The most fun and adventurous thing we did while in Amsterdam was to rent our own private boat to cruise through the world-famous 17th-century canal districts. There is no better way to view this remarkable city than to slowly float along the narrow waterways in an electric boat with your friends or family.
We actually took a guided tour of the canals with a very young and knowledgable woman who shared with us all kinds of fascinating history of the city and its canals. This was a relatively short cruise, about an hour and a half and we shared this ride with about 8 other people. This left us wanting more time on the water. We realized what a unique viewpoint of the city we had and decided that renting our own boat was the next priority.
If you are looking for a guided boat tour through the canals, the different types of cruises are endless. There are candlelight cruises, pizza cruises, Dutch wine, and cheese cruises, hop on hop off cruises, dinner and drinks cruises. The one like ours was one where you could bring your own food and booze and share with the others on your cruise if you so choose. These cruises allow you to sit back and not have to worry about driving or getting lost and they will all get you past the famous hot spots of Amsterdam. You will also be on a strict time schedule and will have to share your adventure with strangers, which isn't always a bad thing.
Renting your own boat gives you the freedom to go wherever you like for however long you like.
There are tons of different boat rental companies. This is one of the most popular things to do in Amsterdam. We rented our boat through Mokumboot. They have multiple locations throughout the city to pick up your boat and one was very close to our Airbnb. We were met by a young man who gave us instructions on how to drive and handle the boat, basic rules, and possible routes.
Off we went to explore.
We rented the boat for 3 hours and by the time is was time to head back, we wished we had an additional hour. It's so much fun!
The boats are all electric and sail on green electricity so they don't pollute the city or make any noise. The electric propulsion has zero emissions and provides a relaxed and silent ride. You don't need a boating license or any experience. Just common sense and courtesy to others.
You will quickly realize that the majority of the boats you pass look like a floating happy hour.
A few helpful tips.
Make reservations. It can get very crowded on beautiful days and evenings. Like I mentioned before, this is "the thing" to do in Amsterdam.
This is best done with friends and helps to split the cost. A 3-hour rental cost us around $140 USD.
Bring a cooler and pack it with an awesome picnic with wine and beer.
If you're bringing alcohol along (how could you not?) you're supposed to have a designated boat driver. That is if you can beg one of your friends to be the responsible adult of the group. I read that the waternet police will fine drunk drivers. You can always rent a boat with a skipper.
There is no loud music allowed on the canals. Although we did have music playing on our iPhone but it was low. You run the risk of getting fined for this too.
You must be 18 years old to rent a boat.
You must stay on the right side of the canal and give the right of way to larger boats. They won't be slowing down for you. We did see a few collisions on the water. We might have been one of them.
Bring warm clothes or blankets. The temperature is much colder on the water.
You will be given a canal map. We still managed to get lost and confused. Download the city map onto your phone so that you will have GPS and know your exact location on the water.
Plan to be on the boat for sunset. The city and all the bridges light up magically once the sun starts to dip behind the buildings.
Amsterdam is famous for being a liberal city but there are still rules. Besides not drinking and driving a boat, peeing in the canal will get you an almost $200 fine. There are quite a few outdoor urinals that the men can easily use. For us women, it's a little more difficult, as usual. There will be many locations along the canals that have places to dock your boat with a ladder to climb up to the street. Then trying to find a place to use the restroom is the next challenge.
And most of all, be respectful and courteous.
People live on houseboats along the canal.
Don't be that group of idiots.
And most importantly, enjoy this gorgeous city.