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A complete SAIL Amsterdam 2020 guide

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.

News flash: SAIL Amsterdam has been cancelled for 2020. Start planning for 2025!

Looking up at a tall ship mast with five sails, furled on horizontal beams, one above the other.

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.

Images: one of the river with lots of boats and a ferris wheel in the background; one closeup of a wooden carving, painted red, of a lion that serves as a hole for a rope to go through; and one looking up at a tall ship mast with five sails, furled on horizontal beams, one above the other.
Pinnable image

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.

Tall ships

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!)

Facing down a long straight wharf, many tall ships are moored along its side, so this creates a row of masts into the distance. The wharf is full of people walking, and a bit of one building is visible to the right of the wharf.

Marine ships

These are operated by the navies of various countries. I would categorize some of them as tall ships as well.

Dutch fleet

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.

A tall ship with three masts, with small decorative flags strung along the top of the three masts and conneting to the bow and stern of the ship. Behind it is what looks like a military ship, modern and angular and painted grey.

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.

A close up of a mast of a tall ship, marked as Colombia on the one sail that is open. Along each horizontal strut, standing on the furled sail hanging from each strut, is a line of men. The top three rows (6, 4 and 4 people) wear white pants and yellow shirts. The bottom row (6 people) wears white pants and yellow shirt.
This is the ARC Gloria, flagship of the Colombian navy, built in 1968.

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.

A figurehead of carved wood in the shape of a woman. She is carved under the bow of a ship, so her back is attached while her front is visible. She wears a simple long, blue dress with a scoop neck. She is white with blond hair streaming behind her.
The figurehead on the Christian Radich, a Norwegian full-rigged ship built in 1937 to be used for navy training.

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.

Closeup of a wooden carving, painted red, of a lion's head. It has a hole in its mouth for a rope to go through.

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.

Lots of ships and boats in this photo. The biggeset looks like a small black pirate ship with a high bow and stern and a single mast with a horizontal sail that is furled up. Around it are lots of smaller boats: motor boats and sailboats of all sizes.
Looking down the IJ from the ferry. The black ship in the middle is the Dutch Kamper Kogge, a replica of a 14th century “cog,” a ship that would have sailed trade routes in the North Sea and the Baltic Sea. It is expected to be at the 2020 edition of SAIL Amsterdam.

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.

A crowd of people all standing and waiting. The dock is not visible in the background because of the crowd, but a group of apartment buildings are visible in the background.
waiting for the ferry

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.

Another general view of the IJ river: Lots of boats passing to the left or the right. In the background a couple of tall ships are visible, moored on the other side. The boats on the river are mostly small, open motorboats. One looks like a tugboat or fishing boat. In the background, part of a ferris wheel is visible.

Entertainment

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.

Looking past a modern red-brick building (offices, probably), a mast of a ship is visible (not a tall ship, I don't think). A man stands more than half-way up the rigging. It looks like he's just standing on a bit of rope.
Notice the man in the rigging.

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.

Another general view. In the background, a row of modern apartment buildings. Moorred on the other side: another ship that looks like a pirate ship: black with a high bow and high stern, on which people are standing. It has two masts, each with a "crow's nest" on the top. In front of that, on the river, lots of small motorboats pass, crowded with passengers.
I think that the big boat in the center of this photo is the NAO Victoria, a Spanish “carrack” built in 1992 as a replica of a 16th century ship that sailed around the world. It’s expected to be at this year’s SAIL Amsterdam again.

Some advice

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!

Pinnable image
Photo: Looking up at a tall ship mast with five sails, furled on horizontal beams, one above the other.
Text: SAIL Amsterdam 2020: A complete guide (and Rachel's Ruminations logo)

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