NDSM then and now
Once the largest shipyard in the Netherlands, NDSM Wharf has been transformed into a thriving cultural hotspot over recent decades, characterised by its gritty industrial architecture, creative community and street art. Dotted amongst the repurposed shipping containers and converted hangars, you’ll find all manner of unexpected attractions, from pop-up restaurants to waterside hangouts, art spaces and a buzzing nightlife scene.
The history of the NDSM shipyard goes back to 1894 when the Dutch Shipbuilding Company was founded at the location in Oost where Dutch East India (VOC) ships had been built centuries earlier. The company re-energised the declining shipbuilding industry by building modern iron carriers with mechanical drives that could transport goods and passengers across the world, upgrading VOC ships and supplying warships for the Dutch Navy. In the first half of the 20th century as global demand was increasing rapidly, business was booming. The company looked to the northern banks of the IJ for their expansion plans, and by 1937, they were considered one of the largest and most innovative shipbuilding companies in the world. In 1946 they merged to form The Nederlandse Dok en Scheepsbouw Maatschappij (Dutch Dock and Shipbuilding Company), a.k.a NDSM.
Due to the oil crisis, a shortage of new orders and various political upheavals, NDSM was forced to close its doors in 1984. The various hangars and warehouse spaces at the wharf fell into a state of dilapidation, and over time, were squatted by the city’s creative community. Craftspeople, budding artists and young students looking for cheap rents settled in the area, and by 2001, they had united to form the Kinetisch Noord Foundation. The municipal council wanted to transform NDSM into a so-called cultural broedplaats (breeding ground) and provided various subsidies to support businesses and creatives with this aligning vision. Over the last few decades, a new generation of artists and entrepreneurs have transformed the area into a creative refuge which continues in the spirit of rebellious creativity that was sparked in the 1980s.
There’s something to experience and discover around every corner of this derelict shipyard-turned-edgy art community. Today, amidst the converted factory building and hangars, NDSM bustles with artists’ cooperatives, youth brands, eco-initiatives, bars, restaurants and social spaces. The blustery expanses, austere tower blocks and rusty hangars north of the IJ are hardly the idyll picture postcards are made of. But that’s precisely the area’s appeal.
When you arrive by ferry – passing by an old Russian submarine and a crane that’s been converted into a boutique hotel – you know you’re entering a unique area. Festivals take place here throughout the year, there’s a huge flea market in the IJ-Hallen every month, and the most beautiful cafés and restaurants serve up incredible views of the water and the city every day of the week. Popular with locals, Pllek is a perfectly laid back spot to enjoy dinner and a magnificent view of the IJ. Journey around the corner to Noorderlicht, a greenhouse-turned-café housed along the water’s edge where you can have lunch in the sun or dance the night away under the stars. NDSM abounds with cultural hotspots, quirky things to do and attractions for families and is well worth the ferry ride for anyone looking for an alternative image of Amsterdam.