Alongside tulips and windmills, the global image of Amsterdam is one of a city entwined with water. Since its development in the 17th century, Amsterdam’s Canal Ring has grown to be one of the world’s most unique urban landscapes. And it not only remains a historic and beautiful water network through the city, but a stunning backdrop for fantastic cultural and sporting events throughout the year.
Built during the Golden Age of the 17th century, Amsterdam’s Canal Ring, known locally as the Grachtengordel, is comprised of a network of intersecting waterways. These were developed through the drainage and reclamation of land for new development. Yet what was initially a practical feature, allowing the city to grow beyond its fortified boundaries, subsequently evolved into the area’s characteristic gabled canal-side estates and spectacular monuments thanks to financial enrichment from the booming maritime trade. The most famous trademarks of this new canal belt became the concentric loop of the Prinsengracht, Keizersgracht, Herengracht and Singel canals. Learn more about the history and development of the Canal Ring.
Since 1999, the city’s distinctive canal landscape has officially been protected, and in 2010 the Amsterdam Canal Ring was added to UNESCO’s World Heritage List. In 2013, the Canal Ring also celebrated its 400th birthday.
Amsterdam’s maritime success in the Golden Age not only led to urban expansion, but a boom in trade and architectural development. This was marked by the building of the city’s remarkable canal-side estates in the 17th and 18th centuries – most of which are still standing today. Even if you aren’t lucky enough to call one of these monuments your home, there are plenty of ways to experience life by the water in both museums and special events in and around the canals.
Located inside an actual canal house, Het Grachtenhuis (Museum of the Canals) is a great way to learn more about the Canal Ring and its development over the centuries, with its multimedia exhibits bringing history to life. And for those looking to experience the present as well as learn about the past, events such as Open Garden Days and Amsterdam Heritage Days allow canal houses and city centre monuments to open their doors to the public.
Each year, Amsterdam’s canals play host to a variety of major events on or alongside the water. At the end of April, the city turns orange to celebrate King's Day (formerly Queen's Day), a massive event that sees the canals packed with floating party-goers. Likewise, in August, the highlight of the annual Gay Pride celebrations is the world famous Canal Parade, featuring decorated barges, lots of colour and music, dancing participants and fun for all, whether on a boat or watching from a bridge. The Grachtenfestival (Canal Festival) also brings much music to the Canal Ring.
Canal cruises are one of Amsterdam’s most popular attractions. For anyone visiting for the first time, it’s an excellent introduction to the city’s many sights. There are a number of departure points throughout the city and the tours are available in a multitude of languages, provided by a number of different operators. Whether it’s a one-hour tour, a hop on, hop off all-day experience, or a romantic candlelight dinner cruise, there are options for every occasion. And naturally, you can have just as much fun when sightseeing on foot or even following the natives by taking to two wheels.