Sitting in a small boat or on a sailing ship, lightly swaying side to side, taking in the scenery and a breath of fresh air – it’s nature and poetry rolled into one. It’s also a quintessentially Dutch pastime, so here, without further ado, are the best spots for boating and sailing around Amsterdam.

1) The Big Lake

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, make sure to stop in one of the smalltown harbours and fishing villages along the coastline to enjoy some fresh fish and waterside socialising. 

IJmeer Gerard van Enk
Image credit: CC BY 2.0 Gerard van Enk via Flickr

2) Historical River Estates

The landscape along the banks of the winding River Vecht, just south of Amsterdam, remains marked by the grand country retreats of Amsterdam’s golden age merchants with their beautiful gardens, as well as impressive castles and fortifications. Taking a boat trip down the river allows you to properly take in the great views – plus there are countless spots to stop for a romantic stroll or have some refreshments in one of the many quality eateries and cafes along the way. And the charming town of Muiden is a must for boat lovers, with countless ships sailing into and out of the historic harbour. Read more about Amsterdam's historical river estates.

Amsterdam landhuis vecht boat 

3) Amstel River Countryside

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 then travel further south. Marvel at the glorious countryside, its swaying reeds, green meadows and wild flowers, and stop off in one of the picturesque historic villages, such as Ouderkerk aan de Amstel, which dates from the 12th century.


4) Leisure Lakes

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, while the open water of the Loosdrechtse Plassen is great for speedboats and waterskiing.

Loosdrechtse Plassen aerial photo Cris Toala Olivares
Image credit: Cris Toala Olivares

5) Haarlem

To those who like their boat trips a little bit more urban, Haarlem comes highly recommended. 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 fancy getting involved in the waterborne action, join an organised cruise or hire a boat from the many companies operating in the area. Find out more about visiting Haarlem

Haarlem River Spaarne Ashley Van Haeften
Image credit: CC BY 2.0 Ashley Van Haeften via Flickr