Visitor card makes seeing Amsterdam much more affordable

It’s not often you get to save money looking at priceless art, but with the sun reflecting cheerfully off the legendary canals of this fabulous city, I set out in the right frame of mind to do just that.

AMSTERDAM, Netherlands — It’s not often you get to save money looking at priceless art, but with the sun reflecting cheerfully off the legendary canals of this fabulous city, I set out in the right frame of mind to do just that.

You might think this fast-track culture path would put a serious dent in my travel budget, but I had a trick up my sleeve — or rather in my pocket. Thanks to the “I Amsterdam” card the treasury of euros I’d brought from my bank in Canada would be still in solid shape by the time my trek was over.

The “I Amsterdam” card gives free entry to many of the city’s incredible museums, such as the Hermitage, which has just opened in its new digs, and the newly renovated, multimillion-dollar Maritime Museum.

My travel plans would allow me to go eyeball to eyeball with Rembrandt, Vermeer and other old masters’ works hanging in the Rijksmuseum, that treasure chest of Dutch paintings from the Golden Age. Having the card means the 12.5 euros admission would stay in my wallet. Time permitting I was also planning to save more cash at the Van Gogh Museum, a visit that would save another 14 euros.

But my real joy would be the visit to Amsterdam’s Hermitage Museum, which just opened an exhibition in its newly renovated premises.

Until March 16, 2012, the Hermitage Amsterdam is presenting an impressive selection from the Flemish art collection of the St. Petersburg Hermitage (www.hermitage.nl/en/bezoek). With 75 paintings and about 20 drawings, the exhibition includes masterpieces by Peter Paul Rubens, Anthony van Dyck and Jacob Jordaens. Entry costs more than $20, but with my card, it was free.

Another must-see on my Amsterdam program was the National Maritime Museum, which just opened its doors in late summer after a multimillion-dollar renovation. The museum is housed in the former Amsterdam war fleet storage building, a structure dating from 1656 and that still keeps much of its historical flavour despite the high-tech exhibitions crammed inside. The cost to get inside is about $20. With my pass, it was completely free.

Highlights include replicas of the large ship Amsterdam and the steamship Christiaan Brunings, as well as Voyage at Sea, a virtual adventure at sea that provides a stunning realistic journey into Dutch maritime history.

Without the card, my travel-weary wallet would be as much as $100 lighter by the time I returned to my hotel to change for the dinner I’d planned. At a cost of about $50, my 24-hour “I Amsterdam” Card was a great investment.

If your aim is to hit only one or two of museums a day, and if you don’t plan on using the free transportation options that come with it, the card might be a waste. Also remember that the card is good for just one visit to each attraction, and it is activated as soon as you begin using it.

The cards can be purchased online before you leave Canada, or you can buy them from selected tourism offices in the cities you’re visiting. These cards include restaurant and bar discounts, often giving free drink incentives with meals, or up to 25 per cent discounts on menu items.

The I Amsterdam card includes unlimited use of Amsterdam’s public transport, including the trams, buses and metro system operated by GVB Amsterdam.

To find out about other European cities that offer visitor cards, go to www.europeancitycards.com. Tourism information on Amsterdam: (www.iamsterdam.com).