The Ultimate Guide to Canal Cruise in Amsterdam


Amsterdam Canal Ring- What Can You See & Do?

Amsterdam Canal Ring- What Can You See & Do

Amsterdam's iconic 17th century canal ring offers visitors a window into the city's maritime history. This article will highlights top ways to experience the magic of the canals, from boat tours and walks to dining along the water and staying in canal-side accommodations. Read on.

Built during Amsterdam’s prosperous Golden Age in the 17th century, the iconic canal ring comprises a intricate network of waterways that encircle the city’s center. Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2010, this crescent-shaped belt of canals offers visitors an unforgettable window into Amsterdam’s illustrious maritime history. 

Lined by narrow buildings boasting gabled facades and elegant architecture, the canals retain the enchanting atmosphere of Amsterdam’s heyday as a major commercial hub. Whether gliding through on a canal cruise, strolling the tree-lined quays, or crossing one of the many slender bridges, the canal ring provides an idyllic way to explore Amsterdam’s character and heritage. 

In this article I will highlight the top ways to experience the magic of Amsterdam’s canal ring, from boat tours and walks to dining along the water and staying in canal-side accommodations. You will find tips and recommendations for fully appreciating the sights, sounds, and atmosphere of this iconic attraction.

1. Take a Boat Tour Along the Canal Ring

Amsterdam Canal Cruise: Damrak Pier Open Departure

A boat tour along the canals is one of the best ways to fully appreciate Amsterdam’s intricate network of waterways. The canal ring comprises 165 canals spanning over 60 miles (100 km) in length, with over 1,500 bridges crossing them.

Several boat tour operators such as Blue Boat Company, Lovers, and Canal Bus offer hop-on hop-off tours where you can embark and disembark at various stops along the canals. Tours generally last 45-60 minutes to complete a loop around the canal ring.

Take a seat on an open-air boat and glide by the beautiful gabled facades as your audio guide provides commentary about the history and key sights. Learn how the canals were built during Amsterdam’s Golden Age in the 17th century to stimulate trade and transport goods. Admire the ornate canal houses and mansions of the city’s wealthy merchants from that era.

Popular stops include the Anne Frank House, where Anne wrote her famous diary while hiding from the Nazis, and the iconic Skinny Bridge, one of Amsterdam’s most photographed landmarks. Boats also pass through the 4 large main canals – Singel, Herengracht, Keizersgracht and Prinsengracht.

Marvel at the elegant Golden Bend, where Amsterdam’s richest 17th-century merchants built their mansions alongside the Herengracht canal. Cruising along Prinsengracht, see the historic home of the Anne Frank family. A boat tour perfectly captures both the present-day beauty and 400-year history of Amsterdam’s canal ring.

2. Stroll or Bike Along the Canal Ring

Stroll or Bike Along the Canals

Walking or biking along the canals is a wonderful way to experience Amsterdam at a leisurely pace. The canal ring has over 60 miles (100 km) of bike paths and walkways lining the waterways.

Wander along the cobblestone streets and observe Amsterdammers going about their daily lives. Bikes can be rented throughout the city from places like MacBike, Cycle Company or Orangebike.

Be sure to stop at the many historical bridges such as the iconic Magere Brug, known as the “Skinny Bridge,” built in 1691. It’s one of the most photographed sites in Amsterdam. The Blauwbrug bridge features impressive decorative blue stone trimming. And the Torensluis, Amsterdam’s oldest bridge, offers a perfect photo spot with its towers reflected in the water.

Admire the lovely views of the tree-lined canals and the gabled canal houses. Installed street posts mark the addresses, dates, and names of the oldest canal homes. Look for plaques describing Amsterdam’s history during the Dutch Golden Age when the canals were built.

Strolling or biking along the canal ring provides a more intimate experience with Amsterdam’s iconic waterways than seeing them by boat. It allows you to notice details and truly soak in the atmosphere at your own pace.

