Amsterdam canals are a point of pride for the Netherlands. In the Middle Ages, Amsterdam was already a city of canals. During the 17th to 18th centuries, the canals of Amsterdam was the main factor of Amsterdam’s economic growth.
Today, the canals (grachten in Dutch) are one of the best attractions in Amsterdam. Besides, they are probably the main reason why Amsterdam is so beautiful!
Undoubtedly, an Amsterdam canal cruise is a must-do for any visitor to Amsterdam, especially first-timers. There’s simply so much you can learn about this Dutch city capital from its waterways.
Which Amsterdam Canal Cruise is the Best?
You might wonder whether a canal cruise is really worth it. The short answer is: YES, definitely! There are countless things to see in Amsterdam, but the best things about Amsterdam is the cityscape as a whole. A canal cruise gives your trip a whole different perspective. To be honest, some of the best views you can get of this city are from its canals. The best example are the iconic Seven Bridges (seven Amsterdam canal bridges lined up in perfect order). You’ll get a close look on the picturesque old houses with centuries-old gables, and you can even take a peek inside some houseboats as you cruise along the water.
Which Amsterdam canal cruise is the best for you mainly depends on how much time you have, and how much of that time you want to spend on a boat. To get the experience and see the attractions I mentioned above, a simple one-hour boat trip will be enough.
In a city where canals play such an important role, it’s no surprise that there are over 100 providers for canal cruises! There are classic canal cruises (on large boats with live commentary), private boat rentals, hop on hop off canal cruise, to canal cruises with food options. That said, you can very well do more than a short boat ride, but plan a romantic evening with your partner or a fun evening with friends on a boat.
1. Guided Canal Cruise
Guided boat tours are a great option if you’re in Amsterdam for a weekend trip, and want to make the most of your time there. A guided boat tour will take about an hour so it’s easy to squeeze into your itinerary.
On this type of canal cruise, you’ll get on board of a large boat with other people. It’s the most cost-effective option, so it’s definitely the best for low-budget and solo-travelers.
2. Private Boat Tours
To explore Amsterdam’s canals at your own pace, you could go for a private boat tours. They are pricier, but they are often longer (at least 2 hours) and will have a smaller amount of people on board. Either way, you’ll have access to a knowledgeable skipper and staff who’re able to tell you many things about the landmarks you’ll come across during your cruise.
Our tip: Feeling fit? For a unique experience, book a Pedal Boat Tour and cycle your way around Amsterdam’s waterways.
3. Amsterdam Canal Cruise with Food (or Drinks)
One of the best things you can take is a food-related Amsterdam canal cruise. It’s fun, educational, and of course, filling! There are plenty of themes to choose from, so one’s bound to suit your fancy. But then again, who says you only need to book one cruise?
Here are just some of the food- and drink-centric tours you can take: Early Morning Breakfast Tour, Dutch Cheese Cruise, Wine and Dine Tour, BBQ Cruise, Dutch Beer Tour, New York Pizza Cruise, Booze Cruise, Dutch Pancake Tour, and more.
4. Canal Cruise Amsterdam at Night
You can take a canal cruise day or night. Most people opt for day cruises because that’s when you’ll have a great view on most of the sights.
Nevertheless, a night canal cruise is a great experience too! It’s more about the atmosphere that you’ll get, rather than the sightseeing part. It’s definitely a romantic experience to do with your partner. But even when you’re alone (or with friends), a canal cruise at night could be interesting for you.
Our tip is to do a night cruise during winter time, especially before Christmas. At that time of the year, it gets dark as early as 5 p.m. The ambiance in Amsterdam during Christmas is truly beautiful.
One of the cruises we took was a dinner cruise during the Amsterdam Light Festival in December. During this time, light artworks or sculptures decorate the canals giving them a magical and very Christmas-y feel. Themes vary each year so please do check what’s on offer if you decide to opt for this.
Amsterdam Canal Cruise – Frequently Asked Questions
Below you’ll find the answers to the most frequently asked questions on Amsterdam canal cruises. By the way, if you have any question to which you didn’t find an answer in this article, please leave us a comment down the page. We’re happy to help!
What does a canal tour cost?
As of this writing, the average 1-hour boat tours are €12 to €25 per person.
Do tour operators have different routes?
Routes can vary slightly among different tour operators. However, it doesn’t really matter which one you go for. All canal cruises will take you past famous landmarks such as the Anne Frank House, the Magere Brug (Skinny Bridge), the Seven Bridges, etc.
Do I need to book an Amsterdam canal cruise in advance?
We recommend that you book your Amsterdam canal cruise online. This is to ensure that you get the best deal for your selected tour. Besides, canal cruises get booked out quickly, especially in summer time. Booking online will ensure you can get on board at the time slot of your choice, at the lowest price.
What’s the best time for a canal cruise?
The summer months (June-September) are undoubtedly the busiest times for Amsterdam canal tours. Sure, the canals may be a bit crowded, but this is also the time when you can either be on an open deck or when boats have their roofs open so this is also when you can get the best views.
Check out the local vacation days and if possible, book your canal tour just a week before (or after) everyone else is on holiday. If you’re in Amsterdam during peak season, book your cruise in the morning or late in the afternoon. The sunsets very late during summer, often not before 9 p.m., so you’ll still have enough light to take those Instagram-worthy pics without very big crowds.
December is also a good time for a canal cruise. Right before Christmas, bridges and houses along the canals are beautifully illuminated which created a romantic ambiance.
Where do Amsterdam canal cruises depart?
Your ticket will give instructions on where to go to board your cruise. Often, these will be around Amsterdam Central Station or known landmarks such as the Van Gogh Museum or Rijksmuseum.
Should I tip on a canal cruise?
Some tours may ask for tips at the end of the tour but no, you’re not obligated to leave a tip. (Most locals don’t.) But of course, if you had an excellent time and believe that the skipper and/or staff provided excellent service then tips are usually 5-10% of your bill.
Does my I amsterdam City Card include a free canal cruise?
You bet it does! Please check the I amsterdam site or the website of the canal cruise company you’re interested to book with for up to date information.