Most crazy cat ladies live in dilapidated houses in blighted suburban neighborhoods that you wouldn’t want to travel to. Henriette van Weelde is not one of those crazy cat ladies. For one, she lives in a quaint section of central Amsterdam. Also, her cat-filled abode is not only a place you might want to visit, it’s a place lots of tourists do.
It started in 1966 when van Weelde decided to take in a family of stray cats she found near her home. Then she found another stray and thought to herself what so many crazy cat ladies have: Well, I’m sure I can find room for just one more cat.
Soon thereafter, she gave shelter to another cat. And then another. And then many more.
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Eventually, she had so many cats living with her that she had to keep some in her sailboat moored in the canal across the street from her home. The cats seemed happy there, which gave Henriette van Weelde the idea to commission a houseboat specially designed to be a cat sanctuary.
And that’s how De Poezenboot (Dutch for “the cat boat”) came to be.
Today, you can find van Weelde’s feline-filled vessel on Singel Canal. From Amsterdam’s central train station it’s a mere eight minute walk (provided you don’t get sidetracked by a stop in The Doors Coffee Shop along the way).
Visit De Poezenboot during open hours (see “Planning your trip,” below) and you are welcome to go aboard. There are a few cages and closed-off areas where the sick, injured and unsociable cats are separated. But the vast majority of the houseboat is an open area filled with nooks, shelves, boxes, beds, scratching posts and a variety cat paraphernalia. Hanging out for a while, playing the cats and chatting with all matter of people who have come to do the same, is a wonderful way to be part of a slice of Amsterdam life.
Walk by the De Poezenboot when it’s closed you likely spot some of its cats sitting by the windows and hanging out on the deck. Glance over at it from the other side of the Singel canal and you’ll see cats milling around on the back porch too. While over there, check out the house at #7 — the narrowest in Amsterdam. The house is so narrow you can stretch out your arms and simultaneously touch both outer walls. Still, that house is probably big enough for, say, one or two dozen cats.
Planning your trip
Where to stay: Accor Hotels has 16 properties in the Amsterdam area. The one closest to De Poezenboot is The Convent Hotel Amsterdam, part of Accor’s boutique MGallery Collection. It’s an easy, scenic 500 meter walk between the two.
Cost: Free, though voluntary donations are solicited. There’s also a small gift shop.
When to go: De Poezenboot is open for visitors between 1pm and 3pm every day except for Wednesday and Sunday. In the summer months, De Poezenboot can be as overcrowded with tourists as it is with cats. We prefer visiting in the low season.
Family friendly? Kids are very welcome; De Poezenboot even has a special kid-centric website. That said, several of the cats are feral and don’t take easily to human contact, which might disappoint some children.
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