One of Amsterdam’s most important and famous attractions are certainly its beautiful canals, which date back to the 17th century and which were expanded over the centuries to boost trade and transport and at the same time to reclaim the land for the expansion of the city.
Due to their historical and scenic value, the Amsterdam Ring of Canals was recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2010.
The most important canals in the area of the Grachtengordel, i.e. the Amsterdam ring of canals, are three: the Prinsengracht (Prince’s Canal), the Keizersgracht (Emperor’s Canal) and the Herengracht (Lords’ Canal), although the complex network of waterways in the Dutch capital counts 165 canals with a length of 100 kilometres and 1281 bridges.
Some of the most beautiful bridges spanning Amsterdam’s canals include the Torensluis, the city’s oldest and widest bridge built in 1648 over the Singel, the Blauwbrug, decorated with fish sculptures and adorned with lampposts surmounted by the imperial crown, and the Magere Brug, illuminated by more than a thousand lights.
Amsterdam’s canals are also home to more than 2500 houseboats, a real attraction of the city.
Canal tours, available in several languages, are operated by over 200 specialised ships with both indoor and outdoor seating and last from 60 minutes upwards. Evening cruises cost a little more, especially those that also offer dinner on board, but the lights of dusk make Amsterdam even more magical.
Besides providing a breathtaking backdrop for the historic city centre, taking a boat tour along Amsterdam’s canals is one of the most interesting ways to discover the city’s sights and attractions from an unusual perspective. Whether you are in the city for the first time or a frequent visitor, Amsterdam always looks a little more magical seen from a boat.
Most canal cruises last about an hour; during the tour, a guide explains the route taken, letting you discover many interesting facts about the city. Most tours depart from the docking area near the Central Station, along the Damrak, where the ticket offices of the various companies are also located.
Among the many tours on offer, we have selected some of the best canal cruises, which have already been tested by hundreds of travellers and have proven their reliability. They differ in duration and services included, so book the one that best suits your needs and rest assured that whatever you choose you will be satisfied.
In recent years, other interesting ideas have sprung up to entice tourists to take a trip along Amsterdam’s canals. Some companies organise romantic candlelight cruises.
The luxurious Wine&Dinner Cruise includes a two-hour cruise, accompanied by an excellent dinner of Dutch culinary specialities and fine wines. Other companies, on the other hand, offer moderately priced dinners, such as the Pizza Cruise or the Burgers&Beers Cruise, which are suitable for a different kind of audience.
If you are interested in a canal cruise in Amsterdam, you will probably also want to visit other attractions in the city. Therefore, consider a combination ticket that will allow you to save on the final cost compared to buying individual entries. Keep in mind that the I Amsterdam City Card also includes a free cruise.
Seeing Amsterdam from the water is an absolute must during the Amsterdam Light Festival. The event, which takes place every year in winter, is one of the most eagerly awaited and consists of light effects, projections onto the city’s buildings, installations and artistic works along the canals and streets of the city. Don’t miss it!
In addition to the typical boats, you can also choose to hire smaller boats, suitable for smaller groups, for customised tours. They are ideal for those travelling with friends, perhaps for a stag or hen party, or with the whole family.
Thanks to the minimal size of these boats, you will be able to reach places that the more common ships cannot: for example, in addition to the tour on the Amstel river and through the 17th century canal system, you can also reach the narrow canals of the red light district.
In addition to the classic one-hour tours, there are other very interesting formulas available. For example, there is the formula that adds a hop-on hop-off bus to the cruise, where it is possible to alternate sections on the boat for an entire day, stopping at points of interest and then continuing the journey perhaps by bus. In this way you will have the possibility to organise your day better and more independently.
Amsterdam’s major attractions are located right next to the canals; the tour includes stops in front of the Rijksmuseum, the Hermitage, the Heineken Experience, the NEMO Museum and numerous other places.
Amsterdam’s network of canals, largely without fences or barriers, is laid out in concentric arcs to the west and south of the historic medieval centre.
The urban fabric, punctuated by waterways and radial streets, has as its centrepiece the Singel canal, to which the Prinsengracht, Keizersgracht and Herengracht run parallel, i.e. the three iconic canals of the city, overlooked by historic buildings and numerous shops, bars and restaurants.
From the Brouwersgracht onwards they are generally parallel to each other, gradually merging to the south-east into the Amstel River.
The Prinsengracht is named after William I of Orange, Prince of Orange, and is the longest and most important canal in Amsterdam: it connects the northern, southern and eastern areas with the city centre.
On the canal you can admire several buildings dating back to the Golden Age and several houseboats: there are many places of interest, retracing the history of the city.
The Keizersgracht is named after Maximilian of Austria, Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, and is the widest and most central canal of the three. Along the canal you can admire buildings dating back to 1620 such as the Rode Hoed, a house in which a hat maker was housed and in the back of which an underground church was established. Today it is a very active and popular independent cultural centre in the community.
Not to be missed along the Keizersgracht:
The Herengracht is named after the lords who ruled Amsterdam in the 16th and 17th centuries and is the innermost of the three canals that make up the circle, running partly alongside the Singel. This canal is known for its elegant buildings and dwellings with sandstone facades, a very expensive type of material dating back to the 17th century.
Along the canal are many interesting buildings including:
Amsterdam’s canals offer a lot to discover, and one of the best ways to admire their beauty while enjoying an unforgettable panoramic view is to take a boat tour: embarkation is available at several points in the city centre.
City Card allow you to save on public transport and / or on the entrances to the main tourist attractions.