A walk to the rear of Central Station brings you to the edge of the IJ channel. There are 18 piers here, with various “party ships”, Rhine and IJsselmeer cruise boats, and the hydrofoil service to IJmuiden dock. Commuter shuttle back and forth on passenger-only ferries across the IJ between Central Station and Amsterdam Noord (North).
These ferries afford visitors a brief and – amazingly, for Amsterdam – free sightseeing trip. Both the number of ferries and the routes they serve have increased, a process likely to continue as the old harbour waterfront opens up for new housing developments. One ferry route goes straight across to Buiksloterweg. Which looks about as uninviting as it sounds, and takes just two minutes to get there.
Another angles slightly eastwards, to dock at IJplein, and takes a few minutes longer – one good reason for taking this ferry is that IJplein is close to the excellent Wilhelmina-Dok waterside café-restaurant. Both ferries transport bikes. On the way across the bury channel you will probably intersect the wakes of barges, canal-tour boats, yachts and other pleasure boats, perhaps even a visiting warship or an ocean-going cruise liner. Look out the Royal Dutch Shell office tower to the west on the north bank – its windows are laced with gold dust and they sparkle in the sun.
There isn’t a lot to see in Amsterdam North, which is a modern residential area, but since ferries come and go every few minutes, you can take refreshment at the tollhouse café before returning to Central Station. More ambitiously, you could go for a stroll along the North Holland Canal.
Ferries that ply the longer routes are not free, but a trip on one gives you a great view of the old harbour and the new developments that are transforming it!