Best Canal Cruise Amsterdam

Last Updated: January 23, 2024

Gerrit Vandenberg

Gerrit shares his love for the Netherlands from his home near Amsterdam, helping thousands plan unforgettable trips to the lowlands. Discover his inspiring journey "From a critical health scare to celebrating Holland's charms". If you want to send Gerrit a quick message, you can contact him here.

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Hi, I'm Gerrit

I enjoy sharing useful tips about the beauty of this county.

Are you about to Explore Amsterdam? A canal cruise is a must!

However, choosing the best canal cruise Amsterdam can be overwhelming. I’m here to help sort through all the options. 

With so many providers and themes, it’s a maze out there.

Day or night, luxury or budget-friendly, a canal cruise with drinks or dinner, private, small group, or large boats. This guide will help you navigate all options.

As a local who lives here, I’m here to guide you between all the options. I’ve got you.

Unlike bloggers focusing primarily on just one cruise experience, I explore various options. I’ll ensure you get a well-rounded view to make the best choice.

Amsterdam’s canals are an iconic symbol of the city. The buildings are gorgeous, and seeing them from the water makes them even more impressive, day or night.

Did you know they’re a UNESCO World Heritage Site too?

I will start by discussing the various cruise types—basic, semi-open boats, and private tours.

Then, I’ll discuss different options for onboard dining, from classic Dutch snacks to a full-course meal.

I’ll move from classic cruises to more exclusive experiences.

Are you still overwhelmed at the end of the article? Pick the one that resonates with you most, or consider booking a 1-1 consultation with me.

Best Canal Cruise Amsterdam Private boat.
Private canal cruise Amsterdam – © Hidden Holland

Classic 1 Hour Cruise:

Let’s start with the most popular option, the 1-hour classic canal cruise that you’ll find mainly near Central Station.

It’s a quick, convenient way to see the canals. And there are high-frequency departures. 

They’re especially great when you’re short on time. You can be on a boat within an hour of leaving the airport. Which is great.

Pre-booking is recommended, especially from April to September.

I previously used to advise against avoiding Central Station operators because of their easy business, but I’ve changed my mind.

They’ve improved significantly. In contrast, I used to endorse Blue Boat near Leidseplein, but recent changes and my recent experience with them changed my stance.

I am on a Canal Cruise in Amsterdam.
I am on a Canal Cruise in Amsterdam – © Hidden Holland

Lovers Canal Cruise Amsterdam

Lovers is the largest operator They offer decent, large-boat cruises. These cover the main canals but not the smaller, less-visited ones.

Lovers is a solid choice, but expect crowds and to not see any hidden gems. It’s cheap, though, and you can scratch a canal tour off your list. 

Millions of people sail with them every year. You can get tickets for a 1-Hour Lovers Cruise here.

Semi-Open Boat Cruise by Lovers

 A small upgrade would be buying a semi-open boat ticket from Lovers. These boats offer a mix of open and covered spaces, perfect for the always-changing Amsterdam weather, and are ideal for better picture-taking.

Departures will be less frequent, and expect a similar basic tour as the original.

Stromma Canal Tour Amsterdam

Located directly across from Central Station their location is super convenient. Stromma offers similar 60-minute cruises as Lovers.

But I have to say I prefer them slightly over Lovers. On my recent cruise with them, I met a friendly skipper who added additional commentary, and the audio guide was engaging.

When you ask me which 1-hour canal cruise to take from Amsterdam Central Station, I would say go with Stromma. It’s a great choice. 

Amsterdam Blue Boat

It was once my top recommendation for the basic cruise because of their live commentary, but a takeover has impacted the quality.

I was on a tour with them in 2023 and was SO bored. It’s pre-recorded audio now, and they’re not interesting. I had to fight not to fall asleep.

Only book if you’re in the Leidseplein or Rijksmuseum area, and you have no other choice.

PS: even though a 75-minute canal cruise sounds like a premium between the 1-hour cruise offers, the extra 15 minutes are nothing special, it’s the only way for them to come back, but there is not much to see.

Amsterdam Hop On Hop Off Canal Cruise

I think a great affordable alternative is the Hop On Hop Off Canal Cruise is something different. Combine the best of both worlds.

You can enjoy an informative tour and convenient transportation all in one. With 24 or 48-hour tickets, you can enjoy unlimited rides. 

A cruise is a much better option than the hop-on-hop-off bus, which I do not recommend (you’ll have limited views, and buses can’t go on the small streets lining the canal).

