It’s unusual for me to write an article about something that hasn’t happened yet, but SAIL Amsterdam only happens once every five years: best to be prepared! Here’s your complete SAIL Amsterdam 2020 guide, but in the form of a work in progress. I promise to keep updating as the event nears.
Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links. If you click on one of them and make a purchase, I will receive a small commission. This will not affect your price.
What is SAIL Amsterdam?
Sail Amsterdam is a massive gathering of ships, from tall ships to little more than rowboats, in the port of Amsterdam. The first was in 1975, which makes this next one the 10th edition.
When is SAIL Amsterdam?
August 12 to August 16, 2020. Don’t miss the “sail-in” on August 12, starting at 9:00 and/or the “sail-out” on August 16 starting at 14:00. You’ll get to see at least some of the tall ships under sail!
What sorts of ships can you see?
Examples of pretty much anything that sails, many of them restored or replica historical ships, are planning to come to SAIL Amsterdam from all over the world.
The main attractions of SAIL Amsterdam are the tall ships, including many three-masted and four-masted ships. As I write this, 57 tall ships are expected to attend. Barks, schooners, brigantines, frigates: you name it, they’ll be there. (If you know the differences among all these types of tall ships, you should definitely be there too!)
These are operated by the navies of various countries. I would categorize some of them as tall ships as well.
More than 80 boats from within the Netherlands will attend. These range from clippers and schooners to very modest historical fishing boats. A few non-sail boats will also be represented: look for tugboats and steamboats, for example.
What isn’t included on the organizer’s official lists is all the other boats that show up. If you go, you’ll see the water just covered with small motorboats carrying visitors to see the festival from the water.
What can you do at SAIL Amsterdam?
See lots of ships
The main thing is just to see the ships. Walk along the wharf and admire the sight of these elegant structures, some of which might have their sails rigged. You might be able to spot sailors high in the rigging as well.
Try to visualize sailing across an ocean in one of these, passing through storms, living off what you could bring along, and having no recourse to call for help via modern communications equipment. I’m in awe of the bravery of people who made their living on ships like this. Of course, they all have modern equipment these days.
Also make sure to notice details on the tall ships. I enjoyed seeing the figureheads from so close up.
Tour the ships
Some of the ships will allow visitors to board; some won’t. You could easily spend all day – I did at the last one in 2015 – and not see all the ships and not have time to board all of the ones that allow it. Each ship has sailors posted, ready to answer questions.
Take a free ferry ride
In the 2015 edition of SAIL Amsterdam, I took a ferry ride across the IJ and back. These are regular ferries that shuttle back and forth normally anyway, and they continue to do so during SAIL Amsterdam. The trip only takes a few minutes, but it’s free and gives you a different perspective on the event.
I was amazed that the ferry managed to cross without hitting any of the small private boats swarming over the water. Or maybe it’s the other way around, and I should say it was amazing that none of those little boats hit us.
If you take the ferry across, expect to wait a bit, since the crowds are big. When you get to the other side, you have to get off even if you intend to take the return trip right away. Disembark and then just join the crowd waiting to board again.
Take a paid boat ride
Another option is to take one of the official sail or motorboat rides on offer, for a price. Click on this link to see the tickets that are already listed. One of them involves riding a tall ship as it takes part in the “sail-out” on August 16. It’s pricey, but I think that’s the one I might go for.
Other companies will also offer paid boat rides, and I’ll post them here when they publish their offers.
If it’s anything like the 2015 edition, you’ll find musical groups performing, demonstrations, exhibits, and so on as you wander by the ships. When I get more information, I’ll add it here.
How much does it cost?
Sail Amsterdam is free. Of course, you might end up spending money for things like food or a boat ride, but there is no admission charge. How could they possibly charge admission to an event that covers such a large area of land and water?
If you’re planning a trip to SAIL Amsterdam this summer, check out my series of articles on small museums in Amsterdam!
Where is SAIL Amsterdam?
Since there are hundreds of boats involved, some of them quite large ocean-going schooners, the festival covers a lot of ground – or, rather, water. If you arrive at Amsterdam Central Station, exit the station on the IJ side (Signs read “IJ-zijde”.). You’ll see the ships from there, and walking along the IJ to the right will take you to the busiest part of the event.
Where should you stay?
Public transportation is excellent in Amsterdam. You can book a room through this link and be near a tram or metro or bus pretty much anywhere. Just make sure to read the small print about your chosen hotel to find out how far it is from the neareset tram or metro stop.
If you can afford it, the best view, I think, will be from the Movenpick Hotel, right on the river IJ.
Note: Much as I am a fan of Airbnb, it has become a problem in Amsterdam. The city government is clamping down on illegal Airbnb rooms, so it’s best not to use it for now. There is a whole legal and political debate going on about whether it’s even legal to rent out rooms without a permit. Until this question is settled, it’s best to avoid it.
SAIL Amsterdam is very crowded, both on the ground and on the water. What I love about it is that it isn’t really directed at tourists; it’s a local event and everyone comes out for it. Yet at the same time, it’s international in that the ships themselves sail to Amsterdam from all around the world. Just be prepared for crowds!
- Bring a bottle of water, especially if it turns out to be a hot day.
- Apply sun lotion, even if it’s not sunny. You’ll be outside all day.
- Bring an umbrella; the weather in the Netherlands can change on a dime.
- Wear comfortable walking shoes.
- Watch out for pickpockets; the crowds get very dense. Wear your bag in front and don’t put anything of value in back pockets.
- Be aware of your surroundings, especially when you’re standing next to the edge of the dock. You don’t want to get jostled and end up in the water!
- If you’re going to want to take a boat ride other than the free ferry, book it ahead. As more companies offer boat rides, I’ll update this article to include a list of links.
- Accessibility: The riverside on both banks is generally wheelchair accessible. However, most, perhaps all, of the boats are not.
Note: I got much of this information from the SAIL Amsterdam site and from my own memory and photos from five years ago. I will continue to add to this article as more information is released.
See you there!
If you have any questions I haven’t answered here, please add them below in the comments and I’ll do my best to find the answers for you!