The houseboats in AMSTERDAM

I am going to have my first real look at the canals of Amsterdam by going on a cruise. Giddy with anticipation, I boarded our glass roof boat. I scanned the area where we are meant to sit down. The boat is long, and wide enough to fit two chrome metal tables on each side separated by a narrow passageway. As I sat down at one of the tables, I was transported back to the past, a flash of memory of me as a child sitting at a table, waiting. The voice of our local guide coming through my headphones that I donned earlier jolted me back to the present. I looked around – we had already left the docking area and I hadn’t noticed that.

Pretty wooden houseboat on a concrete pontoon

I could hear our guide saying that Amsterdam has about 165 canals, with a combined length of 100 kilometers (60 Miles). I am trying to picture how far is 100 kilometers but my brain started to hurt, so I focused instead on the view outside my window. I could see colorful houseboats moored along the canal.
As our boat travelled further I could see more houseboats! I did not know that one of the features of Amsterdam is their lovely floating houses. Our local guide started telling us details about this attraction, so let me share them with you.
A white painted houseboat with a hint of color from the big pot plants

Back in the olden days when you live in a houseboat it means that you are poor. Due to the housing shortage after World War II, those who cannot afford to build their own house, for the time being lived in a houseboat until they have enough money to build a ‘real’ home on land. This is the story of the grandparents of our local guide. Fast forward to the 20th century and the houseboats in the canals of Amsterdam are only for those that can afford its expensive price. My, how times have changed!
A houseboat with a simple façade

What makes the houseboats expensive are the special permits called ‘ligplaast’, these permits secures you an area to moor your houseboat along the canal. No new permits are to be issued according to the city policy; hence a houseboat with a legal permit is costly. The houseboat in itself is not that expensive, it’s the location that determines the value. There are about 2500 houseboats in Amsterdam and around 750 of that are in the central canal rings.
These houseboats all have the amenities similar to a house on land –electricity, phone, cable, and internet, etc. And I believe an important item is that since 2005 they are obliged to connect to the city sewage system.
A ship converted into a houseboat

There are two kinds of houseboats, the ones with a floating concrete pontoon are called modern ark. The much older metal ships that have been transformed into a houseboat are called a living ship. Some of these older ships are over 100 years old and the Amsterdam city council actually prefers these because of its historic value.
I’m glad you can journey with me to see the houseboats of Amsterdam, hope to see you again in my next post.
Text & Photos by Alicia Davis

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