Amsterdam's Canals: Everything You Need to Know

There are many things that come to mind when conjuring images of Amsterdam. The multiculturalism, the bicycles, the trams, the markets, the windmills, the museums, the art, the nightlife, the red lights, the liberalism and of course those beautiful canals and bridges which make the place so unique. 

A cruise along one of Amsterdam’s canals is top of the list of things to do for many if not all of the visitors to this city. If you don’t want a cruise on the canals, then you more than likely have plans to sit drinking coffee whilst looking at them. 

Better still, why not seek out serviced apartments in Amsterdam which overlook the beautiful canals all of the time? 

If you have plans for neither of these things during your visit, be advised that you’re going to have a tough time ignoring the canals! There are 165 of them stretching a distance of 60 miles. 

Here are some other facts about the iconic canals that you need to know before you visit. 

Amsterdam Canals

Look out for the Dancing Houses 

As you glide down the river on your sightseeing tour or dinner cruise, you may spot some houses which look a little bit, well, wobbly… 

In fact, some of them look as if they are about to topple sideways! 

These are houses that were built alongside the canals for the wealthy people of Amsterdam. Sometimes local merchants lived and worked out of them. 

Unfortunately, they were built on stilts which rested on the boggy marshland that Amsterdam once was. The thing about boggy marshland is that it doesn’t quite give you the most sturdy of foundations upon which to build on. 

Inevitably the houses started to sink into the canals and rivers, giving them the wobbly look they have today. 

Amsterdam has a lot of bridges 

If you’re asked to think about a city associated with canals you inevitably think of Venice. However, despite the fact that there are 150 canals in Venice, more than twice the number there are in Amsterdam, there are only 409 bridges. 

Amsterdam has 1,281 bridges, that’s more than three times as many as its Italian counterpart. 

These bridges help to separate Amsterdam into almost 90 separate islands. 

Amsterdam has a lot of houseboats 

Any city that has canals has people that live on them, after all, people adapt to the environment they’re presented with. In a city where space is a premium, common sense dictates that people will find more space where they can! 

There are more than 2,500 houseboats currently afloat in Amsterdam’s canals. Some are offices, some are hotels and one is even a houseboat museum, but on the whole they are people’s homes. 

Traditional houseboats are made of wood but concrete ones are becoming more popular as they are more permanent and require less repair. 

Wooden ones also have to be repainted every three years. This is actually a law that has been imposed. 

The canals have a lot of bicycles in them 

In a city which has an estimated 800,000 bicycles it’s not surprising that a fair few fall into the canal every now and again. It’s also not surprising that officials work hard to remove the bicycles from the canals every year. 

What is surprising, however, is the sheer volume of bikes that are pulled out of the canals. Over 10,000 are pulled out every single year.  

That’s a lot of careless bicycle owners. 

Amsterdam’s canals are a UNESCO Heritage Site 

The inner canal ring of Amsterdam was officially recognised as a UNESCO world heritage site in 2010. This has marked them out as having cultural and historical significance and means that they are maintained and protected according to international law. 

The canals were not always as clean as they appear to be now 

The canals used to stink. To be fair though the whole of Amsterdam was apparently pretty ripe at the end of the 1800s, before the advent of the city’s second golden age. 

People used to pour their waste into the canals giving them a continuous pungent smell.  

The cleanliness of the canals now is largely thanks to government efforts to clean them and educate people in their maintenance. 

Although they are not recommended for swimming, there is an annual city-wide organised swim which people enjoy every year.  

The canals themselves are not the only things to see whilst on the canals! 

Inside the border’s of the canals lie some of Amsterdam’s most famous monuments. There are some 1,550 which may be on your list to see. These include Anne Frank’s House and the Westerkerk museum. 

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