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Visiting the mysterious IJ at Amsterdam, The Netherlands, and its ferries: a lake? a river? former branch of the Rhine?

Updated on February 12, 2013
Flag of The Netherlands
Flag of The Netherlands | Source
Amsterdam Central Station seen from the water.
Amsterdam Central Station seen from the water. | Source
View of the IJ, Amsterdam, with rainbow
View of the IJ, Amsterdam, with rainbow | Source
IJ Ferry 55
IJ Ferry 55 | Source
Ferries run constantly from Centraal Station to Amsterdam Noord.
Ferries run constantly from Centraal Station to Amsterdam Noord. | Source
Portrait of Admiral Michiel de Ruyter, by Hendrick Berckman
Portrait of Admiral Michiel de Ruyter, by Hendrick Berckman | Source
Map location of Amsterdam municipality
Map location of Amsterdam municipality | Source

Recalling the 17th century Admiral de Ruyter

To answer, Where is the IJ?, poses no problem: it is in Amsterdam, The Netherlands; a stretch of water across which ferries ply, seemingly perpetually, between De Ruyter Quay in Downtown Amsterdam (1) and the suburb of Amsterdam-North (Dutch: Amsterdam-Noord ).

To answer, What is the IJ? is more complicated. Some hold with confidence that it is a lake. At least, one which has been in existence as such for hundreds of years.

Others — often contradicted — regard it as a river. Though, going back hundreds of years, it was possibly a branch of the Rhine (Dutch: Rijn ) delta. It is thought that in Roman times what is now the IJ linked directly with the North Sea (Dutch: Noordzee ).

In fact, so many of the waterways of The Netherlands have been either successfully re-engineered or else been subject to the weathering of natural forces that in the cases of some stretches of water, by way of definition, what they once were does not necessarily reflect what they are now.

No matter: the IJ (whatever it really is) is unquestionably part of the urban scene in the titular Dutch capital (2). A company dedicated to ferry services across the IJ was formerly responsible for the ferry link between 1897 and 1943 (3); subsequently, the company amalgamated with the city's main public transport company

February 5, 2013


(1) The ferry terminus in Downtown Amsterdam is at De Ruyter Quay (Dutch: De Ruyterkade ), close to the Central Railroad Station; this Quay is named for the 17th century Dutch Admiral Michiel De Ruyter (1607-1676).

(2) However, The Hague (Dutch: Den Haag , or, more formally, 's Gravenhage , — yes, really —) is the Dutch seat of government.

(3) Observant readers may have noticed that this amalgamation occurred in 1943, during the Nazi German occupation, and was not rescinded after Liberation. In Continental Europe, it is the case in various countries that particular measures and laws brought in during the Fascist period, which in themselves were not directly oppressive, continued to be in force for decades after World War Two. This kind of anomaly may seem strange to North Americans.

Also worth seeing

In Amsterdam itself, the numerous visitor attractions include: the Royal Palace on the Dam and the nearby Nieuwe Kerk, are major landmarks, as is the Munt tower and the imposing and ornate Central Railroad Station (Dutch: Station Amsterdam-Centraal ) ; the Anne Frank House attracts many visitors.

Utrecht (distance: 44 kilometres) is particularly noted for its very tall Cathedral tower.


How to get there: Airlines flying to Amsterdam-Schipol Airport from New York include Delta Airlines and KLM. The Dutch railroad company NS (Nederlandse Spoorwegen) maintains rail services between Amsterdam-Schipol and the Central Railroad Station in Downtown Amsterdam . There is car rental availability at Amsterdam airport. You are advised to check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information. Some facilities may be withdrawn, without notice.

MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.


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    • MJFenn profile image

      MJFenn 4 years ago

      Mike Robbers: So have I. Thank-you for your comment.

    • Mike Robbers profile image

      Mike Robbers 4 years ago from London

      I've taken these ferries, thanks for the interesting info. Cool hub.