Amsterdam Canals

Amsterdam Canals: Making Amsterdam The Venice Of The North

Amsterdam is home to almost 62 miles of canals, 90 islands, and 1,500 bridges. The Grachtengordel is formed by the three main canals, Herengracht, Prinsengracht, and Keizersgracht, which were dug in the 17th century during the Dutch Golden Age. There are 1550 historic buildings along the main waterways. The Prinsengracht, Keizersgracht, Herengracht, and Jordaan canal ring region, which includes the canals in their respective names were designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2010, adding to Amsterdam's reputation as the 'Venice of the North.'

Why Explore Amsterdam Canals?

Amsterdam Canals
  • In 2010, UNESCO designated Amsterdam's inner canal ring as a world heritage site and classified it as a protected area. This ancient site winds its way around Dam Square and inside the Prinsengracht canal's semi-circle.
  • In addition to being one of the main forms of transportation in Amsterdam, the canals also host a number of events and festivals throughout the year, attracting tourists and visitors worldwide.
  • At least 1,550 monuments are currently located inside the borders of the canals, including some significant landmarks and institutions such as Westerkerk, Anne Frank Huis, and Museum van Loon.

History Of Amsterdam Canals

The first Amsterdam canal was constructed for water management and defense. As the city grew in the Middle Ages, successive defense moats were built inside the city walls and lost their purpose. They did, however, acquire a significant new one: local merchandise transportation.

During Amsterdam's Golden Age in the 17th century, trade boomed. The city's three main canals were dug and buildings erected around them in one massive expansion project that spanned 50 years.

In the 20th century, Amsterdam needed additional space for cars and other land traffic. Many waterways were drained to make way for streets and parking lots. Not without a fight: in 1901, the iconic Reguliersgracht Seven Bridges were saved by a ferocious outcry. Almost half of Amsterdam's original water has been lost to landfills, although navigable rivers still cover 25% of the city's surface. With 65 miles of ancient canals, Amsterdam still holds the honor of being the most watery city in the world.

Major Canals Of Amsterdam

Amsterdam Canals

Singel Canal

In the Middle Ages, the Singel ringed Amsterdam, acting as a moat until 1585, when the city expanded beyond it. The canal makes its presence felt from the IJ bay at Central Station to the Muntplein square, where it meets the Amstel river. In Amsterdam's semicircular ring of canals, it is presently the innermost canal. The name is derived from the Dutch phrase ‘omsingelen,’ which means ‘to surround,’ and eventually from the Latin word cingulum, which means 'belt.'

Amsterdam Canals

Herengracht Canal

Between the Singel and the Keizersgracht is the Herengracht, the second of four canals that make up Amsterdam's canal belt. The canal was created on Mayor Frans Hendricksz's proposal starting in 1612. The Herengracht is regarded as the city's most important canal. This canal was home to the city's wealthiest merchants, most powerful regents, and mayors in the 17th century. It initially served as a moat for companies at Singel, running within the city wall- parallel to the canal outside.

Amsterdam Canals

Prinsengracht Canal

The Prinsengracht is the third and farthest out of Amsterdam's three main canals. Together, these three canals make up the city's 'fourth outlay,' an extension project that began in 1612 and took 50 years to complete. The three main canals have been listed on the UNESCO World Heritage List since 2009. The Prince of Orange Canal is a 2-mile-long canal that runs parallel to the Keizersgracht in the heart of Amsterdam.

Amsterdam Canals

Keizersgracht Canal

The Emperor's Canal in the middle of Amsterdam's three main canals. Named after Austrian Emperor Maximilian, it's the inner city's widest canal, measuring 31 meters in length. The digging of this canal, together with the Herengracht and Prinsengracht, began in 1612. Due to elm disease, the municipality had all of the trees along the canal cut down in 1949, and linden trees were planted in their place.

Other Notable Canals Of Amsterdam

Amsterdam Canals


The Zwanenburgwal is a canal and roadway in Amsterdam's city center, famous for housing the painter Rembrandt and the philosopher Spinoza. It was named one of Amsterdam's most attractive streets by readers of Het Parool in 2006.

Amsterdam Canals


Brouwersgracht is a canal in Amsterdam's city center that connects the Singel, Herengracht, Keizersgracht, and Prinsengracht canal belts and marks the canal belt's northern border. Ships returning from Asia with spices and silks used the canal as a stopover.

Amsterdam Canals


On the outskirts of the old city, the Kloveniersburgwal runs south from Nieuwmarkt to the Amstel River. The east side of the city began to develop in the 17th century, and there are a few large palaces, such as the Trippenhuis, which currently houses the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW).

Amsterdam Canals


The Brantasgracht is a canal in Amsterdam-East that runs across quays and is part of the Indische Buurt. In the late 1990s, a canal was excavated on Java Island, which was then changed from a ship mooring area to a residential area.

Amsterdam Canals


The Langegracht is a road and former canal in the Dutch city of Leiden's northern inner city. The canal was a key component of the 1611 northern city expansion, which was built north of the Oude Vest. As the new district's major axis, the Langegracht was built parallel to the Oude Vest.

Amsterdam Canals


The Majanggracht is a canal in Amsterdam-East with related quays that was dug in the late 1990s on Java Island and later transformed from a ship mooring area to a residential neighborhood. The canal was named after the Majang River in Java, Indonesia.

