The history of Amsterdam is intimately connected with water. Its 165 canals were created over the centuries to stimulate trade and transport and reclaim land to expand the city. They continue define the city’s landscape and in 2010 Amsterdam's canal ring was recognised as a UNESCO world heritage site.
Besides providing a stunning backdrop to the city’s historical centre, floating down Amsterdam’s canals is one of the most memorable ways to discover the city. Whether you’re a first-time or frequent visitor, everything in Amsterdam seems a bit more magical when viewed from a boat.
Take a canal cruise
Canal cruises are one of Amsterdam’s most popular attractions – and with good reason! If you’re visiting for the first time, it’s an excellent introduction to the city’s many sights. There are a number of departure points throughout the city and the tours are available in a multitude of languages.
Amsterdam’s many canal cruise operators generally offer a consistent level of quality and customer service. A few of the best-known operators include Holland International, Canal, Blue Boat, Rederij Kooij, Rederij Plas and Lovers. If you’d like to break up your canal cruise with some sightseeing, then the ‘hop-on hop-off’ service offered by Canal Bus is an excellent option. Learn more about the variety of Amsterdam excursions and boat tours available.
Specialty cruises & charters
For something that goes beyond the typical canal cruise, how about having dinner on a boat? A number of tour operators offer dinner cruises, ranging from pizza to a romantic multi-course meal. If you’ve got kids, the Pannenkoekenboot (pancake boat) will ensure smiles all around. For private parties, special celebrations and corporate outings, there are a number of specialty charter options. From traditional Dutch sloeps and restored salon boats to sailboats, you can customize your ideal excursion. Charter a boat with only the captain or go all out with a bartender, catering and a DJ.
Do it yourself
If you’ve already taken a canal cruise and fallen in love with the views from the water, it might be time to hire a boat and be your own captain! The majority of boats available for rent (shorter than 15 metres with maximum speed of 20 kph) do not require a special sailing licence. More active types can rent a pedalo and squeeze in a workout while sightseeing. But there are plenty of other options if you’re looking for a more relaxing ride.
Festivals on the canals
Each year, Amsterdam plays host to a variety of major events on or alongside the canals. In April, the city turns orange to celebrate King's Day (formerly Queen's Day) and the canals are packed with floating partygoers. In August, the highlight of the annual Gay Pride celebrations is a parade through the canals featuring decorated barges, dancing participants and fun for all. Later the same month, the focus turns to classical music with the Grachtenfestival (Canal Festival). Performances take place on or next to the water, with the audience gathering in boats or standing alongside the canals to enjoy the spectacle.
Without a doubt, floating down the canals is a breathtaking way to experience Amsterdam. Browse the listings below to start planning your next adventure on the water or visit our page dedicated to Amsterdam excursions and boat tours.