POINTS OF INTEREST
Designed by Daniël Stalpaert in 1656 as a storehouse for the Amsterdam war fleet, this excellent example of Dutch Classicism became the new home of the Maritime Museum in the 1970s. Even if you're not much of a nautical fan, the building alone is worth a visit. The courtyard of the biggest remaining 17th-century storehouse (free admission) was roofed over with a 200-ton glass-and-steel construction, the design of which is a reference to compass roses and lines of longitude and latitude on old nautical charts. In the daytime, the roof casts ever-changing shadows on the courtyard floor (weather permitting); at night, hundreds of led lights on the rafters create the fairy-tale illusion of a star-spangled sky.
The actual museum is a two-faced affair. There are one-room exhibitions, each with a different theme. The East wing houses an impressive collection of maritime objects, with paintings (the pen drawings by 17th-century master marine painters Ludolf Backhuysen and Willem van de Velde the Elder are particularly beautiful), one of the most important globe collections in the world, nautical instruments, yacht models, and all sorts of symbolic ship decorations. The North and West wings are family-oriented and focus on experiential activities. You can go on a virtual sea voyage and take a trip to the Golden Age with video displays featuring actors reenacting historical scenes. The "Tale of the Whale" exhibition, examines not only how our idea of the largest creatures that ever lived has changed through the centuries, but also the fact that whales suffer from disturbingly large crab lice. There’s a restaurant and a museum shop (no admission needed), and moored on the jetty outside is the Scheepvaartmuseum’s biggest draw: a life-size replica of a 1748 ship of the Dutch East India Company (VOC). The original left for Asia shortly after it was built, but wrecked off the English coast. Exploring the ship while trying to imagine how people were able to live here for months on end is fascinating.