Taking a boat trip is one of the best ways to discover the historic monuments and elegant architecture along the canals of the city dubbed “The Venice of the North”.
The Canal Ring, or Grachtengordel as it is called in Dutch, is central to Amsterdam’s identity. This 400 year old network of waterways is bordered by hundreds of monuments, restored warehouses and iconic gabled houses. Taking a boat cruise is one of the best ways to see the city
The Canal Ring is semi-circular and is made up of three main canals: the Herengracht, the Prinsengracht and the Keizersgracht. Back in the 17th century, they were originally built to drain the land so that the city could extend its boundaries. They also quickly developed as routes for importing goods into the city centre by barge. The money generated by this booming trade fuelled Holland’s Golden Age, leading to the building of all the waterfront housing and grand monuments characterising this area. In 2010, the Canal Ring was included in UNESCO’s World Heritage List.
Hire a bike and follow the route of the Canal Ring, though, the most popular way to navigate the waterways is on a canal boat cruise. There are short excursions, hop-on, hop-off tours with the Canal Bus or even night-time dinner cruises.
On the Canal Ring, there are over 1,500 historic buildings waiting to be discovered. Visit the Het Grachtenhaus, the Museum of the Canals, with its multimedia displays charting the history of the Canal Ring, or take in the sight of the elegant merchants’ mansions, museums and art galleries that line the route. There are also hundreds of bridges spanning the canals, which are illuminated at night, creating a romantic ambience.
The water is also the focus of many seasonal events. According to Amsterdam’s residents, a good winter is one where the canals freeze over, and ice-skating can replace cycling as the transport of choice. If you’re visiting at the end of April, you’ll see boats packed with revellers celebrating Queen’s Day, and in August don’t miss the world-famous Canal Parade, the main event in the city’s annual Gay Pride festival.
Canal boat tours depart from various points around the Canal Ring. Tickets can be purchased on-site or via tour operators’ websites.