An Amsterdam Canal Cruise with ‘Friendship’
Without a doubt one of the best and first things you should do in the Dutch capital, especially if you’ve never been before is an Amsterdam canal cruise. It sounds typically touristy but we stumbled across the one that we did within an hour of arriving and I’m SO glad we just got on and did it there and then. Before you go any further – apologies for some of the wonky photos, I’d had wine and it’s not easy to get good ones from a viewpoint below street level. You get the idea.
We were staying in central Amsterdam and had walked through Niewmarkt, the old town and the Red Light District before coming to a street called Damstraat, which leads you straight up to Dam Square. On the corner is a big tourist ticket office, advertising all of the different ‘themed cruises’ you can do. Pizza cruise, dinner cruise, 100 highlights of Amsterdam canal cruise in an hour…but within 10 seconds of walking in I turned around and walked back out. It was just a bit too in your face touristy. Not the quaint little sail around Amsterdam’s pretty canals I had in mind.
Coming out of the ticket office, just off from the main street we found ourselves on Oudezijds Voorburgwal, and were milling around deciding which way to go next when a guy in old jeans and a grey sweatshirt was stood under a flag, and next to an attractive looking boat. He had an American accent and was chatting away to us about our trip before telling us we could take a canal cruise from right there. Usually I’m the first person to tell salespeople to firmly ‘eff off’, but this guy was really nice, he wasn’t in your face and it turned out he was a local.
I think it was this that sold it to us, that and the fact he wasn’t pushy at all, and the boat was rather inviting. With cushioned seats, open air so no view restrictions, and a fully stocked bar on display we climbed in. Once a few others had joined us, again just people passing by enticed in by a more relaxing looking voyage around the canals, the American/local jumped in with a Dutch girl who came from nowhere and we cast off from the edge.
The guy (can’t for the life of me remember his name – I’d had wine) would be steering the boat and the Dutch girl would basically talk us through the sights as we passed. This was all done so casually, it wasn’t a pre scripted talk through a microphone. She just wandered around the boat passionately telling us about her city, answering questions and engaging in very real conversations with us.
It now makes sense why they’re called Friendship cruises. I have heard that some locals will take you out on the canals in their tiny little family boats, for a small fee, a very authentic way to learn. This wasn’t quite at that level, but it definitely felt a lot less commercial.
We could order drinks, so we got ourselves a bottle of wine, and we were provided with blankets in case it got cold out on the water. As we sailed around the intricate canal network the guide rolled out fact after fact, with a real enthusiasm that could only come from a resident of the city. It was also a great way to learn our way around, as we spotted little short cuts and landmarks we hadn’t realised were so close together.
It’s for this reason I would strongly recommend doing a canal cruise early on in your visit. It will save you a LOT of walking or cycling, and with so much to see and do over such a large area it makes navigating your way around a lot easier. Especially if you have a crap sense of direction like me.
It’s also significantly prettier, especially in the red light district and older parts of the city, where the streets are narrow and you might be too distracted by what’s going on around you to notice how beautiful the buildings actually are. You get a real sense of the city when you aren’t rushing around, watching where you’re going or trying to follow google maps.
Obviously a draw back of an open air boat is when it starts to rain, but they were well prepared and handed out huge umbrellas for us to huddle under, it didn’t dampen the mood at all. By this point we were on to a second bottle of wine, so I wish I could remember more of the interesting details she told us.
What I do remember are things like Amsterdam was the first European city to have an area known as ‘Chinatown’. We saw the original Bulldog cafe, the wonky loch keepers ancient house, now a bustling cafe with outside terrace. We passed the oldest building in Amsterdam, the Oude Kerk in the Red Light District, and heard tales of all the extra marital activities that have gone on over the years!
I learned that the beams sticking out of the top of nearly every building with a hook attached to the end and are still used today when moving furniture into the tall narrow houses. The furniture can’t fit through the front doors and up all the stairs (…PIVOT!), so instead they winch everything up and it goes in through the windows. Clever!
As we neared the end of the cruise, they almost apologetically asked us to pay. It was 15 euros per person, a couple of euros more than some of the big canal companies, but worth every bit extra. I can’t imagine the other’s being as relaxed, and it was great to basically be talked with not talked to over a bottle of wine.
A great tip for when you get off back where you started – there’s an amazing little ice cream shop right next to the ticket tourist office. Skip the ‘tourism like a tourist’ and go for the more genuine cruise, then celebrate with some seriously good ice cream after.
We found Friendship Amsterdam completely by chance, but if you want to plan it in advance then their website has all the extra info you need for a very authentic Amsterdam canal cruise.
If you like it pin it!PIN IT