Amsterdam Diaries: The National Maritime Museum

If you go to Amsterdam, you can’t leave there without learning at least a tiny bit about how the city’s adventures on the sea have shaped Dutch culture today.

Today, Amsterdam has the fourth busiest port in all of Europe with everything from crisps to iPods passing through. Goods come in by ship and go out again on freight lorries and trains to almost everywhere!  The maritime history of Amsterdam is a fascinating one and nowhere tells the tale of one of the world’s oldest and most successful ports better than Het Scheepvaartmuseum (The National Maritime Museum).

So it was on one cloudy winter’s day that we made our way to the Oosterdok neighbourhood where the museum proudly sits.

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Pictured: The impressive National Maritime Museum building.

Right off the bat, the first thing you notice when you get to the building is how impressive it looks standing there over the water.  As weird as this sentence might come across: the building embodies everything you’d expect from a maritime museum. Of course, the impressive replica of a 17th Century ship parked outside does much to bolster that image too!

The building has been a museum since 1973 but back when it was first built in the 1600s, it was used as a warehouse by the Dutch navy so it goes without saying that it’s a building absolutely steeped in history.

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Entering the courtyard of the museum

However, much has been done to modernise the building – when you enter, you’re greeted with a courtyard space that is covered by a dazzling glass roof – lest you forget this is 2018 and not 1718!

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The new courtyard roof, fitted in 2011 with it’s impressive geometric patterns and LED lights.

The museum covers 500 years of maritime history through interactive exhibitions, models and replicas of all sizes.  There is real effort made to cater for all tastes and ages – for example, there’s the imaginative  ‘The Tale of the Whale‘ exhibit which draws in children but also tells the darker story of how Dutch voyagers contributed in hunting these mammals to the point of endangering them. It’s a sad issue but one which everyone must be educated on and this exhibit tows the line nicely between being kid-friendly but also honest.

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The Tale of the Whale exhibit also looks at how the image of whales has changed over the centuries – from seeing them as formidable monsters to mammals we need and want to protect.

The Museum is spread out over different floors and different wings, there’s an east, west, north and south wing and each section houses different exhibits and experiences – including a Virtual Reality experience of being on board a ship in the 17th Century!  Safe to say, you could spend hours exploring every part of this place!

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As you explore the building, you really get a sense of the old and new parts of building – quite a fitting metaphor for the fact that the museum looks at both the history of Amsterdam’s port as well as how things operate today.

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Another must-see exhibit is about The Dutch Golden Age. In the 17th Century, the Netherlands region was one of the richest countries around primarily due to their conquests at sea. They had the most ships and the Dutch East India Company was absolutely thriving. As we all know, when an economy does well, so do the people. So during this Golden Age, the Netherlands also saw the rise of some of their most influential artists and scientists (basically, you can thank this period of time for giving us Rembrandt!)

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Once you’re done exploring the inside of the building, you can venture outside to where that very impressive looking ship is standing…

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This is the East Indiaman ship used in the 17th-18th Century which would have travelled to Asia – the journey would have taken about 8 months!  You get the very cool experience of going on board and seeing what life was like on a voyage.  It was a wet and cloudy day when we visited which I guess might have added to the authenticity of the experience!

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As is standard, we couldn’t resist a few poser snaps!


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The proudly flying flag.

We always say there’s no better way to spend a drizzly day than in a museum and visiting here was definitely a day well spent.  Like most museums we’ve ever visited, we obviously didn’t get to see everything and I can see just from the museum’s website that they’ve got a very cool exhibition curated by a Belgian artist that I desperately want to see… so there’s every excuse to go back.


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