The networks of canals that concentrically circumscribe the city of Amsterdam are not only a marvel of city planning, but symbolic of the exuberant spirit of a beautiful city. First constructed in the 17th century, the canals of Amsterdam are a vital part of the city’s vibrant culture and are designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site on account of its unique design and position as a beacon of urban planning. For several centuries, the canals have been home to over 2500 families who live in boat houses. These exquisite living spaces that are part of the city’s heritage and they line the banks of over 100 kilometers of the canal system.
A majority of houseboats on the city’s canals are owned and maintained privately. Of the estimated 2500 houseboats in the city, a small minority are lent out as Bed & Breakfast accommodation while most are owned by ‘Woonbootbewoners’ or houseboat dwellers. Most houseboats were cargo boats that have been refurbished for residential use. The charm of the streets and monuments that line the major canals— Herengracht, Keizersgracht, Prinsengracht, Zwanenburgwal and Singel—creates an atmosphere of tranquility in the heart of one of the world’s busiest cities.
Living on a houseboat is often considered far more comfortable than living in a luxury apartment. Most houseboats here feature the finest amenities of a modern home and are located no more than 10 minutes’ walk or speedboat ride from the local markets, the city center and the local café. The gentle sounds of the waterways are set against the honking of coots that nest by the water’s edge even on the roofs of parked houseboats and the soft murmur of the city around. Living on the water is said to be one of the most sublime, calming experiences and a majority of the city’s Woonbootbewoners choose not to move out of the boats that have been their homes for a decade.
The sense of tranquility and oneness with the city pervades the neighborhood of houseboats where a cheery wave and a friendly word are always at hand. Houseboats have been handed down from generation to generation as treasured family heirlooms and this practice has created a strong community of owners. The limited availability of houseboat licenses makes these dwellings among the most expensive houses to own, but for a visitor they are still the most economical and comfortable rest stop for the night. Most houseboats are renowned for their opulent facilities, stylish interiors and all the amenities of a modern apartment.
As night falls and the city winds down, the gentle hum of speedboat motors signals the homeward journey of many houseboat owners. As the moon rises over the city, the gentle rocking of a houseboat lulls the city to sleep.