The best canals in Amsterdam were mostly established in the 17th century as an expansion of the city and a vital trading network. The framework connecting all of these sights and the neighbourhoods in the centre is called the Grachtengordel, or Canal Ring of Amsterdam. Today, these waterways are commonly featured in travel brochures and on Instagram feeds.

    Thanks to Amsterdam's bike lanes and pedestrian-friendly environment, it's easy to explore the famed canals and the attractions that can be found along them. Read on to learn about the most attractive canals in Amsterdam and the reasons why they should be on your travel itinerary.

    1

    Singel

    Discover one of the oldest canals in Amsterdam city centre

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    The Singel is the first canal in Grachtengordel (Canal District) if you start counting from the very heart of Amsterdam to the outer ring. It was established in the 15th century and connected the inner Amstel river with the IJ bay.

    The canal is lined with picturesque merchant houses and a couple of significant monuments. One of these is the imposing Munttoren, a 17th-century tower situated on the spot where the Singel flows into the Amstel river. House No. 7 is an odd yet fun place to visit, as it’s known as the narrowest house in existence, with a width of roughly 1 metre. When at the Singel, it's worth wandering off to the Ronde Lutherse Kerk, an eye-catching circular cathedral with a dome-shaped rooftop.

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    2

    Keizersgracht

    Walk past medieval merchant houses

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    The Keizersgracht (Emperor's Canal) dates back to the start of the 17th century, when it served as an avenue full of upscale residences. Eventually, it turned into a canal with numerous historical buildings. Among the unique features here is The Embassy of the Free Mind, which is a medieval art museum hidden behind the facade of a towering merchant house on No. 123.

    The Groenlandpakhuizen (Greenland Storehouses) are a one-of-a-kind feature, as these are some of the last remaining buildings used for storage of whale oil and similar products of this industry. The stepped gables and ornamental windows of the Groenlandpakhuizen are quite mesmerising. The Herengracht canal is between Keizersgracht and Singel, making it easy to explore all 3 on a walking tour.

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    3

    Prinsengracht

    Visit some of the city's famous sights

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    The Prinsengracht starts at the Westerdok in the north and stretches out for over 3 km on the Amstel river. The construction of this canal caused Amsterdam to expand even further, making it one of the largest cities in the world in the early 1600s. Some of the city’s most recognised attractions are lined up along the Prinsengracht, including the Anne Frank House, the Houseboat Museum, and the Amsterdam Tulip Museum.

    A fascinating highlight is the Westerkerk and its mighty bell tower. This church functions as a beacon for the Prinsengracht and the Jordaan neighbourhood. If your walking or cycling tour gives you an appetite, you can visit Papeneiland, a lovely pub that dates back to 1641. It’s a great place to enjoy delicious Dutch cuisine with views of the canal and passing crowds.

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    4

    Brouwersgracht

    Amsterdam’s canal with the highest number of national monuments

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    The Brouwersgracht (Brewers' Canal) is often considered one of Amsterdam's most picturesque canals, thanks to its charming bridges and merchant houses built in the Golden Age of the Netherlands. As the name suggests, this waterway was once lined by breweries, providing merchants with some distraction from work.

    Cultural monuments that survived the centuries include No. 20, a tiny house with a unique neck-gabble, and houses No. 188–196 with their gorgeous red shutters. The A Van Wees – de Ooievaar craft distillery is an authentic cultural experience in Amsterdam. It offers tours and tastings on its signature gins, liqueurs and spirits, which are distilled with authentic copper kettles to centuries-old recipes.

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    5

    Herengracht

    Find out where the rich and famous lived in the past

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    Named after the wealthy businessmen that occupied the residences, the Herengracht (Gentlemen's Canal) used to be a place to see and be seen in Amsterdam. Many of the original inhabitants worked for the Dutch East India Company – VOC. This allowed them to build the fanciest houses at the Herengracht. On Herenmarkt Square, you can find the former headquarters of the VOC.

