When my Dutch girlfriend told me that her friends in the Netherlands owned boats, I was shocked. I checked with her to make sure she wasn’t trying to say “row boat” or “canoe” instead. Nope, she means actual freaking boats with motors and everything.
It’s not that boats are particularly expensive— I mean, they can be, but I can see how someone in their 40s might own a boat. That’s who I think of when I think of boat owners. Older people, not people in their 20s!
In 2016, I discovered that owning a boat for a Dutch 20-something year old was so definitely not a weird thing. Cars were unessential, but folks, if you’re Dutch or live in the Netherlands, consider getting a boat. How else are you going to enjoy the freaking canals?
As an American, this is totally insane to me. But it totally makes sense that this would be the case in the Netherlands!
In case you’re not aware, a not-so-insignificant part of the Netherlands is under water. About 26%. So back in the day, a bunch of smart Dutch people were like, we can solve this problem by building absolutely gorgeous canals. Fantastic! It’ll keep the water out AND serve as a mega tourist attraction.
When people tell me they’ve visited the Netherlands, one of the things they often mention is that they did a canal boat tour during their trip in Amsterdam. And of course, it was fabulous! That’s because you get a completely different view of the city from that angle.
From the water, you get a really clear view of the gorgeous old buildings. And you get to see a lot of the city in a short amount of time.
Thanks to my Dutch girlfriend’s boat-owning friends, I’ve had the chance to experience a water-side tour of the city. I also experienced something else. Dutch people REALLY know how to have a good time on a small boat.
The first time I went on a ride through the Dutch canals on one of the smaller motor boats was back in 2017. One of the things that became immediately apparent to me was that you did not have to be on a big cruise ship to have some fun on the water.
When I got on that boat for the first time in Amsterdam with some of my girlfriend’s Dutch friends, I found myself in the middle of a… picnic? I don’t know what else to call it. A picnic on the water!
While helping them finish three bottles of wine and several kinds of bread and cheese combos, I couldn’t help but think that I needed to bring this way of living back to America ASAP. We were missing out!
To top off that evening, we docked our boat near a beer garden. If you’re not familiar with the Netherlands, the first thing that should sound surprising to you is the fact that there IS a spot to dock your boat at cafes and beer gardens here. How crazy is that?!
So of course, we spent the rest of the evening indulging in craft beers on this wonderful sunny day in Amsterdam. Could life get any better?
Since then, I’ve only gone back on the water a couple of times, but each time, it’s been the same wonderful experience with lots of food, friends, and drinks. If you’re visiting the Netherlands, canal rides have to go on your list!
But of course, you don’t need to be ON the water in a boat to enjoy it. I mentioned earlier that there are a lot of cafes, restaurants, and bars on the water. This is true in Amsterdam, but also in other cities in the Netherlands like Utrecht or Leiden.
Can I recommend my favorite cafe orders, a koffie verkeerd (literally “coffee wrong”, similar to a flat white) with Dutch apple pie and lots of whipped cream on top? But basically anything tastes good with a view like this.
Bars on the water can be very similar to a cafe experience, unless you go to a beer garden. Beer gardens on the water have a completely different vibe all together. One of the first beer gardens like that that I went to was Hannekes Boom in Amsterdam. It’s a popular hang out spot for students at the University of Amsterdam too, so you can definitely expect a fun young crowd too.
Clearly, I am obsessed with the Dutch canals. It just makes everything so much better when you can just take a walk along the soothing water in the otherwise busy cities in the Netherlands. The water to me adds a sense of calmness.
And that’s the beauty of European cities. I don’t think that cities in Europe are necessarily very “walkable”. Us Americans really like it when we can walk everywhere in our cities. For instance, New York, where I’m from, is REALLY walkable. Sure, it’s huge so we need to take the subway, but New Yorkers love to walk and walking can take you surprisingly far.
In Amsterdam, you can walk around the center, and there’s definitely a lot to see and do, but it’s definitely a city that’s evolved with biking in mind. In Utrecht again, you can walk around the center, but getting from one neighborhood to another definitely calls for a bike.
But the walks that you can take in cities in Europe are just so beautiful. And especially in Dutch cities. Not only are you walking alongside the many canals, you get to look at history and culture all around you. I am talking about—you guessed it—old buildings and cobblestone streets.
It’s what every American dreams of before going on a trip to Europe, or if they’re like me, when they dream about moving there.
Sure, cobblestone streets and fancy buildings are great to look at, and of course, my first thoughts in the beginning were always about how pretty everything is, but I’ve found that there’s a lot more to it.
The old buildings and streets actually have the power to take me back to another time. I almost feel like I’m living in a different world.
Back in the US, I lived in Philadelphia for a few years. It’s one of the oldest cities in the US, and has what is considered the oldest street in America— and it’s only a couple of centuries old. The Dutch would basically call those buildings “nieuwbouw” (newly built). Crazy, right?
But this oldest part of Philadelphia, Elfreth’s alley, does have cobblestone streets. And it feels different. Like a short escape from everyday life. And in Dutch cities, it’s so refreshing to have many more opportunities to walk down these cobblestone lanes and feel like I’m being taken away from my busy thoughts.
When I’m walking in the center of Utrecht or along the canals (in the not-so-touristy parts) of Amsterdam, I know that I’m enjoying a truly special feeling that I am so grateful to experience.
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