Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam: Why I Dislike it

The most common knowledge about the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam is the scarily massive queue outside; then is that the entrance tickets and the souvenirs are ridiculously expensive and, third, follows the fact that there are also some paintings by that dude who chopped his ear off. This seems to perfectly reflect the priorities of the museum curators. To at least avoid the queue we’ve been talking about booking the tickets in advance, since we bought our flight to Amsterdam, but we obviously waited until 5 minutes to midnight to frantically forcing our way on the online booking system via our unreliable phones.

Queue at the Van Gogh Museum

The Queue @ Van Gogh Museum (amsterdamblog.co.uk)

The Queue

We eventually went to the museum the next day, without tickets but confident that, queueing for at most one hour we could have got it. What we found was quite depressing: a long line of people standing all around the building and sneaking in the surrounding park which, at least, have been finally completed and looks rather pleasant. Not pleasant enough to set us in the mood for queuing for, as they said, not less than 2 hours. I’ve seen worse only at Wimbledon where the queue itself became part of the event. The good news is that, at the souvenir shop where they sell sunflowers stuffed with gold, there is a booth where you can book tickets for as early as the next day.

Van Gogh Selfie

As much as I hate posting this picture, the world needs to know what they’re doing to poor old Vince

Friday Night Fever?

We go back then the next day, a Friday, at 7pm. At that time, we thought, all of the families will be off to dinner, while the rest will be hitting the coffee shops… flawless logic? Wrong: the rooms were so full that you had to slowly shuffle from one painting to the other following the almost imperceptible movement of the crowd. To reach the first room we had to go through an area which looked like a club: sofas, people holding drinks, a DJ setting up the mixer and music. I carefully stepped between the reveller being all apologetic to reach a room, squeezed between a flight of stairs and the restaurant. Apparently this is something they’re proud of: they have a dedicate page on their website and they publish videos… this is pretty much what I’m talking about:

The Van Gogh Exhibition

After the first ground floor room, which looked more like a spare room casually filled with paintings waiting for a better use, it took us a while to find our way to the rest of the exhibition, via what looks like fire escape stairs. Each room is focused on a period, with an explanation of the historical background. Which is great, but for some reason we couldn’t see a chronological order in the room, the map being of little or no help on this. We soon realised that probably, the only way to do that was to get an audioguide for €5, as if being parted with hard earned €15 at the entrance was not enough.

Van Gogh Museum, Floor Plan

Those familiar with Doom will surely recognise the map from the “Toxin Refinery” level

To go or not to?

Despite all this I cannot plainly tell you “don’t go”. After all some of the most beautiful paintings of one of my favourite artists are hosted (or kidnapped) there, even though you can as well see some of them in other exhibitions in other cities. It’s very expensive compared to other museums and the amount of works on display, and it’s also overcrowded, which is an aspect that can be controlled, and Now, I don’t know Van Gogh because I’m not 150 years old, but I’d like to think that he will be pretty pissed off to see the environment in which his works are set.
If you want to go make sure you book your tickets in advance  and follow Ashley’s tips on Amsterdam Blog.

The following two tabs change content below.
After being in Rome a few times without even looking at the Coliseum I realised that there's more to travel than sightseeing: meeting the local culture is what, 10 years later, determined the birth of this blog.

Latest posts by Rick (see all)

10 comments

  1. My wife and I went in 2013 and I don’t recognise your description at all. The museum was excellent, with hardly a queue at all, and no more expensive than similar museums around the world.

    • Hi Colin, thanks for your feedback! The queue, as mentioned, was surely due to poor planning and the crowds were there for an event we weren’t aware of 🙂 The first time I went there I also was put in the ideal conditions to enjoy the outstanding paintings. Circumstances can heavily influence each experience, however I still disagree to some of the marketing choices made by the museum management.

  2. I think that you guys should give it another chance (despite the ticket cost). I really like the museum – a lot of thought and care goes into the exhibitions that they put on, though Friday night is probably not the best time to go unless you’re interested in music, and the paintings as a secondary thing.

    I can definitely recommend getting the audio guides, as it makes the whole experience much better. I think that it is possible to download the audio guide on the itunes and play stores, which will save you time, but not money.
    Let me know when you next make a visit to Amsterdam.

    • Hi Ashley! Yes that Friday night event was totally unexpected 🙂 but we got to Amsterdam totally unprepared. I’ve actually visited the museum already few years ago, in a more quiet moment of the year and of the day. Next time I’ll spend my money on the Stedelijk museum I guess…have you been there?

  3. Oh too bad you didn’t like it! When I went there was no queue at all! And yes 15 euro is a lot but I think it’s worth it. True, some may not like because it’s different from other van Gogh exhibitions (I’ve seen quite a few and to me they are all the same) and here are not many famous works exhibited. The emphasis of this museum is on his early works, when he was still living in Netherland, and those are something completely different from the van Gogh we generally know. But that’s the point! I probably had much advantage being there almost alone and I can assure you I really enjoyed it!

    • Hi Urska! Yes as said before what I really didn’t like is the loud music and clubbing that made the experience of taking that great art in a bit less enjoyable. I loved all the paintings, especially the early and late ones, which you don’t often have a chance to see. Whether it’s worth spending €15 personal choice (I chose to spend it), but compared to other museums around the world is a bit steep.
      I think the best way to enjoy this museum, or any museum in general, is going as you did in low season in a quiet time of the day, as you did 🙂

  4. Hate is a strong word friend! Ha!

    Sounds like the place has become more popular since I last visited. No line, not overally crowded. Just great art and a decent audio guide. I did visit in Febuary though so far from peak season. Shame if it is this bad now.

    Shaun
    http://www.thislifeintrips.com

    • Hi Shaun,
      yes you’re right, hate is a strong word indeed. Now I’ve calmed down, I’m home with a cup of tea and I’ve changed to “dislike” 🙂
      I think the queue was not the point: if you book in advance you jump it altogether. I didn’t like the vibe and I felt that at that moment the club night with DJs, projections and drinks were more important that the paintings.

  5. We missed this museum whilst in Amsterdam and after reading this post it probably was for the best. I have seen Van Gogh artworks in other exhibitions though and they are quite impressive!

    • Hey Franca, we surely went in an incredibly busy period but the museum is always very popular. I genuinely think that it’s run bearing in mind money first, and art later…this was my impression.
      You will have to judge yourself if it’s worth spending 15 euros and facing possible frustration for a small collection of beautiful paintings.

Let us know what you think