How to Visit Cuypers Library in Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

Stepping inside the Cuypers Library, a library within the Rijksmuseum, or admiring and photographing the book paradise from the “bleachers”?

Last updated: May 8, 2024

Cuypers Library inside the Rijksmuseum - Roads and Destinations
The Cuypers Library inside the Rijksmuseum

There Is Something About the Books…

Books have a magnetic effect on me. Not a big shopper, yet I can spend hours inside a bookshop. A used books store is a treasure box for me that contains precious jewels waiting to be found. 

Since we’ve discovered the convenience (and reduction in airfares, which is not less important) of traveling light, mostly with a backpack, any excuses for shopping souvenirs disappeared almost automatically. Even a desire to buy magnets from new places – something I was once doing almost religiously – fell off without any regrets. 

And yet while packing my backpack a day before our trip, I leave some room… for a book. One thing I still can’t say no to (and probably will never be able to do it) is a good book. A captivating read is my new “fridge magnet”. But instead of sticking it on the refrigerator, I name the countries and places we’ve been to by looking at the spines of the books on my shelf. 

Visiting Cuypers Library in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam

I couldn’t possibly think about buying a book in Amsterdam. The Dutch language is a mystery for me. Stepping inside the Cuypers Library in the Rijksmuseum, however, looked like a perfect substitution. 

Visiting the iconic library in Amsterdam is a rather stretching notion. Admitting only “serious” scholars that silently roam the reading room filled with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves and even more quietly retreat to an empty spot at a long table in the middle, the Cuypers Library allows the outsiders like me to look at the inaudible enigma inside only from the “bleachers”.     

I grasped this opportunity anyway. A chance to visit the iconic Cuypers Library kept me warm as I, stubbornly fighting the rain, trod to the castle-like building of the Rijksmuseum

Visit Rijksmuseum - Roads and Destinations
The Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam

What Is the Cuypers Library Famous for?

The Cuypers Library is the oldest art historical library in the Netherlands. It opened its doors in 1885, the exact same time when the Rijksmuseum joined the extended museum family of Amsterdam. 

At the time of its inauguration, the Cuypers Library was the largest library in the Netherlands. It still remains up to this day. The library’s collection counts nearly 450,000 objects. All available for study and research. 

Only a small portion of the Cuypers Library’s treasures is kept in the famous reading room I observed from the second floor on that rainy day. The majority of the books and other periodicals wait for their readers’ requests in tunnels beneath the building.  

History of the Cuypers Library

The Cuypers Library was designed by Pierre Cuypers. A Dutch architect known for his Neo-gothic style, Cuypers believed that a museum should be a place for both appreciation of the art and study. Embodying his ideas, the architect included the iconic Cuypers Library in his design for the Rijksmuseum. 

The museum and library opened in the summer of 1885. At first, the Rijksmuseum library, as it’s often referred to even today, served mostly the museum’s staff. After a ten-year renovation when the museum was restored to Cuypers’ original architectural plan, the library’s reading room was finally opened to the public. 

Who Can Visit the Cuypers Library?

The library welcomes students, art historians, or any curious visitors. To maintain a research appropriate environment, silence is required inside the Cuypers Library at all times. Furthermore, a reservation is needed to delve into the expanded collection.

I didn’t have any during my last-minute visit to the Rijksmuseum. This, however, didn’t stop me from taking a sneak peek at the scholastic books tightly arranged on the tall shelves. Disregarding the art collection of the museum for the time being, I maneuvered through the imposing building by map and signs until I reached a coveted balcony. 

Cuypers Library inside the Rijksmuseum - Roads and Destinations
Inside the Cuypers Library: The view from the balcony

Inside the Cuypers Library

Here, separated from the Cuypers Library by a glass door and iron barricade, I peered into the reading room. Most of the library visitors on the other side of the railings congregated along long tables on the first floor. With heads in the books, they paid no attention to occasional observers on the second floor. 

The enormous skylight above the readers’ heads let in as much natural light as a gloomy day in Amsterdam allowed. Today, it wasn’t enough, though, to study long hours without straining your eyes. Artificial lighting embedded into the arches on the walls supplemented the natural light when and where it was needed. 

Shields with the names of leading publishers and printers adorned the columns of the library. Famous author’s quotes about art festooned the walls on the top floor.

Cast iron skeleton of the Cuypers Library, which at the moment of the construction had been one of the latest innovations, was displayed near the high ceiling. Iron railings separated abundant bookshelves on elevated balconies from the main room. In conjunction with the books in beautifully carved chests, this unpretentious material gave the building a unique, almost modern look. 

A winding staircase in the far corner of the reading room ended in a circle on the mosaic floor. I wished I could climb it and select some books from the top shelves before finding a spot at the long table downstairs.

READ MORE: Step Inside 7 of the World’s Most Remarkable Libraries

Where is the Library in the Rijksmuseum?

You can find the observation balcony aka an “outsider’s window” into the Cuypers Library in room 2.16. Once you reach the second floor, locate Rembrandt’s Night Watch Gallery. From here walk through William Rex Galley (2.15) until you spot the glass door leading to the library. 

The balcony is open for every visitor of the Rijksmuseum. No additional fee or reservation is required. 

If you visit the Cuypers Library to conduct research or study, from the atrium on the first floor, follow signs for Bibliotheek. The Cuypers Library is located on level 1 of the Rijksmuseum. Walk through the Waterloo room (1.12) until you reach Goya art (1.13). Here to your left is the entrance to the Science Room and the library.  

Admission and Hours

  • The Cuypers Library is free with admission to the Rijksmuseum
  • The Rijksmuseum is open daily from 9:00 a.m until 5:00 p.m.

Rijksmuseum Admission

  • Adults: €22.50
  • Free for 18 and under

How to Reserve a Workspace in the Cuypers Library

1. Make a booking. It’s only available for consulting the Research Library collections. To study prints, drawings, and photography in the Study Room, you need to make a separate appointment by email. The Research Library is only for study and research. No viewing or photographing the library from inside is allowed. The balcony on the second floor is dedicated specifically for these tasks. 

2. Request works to consult. Once you receive the reservation confirmation, request the works you want to study. The workspace reservation may be automatically cancelled if you don’t choose the materials you need to consult beforehand. 

Opening Hours 

  • Research Library: Monday through Saturday 
  • Study Room: Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. until 5:00 p.m.
Visit Rijksmuseum - Roads and Destinations
How to visit the Cuypers Library inside the Rijksmuseum

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