The National Maritime Museum

Het Scheepvaartmuseum—better known in English as the National Maritime Museum—is located near NEMO Science Museum, just north of ARTIS Royal Zoo and Hortus Botanicus. The National Maritime Museum is home to Amsterdam’s finest collection of shipping, sailing, and naval artifacts. Highlights of a visit here include exhibits devoted to historic maps, naval paintings, navigational instruments, and ship decorations, while the museum’s three historic ships are the can’t-miss core of the attraction.

Money Saving Tip! The National Maritime Museum is included on the I Amsterdam City Pass. If you are sightseeing in Amsterdam, then you can save a lot of money with the pass.

History of the National Maritime Museum

In addition to housing an assortment of historic artifacts, the National Maritime Museum itself is a piece of history, as it occupies a striking building with its own distinctive past. Known as ‘s Lands Zeemagazijn, or the Arsenal, this historic structure was designed by Amsterdam’s first official city architect, Daniel Stalpaert. It opened in 1656 as a so-called “storehouse” for the then-Admiralty of Amsterdam’s shipyard. This meant that the Arsenal was where the admiralty kept supplies for its fleet of war ships: sails, flags, cannons, and other miscellaneous equipment for its seagoing vessels.

Though the Arsenal was extensively damaged by fire in the late eighteenth century, it would maintain its role as a naval storehouse in one capacity or another all the way up until 1972. In 1973, the site was transformed into a national museum, and it has been occupied by the National Maritime Museum ever since.

The National Maritime Museum Highlights

For many visitors, the highlight of a trip to the National Maritime Museum is its collection of historic ships. The National Maritime Museum is home to three remarkable vessels: a replica of the mid-eighteenth-century Dutch East Indiaman Amsterdam, which contains onboard museum displays and may be experienced via an interactive VR tour; the Royal Barge, a golden rowing boat commissioned by King William I in 1816; and the S.S. Christiaan Brunings, an icebreaker that dates to 1900.

The primary permanent exhibit on display at the National Maritime Museum is entitled Republic at Sea, and features paintings of famous naval battles and sailing vessels, model boats, antique globes, cannons, swords, and a whole lot more. Through these powerful artifacts, Republic at Sea tells the story of the rise of the Netherlands as a global economic power during the seventeenth century while not shying away from discussing the colonial violence this era of growth entailed. Touring this exhibit typically takes guests about 60 minutes.

Additional highlights of a visit to the National Maritime Museum include exhibits like Maps & Marvels, which presents some of the attraction’s finest cartographic treasures in an illuminating space; as well as the museum’s impressive selection of yacht models, navigational instruments, and ship decorations.

More to See and Do at the National Maritime Museum

The National Maritime Museum is full of historic treasures and interactive delights. Here are a few more things to consider seeing and doing during your time here.

•A great way to experience the many highlights of the National Maritime Museum is by downloading the attraction’s free audio guide. You can access this complimentary guide directly on your smartphone simply by scanning a QR code within the museum. The audio guide covers many of the site’s most popular exhibits in a tidy 60 minutes.

•Families visiting the National Maritime Museum with small children will not want to miss the Doris the Diver experience. Designed for kids over the age of two years old, this interactive exhibit introduces the little ones to the wide wonderful world of the ocean through a playful adventure quest.

Bringing Back the Ballast is a 2011 artwork by the Scottish artist Nathan Coley. Located in the museum’s north hall (which you can encounter on your way to the Amsterdam and the Royal Barge), Bringing Back the Ballast is comprised of 6,000 bricks that date to the seventeenth century, and calls attention to the worst of that era’s Dutch colonial practices.

The Tale of the Whale, located in the museum’s west wing, is another thought-provoking exhibit well-worth your time. It tells the story of how humans have viewed whales throughout the past few centuries, and how the whaling industry has caused significant damage to whale populations across the planet.

•The National Maritime Museum routinely stages a variety of special exhibitions throughout the year, too. By their very nature, these exhibits are ever-changing, but the museum’s most recent show was entitled Humans at Sea, and it consisted of a photography exhibition showcasing portraits of lives lead on or near the ocean. For more information on the museum’s current and upcoming special exhibitions, be sure and visit their official website in advance of your visit.

Why the National Maritime Museum Should Be on Your Must-See List

With is historic canals, bustling ports, and proximity to the ocean, Amsterdam is very much a city of water. The National Maritime Museum does a tremendous job of introducing visitors to the multitude of ways in which the development of Amsterdam was shaped and influenced by its relationships to the shipping and sailing industries, and how those relationships made the Netherlands the country it is today. A visit to the National Maritime Museum makes for an informative, educational, and enjoyable time.