The Netherlands is all about the sea. Firstly because it exists in constant danger of being flooded by the North Sea and therefore spends a fortune on defensive dikes and floodgates, and also on reclaiming land. Secondly because the Dutch Golden Age in the 17th century – during which all those glorious buildings and artworks that we flock to see in Amsterdam originated – was built on an incredibly successful seafaring trade in spices, silk, porcelain, etc.
So, the Dutch know a lot about ships and the sea. In a city full of museums, one of the more significant ones reopens in October after a 4-year renovation. Het Scheepvaartmuseum (The National Maritime Museum) is located in a fabulous historic building, huge for the city of Amsterdam. It was a 17th-century storehouse for the Dutch war fleet and is, not surprisingly, surrounded by water.
The museum tells stories of The Netherlands’ trading past – and also their role as colonizers and sometimes oppressors – in exhibits, including maps, globes, ship models, art and artefacts. And the biggest attraction of all doesn’t actually fit inside the building: a replica of the Dutch “East Indiaman” (a type of ship) the Amsterdam is docked alongside and is probably the best attraction of all.
The museum is a short walk from Amsterdam’s Central Station, just on the edge of the historic city center and naturally includes a café, restaurant and bookshop. When it reopens on October 2, 2012 it’s sure to become one of the city’s best places to visit.