Port tours are almost a must when us landlubbers visit big seaport cities. We went on a boat tour in Amsterdam that was a little bit different and which allowed us to explore a lot.
Just behind Amsterdam Centraal, Amsterdam’s main train station, countless blue and white ferries depart regularly and they are free. We decided to forego the traditional tours on the tourist boats and instead go on one of the free boat tours through the port of Amsterdam.
It has to be said that none of the ferries could match the comfort level on the tourist sightseeing boats. Also, information around what sights we were passing and who had built what was completely missing from the tour. But to be honest, we didn’t mind at all. We stood at the railing of the ferry and had a great view of the port. And in our opinion, a huge advantage was that we could hop off the ferry at any stop to explore interesting areas on land.
Free boat tour of the port of Amsterdam
There are 8 ferry lines in total that connect the city of Amsterdam with different destinations. We used three different ferry lines in Amsterdam:
- Tour 1: Central Station to Buiksloterweg
- Tour 2: Central Station to NDSM Shipyard
- Tour 3: NDSM Shipyard to Pontsteiger
All tours last between 5 and 15 minutes and depart frequently. The departure times are displayed on electronic timetables at the stops.
Tour 1: Central Station to Buiksloterweg
This tour is without a doubt the most popular one and with that also the busiest. It departs from the middle jetty behind the station.
I stood at the jetty in disbelief. The electronic display told us that the next ferry would depart in 3 minutes. There was no ferry at the jetty yet. And then everything happened very fast. A ferry arrived, the barriers opened, a big crowed alights the boat – 60 seconds till departure…
As the last people leave the ferry the first pedestrians, motorbikes and cyclists make their way on board – we followed the crowd, an alarm sounded, the barriers closed and the ferry departed bang on time. I was mighty impressed!
During the ride passengers can stay inside, sheltered from the elements, or enjoy the view on the deck.
The trip only takes 5 minutes and covers 400 meters. Almost too short to take it all in.
Once arrived at Buiksloterweg one can visit the A‘DAMS Lookout or the Cinematic Museum. Or go for a little walk along the embankment.
Tour 2: Central Station to NDSM Shipyard
On the next day, we found ourselves at the jetties at Central Station once again. This time our destination was the NDSM Shipyard.
The ferry departs at the left jetty behind the station and takes 14 minutes to get to its destination. It is important to notice that this line departs less frequently than the first tour so plan some extra time to wait for the next ferry (depending on the time of day a ferry departs every 15 or every 30 minutes).
This tour is really worthwhile. There is so much to see during the trip, everything from modern buildings to an old submarine. The ferry is joined by or passes all sorts of other ships.
Give yourself a little time to wander around once you have arrived at the NDSM Shipyard, the final destination of the line. Why not go for a walk in the port area and explore the Botel. They say there are rooms in the letters on the ship. Or go for a coffee in one of the restaurants. If you would like to explore some street art, you are in luck too as there is plenty.
The NDSM Shipyard used to be the biggest shipyard in Europe. Mainly cargo and passenger ships were built here. The shipyard has been closed since 1984. New investors came and built art studios and offices here.
Tour 3: NDSM Shipyard to Pontsteiger
From the NDSM Shipyard we took a ferry across the dock to the Pontsteiger Hotel in the Zeeheldenburt district. From here it is only a short walk to the Westergasfabriek.
The crossing takes 7 minutes and depending on the time of day departures of the free ferries are every 20 or 30 minutes.
These free mini port boat tours were a most welcome alternative to the commercial boat tours for us. We might not have passed the big cranes but we did get to enjoy time at the destinations that we otherwise might not have had.