Houseboat Holiday in Holland with Kids!
About an adventurous boating holiday… Itinerary in the Netherlands.
Have you ever dreamed of spending your family holidays on the water? On a Houseboat holiday, getting off the grid, experiencing some adventure, waking up at different marinas every day, or simply taking it slowly in nature? Then this article is for you!
So last summer, we stepped out of our comfort zone! We decided to go on an adventure with friends to discover the Netherlands from the water on a houseboat holiday! I am originally from the Netherlands and know my country very well, but by boat is quite different. The life on the water, the conversations with other people on the boats, the adventure, and sometimes not knowing exactly how it works! There are sunny days when the kids would jump off the boat into the water, and there are rainy days, where they would just draw or play games while we navigated. If you are up for something different a boating holiday like this could be a good idea!
Our houseboat holiday itinerary
The most difficult part of the trip is planning the itinerary. We started off in Loosdrecht, which is about a 20 minutes’ drive from Amsterdam Airport. You can choose whether you take a northern or a southern route. We wanted to combine bits and pieces to see cities, but also enjoy nature. The downside of the ready-made route suggestions, was the navigation time per day. We had rented bikes and of course our children wanted to stop at lots of places and just cycle around. But whatever you plan, you may have to change your plans according to the weather, or waiting times at locks or bridges that may have been longer than you thought.
Our 1 week boating itinerary in the Netherlands:
- Day 1: from Loosdrecht to Weesp, night at Weesp
- Day 2: from Weesp to Muiden, and then on to Amsterdam, night at Amsterdam Marina
- Day 3: day exploring Amsterdam, night at Amsterdam Marina
- Day 4: from Amsterdam, down on the Amstel river to Nes aan de Amstel, night in nature, but you can also continue towards the Marina of Uithoorn.
- Day 5: navigating from Nes aan de Amstel to Boskoop, rainy day, so we changed plans and navigated more. Night at the marina of Boskoop.
- Day 6: navigating from Boskoop to Ijsselstein, just before Utrecht
- Day 7: Navigating through the center of beautiful Utrecht with an adventurous curved tunnel to pass, 1 night on an inhabited island in the middle of the Loosdrechtse plassen
Note: We changed our itinerary during the week due to the weather, the first few days we wanted to navigate less, and explore and swim more since the weather was really nice. At the end of the week we had a bit of rain and we navigated longer. To explore, we had rented bikes for our boat, and we brought our stand up paddles!
Day 1, from Loosdrecht to Weesp:
Loosdrecht boating base is only a short taxi ride from Amsterdam airport. You will wait until your houseboat is ready, and get some explanations on how the boat works. You do not need a licence to steer these kind of boats, as they are intended for slow travel, and they really do not go very fast. However, when you have reserved your boating holiday, it is requested, and recommended, to read the captains manual before you arrive. They explain you about traffic signs, bridges and locks.
Ready to set off…
After a small test navigation, and boat mooring, you will be ready to set off! You can immediately go through the first lock called ‘Mijndensesluis’. You will see that there is always a lot going on at the locks, terraces and cafés are installed by locks where people watch the boats passing by, have a friendly chat with you, or laugh a bit at your ‘not yet so professional boating skills’. You pay for passing through each lock, and also for some bridges. Sometimes the person just has a wallet, but at some other bridges, they will lower a traditional Dutch clog where you will have to put the bridge money in while you are navigating, so make sure you carry cash and coins. Kids usually like participating by being on ‘clog duty’.
After this first lock, you will follow the gentle river towards the town of Weesp which has beautiful windmills and a cute town center. There is a marina right before the town center on the left where you can spend the night. This is a good place to stay and get acquainted with all the features of your boat.
How does entering a marina work?
Ha, for total beginners this can really be a good question! Do we just moor the boat? Do we have to call someone? It was not always clear. At some marinas you can just moor, get off the boat and find the marina staff to pay for the night. Some marinas request you to find the harbor master first. But at most places really, people are already on the lookout for boats arriving and you just sort of wave with your hand and they will guide and help you. In the guide of marinas in your boat you will see which facilities each marina has (like shower, washing machines etc).
Where else can you sleep?
In case you do not want to go to a marina, there are also campsites with some mooring spots for boats, signs along the water indicate this. You can also try to moore in nature, or dock at the 24H spots on the docks which are indicated on your navigation map. These 24H spots are sometimes right in the city center, like was the case in the center of Weesp. Of course, this means there is no shower, nor facility to fill up your water tank.
Day 2 : from Weesp to Muiden, and onwards to Amsterdam
From Weesp you can cruise to Amsterdam, but we wanted to show our friends (who had their own boat) the village of Muiden, a beautiful medieval village with a castle, Muiderslot. Once you get through the big lock of Muiden, you can start looking for a spot to moor your boat on the right-hand side. In one of the big boats, you will find the harbor master of this section in case you have questions about it. There is a marina a bit further down, but they only take boats for the night as Muiden is a popular place to visit. We recommend you to arrive early to find a spot in Muiden! Life on the water is very popular in the Netherlands in summer! Once you are settled, you can visit this beautiful village and its castle which is really highly recommended. You can also cycle away a bit in the countryside!
