In Dutch a canal is a “gracht” and canals are “grachten”. There are a couple of canals in Amsterdam that form the central canal right, also known as “grachtengordel” in Dutch. The beauties came to life during the beginning of the 17th-century, after the population in Amsterdam grew beyond its medieval walls and city planners put together an ambitious idea for expansion. Far from being picturesque or decorative, the canals in Amsterdam were necessary to drain & reclaim the wet land.
In 2010, Unesco listed the canals in Amsterdam (or waterways) as a World Heritage site. The canals in Amsterdam outnumber those in Venice. There are currently 165 canals in Holland’s capital. Amsterdam also has 3 times as many bridges – more than any other place in the world. This beautiful city also has more bicycles than the 863.200 inhabitants and every year 12.000 bicycles are pulled out of the canals in Amsterdam.
The core canals in Amsterdam are semicircular Singel, Herengracht, Keizersgracht and Prinsengracht. A simple way to remember the names of these canals is that, aside from the Singel canal, all others are in alphabetical order as you move outward.
1 | Singel
The Singel is a canal in Amsterdam that starts from the IJ-river and ends at Munt Square or Muntplein in Dutch, where it flows into the Binnen Amstel. The Singel was dug in 1428 and extended in 1450. It was initially a moat that defended the western limits of Amsterdam. Amazing, historical buildings are located on this canal – there’s even one that dates back to the year 1600: The House “De Dolphijn”. This used to be the house of Frans Banninck Cocq – who Rembrandt painted in his Night Watch.
Since 1968, the Singel canal also has an official Catboat – a houseboat containing dozens of cats. The Catboat is the only floating animal sanctuary in the world. A refuge for stray and abandoned cats which, thanks to its special location on a houseboat in Amsterdam’s charming canal belt, has also become a world-famous attraction.
2 | Herengracht
This was where the richest residents of the city moved once the canals in Amsterdam were completed. Before that, they lived on the Oudezijds Voorburgwal – in “De Wallen”, beter known as the Red Light District. They named the waterway after the Heeren XVII (17 Gentlemen) of the Dutch East India Company and built their beautiful mansions alongside it.
3 | Keizersgracht
The Keizersgracht, the second of the three main canals in Amsterdam that together form the canals, is located between the Herengracht and the Prinsengracht. Almost as stylish, the Keizersgracht was a bow to Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I and with 28 meters in width the Keizersgracht is the widest canal in town. A special detail is that the Keizersgracht was dug one year later than the Prinsengracht (which was dug in 1614), while Keizersgracht is the second canal of the three main canals. Also this canal is surround by beautiful, old buildings from the 19th, 18th and even the 17th-century. The oldest building on the Keizersgracht is the House with the Heads, which was built in 1622 and named after the 6 ornaments shaped as heads, which can all be found on the facade.
4 | Prinsengracht
This canal in Amsterdam was named after Willem the Silent, Prince of Orange and the 1st Dutch royal. The Prinsengracht (or Princes canal in English) was created as a somewhat cheaper canal with smaller residences and warehouses. It was one of the canals in Amsterdam that acted as a barrier against the crusty working-class quarter beyond it, also known as the Jordaan. Nowadays, the Prinsengracht is the liveliest of the canals in Amsterdam, with cafes, shops and many houseboats. Yearly, during the first weekend of August one of Amsterdam’s biggest events takes place on this canal: The Amsterdam Pride (formally known as the Gay Pride).
5 | Brouwersgracht
The Brouwersgracht is a radial canal in Amsterdam which cuts across the others. This canal takes its name from the many breweries that used to produce along the bounding waters. People often find the Brouwersgracht one of the most beautiful canals in Amsterdam.
Amsterdam Canal Tour
Exploring Holland’s capital by boat is one of the best things you could do while being in the wonderful city. There are many canal companies in town, but we know which one to take.