Love’s Canal tour- Amsterdam, Netherlands

Waiting for the tour to begin!
As a family, we decided to buy a Holland Pass because it gave us discounts at all of the places we wanted to see in the Netherlands. As part of the Holland pass, we got an hour-long canal tour of Amsterdam. On a gray, cold day, we headed up to Amsterdam and parked right across from the Amsterdam Central, where the canal boat tour started. Typically, we would have taken the train to save money and avoid parking issues, but we compared costs and trains from Rotterdam to Amsterdam are more expensive for the three of us then the parking fee was! Since I reserved it online, we paid 20E for parking for the entire day (or 24 hours)! We registered our vehicle on the website, and the cameras at the entrance knew us when we came in and let us in without any hassle. I would definitely recommend looking into parking ahead of time and reserving a space. It saved us money and hassle of struggling with parking in a watery, not car-friendly city!

Amsterdam Central from the boat
Love’s canal tours are conveniently located directly outside the doors of Amsterdam Central. For everyone coming in by train, or even coming into the city from the airport, this makes it so simple to find and hop on a tour! The staff that we spoke with were friendly and understanding, even when Landon swiped a stuffed lion from the front of the boat and wanted to take it with him at the end of the tour! 
Doing a set tour in a country that doesn’t speak English seemed like it would not be a good idea, but every sight we saw along the way was explained in English and Dutch over a speaker system. Due to the how low the boat was in the water, it was difficult to get good pictures of the buildings rising up from the canals. To get good pictures, I popped outside on the back deck where I could get unobstructed views. 
Beautiful Church of St. Nicolas right off the canal
Montelbaanstoren

Our first sights of the day were the Church of St. Nicolas that stands strikingly opposite the train station. It is the city’s main Catholic church (most of northern Netherlands is Protestant). We meandered through larger canals and a part of the port, and saw NEMO, the science museum, and the maritime museum off in the distance before turning down a side canal and going into the heart of the city. We passed the montelbaanstoren- a watchtower for defending the city that was built in the 1500s. The decorative top was added in the 1600s. More than seeing specific buildings on this tour, I was more struck with the beauty of the city as a whole. Amsterdam is like a northern European Venice. There are canals everywhere and there is so much going on in the canals! The lovely homes alongside the canals were just too cute to pass up snapping a quick pic. House boats are also popular here, and there is quite the waiting list to get a permit to dock a houseboat on many of the side canals of Amsterdam. 
Canal side houses and house boats
National Opera house

After going further into city a bit, I soon realized why the boats were so low to the water. They had to pass under some low bridges! Some bridges opened to allow bigger boats through, but many did not! Below is a picture of the skinny bridge. I’m not exactly sure why this is famous, except I guess the roadway across it is very skinny? I didn’t quite get it, but anyhow, there it is! These days, only pedestrians and cyclists are allowed to cross it.

Famous skinny bridge… it is rather cute
So many canals, and bridges

We passed through an older district of town where the merchants and tradespeople lived. They had their houses and warehouses all along the canals. Since they were the richer people around, their houses all had elaborate outdoor decoration and facades. It was neat to see the individuality of the each house, and imagine the bustling trade that must have occurred along these canals in the past. Amsterdam used to be the trade center of the world due to the success of Dutch East and West India trading companies and its watery location.

Fancy facades
Westerkerk tower

On our way back around to the train station, we saw Westerkerk tower and the Anne Frank house. Although we did not have time to go back and appreciate these more, they were on my list of things to do and see in Amsterdam. Westerkerk is a Dutch Protestant church and was one of the first churches built expressly for use as a Protestant church (instead of stripped and re-purposed from original Catholic church). It was built 1620-1631 in the Dutch Renaissance style. An organ was not added to the church until 1685, after the Protestants decided that playing instrumental music in church was not profane after all. The tower is the tallest in Amsterdam, and Rembrandt is buried under a tombstone somewhere in the church. The organ is supposed to be really special, so I’m sad we weren’t able to make it there for a recital or anything, but it was still neat to see the outside as we floated by!

Anne Frank house and line

If I had come to the Netherlands sans toddler, Anne Frank house would have been on the “must do” list. I was considering trying to go, but only with buy-ahead tickets from online. I looked, and they were sold out for months ahead of time! This attraction is not a good one for the spontaneous, last-minute traveler, unless you LOVE long lines. The line below stretched down the block and around the corner- and that’s just to get in on stand-by if people with tickets do not show up! I’m sure it’s amazing, I’m sure I should have gone, but I didn’t want to take Landon or stand in line with him. I will read her diary and call it good for now. I think for an older child (over 8) this would be a great experience to share with your kids. Just not for toddlers.

I guess I mostly wanted to do a canal tour of Amsterdam to see more of the sights that I knew we would not have time for, and because Landon loves boat rides. I think for someone with limited time who actually wants to go explore multiple sites, the option for the *24-hour hop-on, hop-off tour bus is a better option. Although the boat tour was informative, I like exploring things more in depth than an hour boat tour of the whole city would allow.

*The Holland pass for 2015 comes with a pass for either a canal boat tour or 24-hour tour bus pass. Since we did not stay in Amsterdam, the canal boat tour was a better option for us. Unless you are super interested in boats, the bus is more practical for the traveler who wants to see more of Amsterdam and explore!

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