Get your tickets for a Hop On Hop Off Boat Cruise here.

Amsterdam Canal Cruise Smaller Boats

The next step up is going on a smaller boat. You can choose between open boats and small closed boats. 

The cheapest option is the open boat tours. These are much better than the basic cruises. You can’t beat the views if there are no windows. But the flip side is the consistently unreliable Amsterdam weather.

The most prominent new provider here is Flagships. But they’re a little thin sometimes on commentary and are more focused on selling you drinks (since they go big on their onboard bar).

Other open-boat providers also offer a bar and better commentary. These get much better reviews. And the ones I also recommend. 

I especially like Friendship Amsterdam Cruises and Starboard Cruises. Both operators offer a more personal experience.

Open boat canal cruise Amsterdam.
Open boat canal cruise Amsterdam – © Hidden Holland

Luxury Canal Cruise Amsterdam

Small classic boats offer a more intimate experience, and the weather is less of a factor. They can also cruise along the small canals, giving you a better experience.

There is always live commentary by the skipper, and groups are much smaller. These are some of the best boat tours in Amsterdam.

Here are the two I like best:

2-Hour Exclusive Canal Cruise

This two-hour exclusive canal cruise, including drinks, is a larger boat as my next recommendation, but it’s still intimate. And you can’t beat the price.

It’s a beautiful classic boat. The tour lasts longer than any other, has live commentary, and includes drinks.

For about €50, I think it’s a steal. It’s more than double the basic tours, but your experience will also differ. You book this Amsterdam boat cruise here.

Small Boat, Small Group Tour

This is as personal as you can get before booking a private cruise. It also comes at a higher price tag of around €80 per person.

This tour is 90 minutes, which is a perfect time (unless you have drinks or snacks when a bit longer is better).

It’s a really good option with an engaged skipper and great commentary on a nice boat if private is too expensive. You book this experience here.

Best Canal Cruise Amsterdam Private Boat

Are you looking for an even more exclusive option? Then book a private cruise.

There are basic and more luxurious boats, and they come at different prices, but all have in common you’ll have to boat for yourself. 

Private Canal Tour with Prosecco & Snacks for Two

I recommend this private romantic canal tour with Prosecco and snacks. They operate charming, solar-powered electric boats – basic, but eco-friendly, and it offers a fantastic open view of the canals.

It’s perfect for a cozy trip with someone special. The tour starts at under €200 for 50 minutes, but I suggest splurging a bit more for the 90-minute experience for a truly memorable time.

Evening prices are higher, but I get to that later. 

Solar Powered Private Canal Tour Up To 6 Passengers

Another excellent choice, similar in price, is this option that accommodates up to 6 passengers. It doesn’t include drinks, but it’s an ideal pick if you’re planning a cruise with friends or family, making it a cost-effective choice for bigger parties. 

You can book this private cruise here.

The Luxury Option

For a more luxurious experience, consider this private canal cruise on a classic wooden private boat.

It’s pricier than the options above, but it’s an exquisite way to cruise the canals, and the boat can accommodate up to 10 people for the same price.

If you’re interested, you can book this luxurious private canal tour here.

Luxury private canal cruises.
Luxury private canal cruises – © Hidden Holland

Specialty Cruises

Phew, that is a lot! 

I’ve covered everything from budget-friendly hour-long tours to luxurious private cruises.

But there’s (a lot) more to explore because now we move on to specialty cruises.

Refill your drink, stretch your legs, and then let’s continue:

Evening Canal Tour Amsterdam: A Romantic Experience

Amsterdam transforms at night, with the soft glow of lights creating a magical atmosphere.

Evening cruises offer a different perspective than day tours, highlighting the illuminated bridges and the charming interior of canal houses (because we Dutch don’t close our curtains).

Day cruises are fantastic for seeing all the architectural details, but nighttime is for romance.

Choosing the Right Evening Cruise:

  • Basic Night Sailings: Lovers and Stromma, as mentioned earlier, provide basic 1-hour evening cruises at day rates. It is a cost-effective choice for those seeking a brief, no-frills experience.
  • 90-Minute Evening Cruise by Lovers: This is the most popular budget-friendly evening option. It’s a longer cruise without extras, but it’s an excellent deal because you get 30 minutes extra and less rushed.
  • Wine and Cheese Canal Evening Cruise: Enhance your experience with wine and Dutch cheese. It’s a delightful way to spend 90 minutes in this beautiful city, adding a romantic touch to your cruise.
  • Private Evening Cruises: I highly recommend a private evening cruise for a more intimate setting. Starting at €225 for two, including Processo. I would splurge on the extra €100 to make it 90 minutes for a more relaxed experience.

