Amsterdam is all about its gorgeous canals and dramatic regenerated docks, and people will tell you time and time again that the city is best enjoyed from the water. Whether you are gazing up at monumental buildings from the floating houses known as arks, or birdwatching from a traditional barge on the river, overnighting on the water brings you so much closer to the city than a high-rise hotel.
Place yourself at the heart of the Amsterdam party by booking a boat on the Prinsengracht during King’s Day or Pride and watch the parades stream past your portholes, or drop your anchor further out and retreat to a quiet harbour for a sundowner on deck after a hard day’s sightseeing.
Main photo: Lightship Amsterdam
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1. Lightship Amsterdam, Amsterdam North
Best for striking design
Since retiring from its duties illuminating the British coast, the pillar-box red Lightship has become a beacon of Dutch design thanks to a makeover by award-winning Amsterdam architects OTH architecten, who have revived it as a luxury two-bedroom B&B. Rooms are encased in glass with striking wall-to-wall views of the internal workings of the ship. Industrial styling — caged light fittings and tables fashioned from aluminium flight cases — are softened with luxe touches such as sheepskin-covered chairs and Auping beds piled high with white pillows. Here there’s tranquillity, but five minutes’ bike ride plus five minutes on the ferry and you’re back in the tourist throng.
Price From £295
2. Captain Pippi, Amsterdam North
Best for escaping to nature
Captain Pippi is owned by an international model and frequently rented out for fashion shoots. Its boho-chic interior — think macramé cushions, hanging plants, ethnic tiles — begs to be Instagrammed. In the 1920s it was a Belgian cargo ship; today, the two-bedroom boat is moored in northeast Amsterdam, a location that is the ideal base for cyclists who want to explore the picturesque villages of Durgerdam and Ransdorp and the Waterland region beyond. Guests have the run of the ship. The city centre is a 25-minute bike ride away.
Price From £337
Breakfast No, but organic supermarket Landmarkt is on your doorstep
3. Dreamship Somoya, Eastern Docklands
Best for romance
Beyond the occasional jaw-dropping sight of a passing cruise ship dwarfing the quayside buildings, the broad IJ harbour, a mere 15-minute bus journey from Central Station, is surprisingly quiet. Moored on its northern shore is the one-bedroom Dreamship Somoya, while across the water, a procession of converted warehouses create a glittery backdrop at night. The whole of the upper deck is yours and features a spacious open-plan design with a smart wooden interior and wraparound views. Up on deck, prepare a romantic dinner over the fire pit, swim from the nearby steps, and then get cosy in the barrel sauna.
Price From £312
4. Excelsior, Amsterdam Houthaven
Best for sustainability
Along a pristine jetty edged with potted strawberries and olive trees sits a beautifully refurbished freighter with two chic bedrooms available separately or together. The larger room has stairs to a private deck from which you can watch the ferries yo-yoing between the nearby dock and the beach bars of the NDSM wharf or admire the striking arch of the Pontsteiger building as it lights up at night. Inside, vintage furniture, green velvet lampshades and chunky blankets add cosiness to spacious eco-friendly accommodation, created using many reclaimed materials and warmed by a heat pump run on green energy.
Price From £110
5. Houseboat Jupiter, Amsterdam Centre
Best for people watching
It’s no wonder this houseboat is popular with honeymooners — it’s moored almost touching distance from the city’s most romantic landmark, the Magere Brug, an impressive lift bridge spanning the Amstel river and lit up like a birthday cake at night. This traditional barge, with its simple two-bedroom duplex, also provides front-row seats for the city’s biggest waterborne processions: King’s Day in April, Pride in August, and Sinterklaas in November. For year-round entertainment, visit the nearby Hermitage museum, Botanical Gardens and Waterlooplein market, or cross the bridge to explore the boutiques and restaurants of the charming Utrechtsestraat. A Jacuzzi awaits when you return.
Price From £250
6. Botel, Amsterdam North
Best for value
The red bubble letters perched on top of this huge former river cruiser each contain a cabin. Letter B is for skaters and contains a half-pipe, while business travellers might like T, a boardroom-slash-bedroom. Beneath them are four floors of basic cabins, popular with backpackers on a budget, who can make friends around the pool table and fruit machines of the ship’s retro-red bar. The highlight, however, is the incredible harbour view. Come in summer and the bow deck is home to Sammie’s rooftop bar. Eat Asian street food and sip a cocktail amid the bamboo while the sun sets.
Price Bed in a four-person dorm from £22; doubles from £52
7. 2 Houseboat Suites, Amsterdam Centre
Best for central location
Guests must learn to wave like the King, explains Susan, the cheerful host of this B&B on the Prinsengracht canal, whose visitors sometimes complain of hand ache due to all the pleasure boats greeting them as they pass by. Choose from two immaculate suites, both light and modern with smart — mostly monochrome — décor. With its views up the canal, rather than across it, and a little more space, the Rembrandt has the edge on the Van Gogh and is worth the extra cash – as is the healthy breakfast, served, says Susan, “in royal portions”.
