It was 10pm at night and the river was alive.
The sun had almost set, casting irresistible twinkling gold contours across the rippling water. Music faded in and out of hearing range as boats whizzed by carrying small groups laughing, drinking and enjoying the late summer evenings. This is summer in full swing in Amsterdam, and we had the best spot to indulge in the canal lifestyle, right on the banks of the Amstel River.
Along the canals of Amsterdam you can find some of Europe’s best and most expensive houseboats. There are only around 2,500 houseboat permits allowed in Amsterdam and the city isn’t issuing any more so houseboats are in very short supply.
Nevertheless, when you have a bucket list item to live on a houseboat in Amsterdam like we do, it has to be done. And we found ours through Amsterdam Book Now, a booking site dedicated to houseboats that offers superb prices.
They were also so flexible. Unfortunately our train to Amsterdam arrived at midnight so we reached our houseboat very late. But we were still greeted by the boat owner onsite, welcomed and introduced to our houseboat with a friendly smile.
What’s In A Houseboat?
There are huge houseboats and there are small houseboats. Our houseboat rental was only one living area. There was a sofa bed, which was all made up and ready for us, and then in a nook was another bed, surprisingly big enough for Josh and I.
There was also a kitchenette and bathroom. It was fully functional with drinkable tap water, electricity, hot shower and the all-important, fast Wi-Fi.
Up the ladder and onto the deck was a small table with two chairs for enjoying the views of the boats passing by and the picturesque Skinny Bridge.
The walkway to our room, along the side of the boat, initially felt a little treacherous, and at midnight I was scared either the bags, myself or our children would end up in the water. But the kids were naturals and loved the pirate feeling they got from walking the plank. And after a day they could navigate the walkway with their eyes closed.
Our room was only one half of the actual boat with the owner living in the other half. Behind us, double-parked closer to the shore, was another boat that we had to cross over to reach ours.
Tips For Choosing A Houseboat
Size - Our houseboat (half) was rather small, so if you don’t like constrained spaces make sure you find a bigger size – essentially a whole boat. It was perfect for our 4 nights, but for any longer I would have liked more space. As it turned out we were out and about everyday and only using it to collapse into bed in the evenings.
Location - Check the location of your boat. Our boat would have made the perfect boat for a couple that enjoy staying up late and even throwing a nice deck party. The Amstel is pretty active with lively boats passing by way after midnight. Our kids didn’t seem to mind the noise and I did enjoy watching the boats, but come midnight, I do like a little quiet.
On the upside we were just minutes from the tramline that had a direct link to Centraal Station (Central). We also could walk to the underground metro station and there was a convenient supermarket just across the bridge.
Position - Unfortunately the houseboat behind us had forfeited its views to us, so it was nice to be in the boat in front. I’d check that during booking to make sure you could actually see the water, not just another boat.
Facilities – Most boats are fully functional, but just check that you are getting Wi-Fi, electricity, and drinking water.
Children – Getting to some houseboats can be fiddly for little ones. I wouldn’t have wanted my kids to be any younger on the boat we chose. Check the entry point and if you are comfortable with that. Use precautions as always – don’t allow the kids to wander the decks unattended. Our kids are very strong swimmers for their age, so even if they happened to fall in the water, they’d be able to stay afloat and swim to the edge. Being avid pirate fans, they were able to live their dreams of living on the high seas on their very own boat. The adventure was complete with a few imaginary sword fights and sea shanties.
Would I recommend a houseboat holiday in Amsterdam? Absolutely. For a fun, authentic Dutch experience and another item to cross off the bucketlist, Amsterdam in the summer was an absolute joy living on the Amstel River. Now, where can I find Captain Jack Sparrow?
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