Note on Daylight Hours: Remember, daylight hours vary significantly in Amsterdam. We’re pretty up north here. Check sunset times for your visit to ensure you experience the canals lit up at night.

Can’t choose between a day or night cruise? If possible, do both!

Canal Cruise with Drinks Amsterdam

For many people, the basic no-frills canal cruises are too basic. I often get asked which cruises include drinks. It turns out that there are many options, from open boats to luxury private tours. And many offer a different twist. 

It’s nice to enjoy a relaxing cruise with a drink on Amsterdam’s canal cruises. But make sure to book the right package!

Here are different Amsterdam canal cruises with drinks included:

Small Open Boat Cruises

Friendship and Starboard: These companies offer flexible drink packages – no drinks, limited drinks, or an open bar. Both provide excellent value for money and a fun, social atmosphere.

I always recommend the unlimited offer. It’s super affordable and you don’t have to worry about a thing! 

Covered Boat Options with Snacks and Drinks

  • Classic Amsterdam Boat Cruise with Unlimited Wine and Cheese: A more traditional and romantic option, offering wine and cheese. It’s a cozy choice, especially when the weather is unpredictable. Be aware that you sit on the side (with your back to the window). This makes it harder to take a good photo if the boat is fully booked. Also, be sure to book the right package. The cheapest advertised price is WITHOUT wine or cheese.
  • Small Boat Cruise with Stroopwafels and Drinks: This unique cruise features delicious Dutch Stroopwafels and drinks. It’s a longer, more personal tour with live commentary, offering a fantastic Dutch experience. I love this one!
Amsterdam Canal Cruise With Wine and Cheese Tickets.
Wine and Cheese Cruise Amsterdam

Remember, the right cruise depends on your preferences, from the vibe you’re looking for to the type of drinks and snacks you enjoy. An open bar can attract a different crowd than a wine and cheese cruise.

Dinner Boat Cruise Amsterdam

Experience dining on the water with these cruise options, each offering a unique adventure:

  1. Pizza Cruise: Ideal for a casual meal. There are two offers in Amsterdam, but this cruise combines better pizza with drinks and ice cream. It’s a fantastic way to enjoy the canals.
  2. BBQ Boat Trip: Take this BBQ cruise for a meat lover’s delight. Live cooking, and unlimited drinks, including beer and wine, make for a memorable journey. It’s a carnivore’s paradise on the Amsterdam canals. Not a great option for vegetarians.
  3. Pancake Cruise: The Pancake Cruise is a fun, family-friendly option for something uniquely Dutch. Departing from the trendy NDSM area, expect a modern view of Amsterdam; this cruise has no pretty canals. Enjoy an array of freshly made pancakes with various toppings. It’s a buffet-style cruise perfect for lunch or early dinner. Drinks are not included but are fairly priced. Don’t expect restaurant quality, but Herman and I love it; we went twice and will go again in a heartbeat. It’s the atmosphere.
  4. Amsterdam Dinner Cruise with 4-Course Menu: For a more refined dining experience, this cruise offers a luxurious 4-course meal with options for meat, fish, or vegetarian. The menu includes soup, an appetizer, a main course, and a delicious dessert. With a 2-hour sailing time, enjoy the city’s iconic sights while savoring your meal. Drinks are included, making it a comprehensive, all-inclusive experience. Book early because it fills quickly.
Enjoy Dinner on the Amsterdam canals with an Amsterdam Dinner Cruise.
Dinner Cruise Amsterdam.

Here is the full menu:

Soup: Green Pea Soup with grilled green asparagus

Meat Menu:

Appetizer: Beef tartare with poached egg yolk with fresh piccalilli, crispy brioche
Main course: Beef casserole with potato cream, balsamic sauce, and green vegetables.

Fish Menu:

Appetizer: House smoked salmon with roasted potato salad and a wasabi mayonnaise
Main course: Cod baked in the skin with potato cream, green vegetables, and Lime Beure Blanc sauce

Vegetarian Menu:

Appetizer: Brioche bun filled with airy scrambled egg, baked spinach, feta, avocado and a fresh salad
Main course: Lasagna of roasted vegetables with tomato basil sauce topped with spicy Italian cheese.

