We know you’ve already dug out your ‘big coat’ and poncho in preparation for those dreaded winter months, but that’s no reason to deny yourself a glimpse of Amsterdam from its most enchanting angle. Just use them to your advantage! Follow our seven pieces of magnificent advice and you can ace this winter canal cruise. Scout’s honour.
1. Get the boat hire right
It’s a moot point if you own your own tub, but for the majority who don’t, it’s particularly important to get the right kind of hire at this time of the year.
One option is to rent a self-skippering number from an agency like Mokumboot. Generally speaking, these are smaller boats (for up to eight people) and usually aren’t covered, so you need to be confident about the forecast, a glutton for punishment or just very, very well prepared.
If you want the benefit of spontaneity, you can join one of the many organised tours (for instance Blue Boat Company) which leave from central areas like Damrak, Anne Frank Huis or Rijksmuseum. But what they offer in convenience, we feel they lack tenfold in authenticity.
For an unbeatable experience whatever the weather, go with an independent operator with a versatile boat. We can’t recommend Rederij Paping highly enough. Rederij Paping (otherwise known as Captain Marc, or simply ‘Pap’), skippers his eco-friendly solar boat like the seasoned pro he his.
His silent-running vessel leaves you to chat to one another feeling as if in your own living room, meanwhile his customisable tours enable you to delve into his bottomless knowledge about the city. Marc will undoubtedly keep you entertained with stories about the city and its inhabitants – past and present – for as long as you wish to hear them.
2. Wrap up warm
An obvious tip but one worth hammering home. It is winter after all. Now you know what kind of boat you’ll be spending your time on, you can prepare your apparel accordingly. Nobody wants to be left shivering, so pack your hat, gloves, scarf and coat to make sure you’re as snug as can be.
3. Toast with (and get toasty with) the right drinks
The skipper might well have a heater and blankets on board, but the best way to ensure you top up your temperature is by turning up your inner central heating. Hot chocolate is an obvious solution, but add a splash of dark or spiced rum if you fancy dialing up your festive glow by a couple of notches.
Dig out your thermos and find a good quality cocoa powder to mix with your warm milk. For an extra dose of luxuriousness, use this most decadent of recipes courtesy of Bon Appétit. You can work it off in the gym tomorrow (and the day after).
BA’s best hot chocolate
Ingredients (serves 4):
- 3 tablespoons cocoa powder (preferably Dutch-processed), plus more for serving
- 3 cups whole milk
- 6 ounces semisweet chocolate (preferably Scharffen Berger), finely chopped
- 3 tablespoons demerara or granulated sugar
- Lightly sweetened whipped cream (for serving)
Bring ¾ cup water to a simmer in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Whisk in 3 Tbsp. cocoa powder until no lumps remain, then add milk and return to a simmer. Whisk in chocolate and sugar and cook, whisking frequently, until mixture is smooth and creamy and chocolate is melted, about 5 minutes.
Divide hot chocolate among mugs. Top with whipped cream and dust with cocoa powder.
4. Get the squad together for ultimate gezelligheid
The boat might be at full capacity, or it might be a bit chilly out there on the water. Either way you’ll need to snuggle a bit, so gather together some of your besties and your besties’ besties, too. The more the merrier, we say. And if you needed any additional convincing about more being more (instead of the typical wisdom that less is more), think about the extra snacks that’ll make their way on board.
So lock in the date, hit the Whatsapp group and book in your buddies for a cozy winter cruise.
5. Find an occasion to celebrate, or just create one
A couple of hours onboard a boat is a perfect way to mark a birthday, graduation, anniversary or promotion. But if you don’t have a traditional cause to celebrate, get creative and make one up or just admit that the trip itself is a reason for revelry. Because it is!
Luckily, Amsterdam has one more trick up its sleeve for tough customers who find no option in the ideas offered so far; and oh-boy is it a good one… the Amsterdam Light Festival.
6. Amsterdam Light Festival
This dazzling event is held annually, beginning well before Christmas and continuing throughout the darkest days of winter. It’s probably the biggest singular reason in any given year (outside of Kingsday in April and Pride in August) that Amsterdammers and Amsterdam’s visitors take to the water.
Each year the festival cooks up a collection of light sculptures which are undoubtedly beautiful, funny, awe-inspiring, provocative, crazy – or any combination of those – fresh from the minds of local artists and designers. So there’s an incentive to return year after year.
Every edition grows in scale, too. So not only does the light route sprawl along the canals and rivers, but it grows legs, dries off and creates a separate route for admiration by landlubbers alone.
In case it needs saying, the festival can only really be enjoyed after dark and while the festival itself is free to view, any kind of guided tour will require some degree of financing.
This year’s edition of the Amsterdam Light Festival takes place from 30th November – 21st January 2018.
7. Pray for good weather
Ok, this is the only thing you can’t control. The Netherlands is a country dragged out of the North Sea by innumerable feats of brilliant Dutch engineering. But all that genius and might still can’t overcome the associated climatic challenges of being located in one of Europe’s cooler, wetter climates.
That said… faith, optimism and true grit account for a lot and while the odds might seem stacked against you in the days or hours before your cruise, there’s always a chance it’ll turn out in your favour. And it’s worth the risk, because when you land that crisp air, clear sky and still, lacquered water, there is nothing better.
Did we miss anything? Tell us the comments below.