening time. And—like everywhere else in Amsterdam—watch out for the bikers who stream through the museum’s underpass with little regard for milling tourists.