The Lure of the Amsterdam Ferry
Amsterdam is all about biking around. However, you can also travel by ferry there. The ferries provide free connections across the River IJ for pedestrians, cyclists and mopeds between the city centre and Amsterdam North. Derek Blyth is one of them. Hop on board.
There’s something special about a ferry in a city. It might be the Staten Island Ferry in New York, the Djurgården ferry across Stockholm harbour or the “Ferry ‘Cross the Mersey” made famous in 1965 by Gerry and the Pacemakers. It’s a way of escaping the city, travelling to a distant place, even if it just takes a few minutes.
The ferry across the River IJ is Amsterdam’s ferry to “the place I love”. It’s just 12 minutes from one shore to the other, but it takes you from the cosmopolitan crowds of Centraal Station to the almost rural Dutch atmosphere that has survived in Amsterdam Noord (North).
The 'IJveer 61' ferry on the River IJ in front of the ADAM tower and on the left the Eye Film Museum.
There has been a ferry across this stretch of the IJ for more than seven centuries. The crossing was already known as the Buiksloterveer in a document dated 1308. It was originally operated on behalf of the Count of Holland, but Amsterdam city council has run the service since 1556.
You see all sorts of people on the ferry – older Amsterdammers on their solid Batavia bikes, young hipsters who live in trendy waterfront apartments next to the Eye filmhouse, tourists on their way to the hip Sir Adam Hotel, young kids on noisy mopeds who speed off into the traffic the moment the ferry touches the quayside.
People complain that the ferry has become impossibly crowded in recent years. There have been proposals to charge a fee, or ban the noisy brommers, but nothing has been done.
You might expect someone to have written a poem, a song, a short novel about the IJ ferry. I couldn’t find anything, apart from a series of drawings by illustrator Rachelle Meyer titled “Faces on the Ferry”.
Illustrator Rachelle Meyer made portraits of passengers of the Amsterdam ferries. From left to right: Lullaby, Hush, Profiles. © Rachelle Meyer
My favourite time to take the ferry is in the middle of winter when it feels like you are setting off on a voyage of discovery. The destination an unknown country. Even if it just takes 12 minutes to get there.