It’s not hard to understand why Amsterdam is known as the “Venice of the North”. The city is criss-crossed with waterways of every shape and size, but perhaps its most famous thoroughfares are the grand semi-circular canals constructed during the Dutch Golden Age of the 17th century.
Three main canals make up the Canal Ring: the Herengracht, Prinsengracht and Keisersgracht. The inner canal district bordered by the IJ waterfront and the Singelgracht is today an internationally protected heritage site dating back to the 13th century, when the first canals were dug to protect the low-lying city from the North Sea. Over the centuries the network expanded along with the city’s importance, with barges from all over the world using the canals to transport goods inland. A trip round today’s Canal Ring offers spectacular views of the grand merchants’ homes and narrow gabled warehouses that line its banks.
A pleasant few hours can be spent on two feet or two wheels circumnavigating the ring, passing under and over the many bridges that connect the picturesque cobbled streets of the old city. The bridges make an especially attractive sight at night with their illuminated arches reflecting on the still waters of the canals. For a more relaxing way to see the sights, take a canal boat cruise and learn more about the history of the buildings as you glide past.
During the annual Gay Parade and the King’s holiday, beautifully decorated boats and their festive passengers fill the canals with colour and laughter, while when the canals freeze over in winter you can sometimes see intrepid Amsterdamers skating to work. Winter also brings the traditional Dutch treats of hot chocolate and oliebollen, or doughnuts, bought from canalside vendors and eaten al fresco.
Many canal boat cruises offer English-language narration so you can make the most of your voyage of discovery. Alternatively, the hop-on hop-off Canal Bus stops at all the main tourist attractions so you can plan your own itinerary. Hire a bike for a do-it-yourself day out, or enjoy a stroll at your own pace along the banks of these historic waterways.
Shopping, Museums and Biking
Thought to be named for its long, straight streets, this district was once the residence of artists such as Mondrian and is now one of Amsterdam’s trendiest spots.
For big entertainment, visit this multicultural district, home of the Amsterdam ArenA, Heineken Music Hall and the forested Gaasperpark where you can enjoy watersports.