Best canal boat tours (and self hires) in Amsterdam – for little kids and big kids alike

There are no shortage of canal boat tours in Amsterdam and in truth, most of them offer a perfectly good experience but there are several that stand out for different reasons.

We highly recommend G’s brunch boat and even got them to cater Marc’s 40th for a floating party which ticked all the boxes.  They claim to be the only brunch boat in the world and it doesn’t disappoint.

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Other alternatives include Boaty who rent out small self-drive boats including some with a solar panel roof for a bit of protection; Eating Amsterdam food tours who combine a guided walk (and eat) through the Jordaan followed by an hour sailing (and eating) on board and Those Dam Boat Guys – a couple of Americans whose public tours are better suited to those up for a ‘no holds barred’ view of the city.  In their words:

Amsterdam is a place where sex and drugs aren’t taboo and so they will be addressed openly and honestly on the boat; and as is the case when you have a bunch of giggling man-babies in charge, the tours can get a wee bit crass on occasion.  

You are also welcome smoke on board, just don’t be a dick about it.

For those looking for a small, low-key/more family-friendly private boat with a captain, we’ve heard that both Captain Storm (60 euros an hour, up to 6 people) and Marco Meurs are very highly rated.  Bear in mind, the huge advantage of small boats is that they can explore the intimate and less trafficked canals where the tourist-heavy ‘Rondvaartboots’ aren’t allowed – we’re itching for our boys to be old enough to sit in an open sloop for the day, alowing us explore the smaller canals and the Amstel river out by Ouderkerk armed with a picnic.

The other advantage of a private or all-day hire is that you can also dock at Amsterdam’s greatest canal or river-side terraces for lunch or drinks.  Places like Loetje aan ‘t IJThe Ij-Kantine, Hanneke’s Boom, Hotel de Goudfazant, the Amstel Hotel and The Harbour Club all have private jetties.

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If you’re a larger group, or have something to celebrate, why not consider a more spacious and luxurious private hire available with a bar and/or catering.  We were lucky enough to celebrate our engagement with family and friends aboard a classic Salonboat – a once in a lifetime experience. You can find both closed and open boats (or those with a retractable roof) at Amsterdam boats, Salonboat Hilda or ‘t Smidtje Riderij.  Or for something very special (daily public sailing or private hire) take a look at the Pulitzer Hotel boat – a classic wooden Salonboat beauty, in which Winston Churchill toured the city in 1946.

When it comes to “The Bucket List” the Winter Light Festival by boat (especially a private one) would rank highly, but best of all would be the possibility of being on water for either King’s Day, the Grachtenfestival or Sail Amsterdam.

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Classic tourist Rondvaartboot – Blue Boat Tour

That said, if you have kids and want to do a regular canal cruise we can highly recommend the Blue Boat Tour.

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Tours depart opposite Hard Rock near the Rijksmuseum which is a nicer starting point than the rather more hectic Rondvaartboot cluster that set off near Central Station.

Trips last about 75 minutes and leave every hour in Winter and every half-hour during the Summer Season and are great value at €16 for adults and €8.50 for kids (under 5’s go free). The tour takes visitors through the three main canal-ring beauties (Prinsengracht, Keizersgracht and Herengracht) as well as into the River Ij to see Nemo and down into the top of the Amstel before heading back.

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All tours offer the kids’ Freshwater Pirate cruise.  Children (ages 5-12) are given a log book before boarding, a pair of cardboard binoculars and a set of colouring pencils.  On board they can plug into a special kids’ commentary (available in both Dutch and English) which will talk them through the adventures of Johnny the Mouse.

Our kids were absolutely captivated throughout.  Spotting carved animals with their binoculars, listening to funny stories and drawing some of the things they saw.  I was listening to the adult commentary (which is probably the weakest point – a fairly toe-curling narration by an American lady with very bad Dutch pronunciation) but it was far more fun watching the kids who kept roaring with laughter – their channel was playing interesting sounds of the city including (as far as I can tell) toilets flushing!

At the end they became “Certified Freshwater Pirates” which was the icing on the cake.

The boat is spacious and offers tables with maps.  On our February half term visit it was blissfully quiet although I’d expect that to be rather different in Summer.

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There’s a toilet on board, and an open air section at the back for fresh air.  Bring your own food and drinks, and if you’re doing the kids’ cruise I’d strongly recommend you bring your kids’ own small headphones which worked brilliantly for our two.

Big thumbs up from the mini-Dutchies on this one, who declared it (amidst some pretty stiff competition) one of the best things they did on a recent trip.

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