At just over 400 years old and collectively over 100km in length, Amsterdam’s 165 canals are certainly a breath-taking sight. With the canal ring listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2010, they’ve been recognised as having outstanding universal value. But perhaps better yet, they’re a fabulous way of exploring the city when on a short break in Amsterdam.
History of the canals
Built during the 17th century, the first four (and main) canals were implemented as a way to improve defence and water management, along with residential development. Named Singelgracht, Herengracht, Keizersgracht and Prinsengracht, these are the four original and more notable canals in Amsterdam, which encircle the city centre in the shape of a half moon.
The dancing houses
We’re sure if you’ve ever visited Amsterdam, or even just seen a few images, you’ll have noticed the charming canal houses which form a beautiful silhouette in all their shapes and sizes. These houses are known as the ‘dancing houses’, as over time they’ve sunk, moved or tilted in the swampy soil along the canal bank, creating a rather unique and colourful view.
Bridges, islands and houseboats
As the city grew over time and more canals were created, you’ll find that today, Amsterdam rather spectacularly boasts no less than 1,281 bridges and 90 separate miniature islands. The most famous of these bridges is Magere Brug, or ‘skinny bridge’ (however as of 1871 it was made a lot larger and is no longer particularly skinny). Named as such due to originally being so narrow it was hard for just two people to pass each other on foot, this famous drawbridge is located on Amstel, between Keizersgracht and Prinsengracht.
Houseboats are a popular way of living in Amsterdam, where there are over 2,500 floating in the meandering canals. Some being more than a century old, if you take a walk along the canal bank you’ll discover many different colours, shapes, sizes and materials; however concrete houseboats are most popular as they require fewer repairs.
Events on the water
Depending on when you choose to visit, you may be lucky enough to experience one or two of the festivities that happen on and around the canals each year. April sees the city turn a beautiful hue of orange in honour of King’s Day, and there’s also a canal festival in August named The Grachtenfestival, where an abundance of classical music concerts take place both on land and water. During the winter months, the whole of Amsterdam comes alive with artistic displays during the light festival. A great way to see this is from a boat ride along the canal, as some of the creations are in the water!
If we’ve inspired you to take a short break to Amsterdam, visit the Great Escapes website for more information and to book.