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Amsterdam Canal Tour: History, Hidden Gems, Cruising & Street Toilets!?!

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Amsterdam Canal Tour Group

Amsterdam Canal Tour: History, Hidden Gems, Cruising & Street Toilets!?!

I recently visited Amsterdam and Brussels for 5 days and one of my favorite things from the trip was the Amsterdam Canal Tour.  There will be many different trip reports to come from this vacation but I decided to start with this one.  After checking out various tour companies we settled on Those Dam Boat Guys because the boats were smaller and the website is hilarious. Be sure to check out the drunk and generous ticket write up.  The price was a little higher than other tours at EUR 25 per person but they are limited to 10 people per boat which made it more intimate.

We ended up doing this our final day in Amsterdam and I encourage you to DO IT FIRST THING. The captains will give you locals tips that you will want to check out. The tours will be a little different each time since it depends on what the customers are looking to check out. I will talk about the tour briefly and then go over the history and hidden gems of Amsterdam.  I will also throw in my street toilet story which is worth the wait!

Amsterdam Canal Tour view
Photo assist from @kalenfedail

Amsterdam Canal Tour: Cruising on the Canals in Amsterdam

The main part of the tour is of course being on the water.  I grew up in Michigan where boating is like a rite of passage so I love getting on the water whenever and wherever I can.  They take you out for around 2 hours and take you into the different areas of the city.  They also take you out into the main waterways out by the Hilton DoubleTree we were staying at as well.

Amsterdam Canal Tour hotel

Amsterdam Canal Tour: Oh Captain My Captain

Our captain for the evening cruise was Leroy and he was amazing.  He grew up in America but left when he was a young man and never looked back.  He married an Amsterdam native and learned all about the history of the city from her father.  They now split their time between Amsterdam and Australia.  If you can manage to end up on his boat then you are in for a treat.

Amsterdam Canal Tour boat

Leroy had some areas he wanted to show us and things he wanted to discuss but he also left it open for us to pick and choose where to go.  It was an open dialogue where we could ask questions or request places to go.

Amsterdam Canal Tour: Getting A Different Perspective

One of the cool parts of being on the water is seeing the full facade of the buildings.  Many of them lean out towards the canals, for hoisting boxes back in the day, or to the right or left. When you are walking the streets or even inside the buildings you don’t realize this.  You even see the smallest house in Amsterdam which is the width of maybe 6 feet wide.

Amsterdam Canal Tour buildings
You can see some of the homes leaning when out on the water.

I should also mention that you are allowed to bring your own drinks, food, and cannabis on the boat.  That is another perk of riding with Those Dam Boat Guys.

Amsterdam Canal Tour: The History of Amsterdam

Cruising on the water is amazing but hearing the history of the city is maybe the best part.  There were so many gems shared by Leroy that I most likely forgot more than I remember.

Here are a few of the good ones:
  • Amsterdam is completely man made.  It is built on a swamp and if you look from above the city is a ton of tiny islands connected by bridges.  The water engineers are so good at water management that they were brought in when the Middle East began building their man made islands.  Dutch engineers also came to the rescue in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
  • The engineers are able to adjust the level of water in the canals to the centimeter by opening and closing locks etc.
  • People do swim in the canals during the summer but usually only in certain parts. Leroy even took a sip of the canal water at one point to prove it was pretty clean.
  • If you pay the boat fee each year you can dock your boat anywhere in Amsterdam there is an open space.
  • The Hippies shaped much of Amsterdam’s culture in the 60’s.  They are a big reason for it being called bike city, for the canal house boats, and coffee shops (where cannabis is sold).
  • There are more bikes than people in Amsterdam.  That includes babies and elderly people. Most people own 4-5 bikes and use them for different reasons.
  • Around 9 cars fall into the canal each year.  They are parked pretty close to the edge.
  • Over 10,000 bikes are pulled out of the canals each year.
Amsterdam Canal Tour dry land
Photo assist from @daniellermiceli

There are so many other interesting tid bits about this city.  It really does have an amazing history.  Another one is that Amsterdam had the first publicly traded company.  They also had one of the biggest investment crashes in history!  If you find this stuff interesting then I will be more than willing to share more of it with you at one of our meet ups.

Amsterdam Canal Tour: Hidden Gems of Amsterdam

This section is a big reason why I say you should do this first. Leroy gave us a few tips I will share with you.  We didn’t have time to check them out since we flew home the next day.

