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City lights: take a boat cruise for ‘best of’ Amsterdam Light Festival

The Lace - Choi Shine Architects. Photo: Amsterdam Light Festival
Big Bang by UxU Studio from a previous ALF. Photo: Janus van der Eijnden

As the dark nights draw in, Amsterdam city lights up. This winter will mark the 10th year of the Amsterdam Light Festival and art afficionados believe there is no better way to see it than by boat tour.

‘It gives a magical atmosphere to the Amsterdam canals,’ says Timo Haaker, founder of electric boat company Starboard boats. ‘The canals of Amsterdam are unique and beautiful even without the art, but light art gives them an extra dimension. A lot of the pieces are also very interactive: they might give you clues about the next view or have a special effect.’

Tickets have now gone on sale for this year’s light festival, which runs from December 2, 2021 until January 23, 2022, and is a selection of the most popular artworks from the previous nine editions.

Canal cruises typically run for 75 minutes around the city and once again Starboard is one of the official partners of the festival (which also suggests walking routes around the attractions for people looking for a night time stroll).

Warm blankets

‘This year there’s a special edition, the highlights of the last 10 years,’ says Haaker. ‘Every year they have a vote for the most popular piece and they are bringing back the most popular pieces of art for the 10th edition.

Nexus, from a previous ALF: Photo: Amsterdam Light Festival

‘It’s all about the art but also about being comfortable: we have warm blankets, mulled wine, beer and refreshments for sale on board, plus a host or hostess to share stories about the city and the art. We have four departures every day on multiple boats, and a tour costs €26.50 a head.’

Another perk of the trip, he adds, is that you might be able to spot one of Starboard Boats’ surprising new ventures on the way. In response to Amsterdam city’s call for smart charging solutions for private recreational boats, his company won a Start Up in Residence competition for funding and coaching to work on its Stroomboot initiative – linking private houseboat owners and their electricity with passing boats, who can use an app to plug in, charge up and pay automatically.

‘We are in the middle of a pilot with two houseboats, one in the Houthavens and one in Oosterdok near Central Station,’ he says. ‘This way the house boat owners can make some extra money, the private boat owners have more charging points and it doesn’t take up more public space.

The Lace – Choi Shine Architects, from a previous ALF. Photo: Amsterdam Light Festival

Fully charged

‘The city supports it because they are right now facing a big challenge of creating enough charging points by 2025, when the government is aiming to have all emissions-free canal boats. There’s not enough space to make 2,000 charging points in the quaysides of Amsterdam, the city really liked this creative solution and we are testing if it works. It looks like we are going to continue after the end of the pilot in October and we hope to have more charging points in the coming year.’

Electric charging projects aside, he is looking forward to the light festival as the darker nights roll in.

‘Pre-corona, this was the busiest time of the year for the boat companies,’ he adds. ‘I am looking forward to two full months of beautiful art around the canals of Amsterdam.’

Find out more and book your Amsterdam Light Festival tickets.

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