Settling in to our life in Amsterdam felt a bit like filling out a Bingo card. Instead of B-12 and O-22, the Amsterdam Bingo card includes things like “residency permit” and “BSN number” and “OVChipkaart”. These are the basic credentials and administrative things you need in order to be a legal, functioning Amsterdammer. At the fringes of the Bingo card are the slightly less essential elements, including, but not limited to, a Bonuskaart at the local grocery store and a membership (with 10% discount) at the neighboring liquor store. I am proudly in possession of all of these things.
But the star of my Bingo card is my Museumkaart. The card costs €59.90 for one year and gives me FREE access to at least 32 museums in Amsterdam, and, apparently, over 400 museums throughout the Netherlands. I have made it my personal mission to visit ALL 32 of the participating Amsterdam museums. To date, I have been to nine, so I’ll need to ramp up the summer and fall museum-visiting plans if I’m to meet my goal.
What I love best about the Museumkaart – which also gives you access to a priority entrance line at most museums! – is that it has totally released me from Museum Overload Anxiety and Guilt. You know the feeling: you visit a major city and queue up at its major art museum to see its most famous exhibit and by the time you get inside you’re already overwhelmed and exhausted but you’ve come all this way and waited all this time so you should really just power through and push past all these tourists and get your money’s worth and see what you’ve come to see and then make a quick pass through the gift shop before collapsing, defeated, in the museum cafe.
The Museumkaart absolves me of those feelings. One day I visited de Hortus Botanicus (annoyingly, not included in my Museumkaart), and then went directly to the Tropenmuseum. The Tropenmuseum is a beautiful space with a series of highly detailed – some might say “exhaustive” – exhibits about the Dutch colonial experience and the cultures that have, in turn, influenced the Dutch. While I loved the building and the exhibit in the central courtyard, the minutia of the permanent exhibits was more than I could absorb. I wandered around a bit longer and left happy, and guilt-free.
Recently, on a day-long visit to Haarlem, we stopped in at the Frans Hals Museum, with little more than an hour to go before closing time. Would we pay €15 each to spend an hour in a museum dedicated to a Dutch portrait painter about whom we knew nothing? The Museumkaart answers that question for us: admission is free! Come on in!
It is very freeing to be able to enjoy a museum on your own terms, and not feel constrained by obligation. Especially for someone like me, who often struggles with art and my own understanding of it. The Museumkaart has changed the terms by which I engage with the art, history, and information on offer at Amsterdam’s cultural institutions. It provides an invitation of sorts, to come late, come early, spend the day, stay for a half an hour, or visit every week and see a little at a time. Just come!