Are you thinking of taking a canal cruise in Amsterdam in the Netherlands and wondering if it’s worth it and what to expect?
In this guide, we share our experience-based tips for Amsterdam canal cruises to help you plan a truly unforgettable experience. In addition, you’ll also find our hand-picked recommendations for the best canal cruises in Amsterdam in 2023.
Amsterdam’s canal system dates back to the 17th century, the prosperous time of the Golden Age. They are now listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site. Many of the oldest neighborhoods and historic buildings can be found along Amsterdam’s canals (‘grachten’). There is really no better way to get a first introduction to the city than by taking a sightseeing boat trip along the main canals of Amsterdam.
So if you are wondering if the Amsterdam canals cruise is worth it, yes, it absolutely is. More than that – it’s one of the best things to do in Amsterdam that is enjoyed by locals and tourists alike.
If you visit the city on a sunny weekend, you will be amazed at the sheer number of boats on the canals all over Amsterdam. It sometimes looks as if everyone here owns a boat and they use every opportunity to get on the water… So do as the locals and don’t miss a chance to discover this beautiful city from the water.
Good to know: Since most canal cruises in Amsterdam only take 60-75 minutes and there are multiple starting locations, it’s really easy to fit it into any itinerary.
Now that we established that taking a canal cruise is really a must-do in Amsterdam, there are quite a few things that you may want to know before you go. Which boat to choose, where to start, what to wear, or how to make the most of your visit…
In this article, we share Amsterdam canal cruise tips and useful info that should help you avoid disappointment and have a truly unforgettable experience. At the end of this guide, you will also find some of the frequently asked questions about Amsterdam canal cruises.
TIP: If you have no time to read the entire article, here are the best options for Amsterdam canal cruise:
- Open-boat canal cruise. This is our personal recommendation, based on our various experiences with canal cruises in Amsterdam.
- Semi-open boat cruise. This is a very popular canal cruise, great in any weather. If you like the idea of enjoying an unlimited supply of Dutch cheese & wine (or other drinks if you prefer) during your cruise, then opt for this tour.
- Classic LOVERS canal cruise. This is the most popular, budget-friendly canal cruise on a covered boat with a glass roof.
- Evening canal cruise. This is a great option if you want to experience Amsterdam canals in the dark.
- Private canal cruise. The best option if you are looking for a more authentic experience and want the whole boat just for your own group/family.
Just in case you wonder, this article is not sponsored and all opinions are our own. We visit Amsterdam quite often and have done multiple canal tours. So all these tips are based on our first-hand experiences.
Here are our top tips for Amsterdam canal cruises:
1. Book in advance
First things first – if you are planning your itinerary and want to take a canal cruise in Amsterdam, we strongly recommend booking in advance. There are a few reasons for this.
First, by booking in advance, you can make sure that the location of the boat tour fits your overall itinerary. Furthermore, you can choose the boat type that you like, read customer reviews, compare prices, and know exactly what you get.
There are so many options for Amsterdam canal cruises that the choice is tough even online. Once you get to the city, it’s absolutely overwhelming. With dozens of companies running tours from numerous locations and various boat types and other options available, you never know exactly what you’ll get.
On a recent visit, we also noticed that most canal cruises in Amsterdam were slightly more expensive than online. Some companies also adjust their prices depending on demand. We saw multiple companies increase their price by a euro or two on the weekend or when it got busier. Luckily, most canal cruises aren’t expensive to start with, but a few euros extra for a big family can quickly add up.
Last but not least, booking in advance will save you time. While it is usually possible to book a canal cruise on the day itself as well, often that means that you’ll need to wait for the next available boat. On busy days at the most popular locations, you can waste a couple of hours or may not even be able to find a suitable option at all.
Further below, you can find more information on the best canal cruises.
2. Opt for an open-boat tour
Unless you are visiting Amsterdam in the coldest months, I highly recommend considering an open-boat canal cruise. The experience on these boats is incomparable to the (semi-)covered ones and the price difference is normally just 3-5 euro.
I still remember the first time we visited Amsterdam and took a ‘regular’ tour on a covered boat. It was so busy that everyone was packed inside. If you got on the boat a bit later than others, you had no window seat. Despite the beautiful sunny weather, the glass roof and windows were only partially open and we had obstructed views. To make things worse, we could hardly hear the commentary from the guide…
A lot has changed since then and most companies running canal cruises in Amsterdam try not to overload their boats too much, the sound quality is better, etc. Since a few years, there are also several companies offering open boat cruises in Amsterdam. So nowadays, we always try to opt for an open boat, even though it’s a bit more expensive and a bit more uncertain weather-wise.
