One can’t walk around the streets and over the countless bridges of Amsterdam without taking notice of the many boats tied to the canal walls. These are houseboats and are valuable real-estate in the city. About one third of Amsterdam’s 2,400 houseboats are moored within the 17th century canal system of downtown Amsterdam and regulations on the number allowed have made them valuable property. Living on houseboats became en vogue after World War II when there was a housing shortage within the city. It was soon discovered that a surplus of old cargo ships could remedy this problem and houseboats were born!
Visitors have long wondered about this unique way of living. Constant questions and curiosity led houseboat owner, Vincent van Loon, to open his home, the Hendrika Maria, to the public in 1997 as the Houseboat Museum in Amsterdam.
Visits to the Hendrika Maria begin on her deck where you can enjoy a lovely little garden and seating area. Take a moment to admire the city from this point of view before you venture below deck where you will feel more like you are visiting a home than a boat. The boat measures about 80 square meters which, incidentally, is about the same size as the average Amsterdam apartment. Though, at only 4.5 meters wide the floor plan of the living space is much different. That, coupled with the lower than average ceilings will remind you that you are, indeed, aboard a boat.
Hendrika Maria has quite a history and, like most historic houseboats, was originally used as a freighter before she was converted to a home. The first space visitors enter is what was once the living quarters for the skipper of the freighter and his family. A small kitchen area, seating area and a cupboard-looking enclosure in the back with two small sleeping nooks make up the stern of the boat.
In the next room you will find the kitchen, or galley in nautical terms. This is also where reception is located, as well as a small gift shop. Each visitor is given a “silent guide” sheet with information about the houseboat, the history and information about the maintenance that goes into keeping a floating home in Amsterdam. The guides are available in several languages.
Because the boat is, in fact, a museum much of the bow area has been converted to displays and exhibits, including a large movie room with a film about the winterization and upkeep of Hendrika Maria. There is also a small play area for younger visitors. The entire space is far larger than it looks from street level and it’s easy to see the appeal of living aboard one of these unique homes.
The highlight of my visit to the Houseboat Museum was enjoying a cup of coffee in the living room area. The galley is a functioning kitchen and the museum has a small menu. Visitors are welcomed to enjoy a beverage or light snack to further enjoy their visit and understanding of life aboard a houseboat. As you sit at the table or in one of the armchairs and sip your coffee or hot chocolate you will feel like a guest in a home rather than a passenger aboard a boat.
While the Hendrika Maria gives a good idea of what houseboats are like as far as layout and space, her interior is a bit dated. Many of the houseboats on the canal have been updated and modernized in terms of decor and style, like Ronald’s Houseboat. These modern houseboats, while incredibly creative and beautifully designed are private homes so getting a chance to tour one is dependent upon making friends with the right people. But if you are in the area and are curious about the history, care, maintenance and layout of these floating abodes, I definitely recommend a visit to the Houseboat Museum.
Plan your visit:
The Houseboat Museum is located on the Prinsengracht, not far from the Anne Frank House, Westertoren and the Leidseplein. Closed Mondays. Open 6 days March thru October, open Friday, Saturday and Sunday in winter months. Check visitor information for other closure dates and details. Allow a little over an hour to fully tour the museum and enjoy a beverage or snack.