Amsterdam is quite famously a city of water, and a canal tour is a classic introduction to the city that no visitor should miss. While every Amsterdam canal tour features spectacular views from the water, most visitors will find it worth the few extra euro for an intimate, live-narrated tour instead of the conventional "mass" tour with pre-recorded audio commentary; I've profiled both below.
- Plastic Whale
Best for: Tours that educate visitors not only about the city and its canals, but also waste and the environment
What's with the nets? On a Plastic Whale tour, visitors can literally fish in the historic canals - not for fish, with rods, but for plastic waste, with nets. (Of course, you can also just kick back and listen to the live commentary, but then you'd miss out on half the fun.) The plastic waste is recycled into the very material that Plastic Whale's electric tour boats are built from - a fact that no one would ever notice, if it weren't such a source of pride for the company. Tours depart from Het Grachtenhuis.
- Those Dam Boat Guys
Best for: Intimate, alternative canal tours of the city
These tours are pretty much the polar opposite of the sterile conventional canal tour; with their BYOB policy and PG-13 commentary, these smoker-friendly cruises are personally led by expats who exude a convert's zeal for their adopted city. While the company's website is quick to point out that it's not a party boat, the atmosphere is more like that of a brown café than the school-trip feel of their competitors.
Best for: Spirited renditions of the classic city canal tour, in electric boats.
Established in 2015, KINboat takes the conventional canal tour to the next level, with personable skippers that ply classic routes on comfortable, electric boats. Group tours last either 75 or 90 minutes, and depart from Amsterdam Central Station. Private boats and catered tours are also available; consider the lunch tours for a casual meal on the water.
- Leemster Canal Cruises
Best for: Classic boat enthusiasts
This one's for the boat aficionados - a 75-minute tour on a beautifully-preserved timber saloon boat, easily the most handsome tour boat on the city's canals. The boat seats up to 12 people, and the skipper is usually the company owner, who narrates the scenery as he steers. Departure times aren't fixed; just call or send an email or SMS (info on the company website) to reserve a spot - even last-minute requests can often be honored.
Conventional Canal Tours
These tour operators specialize in classic routes that feature all the essential city attractions, and most additionally offer food-themed tours and combo cruises that include museum admission. There are several benefits to these "conventional" tour operators; their standard tours have frequent departure times from central points in the city, at a lower price point than the companies above. But while the scenery from the water is unimpeachable in its beauty, these crowded tours, with their fixed routes and pre-recorded commentary, leave less room for personality.
- Blue Boat Company
Blue Boat is your typical canal-tour operator, but with a few unique tours up its sleeve. It offers the only kids' canal tour in the city, which takes under-12's on a "freshwater pirate" adventure while their parents listen to the standard commentary.
- Canal Company
These operators offer one-hour tours that depart from the Damrak, near Amsterdam Central Station (CS). There's also the Harbour Cruise, which takes in the IJ River and the Port of Amsterdam. The company also operates a hop-on, hop-off Canal Bus, and the self-peddled "Canal Bike", a paddle boat for the city canals.
Much like other conventional tour operators, Lovers offers a classic one-hour tour which departs across from Amsterdam CS, plus catered cruises and a hop-on, hop-off service.
- Rederij P. Kooij
Established in 1922, P. Kooij is possibly the oldest Amsterdam canal tour operator, with the benefit that prices for its standard tour are also behind the times; at the time of publication, this is the lowest-priced one-hour canal tour, and follows a similar route as the competition. Tours depart from the southern Binnenstad, at Rokin opposite number 125.
- Amsterdam Canal Cruises
Classic tours with a departure point in the southern city (De Pijp), namely Stadshouderskade - opposite the Heineken Brewery and a few minutes' walk from the Vondelpark (to the west) and Albert Cuypmarkt (to the east).