Charming as it may be to live on or rent a houseboat in the Amsterdam canal, it is certainly not cheap. In the old days living on a houseboat meant you were poor. Nowadays Amsterdam houseboats are extremely popular and only for the happy few with money.
Two types of Amsterdam houseboats
Houseboats in Amsterdam are generally not motorized, but moored to a fixed spot in the city. There are two kinds: a house built on a floating pontoon made of concrete. We call this a modern ark. Of the older and probably more charming kind are the old metal ships that have been transformed into a houseboat. Some are still capable of sailing. We call them ‘living ship’ (woonschip).
History of Amsterdam houseboats
Though it’s more practical to live on a ark, the Amsterdam city council prefers the old ships in the centre of the city, because of their historic charm. Some of these old ships are over a hundred years old. The ships were used to transport goods while the owner and his family lived in the small quarters below deck. After retirement, the ship owner would moor the ship and continue living on it. Living on the ship was no luxury though. The ceilings were low, the air moist, the living quarters small and electricity would have to come from the ship itself by burning wood, oil or gas.
After the second world war, these old transport vessels became the answer for the housing shortage in Amsterdam. Living on a boat might have been uncomfortable, it was still cheap and you’d at least have an detached house which you could place anywhere you liked. In the sixties and seventies the more modern arks arrived. The amount of colourful houseboats rose sharply.
Most of the problems have been solved. Houseboats are all connected to the electricity, cables etcetera. Since 2005 all houseboats are obligated to connect to the city sewage.
The biggest problem of trying to live on a houseboat nowadays is not the houseboat itself, which generally has all the luxury of a normal house, but trying to find a place to permanently stay. You can’t just moor the boat somewhere and live there. You need a special permit called a ‘ligplaats.’ The amount of ligplaatsen in Amsterdam are very limited and there is a high demand for them
In total there are 100.000 legally placed houseboats in The Netherlands, of which 2400 in Amsterdam. Within the central canal rings there are 750 houseboats with a permit. City policy states no new permits will be issued. Because of the shortage of these permits, a houseboat with a legal permit for Amsterdam is very costly. Even wrecks with a permit sell well, while a luxury houseboat without a legal place to put the boat is worth little.
The times have changed. Though before, Amsterdam houseboats were habited by people from all layers of society, nowadays only people with large incomes can live on a houseboat because of the high demand of ‘ligplaatsen’. Whoever owns a ‘ligplaats’, can build their own castle on the water. In Amsterdam we call the owners of these sea palaces ‘wateryuppies’.
Want to see a classic Amsterdam houseboat? You can visit the Houseboat Museum on Prinsengracht. Many rental companies rent out Amsterdam houseboats to tourists for an original short or long stay.