You gotta do it: Amsterdam via canal boat

Lived-in boat on an Amsterdam canal

Seeing a city can take on many forms from private driver in a limousine to a jaunty ride on a hop-on, hop-off bus. But in a waterway city, there’s nothing better than a slow-paced tour in a boat, complete with a guide narrating the landmarks in a city he loves!

Boats on Amsterdam canal

We’ve written about the architecture tour in Chicago, but the canal tour in Amsterdam is in a class all its own.

In Amsterdam, the river and canals have been central to city life for the last four centuries

Janet Echelman

With over 160 canals in Amsterdam totaling more than 100 kilometers (60 miles) in length, you can see the influence of waterways ebbing and flowing throughout the landscape.

Canals, bridges, bicycles, Dutch buildings — must be Amsterdam!

Looking up, it’s the architecture that nails this city — stair-step gabled rooflines or tall, curved tops adding elegance. But passing by slowly affords you the opportunity to enjoy the air and the loveliness at the same time.

Dutch architecture as seen from canal boat in Amsterdam
Rooflines of Amsterdam

We joined others on our boat who were pointing out “look-fors” — like bicycles on bridges, details on facades, and potted plants living on decks.

Amsterdam: residential boat on canal

And with a city that boasts 1,700 bridges, we peeked under, over and through to form our own picture-perfect brochure shots.

Waterway glimpses via canal boat: Amsterdam

Some boats (well, maybe most) lining the canals are part of the 3,000 houseboats in Amsterdam. And many look as if they’ve been residences for years: mature plants, areas for sitting and viewing, and clothes lines holding the wash of the day.

Canal boat residences: Amsterdam, Netherlands
Laundry on canal boat: Amsterdam

Not all of Amsterdam’s structures are quaint, old versions of the Dutch Golden Age. Some are new, sparkly, innovative, and spiffy as they glisten in the sun and invite you to wonder how in the world they built it.

Modern structure on a canal in Amsterdam
Modern architecture contrasts with old: It must be Amsterdam!

Take the tour for the architecture, to see the waterways, or to get that step-back-in-time vibe that’s everywhere in Amsterdam. But for whatever reason, you just have to do it.

In Amsterdam, the water is the mistress and the land the vassal.  Throughout the city, there are as many canals and drawbridges as bracelets on a Gypsy’s bronzed arms. 

Felix Marti-Ibanez

You may even connect with a resident sipping morning coffee and sizing up the tourists.

Man sipping coffee on canal boat in Amsterdam

Travel and wave back,

Rusha & Bert

This post is one in a series prompted by a recent trip to The Netherlands and Belgium. Thank you to Viking cruises (Holland & Belgium 2022) and our travel agent, Lauren Gunnels of Ortelius Travel Advisors, for the arrangements and free time to enjoy the scenery!

Although our canal tour was part of the Viking experience, you can find information about booking your own tour at Amsterdam Canal Cruises.

13 thoughts on “You gotta do it: Amsterdam via canal boat

  1. Toonsarah

    Yes, definitely a must in any city with lots of water. It’s a great way to see the sights, and as you’ve demonstrated so well, to take photos 🙂

  2. Curt Mekemson

    We will be in Amsterdam in three weeks, Rusha. It’s where we will start our cruise up the Rhine with kids and grandkids. Love your photos, especially your rooflines and bridge photo! Thanks for the preview. Peggy and I rented a canal boat in England several years ago and went on a week tour of one of there canals along with Peg’s sister and brother-in-law. It was one off the highlights of all of our travels. –Curt

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