Dessert (for all): homemade tiramisu made with Dutch Stroopwafels – Yum!!! 

Smoke Cruise Amsterdam

It’s not my thing, but for those interested in a smoke-friendly cruise experience in Amsterdam, there are two leading operators to consider.

If you wonder: Can you smoke on Amsterdam Canal Cruise?” the answer is yes, with the right company.

Amsterdam Smoke and Lounge City Boat Cruise

Known for its authenticity and positive reviews, this cruise provides a more intimate setting. While you need to bring your products if you want to smoke cannabis, they do offer Hookah/Shisha pipes for an extra charge.

Bulldog Boat Smoke-Friendly Cruise

The Bulldog is a well-known name in Amsterdam. Besides their large stores (coffee shops) they also operate a boat, offering more space then the Smoke and Lounge City tour above.

Both cruises allow for a unique Amsterdam experience, catering specifically to those looking to enjoy smoking in a canal setting.

It’s important to know that these boats cannot sell weed on board. That is why they’re called smoke-friendly. You have to bring your own.  

Bonus option: Amsterdam Canals Pedal Boat Rental 

Are you thinking, Gerrit, wow, that many options? But all these are so passive. Is there anything I can do more actively?

I’m glad you asked because, yes, you can.

You can rent your pedal boat for an hour or 90 minutes. Go with the 90-minute option because an hour is insufficient to get anywhere.

You will have to bike and steer yourself. Make sure you’re fit enough to do so, and don’t be afraid because you will be among the large canal boats.

Tip: ask the crew at the rental location for suggestions on where to go for the smaller canals where the big boats don’t come.

How Does Booking An Amsterdam Canal Cruise Work?

That is simple, here is how to book an Amsterdam Canal Cruise step by step:

  1. Select Your Cruise: Click the links in this article for your chosen cruise.
  2. Pick Date and Participants: Choose your date and enter the number of people.
  3. Choose the Right Package: Be mindful of the details. Lower prices often mean shorter cruises or no drinks. 
  4. Finalize Your Booking: Select a time and complete your booking. Changes are possible up to 24 hours before departure.
  5. Arrive Early: To ensure a stress-free start, arrive 15-20 minutes before your cruise time. Boats don’t wait. Make sure to use Google Maps to find your boarding locations. There are so many of them. It’s easy to show up at the wrong place.

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What to Expect On a Cruise

All cruises except the Pancake cruise sail along the iconic, beautiful Amsterdam canals. But there are differences.

  1. Route Variability: Larger boats stick to the three main canals, offering a broad view of the city’s canals. Smaller boats also go inside narrower canals, providing a more intimate glimpse into Amsterdam’s charm.
  2. Cruise Duration: Cruise lengths vary from 50 minutes to 2 hours, with 60 minutes being standard. While shorter cruises are convenient, I find the 90-minute options more enjoyable, especially when they include drinks and snacks.
  3. Commentary Style: There’s a distinct difference between live commentary and audio guides. While audio guides offer language versatility and clarity, live commentary, often provided on luxurious cruises, adds a personal touch and can be more engaging and humorous. I like these better.

Each cruise type offers its unique perspective of Amsterdam. Choose according to your interests and available time.

What you’ll see on a Canal Cruise

Expect to see the city’s iconic 17th-century canal houses on any Amsterdam canal cruise. However, your experience varies based on the cruise type and length.

The smaller the boat you’ll choose, the more you’ll get to see. Some of the most beautiful hidden gems are off the main canals.

Also, sites like the Skinny Bridge, Artis Zoo, and the like are usually only part of the longer cruises, or with the open boats/smaller boat tours.

As you sail, listen to stories about Amsterdam’s past. It’s a history lesson you’ll enjoy.

Learn about the weird tax rules from the golden century, which explain so much about the size of the houses, its windows, and even the stairs to the front door.

Or that these grand houses are all built on wood, which might explain the dancing houses.

Other stories you want to hear are why all the weird hooks are attached at the top of every house. And if there is a reason behind the decorative gables, and the beautifully little plague stones seen in many homes. 