The main advantage of an open boat is that you have unobstructed views (and can take better pictures). Plus, everyone gets the best seat since all the chairs are along the side. These boats are also much smaller than the traditional canal cruises in Amsterdam, so it feels like a much more local experience, and you can interact with the captain and the guide in person.
Open boats usually have an onboard bar, so you can order a drink and enjoy it while sailing on the canals. You’ll meet many locals doing exactly the same thing on their own little boats. So it feels like a much more relaxed local experience.
Good to know: One of the best companies for open boat cruises is Flagship Amsterdam. They have various options for canal cruises in Amsterdam. Their standard cruise with an onboard bar is the most popular choice (we took it recently and really enjoyed it). In addition, they have private cruises, cruises that include drinks and snacks, etc.
However, an open boat may not be suitable for everyone (e.g. people with mobility issues) – more info about it below.
3. Consider your mobility & season when choosing the boat
As already mentioned, our personal preference goes for open-boat tours on Amsterdam canals. However, they may not always be the best idea for everyone. So consider your personal situation and the season when you are visiting when deciding on the boat type.
For example, open boat cruises are definitely not suitable for people with mobility impairments or wheelchair users.
Classic boats like the LOVERS cruises are a bit more suitable if you have mobility restrictions. However, also there, you have to be able to walk 1-3 steps when getting in and out of the boat. Please also note that you cannot take a wheelchair (or a stroller) on board. You can leave them on the quayside; in that case, I strongly recommend packing a bicycle lock – it will give you peace of mind.
Blue Boat cruises have just one wheelchair-accessible location and that is if you start at Hard Rock Café Pier (close to Rijksmuseum). However, you have to book one of the following time slots (11 AM, 12:30 PM, 2:30 PM, or 4 PM) and let them know in advance that you’ll be in a wheelchair. They allow just 3 wheelchairs onboard at the same time.
As for the weather, you can’t predict that in advance, often, not even a few days upfront. So decide based on the season, keeping in mind that there is always a chance of rain and wind in Amsterdam.
While open boat cruises typically have a few blankets and umbrellas available, it may not be your idea of a fun excursion. So if you are visiting in a shoulder season or are worried that you’ll quickly get cold, opt for a traditional boat or a semi-open boat instead.
Good to know: Traditional covered boats typically have heating in the winter, but it can still be chilly on the coldest days.
4. Pick a cruise location wisely
As already mentioned, there are multiple locations where you can take a canal cruise in Amsterdam. The most popular starting points are Amsterdam Central Railway Station, Anne Frank House, and Rijksmuseum.
Good to know: There is not one ‘best’ place to start your canal tour in Amsterdam. No matter where you start and which boat you take, most sightseeing cruises visit the same places and main highlights along Amsterdam’s Canal Belt (Grachtengordel).
Depending on where you start, you will see somewhat different parts of the city, but typically, all cruises go on at least one or two main canals. Every cruise we’ve been to passed the most prestigious Herengracht which was traditionally inhabited by the richest and most prominent citizens of the city. Nowadays, you will find some of the most expensive hotels in the city here, such as Waldorf Astoria, and offices of companies like Booking.com.
They all take you to the famous Seven Bridges (and you have to be really quick to see them). All cruises go to the Amstel River as well, where you can see some of the most impressive bridges in Amsterdam and the famous ‘dancing houses’. (You will soon realize that pretty much all houses in Amsterdam’s city center are leaning one way or the other, but these cruises will always point out the same ones ;)).
There are also canal cruises visiting ‘off-the-beaten path’ canals in Amsterdam (e.g. this cruise that focuses on the Jordaan neighborhood), but those are less common. If it’s your first time in the city, you will want to see the top places, and for that, it doesn’t matter that much where you start or which tour you choose.
However, the location matters a lot for your overall itinerary. Choosing it wisely can save you a lot of time. In case you wonder, the cruises will always drop you off at the place where you started.
For example, if you are arriving by train and plan to spend just a day in Amsterdam, you may want to start your visit with a canal cruise right away. In that case, choose a cruise departing near the Central Station. Whereas if you are visiting the Van Gogh Museum or Rijksmuseum first thing in the morning, you may want to do a cruise right after that. In this case, choose the starting location at the Rijksmuseum.
On our recent trip to Amsterdam, we had tickets for Anne Frank House at 5 PM. Knowing that a typical visit takes about 1 hour, we booked a canal cruise starting at Anne Frank House at 6.30 PM. Planning in advance makes it so much more relaxing too!