Amsterdam Canal Tour view
Our view from the Sky Lounge which would be similar to the Library but half the price.
OBA Library Rooftop Bar

I was talking about how cool, and expensive, the rooftop bar was at the DoubleTree was when Leroy gave me the better option.  Right down the street from the Hilton is the OBA library and it has it’s own rooftop bar.  He said the drinks are like half the cost too.

Grand Hotel Amrath Amsterdam

Leroy gave us a tip about this hotel but it wasn’t to stay there.  They have a guided tour of an old shipping house.  You can see a picture of some of the woodwork here. Guests of the hotel are able to go check out the shipping house but non guests can also book a tour.

Museum Our Lord in the Attic, Amsterdam

There are many beautiful churches to check out in Amsterdam but this one has the most unique backstory.  A group of families purchased 5 houses in a row and gutted the upstairs to build a church.  This was so they could practice their faith in secret since they were not allowed to worship at the time.  It has the second largest organ in Amsterdam in the attic too.

There were many other tips but I will keep some to myself so you are encouraged to take a boat ride.

Street Toilets

Now is the time for a little comedy.  You may be wondering – what if I have to go to the bathroom during the tour?  I have that answer for you since I lived it.  I even listened to my mother’s cardinal rule, go before you go but it didn’t help.

Halfway through the tour my bladder filled up out of nowhere.  I figured I could hold it but with about 20 minutes left I couldn’t stand the pain anymore.  I couldn’t even sit up straight at that point!  Finally I decided to ask Leroy what our options were.  He said we had just passed a public restroom but he would be on a lookout for another one.  As we rounded into the next canal he spotted one.  He pulled the boat to the side and I climbed out.

Amsterdam Canal Tour toilet

I looked around in confusion once I stood up.  I asked where is the bathroom I don’t see anything?  He said the green metal thing down the road.  This was a surprise but I was desperate and ventured in. Everyone got a laugh and took pictures of me using what I would call an open air urinal.

So if you have to go number one and are a guy you can make a bathroom break on the canal tour.  Only in Amsterdam!

Making the Memories

This was an awesome experience and we were lucky to have an amazing captain and met some great people.  Most of the people on the boat were from America or had ties to America which was pretty funny. There were two people from London as well.  I can’t thank Leroy enough for showing us his city and sharing it’s amazing history. And I now need to return because of all of the amazing tips he gave us that we didn’t have time to check out.

Amsterdam Canal Tour leroy

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Mark Ostermann
Mark Ostermann
Mark Ostermann is a father, husband and miles/points fanatic. He left the corporate world after starting a family in order to be a stay at home dad. Mark is constantly looking at ways to save money and stay within budget while also taking awesome vacations with his family. When he isn't caring for his family or taking a weekend trip, Mark is working towards his goal of visiting every Major League Baseball ballpark.

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  1. I too found myself needing to answer the call of nature while walking around Amsterdam last month when I happened to come upon the Canal Museum. I was more than willing to pay anything to get to use their restroom, but found that this was probably my favorite small museum in Amsterdam. It takes about an hour and provides a nice history of the building of the city. Even centuries ago, much thoughtful planning went in to deciding how the city would evolve.

    • Interesting Michael – I will have to check it out next year. There are so many cool things in what I would call a smaller city. I can’t wait to go back.

  2. I first went to Amsterdam in 1970 (yeah, I am that “young” LOL!!) on a student oriented tour. It seemed like most kids I knew did Europe around that time. My memories were pretty vague by the time my husband and I went for 6 days in 2014 on a trip to Brussels and Amsterdam. Then we returned to Amsterdam in 2017 for 4 days prior to a cruise. So much to see and do. Our Lord in the Attic is fascinating. Walk around and check out all the different gable stones. Wander through the Jordaan neighborhood. Find the markers of the Shadow Wall. So many unique and interesting things to see.
    And get out to other towns – we’ve been to Haarlem, Kukenhof Gardens, Delft, Alkmaar, Gouda, The Hague (great unique museums, including the Escher and the Louwman (automotive) Museum – the latter totally amazing even for non-car nuts). And there is so much more that I want to see. Small country that packs a big punch.

  3. We did a tour with them last June and had an amazing time! I would highly recommend doing it first thing when you get to Amsterdam as well.


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