Amsterdam Canals


In Amsterdam-East, the Serangracht is a canal with adjacent quays. In the late 1990s, a canal was built on Java Island, which was then transformed from a ship mooring area to a residential area.

Why Were The Amsterdam Canals Built?

Amsterdam is situated close to a river inlet on a wetland. To keep the water in control and make the city inhabitable, the canals were constructed. Almost all dwellings are thus built on poles that are secured meters below the surface on a set stratum. However, the Dutch used it to their advantage since it became a major commerce port. Every house along the canals was formerly a warehouse or a portion of a warehouse. The canals made it simple to transport commodities to the warehouses.

Who Built The Amsterdam Canals?

A body of Lords, heren regeerders, were responsible for governing Amsterdam in the 16th and 17th centuries. These were the city's rich long-term citizens who oversaw various areas of the city's operations. They put a lot of money into the canals' construction. Herengracht, the first of these waterways, is named for these reagents.

Architecture Of Amsterdam Canals

Amsterdam Canals

Because of the particular city structure, Amsterdam's canals are one-of-a-kind. Although most canal cities are rectangular, Amsterdam's three main canals are made up of five kinked straights. They form a semicircle around the original medieval city center when combined. The radials all come together at Dam Center, the city's central square.

Water Of Amsterdam Canals

The water in the canals was stagnant and unclean until the mid-nineteenth century, full of debris, dead fish, and feces. To address this, the Gemaal Zeeburg steam-powered pump station was built in 1879 to flush the canals with water from the Zuiderzee. In 1935, the inner city was connected to the sewer system for the first time. However, the Grachtengordel was not connected directly until 1987. Houses had been dumping wastewater into the canal up until this point. In recent years, additional efforts to improve water quality have included legislation forbidding houseboats from dumping wastewater into canals.

Activities On Amsterdam Canals

Amsterdam Canals

Amsterdam City Swim

The Amsterdam City Swim (ACS) is a 5 or 10 km open water event that takes place every year in the center of Amsterdam in Amsterdam's canals. Swimmers raise money for the battle against ALS (Lou Gehrig's illness) in this charity event. This event was first organized in 2009 and it happens to be a yearly event that takes place every first Sunday in the month of September. It is a swimming spectacle where adults and kids take part to raise funds. The event attracts international swimmers because of the iconic route.

Amsterdam Canals
Amsterdam Canals
Amsterdam Canals

Frequently Asked Questions About Amsterdam Canals

Q. Why are Amsterdam Canals famous?

A. The Amsterdam Canals are famous for their extensive waterways lined with thousands of ancient buildings and verdant rows of trees that are unlike anything else in the world.

Q. What are the major canals of Amsterdam?

A. The Herengracht, Prinsengracht, and Keizersgracht canals are the three main Amsterdam Canals. During the Dutch Golden Age in the 17th century, these were dug and formed concentric belts surrounding the city.

Q. Why were the Amsterdam Canals built?

A. The first Amsterdam Canals were built for water management and defense. As the city grew in the Middle Ages, subsequent defense moats were built inside the walls and no longer served a purpose. They did, however, acquire a significantly new function- local goods transportation.

Q. How many canals and bridges are there in Amsterdam?

A. Amsterdam has 165 canals spanned by 1753 bridges, which is more than any other city in the world.

Q. Why does Amsterdam have canals?

A. The Amsterdam canals served as key transportation corridors for both commerce and people. The canals continue to play an important role in marine transportation today, particularly for tourism purposes, as seen by the famed Amsterdam canal boats.

Q. Who built the Amsterdam Canals?

A. A body of Lords governed Amsterdam in the 16th and 17th centuries. These were the city's wealthiest citizens who supervised various areas of the city's operations. They put a lot of money on canal construction and the Herengracht, the first of these canals, is named after the regents.

Q. What’s unique about the structure of the Amsterdam Canals?

A. The Amsterdam canals are man-made, and their arc shape reflects the shape of the city center as it expanded outwards to some degree. The Canal Ring's unique architecture is a reflection of Amsterdam's economic prowess during the Golden Age.

Q. When were the Amsterdam Canals built?

A. The Canals of Amsterdam were mostly constructed between 1585 and 1665.

Q. Why are the houses beside the Amsterdam Canals leaning?

A. Houses built on wooden piles in Amsterdam may tilt to one side due to the degradation of the wooden base.

Q. Is the water on the Amsterdam Canals hygienic?

A. Although the wastewater from many of the houseboats goes directly into the canals, the canal water is getting cleaner every year. Waternet, a government organization, works to keep the water as pure as possible by addressing pollution sources.

Q. What events take place on the Amsterdam Canals?

A. The Amsterdam City Swim is one of the most renowned events taking place on the Amsterdam Canal. This charity swimming event is organized to collect funds for ALS. You can also enjoy the Amsterdam Light Festival by taking one of the Amsterdam Canal Cruises or enjoy the city from a unique perspective by taking a boat tour.

Q. Where does the Amsterdam City Swim event take place?

A. The Amsterdam City Swim is an annual event that takes place at the Marine Etablissement Amsterdam.

Q. Are tickets to cruises on Amsterdam Canals available online?

A. Yes, you can buy Amsterdam Canal cruise tickets online.