Life on the Canal in Amsterdam
By Kristin Musloe
Amsterdam is unique for many different reasons, and one of those reasons is that living in Amsterdam doesn’t always mean living on land. Houseboats along the canal in Amsterdam have been prevalent since the 1840s and today are rapidly growing with popularity and interest.
According to Holland.com, there are about 2,500 houseboats docked or moored in the canals in Amsterdam. The different types of houseboats range from converted commercial vessels, multi-story or custom-built. The houseboats are usually built on a hollow concrete platform. Size varies but they typically are built to have one or two floors with a small deck and a lot of windows, as the Point Park group saw on a canal boat cruise. Some houseboats are even over a century old.
Before the canals had houseboats, they were primarily used as transportation and for the moving of goods. According to Amsterdam.info, Amsterdam has more canals than anywhere on Earth, more than 65 miles worth to be exact. Around half of the water and canals that used to flow through the city was lost to landfills and turned into ground housing, streets, and parking spaces. Still today, about 25 percent of the city’s surface exists as water and waterways.
The houseboats haven’t always been an ideal place to live; they used to be a sign of poverty and considered quite dirty, according to one person.
“The boats were nice, but they didn’t used to be connected to sewage outside of Amsterdam, so all of their waste went into the canal,” Demi, a visitor at the Van Gogh Museum, explained.
According to Amsterdam.info in its section on canal history, the city manages its water system much better now. The website states that clean water is pumped from Lake Ijsselmeer three times a week, and 14 of the 16 water locks around the city close to do so. Also, all houseboats in the city are fully connected to the sewer system and have been since 2005.
Living on a houseboat has benefits and drawbacks, just like any other location for a house.
Demi, the visitor at the Van Gogh Museum, said, “They are cute, characteristic but not practical with kids.”
Along with the danger that comes with having small children living on a boat, residents of houseboats also miss out on the agricultural side of having a house with a yard.
“Yeah, I like to have a garden,” said Demi, “which you cannot do there.”
While some people such as Demi prefer to live on land, others can only dream of living on the canals.
“A houseboat? I wish I lived on a houseboat. I have a dream houseboat, but it is over a quarter million Euros … They’re very expensive,” said Joost van der Wegen, the tour guide who led Point Park University through Amsterdam. Van der Wegen is a journalist in the Netherlands as well.
The canals are a great tourist attraction due to their beauty and uniqueness. Most houseboats are private residences and have strict regulations when it comes to renting the houseboats legally.
One of the biggest restrictions on houseboats is that the owner must have a mooring permit. On IAmsterdam.com, mooring permits are explained in detail. The site states, “The permit is tied to the person, mooring place and boat. If any changes occur, such as a conversion, sale or replacement of the houseboat, you must apply for a new permit.”
According to IAmsterdam.com, The Water Management Depaterment, or Waternet, regulates these permits. If permits are sought through the Waternet, houseboat owners can dock in the Centrum, Oost, and West districts. Owners can also get a mooring permit through the Bouwen en Wonen, which is the building and living department, if they are interested in mooring in other districts.
Have no fear, there are still plenty of houseboats available to rent. Airbnb.com describes itself as “a company and website for people to list, find, and rent lodging.” That includes these houseboats. According to its site, the cost to rent a houseboat in Amsterdam runs anywhere from about $50 to over $1,000 per night. However, the average price is about $100 per night.