Price Van Gogh suite from £153; Rembrandt suite from £170
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8. Houseboat Tante Piet, Eastern Docklands
Best for cute and cosy design
As DIY projects go, the transformation of this chunky 1940s grain barge into a cute-as-pie floating holiday let was ambitious, but owner Sietske’s can-do attitude and sharp eye for design has created a beautiful family-friendly two-bedroom apartment with a country-cottage feel (red chequered sink curtains, antique furniture, brass portholes trimmed in white lace) just five minutes by bike or tram from Central Station. Have an aperitif up on deck among the geraniums and fairy lights, then stroll to the characterful Mediamatic or Hanneke’s Boom for waterside dining.
Price From £160
Breakfast No, but host can order in groceries
9. The Amsterdam Houseboat Family, Old South
Best for culture
It’s not unusual to wake up to the ducks pecking at your window on this friendly, owner-occupied ark comprising two separate rooms with private entrances. Both are equipped with underfloor heating, ensuite bathrooms and — for those travelling light — everything from nail polish remover to hair straighteners. When you’ve worn down your heels at the Van Gogh Museum and the Rijksmuseum in the nearby museum district, and explored the buzzing market and cafés of De Pijp, lounge on the 40 sq m roof deck strung with coloured bulbs — or launch the canoe moored out front.
Price From £85
10. Houseboat Full Moon, Western Islands
Best for village vibe
Once a survey vessel mapping the icy Baltic sea, this handsome houseboat has now retired to a quiet, sheltered canal bordered with classic red-and-white-shuttered warehouse conversions and bookended by pretty white lift bridges. With its tiny parks and slightly sequestered location, it feels like a secret community, but the buzzing Jordaan is just a ten-minute walk. Cocooned in the former engine room is a light, white studio room, small in size but replete with air con, Netflix and a comfy cabin bed. Sunbathe on deck in warm weather or slip down the ladder for a cooling dip in the canal.
Price From £130
11. Asile Flottant, Amsterdam North
Best for creative nomads
Giving fishing boats a second life is Asile Flottant, a motley fleet of six vessels moored in a quirky regenerated shipyard, now a bohemian business hub created with a beautiful mish-mash of reclaimed materials. Guests get the whole boat to themselves, with options ranging from the cosy one-bed Anneliese with its sunken bathtub, to the wood-panelled De La Soul where, in the ship’s underbelly, a red velvet curtain conceals a home cinema. You’re self-catering for most of your stay, but at weekends, breakfast is available at Café De Ceuvel opposite, a hotspot for vegetarian dining.
Price From £130
12. Houseboat Saturnus, Amsterdam Centre
Best for families
The sister ship to Jupiter, Saturnus sleeps four in a light and roomy former sand barge moored on a quiet canal in the historic centre. Tongue-and-groove throughout creates a fresh New England feel and there’s a mezzanine bed which is popular with kids. With the gigantic science museum (NEMO) and the zoo (Artis) both walking distance away, there’s plenty to entertain youngsters. Grown-ups can nip across the canal for a jar in the tipsy-looking Sluyswacht café, a 300-year-old lockhouse with a lean to rival the tower of Pisa; or tour the Rembrandt House Museum — so close you can watch the shutters change from red to green as the museum opens and closes for business.
Price From £217
13. Casa Karen, Amsterdam North
Best for exotic escapism
Grouped around four wooden jetties is a close community of arks with a shared garden decorated with prayer flags — a surprising Shangri-La hidden beneath a road. Number 84 has one double room and a waterside terrace and is owned by the wonderfully warm Karen, a veteran backpacker whose travel-themed property features teak furniture she brought back from Indonesia, patterned tiles from Portugal, and a wall-mounted suitcase concealing a television. A mezzanine bed up a ladder adds to the sense of adventure, while Karen’s handwritten guide to the area, well-stocked kitchenette and free bikes mean guests quickly feel at home.
Price From £130
Breakfast No, but basics are provided to get you started
14. Kapitein Anna, Amsterdam North
Best for large groups
Boarding this 22-berth 1911 paddle steamer feels like stepping into an Agatha Christie novel. Everything gleams: from the varnished wooden interior to the ubiquitous brass trim. The boat is sometimes booked for cruises and lavish parties, but guests can check in for a bit of old-world elegance whenever it’s docked. Wood-panelled walls, engraved glass doors, and antique wall lights create ambiance in the lobby, while downstairs, the freshly painted cabins feature air conditioning, TVs and ensuite bathrooms. Most rooms are twins. Ask for cabin 11 or 12 for a double bed. Breakfast is vast — and so are the views.
Price From £76