The Netherlands is one of the top vacation destinations to which Germans love going every year and at first I didn’t get why so periodically. I always thought of Holland as a beautiful country, the type you go a few times to explore its main cities, enjoy the roads in between them, visit the beautiful colorful tulip fields, to name a few examples. I never thought it was a great destination for boating and sailing.
I was aware about the popular canals of Amsterdam (as well as of the other main Dutch cities) surrounded by colorful houses and infinite bikes, but little did I know these waterways are spread throughout the country. Interesting fact is, the Netherlands has a rich nautical heritage. As a significant part of their land is below sea level, the Dutch neighbors have faced for centuries an excess water problem which led them to have nowadays thousands of kilometers of navigable waterways.
Many neighbor tourists spend their family vacations navigating through these canals for a week or more while visiting the different cities and towns throughout the way. You would think whoever can afford doing such a thing has a fancy lifestyle, but not really. This is just what normal European families do, isn’t that ridiculous?
Last fall I had the opportunity to enjoy this particular adventure for the first time with amazing people. We went to the northern region of the Netherlands, Friesland, where we rented a cozy motorboat and navigated for a week through towns and cities like Akkrum, Workum, Grouw, and the beautiful city of Leeuwarden, to name a few.
Additionally, I found new experiences in small things. I crossed sleeping, bathing (and etc.), and cooking in a boat out of my unexpected bucket list. I even got to drive the boat and was the captain for a while. I was feeling on fire!
It was a week filled with traquility, away from city noises, where reading a book while hearing the calming sounds of the water against the boat and enjoying a 360 view of islands, towns and windmills was the busiest I could get. It was the perfect kind of escape I needed back then (caring for three little blonde German monsters).
Navigating through the Dutch canals doesn’t require a license if you use a boat with limited speed and size, so it’s not an activity only for experts. However, it’s also not an activity for those completely unexperienced. Make sure you go with someone who has at least once or twice driven (and parked) a boat. Driving a boat is not that hard, you just have to learn the speed with which the boat reacts when turning left and right.
The most nerve-breaking but exciting thing I had to go through was paying toll at the bridges, a.k.a. bruggeld. The bridge officer passes you a wooden clog with a fishing cane, in which you have to deposite the toll price in coins, and swing it back to the officer, all this while the boat is passing though the bridge and you are holding yourself on the edge of the boat from falling into the water. The adrenaline is real.
But the fun and interesting part was obviously not limited to navigating. We drew our route on the map and visited a few towns and cities along the way. Our stay at each place may have not lasted long, but it was enough to admire the essence of Dutch modern and old architecture.
Many Dutch towns showed a similar pattern of brick houses with piculiar roofs facing the canals, bridges every few meters, cobblestone floors wherever you’d go, and a windmill and canons at the exit/entrance of each town. Simply beautiful. But what I found most amusing was seeing neighborhoods with a small canal as their backyard, where each house owned at least a small motorboat with their own parking spot. A dream.
The Dutch neighbors do know how to lead a relaxing vacation and add charm to your travels. They can transport you back in time through their middle-age looking towns, decorated by gorgeous windmills, canons, and ports filled with old-style sailboats, making you feel like being in a former sailor/pirate world or even make you wonder whether The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker setting was inspired from the Netherlands.
Yes, I’m a proud Legend of Zelda fan. Ah, good memories! 😉
But back to the topic.
Navigating through the Dutch canals was indeed something I would definitely repeat, preferably late summer or early fall, though. Such an experience is the kind of relaxing escape from a busy life I would recommend to anyone.
If you are interested in doing something similar, would love any advice or have any questions, feel free to reach me on the comment section below or write me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org! 🙂
There is nothing like the calming sound of driving on water and going where the wind blows you. Try it yourself! 🙂