Old masters and modern pit stops

Photo of Steve McKenna

Whether you’re cruising its canals, on foot or on a bike, Amsterdam always enchants, writes STEVE McKENNA

A few minutes after disembarking our Viking ship, we pass through the shiny new cruise terminal of Amsterdam and stroll by the waterfront, where we’re ushered into another, much smaller vessel. It’s a narrow-boat that’ll take us on a scenic journey along the famous canals of the Dutch capital.

Taking our seats, we’re welcomed by Heleen, an affable guide, who provides audio commentary as we drift out of the port and into the concentric UNESCO World Heritage-listed canal ring.

The canals are both an impressive feat of engineering and delightfully picturesque, edged as they are by cobbled, tree-lined streets, grand mansions and tall, slim townhouses capped by flamboyant gables.

Much of what we see, says Heleen, dates back to the 17th and 18th centuries — the so-called Dutch Golden Age, when Amsterdam was at the heart of an empire that stretched its tentacles across the globe. Bankers, merchants and seafarers raked in the guilders trading exotic spices from the East Indies (modern-day Indonesia) and their wealth was flaunted in the lavish properties of this new canal district, which was constructed over drained swampland.

Heleen points out some notable landmarks, such as Rembrandt House Museum, the former abode of the premier artist of the Dutch Golden Age.

Cruising further, we pass the Westerkerk, one of the city’s grand spired churches, where Rembrandt was buried.

We see crowds snaking into the neighbouring Anne Frank House, which tells the story of the Jewish girl who wrote a diary during World War II while in hiding in Nazi-occupied Amsterdam. A new extension has been added to the house to cope with the visitor influx and, should you to wish to go, you must now pre-book a timeslot online.

Heading back towards the port in our boat, we’re struck by the contemporary buildings that have mushroomed beside the water here, from new offices, apartments and hotels to cultural attractions like the Eye Film Museum and the NEMO Science Museum, which was designed by star architect Renzo Piano and is shaped like a ship’s hull.

We see an actual ship outside the nearby National Maritime Museum. It’s a replica of the Amsterdam, an 18th-century three-masted vessel that sailed between the Netherlands and the East Indies. A canal cruise certainly whets the appetite to explore Amsterdam further.

This is an edited version of the original, full-length story, which you can read here.

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