Amsterdam’s Canals and Canal Houses

Amsterdam, the ‘Venice of the North’ has one hundred kilometers of canals, 1500 bridges, and about 90 islands. Three main canals or grachte are the ‘Herengracht’-the pratricians canal , ‘Keizersgracht’ –the emperors canal and ‘Prinsengracht- the princes canal. All three were contstructed for residential development.
The homes along these canals are magnificent. Beautiful architecture!! In 2010 the canal district was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List. Visited one , the Museum van Loon, ,that reflected the inner décor and furnishings of the 17th century.


Most amazing is that behind these glorious and imperious facades are huge garden plots with gorgeous city gardens. One would simply have no idea as a tourist that there is another world of green in between each of the canals. I had an initial glimpse at the Van Loon house and now wish I was still in Amsterdam from June 14-16, when for 3 days during Amsterdam’s Open Garden Days, 30 of the most majestic canalside courtyards are accessible. And of course you have to go through the house to get to the gardens.. oh how I wish I was here for that weekend to get a glimpse into amsterdamer’s lives –yes you have to enter the gardens through their kitchens, living rooms and bedrooms. The dutch have passes laws to protect these gardens.


The canal houses typically have double entrances. The rich owners used the doors up the stairs, the servants and tradesmen used the doors underneath.. some of them are quite small so ducking was in order. In Holland space is always at a premium so the canal houses are long and narrow. Many have narrow stairwells to the upper floors so furniture needed to be brought via a roof hook.

The canal houses are signature Amsterdam. KLM leveraged this brand as they have handed out blue and white delft miniatures since 1952, first only to first class and since 1993 to business class passangers. The houses have achieved legendary status and there are serious collectors all over the world. Apps are available to keep track of your collection. They depict real houses in Holland.. originally just canal houses but the collection has expanded to other beautiful old homes in Holland. Serious collectors visit the houses in their miniature collection. They of course held Bols Dutch Genever ( Gin) when you receive them from KLM. Interestingly I found several KPMG colleagues who were avid collectors. If you traveled on ‘koninginnen dag’ this year you received a special commemorative delft blue royal palace. Cool eh? Kinda wish I traveled KLM.


The canal system and its homes and gardens is considered one of the most unique urban landscapes. This year, 2013, Amsterdam’s Canal Ring celebrates its 400th birthday. The canals were dug in the 17th during the Dutch Golden Age. In keeping with its history, land was also reclaimed for the new development.. Something the dutch have been at for years..the Maritime museum had a great saying on its wall

Known as the ‘grachtengordel, they are a series of canal belts —an outcome of early city planning as Amsterdam was growing by leaps and bounds in the early 17th century. The Dutch were incredibly wealthy and successful due to their key role in european trade. Amsterdam exploded at this time, hence the building of the city’s canal side estates.


The Canals provide an amazing ambiance to the city. The city celebrates on the canals.. check out my ‘orange’ blog on the canal festivities on Koning’s Dag. A similar colourful celebration dominates the canals during Amsterdam’s Gay Pride.. instead of a Street Parade it is a Canal Parade

And as I discovered on my last Saturday in Amsterdam, brides and grooms also celebrate their newly wed status on the canal.



To really experience how the city operates, a canal boat tour is a MUST DO attraction in Amsterdam. This is one tour you do not want to miss in this city!!! Take the one that tours you through the canals and the will give you a real insight into the importance of the water routes, boats and trade. To gain a deeper understanding visit Amsterdam’s Scheepvart ( Maritime) Museum. It is an entertaining and enlightening exhibition into the history and criticality of boats in the Netherlands history.
Scheepvart Museum

Another charming part of the landscape are the canal boats.. initially canal boots were an inexpensive solution to living in Amsterdam. Today Canal Boats are as expensive as apartment purchases or rentals.. they are highly prized addresses


And of course on any old day, people walk , bike and scooter along the canals taking in the ambiance ..even in the rain the canals are a wonderful place to absorb history and current reality.

Of course the best canal environment..based on my extensive research into the subject is to sit in the sun on one of the numerous canal terraces and enjoy a lovely glass of wine or beer. Hours are easily dedicated to canal traffic and people observance .


One of my favorite places is the Belhamel on the Brouwersgracht.
So a glass of wine or beer sitting on a canal terrace would be my single most significant Amsterdam Enjoyment Tip!!!! Not to be missed.. we found out it doesn’t even have to be that warm to enjoy the experience!!!

Wine at the Belhamel

Wine at the Belhamel

Brouwer's Gracht

Brouwer’s Gracht

  1. dewolf45 said:

    Geri, how wonderful. Perhaps you can get back to Amsterdam for the Open Garden Days in a future year: wouldn’t it be just marvellous. And maybe I could go with you! I am counting the days to freedom in the fall. Meanwhile, the renovation continues – and continues – and continues…… but with luck will be done in another 3 weeks or so. When are you back in Toronto and what is your summer schedule at the cottage?



  2. Sonia Larin said:

    Geri, you really seem to enjoy yourself while working. Way to go. Your sister Annette has not changed much. She still looks very good and beautiful as ever! Sonia Larin



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