Amsterdam’s old docklands are enjoying a new lease of life as cultural venues and businesses fall over themselves to set up shop here. Visitors appreciate the lack of crowds, a break from the city centre museums and a chance to see this site in the throes of an exciting new development project.

In the port of Amsterdam… Who knows what Jacques Brel would have made of NDSM’s rebirth and never-ending whirlwind of projects? Behind the acronym lies what was up until the 1960s one of the world’s major shipyards, Nederlandsche Dok en Scheepsbouw Maatschappij. Bristling with hangars and cranes and riddled with railway tracks and concrete wharfs, this former working-class stronghold sits on the banks of the IJ, the canal river that links Amsterdam to the North Sea and endows the city with its status of port.

Post-industrial docklands

Globalisation and international competition, however, put paid to this naval know-how. The building of cargoes and freighters ceased in 1978 and ship repairs in 1984. This industrial hangover was to linger over the disused docklands, until they were gradually squatted by alternative artists, quick to seize the opportunity to work in this post-industrial setting and it is they who are responsible for the docklands’ revival. In the 1990s-2000s, they set about seriously renovating and rehabilitating abandoned premises. Twenty-one years of rampant gentrification later, the docklands are awash with hip restaurants, cafés and exhibition venues…

Container housing

The free ferry shuttle between the central railway station and NDSM is the best way to explore this district. Even better if you take a bicycle along. After a 15-min journey, you will arrive at the foot of Amstel Botel, a cruise ship moored to the wharf, now a floating hotel. To the right, The Large Boathouse (20,000m²/65,500ft²) has recently become an exhibition venue for young designers and cultural start-ups. Next-door is a housing estate of brightly coloured, stacked containers which provides student accommodation. The huge Kunststad hangar cannot be missed, home to exhibitions and an immense skate park, among others. Further on, you will see the eye-catching Kranspoor, emblematic of Dutch sustainable architecture, which offers housing and office space with a fantastic view. Business plays a central role in the district and MTV, Red Bull, Greenpeace and Pernod-Ricard have all chosen NDSM for their Dutch headquarters, which has both enhanced its image but also sent real estate prices sky high.

Crane hotel

As you wander along the wharfs with the wind in your face you will encounter other intriguing landmarks. The container Pllek concept café restaurant overlooking the canal which serves organic food. IJ-Kantine, former workmen’s canteen, is ideal for a coffee. The huge harbour crane was transformed in 2013 into a… luxury hotel no less, with three panoramic rooms that overlook the IJ and the city (Faralda Crane Hotel). In summertime, the district is alive with festivals, flea markets, graffiti artist exhibitions…

Land-logged houseboats

NDSM is only a link in the vast reconversion project underway for the docklands of Amsterdam’s north bank. To the east, the Eye Filmmuseum (cinema museum) vies for pride of place with A’DAM. Since the summer, the former headquarters tower of Shell, opposite the central railway station, boasts a rare observation platform and a 360° swing over the city. Further on, the new De Ceuvel district features ecological land-logged houseboats. Elsewhere, participative restaurants, concept bars and a hotel-warehouse (the amazing De Goudfazant) have all sprung up. Amsterdam is back on course.

Practical information

NDSM website :ndsm.nl/en/
What's up with Amsterdam : whatsupwithamsterdam.com/ndsm/
I am visiting : www.iamsterdam.com/en/visiting/areas/amsterdam-neighbourhoods/ndsm