Houseboats in the Amsterdam Canals

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Houseboats in the Amsterdam canals

Learn about the history of Amsterdam’s iconic houseboats and what it’s like to live on the water.

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The intricate network of canals in Amsterdam’s city centre also serves as a unique residential area. The colourful houseboats moored along canal banks throughout the city offer all the comforts of a typical house and have become something of a local icon. Today houseboats are also an attractive accommodation option for visitors to the city who want to experience life on the water.

  • There are around 2,500 houseboats in Amsterdam, many of which are moored in the city centre.
  • Houseboat living offers breathtaking views of the historic Canal Belt and city sights.
  • Visitors to Amsterdam can spend a night on the water and experience this unique form of accommodation for themselves.

Houseboats: Amsterdam’s floating homes

The original houseboats are charmingly restored ships that hail from Amsterdam’s seafaring and trading legacy. Many of these are more than 100 years old and retain original features alongside modern amenities, such as electricity, heating and running water. In the 1960s and 1970s, an influx of more modern houseboats appeared as a solution to increasing demand for housing. This type of houseboat, known as a woonark (literally a house ark), is built on a floating pontoon and typically isn’t motorised. Luxuriously furnished houseboats, sometimes built over multiple floors and complete with adjoined terraces and gardens, can be seen all around Amsterdam’s most picturesque canals.

Life on a houseboat

The houseboats in Amsterdam are permanently anchored to a specific address. A special permit called a ligplaats entitles a houseboat owner to moor their home in a certain spot. These permits are in high demand, and as with all properties, a prime location significantly increases the value of a houseboat. 

A solution to the housing shortage

After the Second World War, houseboats were an innovative solution to the rising demand for housing in Amsterdam, along with fellow cities like Utrecht and Haarlem that have canals flowing through their hearts. Today, the houseboat market is seen as a competitive residential area, as the issuing of permits is tightly restricted.

Where to find houseboats in Amsterdam

Some 2,500 households are fortunate enough to live aboard these floating homes on Amsterdam’s historic waterways. Some of the most valuable and lavishly appointed houseboats can be spotted around the city’s central neighbourhoods such as the Jordaan. A boat trip through the canals, which every visitor must experience, gives you a peek into some of the most extraordinary examples. To fully immerse yourself in houseboat living, pay a visit to the Houseboat Museum on Amsterdam’s Prinsengracht. At the museum, you can step inside a boat built in 1914, which was home to a Dutch family for more than 20 years. The original living spaces give you a fascinating insight into this way of life.

Sleeping on the canals

In recent years, houseboats have also presented a unique accommodation option for visitors to Amsterdam. Book an overnight stay on a canal to experience the convenience of a central city location, as well as being lulled to sleep by the gentle motion of the water and awoken by quacking ducks at the window.

Editor's pick: For the ultimate romantic evening on the water, book a table for two on a Candlelight Cruise. Enjoy a cheese platter and specially selected wines as you are guided along the city’s most idyllic views.

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Houseboats in the Amsterdam canals