    These days, the Herengracht is home to several fascinating museums and over 400 dwellings listed as national monuments. If you're into fashion and design, the Museum of Bags and Purses is worth your time. The Museum of the Canals on No. 386 tells you more about the intricate canal network, its history and its uses.

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    6

    Oudezijds Voorburgwal

    Check out some of the city's architectural highlights

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    The Oudezijds Voorburgwal is only 750 metres long, but has loads of architectural gems and age-old monuments. When entering the street, the charm of it becomes apparent. A must-see is Het Wapen van Riga, a striking trader's house built in 1605 with a perfectly executed stepped gable. Another iconic monument along the Oudezijds Voorburgwal is the Oude Kerk, the oldest church in Amsterdam. Continue to the Agnietenkapel, a gothic chapel that's been around since 1470.

    Learn about a lesser-known part of Amsterdam's history in the Our Lord in the Attic Museum, a hidden Catholic church established in a time when services and gatherings were prohibited.

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    7

    Singelgracht

    Explore the canal that encircles all others

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    The Singelgracht was once the outer ring around Amsterdam, serving as a defence line. Today, the canal winds its way through several districts and passes by recognised landmarks. For example, the Rijksmuseum, with exhibitions containing works of Dutch Masters such as Rembrandt van Rijn and Vincent van Gogh.

    From the shores of the Singelgracht, you can directly enter Vondelpark, see the Muiderpoort defence tower, or visit the truly impressive Tropenmuseum with its ethnographic displays. Just a short walk from the museum is the Artis Amsterdam Royal Zoo, where families can see various exotic animals.

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    8

    Kloveniersburgwal

    Monuments and theatres line Amsterdam’s shortest canal

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    With a length of only 550 metres, the Kloveniersburgwal is the shortest canal in Amsterdam city centre. However, this is one of the city’s original canals, and together with the Singel and Geldersekade, created the first defence line in the late 1400s.

    Majestic structures rise above the cobbled streets, such as the palace-like Trippenhuis on No. 29 and the 'Narrow House' on the opposite side at No. 26. Many of the historical buildings along the Kloveniersburgwal have been transformed into a university campus, such as the magnificent Bushuis and the Oudemanhuispoort. The Kloveniersburgwal also has a nice selection of cafés, international restaurants, and gelato shops, allowing for a pleasant break.

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    9

    Entrepotdok

    See a contemporary side of the Canal District

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    The roots of the Entrepotdok don't go as deep as some of the other canals in Amsterdam. It’s still a significant waterway, especially from a tourist's perspective. Most notable is the row of merchant houses that stretch along the canal's entire northern side, making it the largest inhabited complex of merchant houses in Amsterdam.

    As soon as you cross the Nijlpaardenbrug (Hippos' Bridge) to the southern bank, you'll have the opportunity to visit the Resistance Museum. This hall brings you back in time, telling the story of resistance, Jew persecution, and the daily life in Amsterdam from 1940 to 1945. Not far from the museum, Artis Zoo is an attractive spot along Entrepotdok.

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    10

    Nieuwe Herengracht

    Enjoy the diversity of sights along this green canal

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    As an extension of the Herengracht, the Nieuwe Herengracht starts on the other side of the Amstel river and ends at the Scharrebiersluis drawbridge. The canal doesn't have as many heritage houses as other avenues, but it hosts some lovely parks and an impressive monument. The first sight from the Amstel river, the Hermitage Amsterdam, shows exhibits on culture, history, and arts.

    Don't forget to wander around Hortus Botanicus Amsterdam, a massive botanical garden with thousands of exotic plant and flower species. From the garden, it's a mere stroll to Wertheimpark, where there’s plenty of space for relaxation. This park also hosts the Auschwitz Monument, a sobering reminder of the city’s bleak past.

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    Huub Lakerveld | Contributing Writer

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