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A sailing boat on the Westeinderplassen near Aalsmeer.
Image from Koen Smilde

Best spots for boating and sailing around Amsterdam

There is absolutely nothing half so much worth doing as messing around in a boat on the riverbank. Taking in the scenery and a breath of fresh air from the water is the perfect way to spend a summer’s day. It’s also a quintessentially Dutch pastime, so without further ado, are the best spots for boating, paddling and sailing around Amsterdam.

Old Holland

The Big Lake

The port of Volendam during the traditional Pieperrace, a sailing competition for traditional flatbottomed boats on the southern IJsselmeer.

Formerly the Zuiderzee – before being closed off from the sea by the construction of the Afsluitdijk causeway in 1932 – the Ijsselmeer, Markermeer and IJmeer now form an impressive lake which makes up the largest water mass in the Netherlands. The vast lake, which extends northeast from Amsterdam, is perfect for sailing, and there are numerous boat rentals and accompanied trips aboard catamarans, clippers and historic sailing ships available. After the grand voyage, stop in one of the small-town harbours and fishing villages along the coastline, such as Marken, Volendam and Monnickendam, to enjoy some fresh fish and waterside socialising.


Fischers boat in the canal in the city of Monnickendam.
Image from koen smilde

The beautiful harbour town of Monnickendam is home to dozens of monumental buildings. In the 17th century, shipyards and fish smokehouses were established here, and they never left: even now, the historic buildings and street names are reminiscent of its industrious past, when trades and crafts flourished. Today, the town’s relationship with the water is unmistakable, and sailing enthusiasts flock here. Watch the boats launch from a unique culinary spot overlooking the marina or end the day at one of the cosy beach bars along the Gouwzee.

Het Twiske-Waterland

Het Twiske is a recreation and nature area and a typical Noord-Holland peat lake area in the Zaan region.
Image from koen smilde

Het Twiske is a green recreational area that plays host to endless activities for outdoorsy types. You can rent canoes or sailboats, windsurfs, and even stand-up paddleboards. If that doesn’t float your boat, there are plenty of designated spots to have a scenic picnic or take a brisk dip. Surrounding this are the picturesque villages of the Waterland - a centuries-old polder landscape connected by various cycling, walking and paddling routes worth exploring. Explore Waterland’s unique watery landscape in a silent, electrically-propelled ‘whisper boat’. Boats and kayaks can be rented at Bootverhuur Overleek, a 10-minute cycle from Monnickendam.

Castles & Gardens

Historic River Estates

Countryhouse alongside the river Vecht.
Image from Koen Smilde

The landscape along the banks of the winding River Vecht, just south of Amsterdam, remains marked by the grand country retreats of Amsterdam’s 17th-century merchants with their beautiful gardens and impressive castles and fortifications. Taking a boat trip down the river allows you to take in the incredible views properly – plus, there are countless spots to stop for a romantic stroll or refreshments in one of the many quality eateries and cafes along the way. The charming town of Muiden is a must for boat lovers, with countless ships sailing into and out of the historic harbour. And why choose between land and water when exploring the lovely country estates of the River Vecht? De Fietsboot (the Bike Boat) lets you hop on and off and continue by bike as you please! There are three departure points on the Loosdrecht Lakes at Porseleinhaven, the Fuut and the Strook.

Amstel River Countryside

A boat in the water near the church bridge (Kerkbrug) over the river Amstel in the village of Oudekerk aan de Amstel.
Image from Koen Smilde

Amsterdam has a green oasis right on its doorstep, and the bucolic scenery to the south of Amsterdam is best explored on a boat trip down the River Amstel. For example, you could hire a boat in Uithoorn and travel further south. Marvel at the glorious countryside, its swaying reeds, green meadows and wildflowers, and stop off in one of the picturesque historic villages, such as Ouderkerk aan de Amstel, which dates from the 12th century.

Flowers of Amsterdam

Leisure Lakes

Image from

Connected by rivers, canals and small channels, these picturesque lakes just south of Amsterdam make for a fantastic getaway. Rent a sailing boat, motorboat or even a canoe to explore the lakes – experienced boaters will love the opportunity to navigate the network of narrow channels between the islands of the Westeinderplassen. At the same time, the open water of the Loosdrechtse Plassen is perfect for water sports: sailing, rowing, canoeing, waterskiing, and speedboating - which are all possible here. If taking a boat out yourself is not your thing, join a sailboat or speedboat excursion, or relax on a terrace and admire the view from dry land.


People on a boat tour on the Westeinderplassen lakes near Aalsmeer.
Image from Koen Smilde

The Aalsmeer area is famous for its horticultural industry, and the small islands of the Westeinderplassen (Westeinder Lakes) still grow strawberries and lilacs – just as they did long ago. After exploring the greenhouses at the Aalsmeer Historical Gardens, book an organised boat tour by Westerinder Rondvaart from the neighbouring jetty. During this fascinating 1-hour cruise, a knowledgeable skipper will float you through a network of channels teeming with local plants and wildlife. Tours can be booked from May to October.

New Land


Sloop sailing in Almere.
Image from Richard Terborg

For the perfect introduction to the modern city of Almere - built on water, step aboard an electric sloop boat courtesy of Sloepverhuur Almere to explore from a new perspective. During a short cruise, you'll gain a magnificent impression of the city skyline and surrounding green spaces. Boarding is available from the Esplanade in the centre of Almere.

Marker Wadden

Women walking over one of the Marker Wadden islands.
Image from Schokker Fotografie

Marker Wadden, part of the Nieuw Land National Park, is a unique nature reserve still in development. The small islands between Lelystad and Enkhuizen are constructed with sand, clay and silt from the Markermeer. As new plants blossom both under and above water, it is quickly becoming a natural paradise for fish and birds. Delve deeper into the Marker Wadden by taking an expedition on the Abel Tasman sailboat. On the island, a guide from Natuurmonumenten will explain the environment’s fascinating features. Alternatively, join the Marker Wadden Experience Tour - boarding from either Amsterdam, Lelystad or Almere. Your adventure starts on a VR bus and includes a memorable cruise on which the educational guide will take you through the unique history of Flevoland.


River Spaarne

Image from Koen Smilde

Haarlem is highly recommended for those who like their boat trips a bit more urban. Winding its way through the historic town is the River Spaarne. Once the lifeblood of the city’s economy, the river is more peaceful nowadays, with sailing enthusiasts often taking to its waters. If you are interested in waterborne action, join an organised cruise or hire a boat from the many companies operating in the area. The various tour operators - including Smidtje Canal Cruises, Haarlem Canal Tours and Luxe Sloepen Haarlem - offer boats in different styles with a range of optional refreshments packages thrown in.

Amsterdam Beach


Boats at Ijmuiden
Image from Koen Dijkstra

The seaside town of IJmuiden is characterised by its raw beauty – from the rugged beach to the industrial port, with its formidable harbours and an enormous lock system – and the North Sea wind makes this spot a haven for wind and watersports fans. Boats can be rented from the marina here, with various tours going past the impressive lock complex and the mysterious fortress island: Forteiland IJmuiden. Feeling hungry? Enjoy some fresh fish straight off the boats at the harbour’s many excellent restaurants.