| | |

17 Best Canal Tour Amsterdam

There’s one thing I can’t get enough of: Amsterdam’s canals. Whether in the rain or sunshine, strolling around with friends, or on a solo walk, I always admire the beauty of the canals. And my favorite way to explore them is on a boat! After six years of living in Amsterdam, I have enough experience to know the best ways to explore them, and I am happy to share this with you in my 17 best canal tour Amsterdam list.

view of a canal crossed by a bridge with trees and houses
One of the many canals in De Jordaan

Amsterdam is known worldwide for many things: its fairy tale architecture, the exciting music scene, bicycles and tulip fields, and its people’s liberal attitude. But when someone asks me what comes to mind when I think about Amsterdam, the canals always come first. They’re such a dear image in my head; I have wonderful memories that all take place on or near the canals.

group of people on a boat
Summer calls for boat parties

The UNESCO World Heritage Amsterdam canals were constructed in the 17th century during the Dutch Golden Age to support the city’s trade, defense, and water management. The canal system consists of concentric rings radiating from the city center, giving the town a unique shape and layout. Thanks to this, Amsterdam earned the nickname “Venice of the North.”

street view of houses and boats on a canal
It doesn’t snow often, but when it does it’s beautiful

The city was built around these canals: from elegant old houses, the typical Amsterdam three- or four-story narrow houses, to bigger and more solid structures, from smaller and bigger parks to the famous Amsterdam train station. All this helps create Amsterdam’s unique charm and also provides an opportunity to explore the city through different and unique canal tours.

buildings overlooking a canal
Typical view from Amsterdam’s canals

But today, the canals are not just meant for sightseeing and as a background for romantic dinners; they are still used for transportation; in fact, it often happens that one has to wait for one of the bridges crossing the canals to go up to let a cargo boat transit (causing the famous Amsterdam’s bikes traffic jam). Moreover, Amsterdam canals are used in spring and summer as a recreational playground: Amsterdammers love to spend their weekend cruising the canals on a boat while enjoying snacks and a glass of white wine or simply sitting on the side of a canal and soaking in the sunshine. And in winter, they are perfect for skating (or schaatsen, as the Dutch say)!

person skating on a canal with buildings on the background
Skating on the canals

Lastly, the canals host annual events such as the Amsterdam Light Festival (where illuminated artworks are installed throughout the canals) and the most famous King’s Day and Amsterdam Gay Pride Parade. These are great occasions to enjoy Amsterdam’s canals in their full glory!

people wearing orange clothing on boats on a canal
King’s Day celebrations
people standing on boats on a canal with buildings in the background
Gay Pride

There are many ways to explore the canals: you can walk, bike, or simply admire them from a nice rooftop bar, but if you ask me, the best way is to go on a canal tour.

When you join a canal tour, you’ll quickly realize that Amsterdam’s canal system is mainly composed of 3 main canals —Herengracht, Keizersgracht, and Prinsengracht— which radiate from the city center and many smaller ones that cross and link the three mains canals. Each canal (bigger or smaller) has its character and story. My personal favorite is Bloemgracht (for the unique combination of trees, houses, and bridges that creates a gorgeous view of the canal when coming from the west side) and Entrepotdok (the canal surrounding ARTIS, Amsterdam’s zoo since you can often see the animals or hear their noises directly from the boat).

Talking about bridges: there are more than 1,200 bridges in Amsterdam, each with its own story and features, and you can see most of them while on a canal tour. The most famous one is Magere Brug (Skinny Bridge), located on the Amstel River and particularly loved for pictures. But there are many more, especially around Jordaan. Remember to look at them while on the canal tour to admire them and ensure you don’t hit your head against them! Some of the bridges are particularly low, and often, people on boats have to sit or squat down to avoid their heads knocking against the hard stones of these bridges.

people standing on a bridge over a canal
Taking a break on a bridge from a walk in the city

Apart from the bridges, a canal tour allows you to admire some of Amsterdam’s most famous landmarks, such as the Anne Frank House, the Van Gogh Museum, and the Rijksmuseum, all located on or near the canals. Your boat guide will undoubtedly provide insights into the history of these places, and you’ll be able to admire the buildings while comfortably sitting on your boat.

Another unique experience is taking a canal tour at night: the city transforms, and you’ll feel part of a fairy tale. While the sun goes down, the city lights go up, and a new romantic and enchanting vibe takes place. Not only are street lights tastefully placed around the city, but also the light coming from inside houses and apartments helps create this vibe. The Dutch are famous for keeping their curtains open at night, which allows the light to shine outside and tourists to sneakily snoop inside.

street view of a bridge over a canal with buildings on the background
Romantic nights in Jordaan

One more thing you’ll encounter on your boat tour is houseboats. While houseboats are not unique to Amsterdam (many other cities built around rivers have houseboats), I find Dutchies have taken the concept of houseboats to a whole new level. It’s not only about the number of houseboats (yes, there’s a lot) but also their variety and uniqueness. Often adorned with flowers, plants, and other decorations, they remind us of Amsterdam’s liberal attitude and how many Amsterdammers consciously choose an alternative way of living compared to the most traditional housing solutions.

boat crossing a canal

Amsterdam offers a wide range of canal tours that cater to every taste, interest, and budget. You can rest assured there’s always some option available, although some are fully booked days in advance. So make sure to check out the availability and book in advance to secure your spot. You can find most of these tours here.

