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The National Maritime Museum

The Netherlands is traditionally a seafaring nation, and in the 17th century Amsterdam was the largest port & marketplace in the world. Located at the Arsenal, the former storehouse of the Admiralty of Amsterdam, the National Maritime Museum shows how the country became linked to the sea in the so-called Dutch Golden Age — a story about grandeur & economic wealth, but also about colonialism, and slavery. The museum further explores the age-old relationship between the harbour & the city from the time a dam was built across the Amstel river. Four separate exhibitions pay attention to the museum’s collections of maps, navigational instruments, ship decorations, and yacht models.

Yacht models at the National Maritime Museum
Yacht models at the National Maritime Museum

Moored at the jetty outside the museum are three ships, of which the 48-m-long East Indiaman is the most impressive. During the 17th & 18th centuries cargo ships like these sailed to Asia and brought back goods such as spices, tea, porcelain & silk. Each of its decks gives insight into the daily life on board — our children loved trying the hammocks on the orlop deck, but in the end, even after seeing the officers’ mess on the quarterdeck, they decided that they preferred to be landlubbers instead of sailors. The other two vessels are a richly decorated barge commissioned by King Willem I in 1816, and a steam-powered icebreaker dating from 1900. On rare occasions the latter is used for harbour trips.

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Of equal interest to naval enthusiasts is the Maritime Museum in Rotterdam, which covers six centuries of maritime history and which features a museum harbour with historic ships.