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Every summer my short stint as a tour guide begins with great intentions. We start at the Dam Square, stroll for an hour and soak in the atmosphere and good vibes from enjoying our wander. We check out the secret garden Begijnhof, dip into the art hall from the Amsterdam Museum, wander to the Flower Market and through the Canal Ring’s 9 Streets. Maybe we talk about weed and the Red Light District, and I always ramble off a to-do list for nightlife.
As we edge closer to the Anne Frank House, a sad cloud rolls over our heads. I beg the museum gods to show mercy on my tour group, but starting in May we’re usually met with an entry line that rivals the Louvre and Uffizi. Once July rolls around, my groups of first timers to Amsterdam don’t even try to get in.
A recent article in the International New York Times reported that attendance in Europe’s top museums have caused enough congestion that directors are running out of ideas. I’ve yet to hear of anyone being trampled by eager Anne Frank fans, but the three-hour line in July and August speaks for itself. But that doesn’t mean you have to give up. We are here to let you in on a few insider tips and answer questions like: How can you skip the line? When is the best time to go? Can I get tickets in advance? Here are your best options.
I can’t encourage people enough to reserve time slots online and in advance. As soon as you have your Amsterdam dates inked in the calendar, go to the Anne Frank House website and use your credit card to buy those tickets. Commit to a time slot, and when you arrive wait on the left side of the entrance (when facing the entrance). Do NOT arrive in Amsterdam and try to reserve a ticket for the following day. Chances are they will be sold out, as there is only a selected amount available online.
Museums across the continent are experimenting with longer hours in the summer to help ease the wait. From April to October the Anne Frank House is open daily from 9 AM to 9 PM (10 PM on Saturdays), and November to March 9 AM to 7 PM (and Saturdays til 9 PM). However, July and August the museum is open until 10 PM. They begin turning people away from the line at around 8:30 PM, and just because you’re the last in line doesn’t guarantee entry.
Some people say that the line dwindles to a two-hour wait or less after 6 PM in the summertime. I’ve called three times this summer and was given no guarantees. I wouldn’t put my money on easy access in the evening, but a sliver of hope could exist.
Tip: Don’t count on rain to wash away the line. During one of the city’s most rainy day, complete with lightning and thunderstorms, hundreds of visitors waited with umbrellas and ponchos.
Start your day with the Anne Frank House, and get there before it opens. Across the street from the Westerkerk is an Albert Hein grocery store, even a bakery or two. Grab a couple coffees, croissants, maybe a newspaper from your hotel and get in line at 8:30 AM. By 9:15 you should be getting to the ticket booth, and by 9:30 you’re elbows deep in the Anne Frank House. Sounds extreme? If you’re coming here in the summertime, this is the best way to go. Not only do you avoid waiting then hot and humid afternoon away, but in cooler temps nonetheless. By mid-morning you’re on to the next attraction.
What do people do when they wait in line for three hours to get into Anne Frank? I encourage a lot of them to picnic it out and hope for sun and breeze. Maybe bring a book, route out the rest of your trip, start that book proposal outline you’ve been meaning to do. You get the idea. Other tour companies use this as a legitimate tourist trap, selling boat tours and packages. Street musicians come to play music and get some coins tossed in their hats. I personally have always wanted to see a flash mob start.
How can you gauge your time? If the line is an L shape, ending just along the Westerkerk, that’s about an hour. If the line is an L shape but ends past the Westerkerk and at the Keizergracht canal, that’s two hours. If the line is a Z and has now turned at the Keizergracht canal and is running behind the Westerkerk, that’s three hours. Any longer, well, you do the math.
By late September these rules soften, and the Anne Frank House becomes a steady institution with an average flow of visitors. Patron traffic stays calm and cool until tulip season emerges early April and bus coaches come rolling in. At €9 a ticket, the Anne Frank House is a good deal of history at a lower price than most museums. But don’t let it take up an entire afternoon in Amsterdam if you’re only in town for a few days. Want alternatives? Check out my article on top rookie mistakes to avoid in Amsterdam.