 Here’s my recommendation for the 17 best canal tour Amsterdam:

  • Guided canal tour: this is a classic, and it’s always a safe choice when in doubt. You often have a wide range of options for the audio commentary (allowing you to fully understand the guide’s explanation in case English is not your first language); plus, boats are often covered, which is perfect in bad weather. These tours are top-rated, and they might feel a bit crowded and less intimate than others. 
boats on a canal
Guided tour on a covered boat
  • Evening canal tour: This is the best way to relax at the end of a day spent walking around. It gives you the chance to admire the thousands of lights that illuminate the bridges and canal houses. Once again, these are often very popular, so don’t expect the most cozy and private vibe.
street view at night of buildings and a tower overlooking a canal
The view during a night canal tour
  • Rent your boat tour: If you are a bit more adventurous and less into the city’s history, you can always rent your own boat! For just €95, you can rent your own 6-person boat (no boat license needed) for 2 hours. This is definitely the best way to explore the canals, although you need to be careful during those sunny summer days when boat traffic is high. Mokumboot is my favorite, but there are many others you can check out.
  • Cocktail and dinner cruise: If you want a unique dining experience, this should definitely be on your list. Dinner cruises are common among many cities, but no other city offers Amsterdam’s romantic vibe at night. Check out Tino’s special Dinner Cruise. I can’t wait to go myself! 
  • Open boat tour: if the weather allows it, you should always prefer an open boat tour. It’s the perfect opportunity to take great pictures and enjoy the breeze. However, once on an open boat tour, there’s no chance to stay dry if it starts raining, so check the weather forecast before booking. 
group of people wearing orange clothes on a boat
King’s Day celebration on a boat
  • Family-friendly boat tours: Keeping children entertained and relaxed during sightseeing can be tiring, but many providers offer family-friendly boat tours. These tours include cool audio with fun stories about pirates, etc., while the adults can enjoy the commentary on Amsterdam’s history.
  • Windmill tour: While this tour will take you outside of Amsterdam canals (specifically, you will visit the Windmill Village at Zaanse Schans), it’s still a great option to admire one of the most famous Dutch heritage features: the windmills. Whether you take a boat tour or visit Zaanse Schans via train, don’t miss out on this one-of-a-kind place. 
view of a river with windmills on the background
Zaanse Schans
  • Luxury boat tour: Feeling glamorous and wanting to enjoy the canals while comfortably sitting on a beautifully restored boat sipping a drink? Plenty of offerings if you want to splurge a little more money. If you are staying in one of the most upscale hotels, remember to ask them if they offer private tours: often, these hotels have their own boats and can give you a private tour. 
  • Sunset cruise: Nothing beats the feeling of ending a day while cruising along the canals, a cold glass of white wine in your hand, and watching the sun go down between houses and trees. Either book a boat tour during sunset time or hold on to your own boat until then—it’s totally worth it!
view of a boat on a canal at sunset
Sunset on Amstel River
  • Brewery boat tour: You probably know that Amsterdam is home to one of the most famous beer brands (Heineken). Many boat tour providers offer boat tours paired with a visit to the Heineken Experience Museum. If you are a beer lover, make sure to visit the Brouwerij ‘t IJ brewery in Amsterdam Oost. They are definitely different from the average-looking brewery, plus they offer a beer-tasting experience!
  • Rent a SUP board: Another fun and different way to explore the canals is to rent a Stand-up Paddleboard with Canal Sup. It’s perfectly safe and an excellent way to burn off the few beers and bitterballen you’ll enjoy after the tour. 
  • Boozy boat tour: Are you in Amsterdam for a bachelor(ette) party? This should be on your list of to-do activities! You can either reserve a boat tour with unlimited drinks or book the Amsterdam Beer Bike. For €29 p.p., you’ll have one hour and one barrel of beer (or Prosecco) while you bike across town with your friends. The fun is promised!
group of people on the best canal tour Amsterdam with drinks
Boozy canal tour
  • Hop-On Hop-Off boat tour: Hop-On Hop-Off is a very popular way to visit any city, but only a few offer the chance to do it on a boat. In Amsterdam, you can see the city via bus and boat, which is fantastic!
  • Themed cruises: Amsterdam Canal Cruises offers you, among the most traditional tours, some themed activities such as “Pizza Cruise” and “Candlelight Cruise.” If you are looking for something different than usual, you have found it!
  • Breakfast boat tour: you have already plans for the evening and cannot make it to the dinner cruise? Then you get another chance to enjoy a meal while cruising the canals, and it is with this all-you-can-eat pancakes boat tour. 
  • Day trip boat tour: If you plan to visit Amsterdam for more than three days, you might want to explore outside the city. So why not reserve a boat tour to Giethoorn, a picturesque town just outside Amsterdam where you can admire the restored old houses and tiny canals? 
  • Eco-friendly canal tour: the canals are beautiful, but to ensure they keep staying like this, the city of Amsterdam needs everyone’s help. Plastic Whale organizes boat tours where passengers are asked to “fish” plastic and other waste from the canal’s water. In this way, you don’t only do your part to support the environment, but you also get a chance to explore and visit the city in the most Dutch way!

These are just a few options for my favorite canal tour in Amsterdam. However, you can find many more and compare them to find the one that best fits your preferences and budget here.