3. Explore the Charming Jordaan District

Explore the Charming Jordaan District

The Jordaan area west of the canal ring is one of Amsterdam’s most charming neighborhoods. It was originally constructed in the 17th century to house workers and immigrants. In the 20th century it became popular with artists, students, and hippies. Today it is an upscale district known for its cozy cafés, galleries, markets, and restaurants lining its scenic canals.

Be sure to weave through the tiny alleyways and admire the beautiful canal houses. Look for small specialty shops selling art, antiques, books, and eclectic homewares. Visit the Noordermarkt to browse the bustling farmers’ market on Mondays or the flea market on Saturdays.

Stop for a drink at one of Jordaan’s traditional brown cafés like Café Papeneiland or Café Chris, which are local Dutch pubs known for their cozy atmosphere.

If you have time, the Anne Frank House is located on the edge of Jordaan and offers a sobering yet fascinating look at WWII history. Walking the streets of Jordaan gives wonderful insight into Amsterdam’s local culture and community.

4. Dine Along the Canal Ring

3 best and top-selling romantic canal cruises in Amsterdam

In the evenings, take in a canal-side dinner with a view at restaurants like De Belhamel, Restaurant Vermeer, and Café Luxembourg. Make a reservation, especially on weekends, to secure canalside seating.

Many restaurants offer outdoor seating right alongside the water, where you can watch boats glide by as you enjoy your meal. De Belhamel, housed in a historic canal house since 1967, serves refined Dutch cuisine with an extensive wine list. Restaurant Vermeer offers French-inspired fine dining with an ever-changing seasonal menu.

For a casual meal, check out brown cafés (Dutch pubs) like Café van Zuylen, Café de Doelen, or De Ooievaar. These cozy, dimly-lit bars dish up traditional favorites like bitterballen (fried meatballs), stamppot (mashed potatoes and vegetables), and Hutspot in vintage settings right along the canals.

More dining options along the canals include:

  • Restaurant d’Vijff Vlieghen – This Michelin-starred restaurant is set across 5 connected 17th-century canal houses. It offers contemporary Dutch cuisine.
  • Marius – A romantic fine dining spot overlooking the Keizersgracht canal. Known for its oysters, seafood, and impressive wine cellar.
  • Blauw aan de Wal – Historic restaurant situated along one of Amsterdam’s oldest canals, the Oudezijds Voorburgwal. Features a terrace with canal views.
  • Hemingway – Elegant bar and grill set on Leidseplein square. Ask for a table on the outdoor terrace to dine while overlooking the picturesque Prinsengracht canal.
  • Café de Prins – Brown cafe housed in a restored Dutch gabled canal home. Outdoor seating available in summer months. Serves traditional Dutch bar fare.
  • De Silveren Spiegel – This atmospheric, centuries-old restaurant offers classical Dutch cuisine and a special chef’s table overlooking the Singel canal.
  • Canal House – Multi-level contemporary restaurant with floor-to-ceiling windows providing panoramic vistas of the Keizersgracht canal. Offers international shared plates.
  • Gartine – Charming cafe and lunch spot hidden away in the Nine Streets area. Small garden terrace sits right beside the Herengracht canal.

5. Stay in a Canal-Side Hotel

Amsterdam Canal Cruises with children - This is what you need to know

One of the most magical ways to experience Amsterdam’s iconic canals is to stay in a hotel located right along the waterways.

Several luxurious hotels are housed within historic gabled buildings that line the major canals. The Pulitzer Amsterdam occupies 25 17th and 18th century canal homes joined together. Many of its spacious, elegantly-decorated rooms offer romantic views overlooking the Prinsengracht and Keizersgracht canals.

The Dylan Amsterdam is a 5-star boutique hotel set within the Keizersgracht canal ring. It provides a sophisticated hideaway, with lavish accommodations featuring artwork by modern Dutch masters. Guests rave about the canal views visible from the hotel’s windows.

