Amsterdam: How to avoid crowds at the city’s most popular attractions
The Netherlands is one of the most densely populated countries in the world. Almost 17 million people live in an area about the size of the Maryland, and Amsterdam has a constant “pile up” atmosphere. Mass crowds and long lines are regular features of the most touristy spots, so here are some tips to avoid the waiting game.
Anne Frank House Museum
You and everyone visiting Holland knows the tragic and inspiring story of Anne Frank. Even in the heaviest of rain, the line for the Anne Frank House Museum is a constant feature of the building’s exterior. Luckily, the museum has a few tricks up their sleeve to help curb this well-known issue.
One big win is the option to buy tickets beforehand on the museum’s website, and bring a print copy along to skip the line and head straight to the “special entrance.” Visitors can order up to 14 tickets online, and the payment system is credit-card friendly (but not student-discount friendly!).
On top of that, the museum’s opening hours stretch into the evening. Spring and summer closing time isn’t until 9 p.m., and high season closing (July and August) is 10 p.m. Try your luck after 7 p.m. for the lowest waiting time. If you plan to visit during the low season, stroll by around 5 p.m. to scope out the stand by scene.
Skip it and head to the Jewish Historic Museum
Amsterdam’s Joods Historisch (Jewish Historical) Museum is a great alternative if lines look hopelessly long at the Anne Frank House, especially if your interest lies within Jewish culture and history in Amsterdam. About 11,000 art and historic artifacts are housed here, and the museum offers deep insight into Nazi occupation in Holland from 1940 to 1945.
The museum entry is €12, but it includes admission to the Portuguese Synagogue next door, and the nearby Holandsche Shouwburg.
Van Gogh Museum
Situated in the middle of Museumplein, the Van Gogh Museum is the most visited art museum in Amsterdam. And after paying a not-so-cheapo fee to see Van Gogh’s work, it’s all the more frustrating when the charge includes a wait in the rain.
From September 2012 to late April 2013 the museum’s collection is being temporarily housed in the Hermitage Amsterdam museum, which might diminish the number of visitors, simply due to the inconvenience. If that’s not the case, timing is of the essence. While Anne Frank Huis is a better visit in the evening, Van Gogh is roomiest right at the opening.
Give yourself about an hour at the Van Gogh once you’re inside. If things get busy, take a break at the cafe and try the packed areas again later. The museum is good at keeping people moving. It’s easy to wait out the waves of large groups by just stepping aside for a few minutes.
Skip it and head to the Stedelijk Museum
The more die-hard art lovers might prefer the newly-renovated Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, full of modern and contemporary art and design from the 20th and 21st Centuries. Late Greats like Andy Warhol and Henri Matisse are exhibited there, along with even a smaller Vincent van Gogh collection.
The Stedelijk is located just around the corner from the Van Gogh, and well worth the admission if Vinny’s “Sunflowers” are taking forever to get to.
Red Light District
As early on in the week as Wednesday evening, Amsterdam’s Red Light District looks more like a maze of wall-to-wall tourists ogling and snickering as they shuffle by beautiful blondes in moodily lit windows. By weekend things are packed, people get pushy, and drunk bachelor parties are downright ugly. The last place you want to be is between a prostitute hurling a bottle at some idiot taking her photo (which, it goes without saying, you should never, ever, do!).
Still, the Red Light District offers a big barrel of traditional Dutch charm. It’s the oldest part of the city with buildings dating from the 14th and 15th Centuries, and it’s should most definitely not be overlooked. Stroll early afternoon. Even by 10 a.m. a few brown bar cafes are open and ladies are running the “morning shift.” The canals are just as dazzling by day, and the mood is quiet.
Avoid getting sucked into tourist streets like Warmoestraat and Damstraat. These streets make up the borders of the Red Light District, offering a mess of low-quality coffeeshops and tourist bars. Stick to the main veins of Oudezijds Voorburgwal and Oudezijds Achterburgwal for the ultimate Red Light District view (but remember, snap pics at the canals and clearly away from any windows with women in them!).
Skip it and head to the Jordaan
The Red Light District isn’t the only area in Amsterdam with woman selling services under red-lit windows. An area near the Singel canal, just before the Jordaan, exhibits the same setting on a smaller scale. Plus the Jordaan offers just as much character in its buildings as the Red Light, with impressive canals, churches, gardens and alleyways.