TIP: This open boat cruise is possible from all three most popular locations; you choose them during booking.
5. Save money with combination tickets
Depending on the landmarks that you are planning to visit and the boat type, you can save some money on Amsterdam canal cruises by booking combination tickets.
Here are some of the best options:
- Amsterdam Pass. This is a digital pass that includes the three most popular things to do in Amsterdam: canal cruise (from the Central Station), Rijksmuseum, and Van Gogh Museum. The main advantage of this pass is that you can immediately book your timed slots for all the sites, including the cruise. Most other combination tickets don’t allow you to prebook the time slot for the boat in advance.
- Van Gogh Museum + Canal Cruise or Rijksmuseum + Canal Cruise. These combination tickets let you choose a timed entry for the museum of your choice, but the canal cruise is an open ticket. You can board the next available boat from one of the two docks at either Hard Rock Cafe or Heineken Experience (both docks are not too far from these museums).
- Van Gogh Museum + Canal Cruise or Rijksmuseum + Canal Cruise or Heineken Experience + Canal Cruise. Same as above – you can choose a timed slot for the museum visit. However, the canal cruise departs from the Central Station (which is on the other side of town from the museums), and the time slot has to be pre-booked at their office.
- i amsterdam City Card. This card offers great value if you are staying in Amsterdam for at least a few days. However, you will have to pre-book time slots for some museums and also canal cruises separately. It can be an amazing deal if you are here for 3-5 days and plan to visit many of the included attractions, but it’s a bit more hassle to arrange things where advance booking is essential.
Good to know: These combination tickets are actually quite popular, but be sure to consider all the practicalities such as the cruise departure location and ability/need to reserve the boat. Also, keep in mind that all these boats are traditional ones. So if you would like to take an open-boat cruise, simply book all your tickets separately.
6. Avoid weekends and peak times
Taking a boat trip on Amsterdam canals is the most popular thing to do in the city. So the canal cruises are at their busiest during weekends, school holidays, and also during the peak times in the middle of the day.
Plus, lots of locals take out their own boats for a ride on the canals when the weather is nice and they have more time. So on a sunny summer weekend, Amsterdam canals might look like a beehive. While it is always fun to watch from the side, it’s less fun to be stuck in a ‘traffic jam’ on the canals.
TIP: For a more relaxed experience, we recommend taking a canal cruise on a weekday, early in the morning (9-10.30 AM) or late in the afternoon (after 4-5 PM). Evening cruises (with or without dinner options) are also very popular and can be especially nice in the winter season when it gets dark early.
Not only is it much quieter on the canals in the morning on a weekday, but it’s usually also not as busy on the boat itself.
Good to know: Most canal cruises in Amsterdam start at 9 AM (bigger boats) or 10 AM (open boats) with frequent departure times throughout the entire day and until late in the evening.
7. Do a canal cruise at the beginning of your trip
If you are visiting Amsterdam for the first time, I highly recommend doing a canal cruise at the start of your trip. In fact, I would do it on the very first day.
It’s such a good way to get a first introduction to the city, get your bearings, and also decide which places you potentially want to visit on foot later during your stay.
Depending on how much time you have in Amsterdam, you can always do an additional cruise (for example, in the dark or with dinner) later for yet a different experience. You can find more information about evening boat cruises in Amsterdam further below.
8. Use a bathroom before going on a boat
Boat trips on Amsterdam canals typically take 60-75 minutes. Plus, you will also need to arrive at least 10-15 minutes in advance. So you will not be able to use a bathroom for at least 1.5-2 hours.
So consider this and be sure to use a bathroom before you go on a boat!
Good to know: Most covered traditional boats have bathrooms on board, but you never know in advance if your boat will have a bathroom. Open boats have no bathrooms.
Recently, when we were on an open-boat canal cruise in Amsterdam, the guides asked everyone if they needed to use a bathroom before we left. Apparently, the previous boat had to stop and leave some people halfway through the tour because they needed to use a bathroom urgently.
Normally, bigger boats won’t even be able to stop at all (nor will you easily find a toilet readily available just anywhere).
9. Dress warmly
If you wonder what to wear for a canal cruise in Amsterdam, there is really no dress code, so dress comfortably. Comfortable walking shoes will also make it easier to get in and out of the boat, especially if you are taking an open-air cruise.
