There is a side to Amsterdam that few tourists are able to experience: they might walk the streets, visit the famous sites, and drink coffee in the pavement cafes, but they’ll never glimpse beneath the surface of city life. To dig deeper, you need an Amsterdammer to invite you aboard their floating home moored along the city’s iconic canals and docks.
For less than the price of a mid-range hotel, you can check in for a night onboard a luxury houseboat. A warm welcome from your host awaits, and the experience offers far more than simply a bed for the night. Here are three suggestions.
1Upper Cabin, Oosterdok
What: Upper Cabin is onboard a barge moored at the centrally located Oosterdok, and as the name suggests, you will be sleeping at the top of the boat. There are windows on all four sides of the room and a sun terrace on the roof, so whether you are inside or out, you can always watch the other boats go by.
The cabin comfortably sleeps three people in double and single beds, and the bathroom is shared with the affable owner of the boat. You’re welcome to bring your pet aboard too.
Price: from €120 for a couple, and there is a substantial discount for single occupancy.
What’s nearby: Upper Cabin is particularly well-situated for museum lovers as there are three important buildings around the edges of Oosterdook.
The Stedelijk Museum has ever-changing displays of contemporary art from 1900 to 1970. There are important works in the permanent collection (almost always on view) by Mondrian, Chagall, Picasso, and Warhol, as well as a large number of abstract paintings by Makevich, which are well-worth seeing if you have an interest in Russian avant-garde.
NEMO is an interactive museum of science and technology in a spectacular modern building designed by the Italian architect Renzo Piano. In addition to tours and exhibitions, there are demonstrations and lectures, hands-on workshops in the laboratories, and you can take part in virtual activities including power generation, surgery, and steering a supertanker.
Scheepvaarthuis is an extraordinary building with curving lines and maritime motifs. Designed by the Amsterdam School in the early 20th century, it is decorated with busts of famous navigators and cartographers, and today houses Amsterdam’s transport authority.
2Golden Anchor, Westerpark
What: Ten minutes walk from trendy Haarlemmerstraat is the immaculate Golden Anchor houseboat, an upmarket, contemporary living space moored on the side of Western Docks, a short walk from Anne Frank’s House.
The decor is monochrome with features in dark wood: this is very much a designer pad. It’s a surprisingly spacious boat. There is one bedroom and a private bathroom, and a kitchen which has a dishwasher and a microwave. Free Wi-Fi is provided, and in fine weather you can sit out and enjoy your breakfast or a glass of wine on the balcony.
Your host will provide two bicycles to help you explore the local area, and also offers a special canal tour with glasses of champagne on board an eco-boat to help you get your bearings.
Price: From €146 per night.
What’s nearby: The boat is in the western section of the canal ring, and it is a fascinating area to explore on foot or by bike once you’ve torn yourself away from the water. One of the most important sites in this part of the city is Anne Frank’s House, where the teenager lived and wrote her diary whilst in hiding. Though visiting this house museum is inevitably a sombre affair, it’s an essential, and education, part of any first visit to Amsterdam. The secret annexe, left empty after the war, now houses a series of temporary exhibitions including multi-media displays.
3Canal Pride, De Jordaan
What: A studio houseboat moored on the canal in lively De Jordaan. The cosy studio has all you’d need for a self-catering trip, as there’s a kitchenette in the corner. Access is via a private door, so you can come and go whenever you please. The bed is a sofa bed, which maximises space on the boat during the day, and you can take your breakfast at the table in the corner looking out along the canal through the large corner windows. There’s an en-suite shower room, and everything’s kept immaculately clean.
Price: €87 per night
What’s nearby: De Jordaan is a city within a city, built in the 1600s between the waterways to house artisans and tradesmen, including the many Protestant Huguenot refugees who settled here when they fled from France.
Though predictably less grand than some other parts of Amsterdam, here you’ll find a thriving community of students, artists, designers, and musicians, and it’s well worth spending some time checking out the cafes, galleries, bars and unique shops.
A particular architectural highlight is the Noorderkerk, a 17th century Calvinist church built in the shape of a Greek cross, and on Saturdays the surrounding square is given over to an organic food market, which is a great place to pick up a picnic.
All three of these houseboats can be booked [at the time of writing] through Amsterdam Stay, along with numerous other houseboats and unique properties where you can get to know a local family. You can also book houseboats in the city through Houseboats Amsterdam and Houseboat Hotel.