Around the World: Amsterdam’s Uniquely Dutch Lifestyle Museums
Amsterdam’s big three art museums on Museumplein – the Rijksmueum, the Van Gogh Museum and the Staedlik Museum – are among the city’s top tourist attractions, and their proximity to each other makes visiting them very convenient. But touring another set of superb museums located along the Prinsengracht is a great way to explore several aspects of Dutch lifestyle – both contemporary and historical.
Tourist curiosity abounds about what life is like aboard one of those cozy-looking residential houseboats tied up along the city’s canals. For a look inside, visit the Houseboat Museum Amsterdam permanently moored on the Prinsengracht,, opposite number 296. Just step aboard to see how an authentic canal barge was converted into a comfortable and surprisingly spacious home, replete with living room, kitchen, bedroom and bathroom.
Like many houseboats, the museum barge has its history. Built in 1914 as the Hendrika Maria (which is still its name), the barge was originally propelled by sail. It was used to transport sand, gravel and coal until the 1960s, when it was converted into a houseboat in a way that its historic appearance was preserved.
The Hendrika Maria was lived in for two decades, then became a museum. It now looks as though its residents might return at any moment. You’re free to look around, and can reference a descriptive booklet about the houseboat’s amenities and history.
You be so impressed by the amenities aboard the Hendrika Maria that you decide to find houseboat accommodations for part of your stay. Airbnb has listings, and at reasonable rates. Houseboat rentals can actually be cheaper than hotel room rates.
Holland is famous for tulips. You’ll notice their ubiquitous presence in Amsterdam. Fresh cut, sculpted of wood, represented in prints and paintings and sold as bulbs in supermarkets and dozens of other shops, they're a Dutch delight.
The Amsterdam Tulip Museum, at Prinsengracht 112, is a terrific place to learn about the importance of tulips, introduced to Holland in the mid-16th century, in Dutch history, culture and economics.
Historically, flowers have been adored by the Dutch, and seen as symbols of prosperity and social status. As the Netherlands experienced economic boom times during the early 17th century, people were willing to pay extraordinary sums for tulip bulbs. For example, records show that in 1635, a set of 40 bulbs was sold for 100,000 florins while an average annual income in the Netherlands was 150 florins.
In 1636, stock exchanges were established to trade tulip bulbs and future options. Despite official attempts to quell the tulip craze, people were selling land, houses and valuable objects to invest in tulip bulbs – a trade referred to as windhandel (trading in wind). When the market crashed in 1637, many investors were left with little more than pretty flowers.
Today, tulip mania a term used to describe absurd economic behavior where speculation borders on senseless gambling. Still, the Dutch love tulips.
The museum, established as a contemporary tulip trading company, also features multimedia displays with tips about growing tulips. And, there’s a shop selling bulbs suitable for export to the US.
Like most places, Amsterdam has ordinances against smoking in public places, but historically, tobacco smoking has been an integral part of the city’s social scene. Like tulips, tobacco was a cultivated and traded commodity that brought considerable wealth to Holland throughout the country’s history.
Before and during the 17th Century, pipe smoking was considered an important symbol of a man’s social and economic status, indicating wealth, influence and independence. The rule of thumb: the longer the pipe, the richer the man.
Pipe smoking may have lost status today, but the subject is still fascinating -- especially when explored at Amsterdam’s Pijpenkabinet (Pipe Museum) at Prinsengracht 488.
This unique museum has some 20,000 pipes in its collection, and displays about 2,000 of them at a time.
Pijpenkabinet was founded by Don Duco, who began it by putting his own collection on display in Leiden in 1969. The museum moved to Amsterdam in 1995, establishing its current home in a 17th Century Dutch townhouse that’s decorated with beautiful antique furniture. The collection, deemed the world’s most important, is exquisitely displayed.
And, while there are not many labels to identify individual pipes and tell of their history, there’s always a curator available for comments and explanations.
Pipes are always exhibited in chronological order, beginning with pre-Columbian pipes that were found at archeological digs, then continuing with antique Dutch ceramic pipes that were once commonplace but are now extremely rare, and with elaborately decorated pipes used by wealthy and dapper Europeans during centuries past.
There are even contemporary pipes, some similar to those that can be bought at the pipe shop located in the basement of the museum’s townhouse. The shop is called Smokiana, and you enter the museum through it.
And, there’s more good news for those who follow their curiosity to these fine Dutch lifestyle museums: admission to all three is covered with the purchase of the I Amsterdam City Card, providing access to more than 60 attractions and public transportation for one fee which varies according to the number of days for which it is valid. The I Amsterdam City Card and more information about each of these museums is available from the Amsterdam Tourism Bureau, located at Schiphol Airport and at Central Station in Amsterdam, or online at www.amsterdam.info.