Most visitors to Amsterdam are content to wander the canals by foot or bike, crossing over any number of the city’s 1500 bridges snapping photos of picturesque flower boxes and historic, gabled Dutch buildings. Or they take a canal tour on the hop on hop off boats and private tour boats that wind the canal network. But on your next trip, you can stay in an Amsterdam houseboat by booking a vacation rental. This gives you a chance to live like an Amsterdammer. You'll have an up close opportunity to watch the city’s watery highway system at work and play.
The Amsterdam Canals
There are sixty miles of canals in Amsterdam; 165 waterways that thread their way through the city defining its geography, its history and—if you were lucky enough to live on or near one in recent history—your social status. Amsterdam's canal system, which was built by draining swamps creating canals in concentric arcs and filling in the land, was a model of urban planning for its time earning the Canal District a place on UNESCO’s World Heritage list in 2010.
There are 3050 houseboats in Amsterdam proper and another 600 houseboats located in the Amsterdam region. All of them are hooked up to city water, sewage and electricity and most of them are permanently anchored. The city has strict regulations regarding ownership and rental of houseboats intended to preserve affordable housing for its residents while encouraging tourism.
My Amsterdam Houseboat Rental
I rented an Amsterdam houseboat studio for a week in the trendy De Pijp district of the city. My floating room was a 10 minute walk to the Rijksmuseum following the canal the entire way, a 12 minute walk to the Van Gogh Museum and a 5 minute stroll to the Albert Cuyp Market.
For longer distances to sites such as the Anne Frank House, I walked or rented a bicycle from the rental shop around the corner. To get to the train station for trips out of Amsterdam, there were stops for the city’s ubiquitous tram system only two blocks from the houseboat. The canals and bridges act as a map locator for visitors making it easy to navigate the city.
Each canal in the city and surrounding neighborhood has its own history and knowing that enhances the experience of being a temporary houseboat dweller. Amsterdam’s Het Grachtenhuis, the Museum of the Canals, is a good place to begin your research. Located on a historic canal boat in the UNESCO Canal District, the museum walks you through the history and building of the city canal systems beginning in the 1600s.
Exploring the Neighborhood
My houseboat was on the Boerenwetering Canal, originally built to drain the peatland in the nearby village of Amstelveen. Over the centuries the canal has been shortened, fitted with a gate and lock system and seen eight bridges built over its span. It became the route for vegetable barges bringing their loads in from the villages to markets on the more central canals in Amsterdam.
The surrounding neighborhood, also called The Latin Quarter, is where Amsterdammers go for good Turkish and Indian restaurants, the Albert Cruyp Market (Europe’s biggest street market) and to take visitors on tours of the Heineken Brewery. I felt safe and comfortable wandering and biking solo in the neighborhood after dark.
While I intended to take in some of Amsterdam’s night life, I found myself settled each evening on the deck of my houseboat with a glass of wine mesmerized by the parade of canal and street activity.
On the water there were private boats, large tour boats, water birds, paddle boarders, kayakers, swimmers and residents of nearby houseboats taking advantage of the last few hours of sunlight. At street level streams of bicyclists (63% of Amsterdammers commute by bike daily) peddled in suits and stilettos on bikes kitted out with multiple child seats while texting.
Each morning, the routine was just as comfortable. I sipped my morning coffee while watching empty tour boats repositioning for the day’s stops and residents boating to work.
Amsterdam Houseboat Rental Considerations
- Houseboat Access: A houseboat requires getting from land to boat via steps or a ramp. If you have mobility issues check to see if the boat is easily accessible.
- The canals are a highway system with tour boats and private boats commuting the waterways all day and much of the night. It can be noisy, particularly on the weekends and during city festivals. Bring earplugs if you are a light sleeper.
- Amsterdam can be an expensive city for meals. Renting a houseboat accommodation with rudimentary cooking facilities allows you to keep down the cost of meals.
- The least expensive Amsterdam houseboat rentals are generally located on a canal outside the main city center. Amsterdam is an easy city to walk and bike, which means that renting a modestly priced houseboat still allows you to see all the sights.
Amsterdam Houseboat Rental Sites
- Houseboat Rental Amsterdam is a comprehensive houseboat rental site listing nearly four dozen vacation rentals priced from 50€ to 700€ per night.
- House-Boat Hotel has twelve houseboat rentals under 150€ per night. They are listed as guestrooms or studios. All give you access to a deck or sundeck and most have rudimentary cooking facilities such as a coffeepot and microwave.
- BookaHouseboat is a worldwide houseboat rental community that currently lists 52 houseboats in Amsterdam.
- Airbnb lists a variety of Amsterdam houseboat rentals in a wide range of prices.
When you visit this city of canals and stay in an Amsterdam houseboat, you transform your vacation into an opportunity to experience the city like a local.