What is the Houseboat Museum?
The Houseboat Museum is a 1914 cargo freighter turned houseboat, which is now a museum that lets visitors experience what it’s like to live on an Amsterdam canal.
Shadowgate from Novara, ITALY, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
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Houseboat Museum History
Amsterdam’s intricate network of canals is one of its most defining features, as is the sight of the iconic houseboats moored to their banks. These colourful, quirky floating homes came into fashion in the 1960s and ’70s, when people without the means to buy a house on land began converting inexpensive old barges into residences. As Amsterdam soared in popularity, so too did its houseboats, and the government eventually capped the number of legally permitted vessels so as to avoid the overcrowding of waterways. Today, there are around 2,500 houseboats moored around the city, with some 750 located in the historic Canal Belt.
Most Amsterdam houseboats fall into two categories: the ark, a modern structure built atop a static floating concrete pontoon, or the house-ship, a converted barge or cargo ship, often dating back to the early 20th century. The Houseboat Museum, moored alongside the Prinsengracht canal in the Jordaan neighbourhood, is in the latter category. Originally built in 1914 as a cargo ship, named the Hendrika Maria, it transported timber and gravel along the city’s waterways. Its skipper lived aboard with his family in rather cramped living quarters located in the stern of the boat. In 1967, it was converted into a houseboat and later purchased by Vincent van Loon, who renovated the ship and established it as a museum in 1997.
The 23-metre-long vessel has about 80 square metres of living space in the cargo hold. It’s cosy but well-designed, with everything necessary for a family of four – albeit living at very close quarters. There’s a surprisingly spacious living/dining room outfitted with retro furnishings and heated by a small wood stove, a good-sized kitchen with all the essentials, and several sleeping areas, including two tiny berths tucked beneath the stern.
A laminated sheet provides lots of information for a self-guided tour of the houseboat, which takes about 20 minutes in total. Along with detailing the history of the boat and its various rooms, the guide delves into the practicalities of living on the canal, from how electricity, gas and drinking water are supplied, to what is done with sewage. Those dreaming of owning a floating home can browse a list of houseboats currently for sale, which range from as little as €50,000 and soar into the hundreds of thousands for newer, fancier models.
While there are houseboats available for rent on platforms such as Airbnb, the Houseboat Museum is the only one that gives the public the chance to step aboard and take a look at this unique way of living.
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