Onwards to Amsterdam:
We left Muiden to navigate towards Amsterdam. Unfortunately, a small gentle river was closed in our week, and we had to take the big-boating-highway, the Amsterdam Rijn Canal, where cargo ships navigate. Yikes! This was a bit of a rocky ride, but fortunately not so long. Just navigate calmly on the right-hand side.
Once you arrive in Amsterdam, another adventure is on the lookout as you will have to cross the IJ, where again bigger boats navigate, and also the Amsterdam ferry boats which go on and off from the center to the northern parts of the city. Ferry boats have priority, so sometimes you have to wait and calculate your passing. Do not stop, and try to cross the IJ as quick as you can 😊.
Amsterdam has more than one marina. We had called in advance to reserve in Amsterdam Marina and so we had secluded our spot. We loved this Marina! On the north side of the city, close to the ferry which takes you to the Central Station in only 10 minutes, and with all the facilities and shops close by. In the marina, one of our favorite restaurants in Amsterdam is located: Loetje! Loetje has several spots, and this one is ‘Loetje aan het IJ’ which has a beautiful view on the city! At Loetje you eat a delicious steak in their homemade special sauce.
At walking distance of the marina you will also find a Hema shop, where you can buy all your essentials, or even easy meals for lunch.
We stayed 2 nights in Amsterdam Marina, to show our friends the city. For all our tips on what to do and see in Amsterdam, check out our article on Amsterdam.
Day 3: Full day in Amsterdam
Day 4: from Amsterdam to Nes aan de Amstel
We left Amsterdam early in the morning, navigating right through the city center while the city was waking up. Amsterdam is so beautiful as seen from the water. Even as a local, I can never get enough of our canals and architecture! We navigated calmly on the Amstel river and stopped in nature, close to a beautiful windmill ‘Riekermolen’ just outside of the city for some swimming and stand up paddling. Close to the windmill is a nice restaurant by the water called: Klein Kalfje.
We then navigated onwards to Ouderkerk aan de Amstel, where we parked close to the supermarket for some groceries, and went on a bike ride towards the Ouderkerkse Plassen for a swim in the lake, which has a sand (!) beach. In Ouderkerk, there is also a Loetje restaurant, and it is the one we usually go to. You can dock right in front of the restaurant.
At the end of the day we continued on the Amstel river to Nes aan de Amstel, where we found a spot in nature to moor our 2 boats. We even had a terrace to ourselves and prepared dinner while the kids were swimming and stand up paddling on the river. The nightfall at this place was so beautiful and I think we will remember that forever!
Day 5: from Nes aan de Amstel to Boskoop
Rain, rain, rain. We decided to navigate the whole day since we were a bit behind on our schedule to make the full loop back to Loosdrecht. If the weather would have stayed nice, we would have taken a shortcut to allow time for swimming and exploring. But now that the weather changed, we decided we didn’t want to miss out on Utrecht in our itinerary. Towards Boskoop a mix of busier rivers, and very narrow rivers in the middle of nature. Very beautiful, even with rain.
The marina in Boskoop was led by a very friendly guy. You had to call in advance for them to open the bridge as he would then leave the marina by bike to come and open it for you. In the marina, all the facilities were there, and we cycled through Boskoop a bit and stocked up on groceries.
Day 6: from Boskoop to Ijsselstein, just before Utrecht
Another navigation day took us through beautiful villages, the countryside and nature, and we decided to stay the night at yet another wonderful marina, Jachthaven Marnemoende, where the kids could stand up paddle and admire the beautiful black swans who live in the marina. Beside the navigation time, we just enjoyed our ‘apéro’ on the deck of our boats, but there is also a restaurant on-site, a small playground for kids, and plenty of cycle paths in the surrounding area.
Day 7: from the busy city center of Utrecht, towards an inhabited island
On the last day of our boating adventure, we gently followed the river to the beautiful city of Utrecht. Utrecht is a cool student town where the life on the canals can easily be experienced by boat as the canal streets are lower than in Amsterdam, and you will navigate right in front of the shops and restaurants. Since it is a busy city center, we sometimes had to jump off the boat, to keep the boat on the side to let other boats pass, and so you can easily have a chat with the locals and restaurant owners.
There is one specific tunnel in Utrecht which you will have to pass, which was quite adventurous, as it is only large enough for one boat to pass, and it goes in a curve which makes it impossible to see if there is a boat on the other side. All you can do is honk your horn for several times before you enter the tunnel under the city hall, and if there is no response from the other side, well, then you just go and hope you will not have to back up half way 😊.
After Utrecht, we continued towards the first lock we took at the beginning of our week in Loosdrecht and we navigated towards the big lake ‘Loosdrechtse Plassen’.
We decided to spend our last night on the boat Robinson Crusoe style, on an inhabited island. There are several islands to choose from on the Loosdrechtse plassen and we chose to head to the island ‘Markus Pos’ which has a small playground. There was a bit of a storm on our last night, so we all watched the spectacular clouds before going to sleep.
We loved our Houseboat Holiday! It can sometimes get a bit adventurous, especially if you cannot find the way to open a bridge (traffic lights, or a button to push to open). You may also have to adjust plans according to weather, traffic, or try to dock in unusual places because it is busy at a certain lock. All of this brings you closer together though, and will guarantee some good laughs afterwards!
We rented our houseboats at Locaboat Holidays. They are in several countries. You can navigate in France, in Ireland, and more, or in the Netherlands like we did!
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