The Amsterdam most visitors know is the old city. It’s contained within a ring of three concentric canals -- the Herengracht, Keizersgracht, and Prinsengracht -- which form a crescent-shaped canal belt. Cruising along these waterways on one of the city’s canal boats might not be the quickest way to get around the city, but it’s certainly the most picturesque! And spending an afternoon gliding by the great-looking houseboats on the Prinsengracht as the light is fading should be listed as a tourist attraction in any travel guide.
For anyone visiting Amsterdam in the new year, a trip on one of the city’s canal cruises has to be included in their inventory. In some ways, it’s difficult to avoid traveling this way. Amsterdam’s streets are similar to its building: narrow. Most locals travel on bicycle or use public transport. The tourists do likewise, but because they’re going about their business at a somewhat more leisurely pace, they have more time to spend seeing the city from the water.
While it’s possible for anyone in a hurry to see the city from a canal cruise in an hour, a canal cruise is probably best enjoyed as a form of transport from which to hop off -- and back on -- en route to the city’s attractions. Most of the city’s top sights such as the Anne Frank House and the Rijksmuseum have canal stops close by. Even in the dead of winter, the boats are fairly frequent, running approximately every 30 minutes. The boats also have a commentary guide offered in a number of languages (the Dutch are renowned for their mastery of almost every language known to man!).
Some canal cruise companies offer special deals on their cruises. For example, you can take a cruise in the evening and enjoy a meal as part of the deal. The city can look wonderful from the inky black water at night with all the lights from the houseboats twinkling. There are also cruises concentrating on specific areas of the city.
A canal cruise ticket can be purchased from one of the many kiosks dotted around the city, or if you ask the driver very nicely, he (or she) will let you on the boat and then you can hop off to buy your ticket at the first stop at which there’s a kiosk. You can also purchase a cruise ticket that includes entrance into some of the top tourist attractions including the Van Gogh Museum.
As well as the attractive architecture to be seen along the streets every way you look, on a canal cruise you can also see an array of splendid bridges. The most famous is the Magere Brug (“skinny” bridge), a wooden double-swipe (balanced) bridge which was built in 1670 and widened in 1871. Only pedestrians and cyclists are permitted to use the bridge.
Anyone who’s feeling energetic and thinks that the relaxed and gentle pace of the canal cruise may not suit them can hire a canal bike (a type of pedalo or paddle boat) and peddle their way around the city with a friend.
Taking a canal cruise is a great way to see the city -- and to give your feet a well-earned rest from all that walking!