For old world elegance, De L’Europe combines classic Dutch architecture with contemporary amenities. Some suites at this palatial hotel look out at the colorful boats cruising along the Amstel river.

More affordable canal-side stay options include the ibis Amsterdam Centre Stopera, located right on the Valkenburgerstraat canal. Budget travelers also recommend the intimate Hotel Notting Hill, which sits close to the vibrant Leidseplein area.

Waking up to gorgeous canal views outside your window, then taking a soak in an in-room clawfoot bathtub, provides an indulgent Dutch canal experience many travelers rave about. Staying along these historic waterways immerses you in the romantic heart of Amsterdam.

Canal Ring History - What's the story?

Amsterdam’s semicircular network of canals was constructed during the Dutch Golden Age in the 17th century, turning Amsterdam into a thriving center of international trade.

In 1606, plans were conceived to expand Amsterdam beyond its medieval walls and ramparts as the population was rapidly growing. The city hired urban planners to design an ambitious system of concentric canal rings, which would both stimulate commerce and provide transport of goods.

Construction of the canal ring began in 1613 and took many decades to fully complete. Three major canals – Singel, Herengracht, and Keizersgracht – formed the core and grandest part of the canal network. Singel was originally built as a moat around Amsterdam’s inner city. Herengracht and Keizersgracht were lined with mansions of wealthy merchants.

The new canal district was built in the sought-after Dutch Renaissance style, with gabled canal houses up to 6 stories tall. Locks and connecting bridges allowed the canals to be managed as a cohesive system. By 1665, over 1,500 new buildings and 25 bridges had been built across 3 central canals spanning nearly 2 miles.

Goods like timber, wheat, wine, and dye were transported efficiently on barges. The canal ring attracted immigrants and new industries like shipbuilding, allowing Amsterdam to flourish. While roads were eventually built to handle land traffic, the canals remain a vital part of Amsterdam’s layout and identity today.

The canal district exemplifies urban planning and architecture of Amsterdam’s 17th century heyday as a maritime world leader. The well-preserved canal ring vividly reflects this Dutch Golden Age, earning its UNESCO World Heritage status.

Frequently Asked Questions

How many canals are in the canal ring network?

There are approximately 165 canals spanning over 60 miles (100 km) in total length, with over 1,500 bridges crossing them. The three main canals are Singel, Herengracht, and Keizersgracht.

When was the canal ring constructed?

Construction began in 1613 under Amsterdam’s expansion plan. The main canals were dug during the 1660s, with expansion continuing through the 17th and 18th centuries.

Why were the canals built?

The canals were built to stimulate trade and transport during Amsterdam’s commercial expansion in the Dutch Golden Age. They allowed goods to be moved efficiently to Amsterdam’s expanding new neighborhoods.

How did the canals transform Amsterdam?

The canals turned Amsterdam into a thriving hub of international trade and the center of finance and shipping. Amsterdam grew over 5 times larger in size and population due to the new canal district.

What architectural style were the canal houses built in?

The canal district features Dutch Renaissance architecture, with most canal houses having narrow, gabled facades 4-6 stories high. Locks and connecting bridges were also built.

What cargo was transported on the canals?

Goods like timber, wheat, wine, spices, dye, and other merchandise moved along the canals on barges.

Are the canals still used for transportation today?

While roads now handle most land transportation, leisure boats and tourist river cruises commonly travel along the scenic canals today.

When did the canal ring become a UNESCO site?

The canal district was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2010, which recognizes its cultural and historical significance.

More useful information about Amsterdam Canal Cruises

We are a group of travelers who love to explore and write about Amsterdam. Over the years, we have gained extensive experience with cruising over the Canals in Amsterdam. Here, you could find all the essential information you need to know about Amsterdam Canal Cruises, including the different types of cruise, prices, tickets, operating hours, departure points, and many more.


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