European River Cruise: The Netherlands

The Netherlands is a cultural hotspot that goes beyond tulips, windmills, and coffee shops. Amsterdam is a popular embarkation and debarkation point for river cruise journeys on the Rhine or Danube. Thanks to an intricate network of canals and waterways flat-bottomed river boats can easily navigate the shallow waters.

Once a place where convicts were hung, then a working class district for shipyard laborers, Amsterdam-Noord has evolved into a multicultural community with a creative vibe and numerous restaurants, nightclubs and cultural attractions. Officially incorporated into Amsterdam in 1981, the bucolic district is one of the city’s largest, with 87.000+ inhabitants. Get there via the free ferry from NDSM Wharf, behind Central Station. Along with commuting Dutchies, you’ll chug from the station to the north bank of the Ij River on a 20-minute ride that provides a nice view of the Amsterdam skyline. With its futuristic design, the EYE Film Institute is an immediate eye-catcher—well worth a visit if you’re into international cinema. Watch a film in one of four cinemas, explore exhibits honoring cinematic masters and get interactive in the basement, where the digitized collection is housed. Pick up a film memorabilia souvenir in the museum shop and enjoy a stunning view of the waterfront at the eye-popping restaurant, offering Dutch classics like bitterballen, apple pie and Heineken beer. Other activity options in what has become a mecca for artists and creative types include Flea Market Ij-Hallen and artist studio tours. Old shipping containers have been transformed into trendy restaurants and nightclubs like Pllek, Noorderlicht and IJ-Kantine—all great for a waterfront drink, snack or meal in an historic setting that harks back to the days when the area was a busy port.
Prinsengracht, Amsterdam, Netherlands
Beyond tulips, windmills, and weed, Amsterdam’s global image is entwined with water. The Canal Ring (Grachtengordel) is made up of 165 fluid channels developed during the 17th-century Dutch Golden Age. In the ensuing years, the water network has supported maritime trade while evolving into a centerpiece of one of the world’s most recognizable urban landscapes. In 2013, on its 400th birthday, UNESCO added the Grachtengordel to its list of World Heritage sites. Today the Canal Ring is both a historic transportation system and a stunning backdrop for local festivals and celebrations. The canals, notably Prinsengracht, are packed with partygoers on annual festivals like King’s Day (formerly Queen’s Day), in April, as well as Gay Pride and Grachtenfestival in August. Canal cruises offer an excellent introduction to city sights and are a great way to see Amsterdam.
33A Prins Hendrikkade
Canals are an integral part of the Dutch landscape so it’s only fitting you see them up close and personal, from a boat. Viewing Amsterdam by watercraft puts you level with Golden Age mansions, world-class monuments like the Anne Frank House and Westerkerk, and historic landmarks like the city’s narrowest house. Numerous companies offer canal tours of Amsterdam, including Holland International, which has day, evening and holiday cruises. Around the year, you can see the city in long vessels with enclosed cabins for protection against the unpredictable weather in the Netherlands. Choose from hour-long cruises covering city highlights or dinner, pizza and candlelight voyages. Audio guides are available in 19 languages (including Dutch), and there are toilets on board the boats. If you have more than a few hours to spend on the water, opt for a hop-on hop-off tour in a smaller, electric-powered 12- and 35-person boat. From March‒October, Holland International’s Canal Hopper floats through Amsterdam’s UNESCO-honored canal ring, stopping at 16 city landmarks including the Rijksmuseum, Anne Frank House, Rembrandt Square, the Albert Cuyp Market, and Nieuwmarkt, Amsterdam’s oldest neighborhood. There are departures from 11:00‒18:00, Friday‒Sunday from March‒October. In July, August and during holiday periods, the Hopper sails daily with fair weather.
Leidse bosje 2, 1054 LJ Amsterdam, Netherlands
Amsterdam is one of the world’s most pedal-happy cities, where you can cycle on water, as well as on land-bound cobblestones. With a few pals (or a spouse and kids), be the captain of your own small ship as you pedal around the canals, past historic landmarks and Golden Age mansions, at your own pace. Year-round (when the canals are not frozen), Canal Bike rents four-seat pedal boats from moorings at Leidseplein, the Rijksmuseum and Westerkerk (Anne Frank House). Armed with a map and route descriptions, you can set out on a one- or two-hour adventure that can begin at one mooring and finish at another.
Dijksgracht 4, 1019 BS Amsterdam, Netherlands
Amazing brew and an even better view—what’s not to love about Hannekes Boom, a relaxing beer garden in the revitalized neighborhood surrounding Amsterdam’s Central Station? In addition to drinks and hearty nachos, sandwiches, and burgers (all made with organic ingredients), this place offers stunning vistas of the city and of Nemo (the interactive science museum that resembles a green whale). Pull up a barstool, grab a terrace bench, or plunk down on the dock to dangle your toes in the water while watching small boats bob past.
Alblasserdam, Netherlands
This is the last place in the Netherlands where you can see windmills in their original locations. We were there in February, which meant they didn’t have any up and running, but that also meant it wasn’t crowded. Just joggers and walkers out on the paths. Before we visited, I thought that windmills were kind of touristy. But they play a fascinating role in the history of the country, and seeing them out there, and imagining a country covered with them, makes you realize what an integral part they played. We visited from Delft. Took a short train ride to Rotterdam and then a bus.

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Journeys: Africa + Middle East
Journeys: Africa + Middle East
Journeys: Africa + Middle East
Journeys: Africa + Middle East
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