Houseboats: the 10 best places to see in the Netherlands

Would you like to go on a nice holiday on a houseboat? How about a visit to Holland? We'll tell you which places you shouldn't miss, and recommend things to do.

The Netherlands is a houseboat rental paradise, all you need is to be of age and without a skipper's licence you can access more than 5000 navigable kilometres. You can choose from routes suitable for complete beginners, or areas recommended to more experienced pilots. All this in a picturesque landscape full of lakes, windmills, historic towns and tulips. Will you join us this year? 

From a nautical point of view, the Netherlands can be divided into 2 large areas: northern Friesland and a large part of the country from Amsterdam downwards (centre and south).

Friesland: an oasis for the soul

An aerial view of sheep pastures in the Netherlands.

The region is especially appreciated by those who prefer a quiet holiday and avoid touristic places. In the largest Dutch province you will find beautiful nature full of interconnected lakes, vast meadows with grazing cows, picturesque villages and towns with windmills, and above all a very dense network of canals that gives you a choice of many sailing routes. The locals speak the indigenous language of Frisian and still wear clogs. One of the main tourist attractions of Friesland is the archipelago that flanks the mainland coast. The so-called West Frisian islands consist of several islands dotted with sand dunes which, thanks to their flat surface, invite you to explore from the saddle of a bicycle or horse. What's not to be missed in Friesland?

1. Sneek

This pretty town in the heart of Friesland is the perfect place to start your cruise. For lovers of aquatic tourism, the Frisian Waterway Museum — Scheepvaartmuseum. Those who would like something a little "spicier" can visit the herbal liqueur shop and distillery De Weduwe Joustra Beerenburg. Interestingly, it has been in continuous operation since 1864.

Historical stone gate on a canal in Sneek, the Netherlands.

2. Stavoren

Stavoren is one of the oldest towns in Friesland. It has a rich history of being the largest and wealthiest commercial centre. It is now a paradise for water sports and hiking enthusiasts, but above all one of the main northern passages from the Frisian canals to the Dutch freshwater "sea" — the IJssemeer. It is a former sea bay where you will find small, romantic towns and lively cities. But this area is for experienced houseboat drivers only , and you're likely to combine both coastal and canal cruising, mainly in the centre but also in the north of Holland.

Stavoren – panorama of the bay with houses and grazing sheep.

3. Groningen

Groningen was once one of the most powerful trading towns in the Netherlands (don't miss a visit to the local Maritime Museum) and is now one of the largest. The construction of its university during the early 17th century is certainly to thank for that. Since then, Groningen has been a city of students. The city is so vibrant, alive and the nightlife is truly exuberant. If you're a fan of bands like Nirvana, Pearl Jam or the White Stripes, head to the underground club Vera where these bands have performed. If you prefer historical sights, the Martinitorem, the bell tower of the Martinikerk Church, will not escape your attention; from its tower you can see far into the surrounding area. Also stop by the two historic squares — Grote Markt with its town hall and regular markets and  Vismarkt. If you cruise through Groningen on 30 April, the whole town will be dressed in orange and turn into one big club. Queens Day is celebrated here.

Sunset over a tulip field with windmills in the background.

4. Alde Feanen and Princehof National Park

A peaceful nature reserve almost inaccessible by road, so it can only be enjoyed from the deck of a boat. Cruising through the tangle of canals and islands is one of the most powerful experiences you can have here. You will see beautiful landscapes, free grazing ponies, meadows and forests... It is not a problem to spend a few days here. Some of the islands sit only a few centimetres above the water's surface, so you'll be wading through the water as you walk around. Rest assured, even if you're a fan of the hustle and bustle of the city, this place will simply blow you away!

Panorama of Alde Feanen and Princehof National Park, pastures, meadows, water channels.

Central and south: around Amsterdam and below

The most famous area of the Netherlands. The countryside is just as charming as in the north, but there is a higher density of towns and cities surrounded by a network of canals and rivers with lakes. Central Holland is not suitable for beginners. It's a good idea to either have some prior experience driving a boat or to take a competence course with a qualified instructor.

If you have never been to Holland, you should invest more time in its exploration or return and swing by a different area each time. There are big cities like Amsterdam, the capital of the Netherlands; as well as Rotterdam, one of the largest ports in the world; and smaller towns and villages. In addition to these notorious cities, we recommend visiting the following:

5. Kagerplassen

Kagerplassen or "Kaag lakes". This is a small lake system in the southern area near the city of Leiden (ideally combine a visit to the lakes with a city tour). The Kaag lakes are a popular area for boating as well as other water sports and fishing. Here you will see charming windmills and traditional flower fields.

The Kagerplassen waterscape in the southern Netherlands.

6. Utrecht

An intricate network of canals and lots of cosy little cafés right on the waterfront give this university town a special atmosphere. The canals here are really narrow and run through the historic part of the city, so a visit by houseboat is recommended for more experienced skippers. But this place is simply a must-see. The best way to see it is directly from the famous Domtoren (Dom Tower) with its fifty bells and 112.5 metres in height. Climb its 456 steps and you'll have this lively student town in the palm of your hand.

An aerial view of De Haar Castle in Utrecht.

7. Alkmaar

Alkmaar is located about thirty kilometres north of Amsterdam. Despite its historic buildings and many water canals, it is famous for its cheese production and famous cheese markets, which have been held every Friday since 1593. On these days, the town tends to be crowded, but it's worth the trouble. You can experience the traditional cheese exchange in historical costumes, taste many cheesy delicacies and buy a variety of souvenirs.

Traditional cheese market in Alkamaar, the Netherlands.

8. Gouda

We'll stick to cheese. Gouda is the birthplace of the cheesy treat of the same name. A visit to the Gouda Museum is almost a must, but this merchant town will enchant you with its beautiful centre and historical monuments alone. For example, the 16th-century Gothic St. Janskerk Basilica, which is said to be the longest church in the world. The local cheese market, which takes place every Thursday from April to August, is a fun adventure.

The historic centre of the town of Gouda, famous for the production of the cheese of the same name.

9. Den Haag

The city of power, the political heart of the country. This is a simple summary of Den Haag. While Amsterdam is the capital, The Hague is home to the royal family, the famous International Court of Justice, the government and the parliament. The latter hold office in the so-called Binnenhof, a complex of several interconnected historic buildings, the oldest of which were built in the Middle Ages. Every third Tuesday in September is Prinsjesdag, or Prince's Day, when a golden carriage arrives in the courtyard of the Binnenhof and the royal family disembarks. The monarch makes his speech to open the new parliamentary year. If you like art, be sure to visit the Mauritshuis Palace — the Royal Painting Gallery. Here you can admire more than 800 works by famous Dutch masters such as Rembrandt, Vermeer and Anthoon van Dyck.

Binnenhof Palace, seat of the Dutch Parliament, in The Hague.

10. Veere

Originally a fishing port town in the south of Holland, Veere was a centre of trade and wealth in the Middle Ages. It even had a monopoly on the import of Scottish wool and cloth. The magnificent Gothic period dates back to this time. Although it lost direct access to the sea in 1961 due to the construction of a large flood wall, a large yacht harbour on the so-called Lake Veeren was built and it became a popular tourist destination. Walking through the town, you can admire the original bastion, which was part of the city walls, and the town hall with its 48 bells is certainly worth a visit.

Landscape with a water canal surrounding the tourist town of Veere.

Now all you have to do is pick the right houseboat. I'll be happy to help you. Let me know.