However, keep in mind that it can be cold on the boat, also because it’s often quite windy in Amsterdam. Even in the summer, you may want to wear a sweater (and sometimes also a jacket) on a boat. But in the summer, it’s just as likely that you will be fine in a T-shirt and will need sun protection too.
So check the weather forecast, but always pack one extra layer just in case.
Good to know: Closed boats have (some) heating in the winter, but they can feel really warm in the summer. Open boats have a couple of blankets on board, but they don’t always have enough for everyone, so they may not be ideal in the coldest season.
Just recently, we were in Amsterdam in June, and it was quite grey and windy on the day we took a canal cruise. The temperatures were around 18-20°C (64-68 F). I was wearing a light puffer jacket and was just fine, whereas my Italian friend who is not used to the colder weather we have here in the Benelux, was cold and had to ask for a blanket. They had just a couple of blankets on board that day.
So a lot depends also on what you are used to. In any case, I always recommend carrying at least a summer scarf or a sweater with you, even if visiting in the summer.
10. Consider evening cruises as well
In addition to exploring Amsterdam canals by boat during the day, consider taking an evening canal cruise too. Many bridges and buildings are really nicely lit in the dark and it is a really special experience.
Some cruises also offer dinner options, others – drinks and snacks.
Keep in mind, however, that depending on the season, it might get dark at 4.30 PM or at 10.30 PM. So evening cruises in the summer will be quite similar to the ones during the day; whereas in the winter, it’s not comparable.
Here are some of the best evening cruises in Amsterdam:
- Evening cruise. This is the most budget-friendly option and it simply includes a 1-hr boat tour.
- 1.5 hours cruise. This is the most popular evening cruise in Amsterdam.
- Evening cruise with drinks. This is an open-boat cruise including unlimited drinks.
- Dinner cruise. This is the best-rated cruise with a 4-course meal included.
- Wine & cheese cruise. This evening cruise includes wine and snacks.
- Evening cruise with pizza. This is a semi-open boat evening cruise with different pizza and drink options included.
Good to know: If you are visiting Amsterdam in December – January, definitely do a cruise to see the installations of the Amsterdam Light Festival. The Amsterdam Light Festival typically runs from the end of November to late January.
Yes, absolutely. Taking a canal cruise in Amsterdam is one of the top experiences and no visit to the city would be complete without exploring it from the water. That being said, there are big differences between boats, so for the best experience, be sure to pick the boat type that suits your travel style and expectations.
While it’s not an absolute must, we highly recommend booking a canal cruise in Amsterdam in advance. That way, you can be sure to have a spot on the boat type of your choice at the location and time slot that best suits your itinerary. Plus, by booking in advance, you can read real customer reviews, compare the best options, and it’s usually a bit cheaper too.
A standard canal cruise in Amsterdam typically costs 16-25 euros per person, depending on the type of boat and when exactly you visit. In addition, there are also canal cruises that include drinks, snacks, or even food, so prices can range up to 70-80 euros depending on your choices.
Amsterdam canal cruises typically take 1-2 hours. Standard sightseeing cruises take 60-75 minutes, whereas boat tours that include food or drink options typically last at least 90-120 minutes.
While most tourists opt for shared canal cruises, there are also private canal cruises available in Amsterdam. Prices vary greatly depending on the boat and the number of people, so be sure to compare before you book. This private evening/night cruise offers the best value that I was able to find.
It is possible to rent boats in Amsterdam, but I really don’t know if I would advise it if it’s your first time in the city. Private boats (with a skipper) are a much safer and more relaxing option. The most popular rental option is to simply rent a pedal boat for 1-1.5 hours.
Amsterdam canal cruises run the whole year round and are enjoyable in any season. However, we recommend avoiding weekends and school holidays, especially in the middle of the day. For a more relaxed experience, book a cruise on a weekday in the morning or toward the evening.
Yes, of course! Amsterdam canal cruises are suitable for the whole family (there are discounts for kids too) and most kids will love being on a boat. That being said, I recommend taking a boat that has an onboard bar or even includes drinks/snacks if you are traveling with children. They will enjoy it so much more and the food/drinks will keep them busy for a while.
READ ALSO: Amsterdam Travel Tips
So, these are our top tips for Amsterdam canal cruises. I hope that this gives you a better idea of what to expect and helps you plan a truly memorable visit.
Have a great trip!
TIP: Before you go, you may want to check our other guides to Amsterdam and the Netherlands. You can find a short overview below and a full selection here.
More travel inspiration and planning tips for Amsterdam:
- What to see:
- Where to stay:
- Best places to stay in Amsterdam (close to everything)
- Day trips and places nearby:
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