I want to warn you for some other blogs out there. Espcially from non local bloggers and the introduction of AI. You get to see these unrealistic (even complete nonsense) descriptions. Like this:

Here is an excerpt from an article ranking high in Google about taking a canal cruise in Amsterdam: “You’ll float down narrow boat canals, close enough to touch the canal walls and glide effortlessly under ancient stone bridges covered in moss. You’ll pass groups of teenagers hanging out, couples kissing, and people tending to their vibrant tulip gardens.”

It’s nonsense. I know 99.99% certain it was written by ChatGPT (AI) because only he talks like that and it wasn’t fact-checked or edited.

Most canals are pretty broad, designed historically for trade ships, and tulip gardens along the canals are not a thing.

This is precisely why I started “Hidden Holland” in a world where fully automated and unedited AI content and free press trips for foreign bloggers (with strings attached) are all too common.

I think there is a need for authentic content from people who know what they’re talking about.

PS: if you want to brainstorm with me to improve your trip and talk with a local, you can book a consultation call with me here.

Ok, my rant is over 🙂 Let’s go to questions:

When is the Amsterdam Light Festival?

The Amsterdam Light Festival is organized annually in December and a part of January. The next edition, edition number 13, will be held from  November 28, 2024, until January 19, 2025.

What are the differences among Amsterdam’s main canals?

The three main canals are:

Herengracht: Known for its Golden Bend and large, impressive canal houses.

Keizersgracht: The widest canal, lined with prestigious offices. It’s a little bit more boring than the others.

Prinsengracht: Most scenic, features the Anne Frank House, and connects to the Jordaan neighborhood.

Is an Amsterdam Canal Cruise a great activity with kids?

It can be fantastic to bring your kids, but I advise choosing shorter tours when taking a canal cruise with kids. Keep them involved, and if needed, get quiet activities for them. Please, no iPads with the volume turned on.

Avoid wine, cheese, and open-bar booze cruises with kids. Smoke cruises are 18+ only.

How about Amsterdam Canal Cruises and Accessibility?

Boarding can be challenging if moving around is more difficult due to the small stairs and low boat heights (to pass the low bridges). No ramps are available. You’d have to be able to climb down into the boat. Smaller boats are more accessible to enter than the big ones.

What are the boat sizes on these cruises?

When I’m talking about boat size, like a large boat or a small boat, this is what you can expect:

Large boats: (regular cruises) 50-80 passengers.
Open boats: 20-30 passengers.
Small boats: Typically 2-20 passengers, often 8 or 12.

Why are Rental Boats not part of this article?

I do not recommend renting a full-size boat to operate yourself. The canals are busy; the experience will be stressful if you’re inexperienced.

Plus, you won’t get the commentary and can’t sit back, relax, and take in the views. That is why I do not list them here.

Conclusion

I hope this article helped you choose a canal cruise that is right for you.

Choosing the right canal cruise in Amsterdam should reflect your preferences and circumstances.

Whether you’re intrigued by a laid-back smoking cruise, a luxurious four-course dinner on the water, or a laidback pizza or BBQ boat tour, there’s an option for everyone.

For those mindful of time or budget, the classic one-hour tours offer a good taste of Amsterdam’s canal charm without overcommitment.

However, if you’re looking to indulge a bit more, there are numerous ways to improve your cruising experience.

If you’re more adventurous and looking for a more hands-on approach, consider renting a pedal boat. It’s a unique way to explore the canals at your own pace.

Ultimately, whatever your choice, an Amsterdam canal cruise is an unforgettable way to experience the city’s historic best-known feature, the Unesco World Heritage 17th Century Canal Ring.

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Does All Of This Feel Overwhelming?

Planning a trip well is a lot of work and can feel overwhelming. Know I’m here to help when you need assistance with your Netherlands vacation.

I offer Itinerary Consultations, where I help you improve your itinerary and make your trip planning much faster and less stressful.

Even if you already have a plan, I have local insights you don’t get from a guidebook. Is that truly a nice restaurant? Is your plan efficient or even doable? What to do once you’re inside a museum. The Rijksmuseum is massive. A call is also great if you doubt which options to choose. I can genuinely personalize my advice to you.

What is your favorite Amsterdam Canal Cruise?

I’d love your thoughts: I'd love to hear which tour you prefer. I'm so curious.. Please share your thoughts in the comments below, and let’s start a conversation 💬.

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Gerrit shares his love for the Netherlands from his home near Amsterdam, helping thousands plan unforgettable trips to the lowlands. Discover his inspiring journey "From a critical health scare to celebrating Holland's charms". If you want to send Gerrit a quick message, you can contact him here.

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