There is no better way to see Amsterdam than from the perspective of its world-famous canals. But don’t take one of those over-priced, crowded canal cruises that leave by the hordes from outside Amsterdam Central Station. As I found out this past weekend, there is a much better option: rent your own boat.
I have always loved boats, but I only recently discovered that it was possible to rent your own boat in Amsterdam. At first I didn’t even bother looking into the possibility, because I assumed boat rentals would be too expensive, or would require a license. When I found out that some of our friends from LSE would be coming to visit us for a few days, though, I finally decided that a boat rental might be worth researching. For a couple of our friends, this would be their first trip to Amsterdam, so I thought a canal boat ride would be a perfect introduction to the city.
I discovered that there are quite a few companies in Amsterdam that cater to private boat rentals, but their offerings vary widely. We originally planned to rent a boat from boaty.nl, which was the cheapest option for a three hour rental; however, their boats only allow up to six people, and we were a group of seven. The option we decided to go with instead was sloepdelen.nl. While the second option was slightly more expensive, the boats are big enough to fit up to ten people.
On Saturday we made our way to the Nassaukade, the pick-up and drop-off point for the boats. It took us about half an hour to walk there from Amsterdam Central Station, but the weather was nice so we didn’t mind the distance. We arrived at 11:45am for our noon reservation.
It only took a few minutes for the staff to show us how to work the electric boat. Anyone is allowed to drive without a license, provided they are over 18 years old and refrain from drinking while maneuvering the boat. We were given a map of the canals, told to yield to any boats larger than ours, and off we went!
The boat was perfect. All seven of us were able to comfortably lounge on the seats lining the sides of our boat, and there was a raised platform in the center which was a great place to lay out a picnic spread of the snacks and drinks we had brought along. Even if you forget to bring supplies (or you underestimate your passengers’ capacity to consume food and beverages!) having your own boat means having the flexibility to just tie up alongside the canals for a few minutes, hop out, buy some more supplies, hop back in, and be on your merry way.
The only small problem we had during our trip was something completely out of our control: the weather. It is the Netherlands, after all. About half an hour into our two hour trip, the skies opened up and the rain started pouring down.
But we weren’t going to let the possibility of a little rain ruin our chance of cruising Amsterdam’s canals. We took shelter under the nearest bridge along with a few other fellow boaters caught out in the storm. Luckily we had plenty of food and good conversation to keep us occupied!
We were slightly disappointed that the storm meant wasting part of our time on the water, but the boat rental company was extremely considerate and gave us an extra hour for free due to the rain delay. They were also helpful when we called them to ask for directions back to the docks after we got slightly lost due to our map getting wet (and thus becoming illegible).
I couldn’t believe how quickly the time passed cruising the canals. In a few short hours, we motored past all three of the main 17th century canals in Amsterdam: the Herengracht, the Keizersgracht, and the Prinsengracht. It is no wonder the canal ring area, lined with beautiful Golden Age canal houses, was placed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2010. If you ever come to Amsterdam, I highly recommend renting a boat. See Amsterdam the way I’m sure it was meant to be seen–from the water.