Amsterdam Canals – History, Architecture and More

The Amsterdam Canal Ring, or Grachtengordel, is a magnificent UNESCO World Heritage Site. 

The Amsterdam Canals represent the Dutch’s golden age, dating back to the 17th century. 

The Amsterdam Canal Ring comprises three concentric semi-circular canals.

Smaller canals and hundreds of bridges bisect the Canal Ring.

Surrounded by historical monuments, the Canal Ring is home to the fabled Amsterdam Canal Cruises

Why Explore Amsterdam Canals?

Amsterdam Canal is the prime attraction and a UNESCO World Heritage site.

These canals have served as the main means of transportation in the city since the Dutch Golden Age.

Also, the Amsterdam Canals attract millions of tourists annually from around the world.

Various events and festivals occur throughout the year in and around the canal.

All visitors to Amsterdam should explore the canals as most of the attractions, like the Anne Frank House and Van Gogh Museum, lie on the borders of the canal.

This gives you the perfect chance to tour all of Amsterdam.

History of Amsterdam Canals

Designed in the 17th century, the Amsterdam Canal Ring is a concentric belt around the old city.

Amsterdam was a city on a swamp and with increasing immigration in the early 17th century, the city faced a shortage of housing and space. 

The government dug three concentric canals to drain the Amstel River and expand the city.

It was also done for water management and defense. 

This led to the formation of Herengracht, Prinsengracht and Keizersgracht. 

These three Amsterdam canals gave rise to residential areas and also new neighborhoods emerged in the west, like Jordaan. 

Throughout history, the Canal Ring acted as the route for trade and travel, boosting the country’s cultural, economic and political prosperity. 

This resulted in the onset of the Dutch Golden Age. 

Present-day Amsterdam Canals

Present-day Amsterdam Canals
Image: MarioGuti / Getty Image Signature (Canva)

In 2010, Amsterdam Canals became a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to its historical importance and elegant architecture. 

Now, this Canal Ring is the epicenter of Amsterdam’s vibrant life. 

It houses hundreds of hotels, restaurants, and museums and highlights the cultural diversity of the Dutch Capital. 

This attracts 5.5 million tourists annually, who visit the Amsterdam Canals to cruise through river Amstel.

This extensive canal system serves as the route for Canal Cruising. 

There are day, evening and dinner cruises, hop-on and hop-off tours, and day tours to enjoy the Amsterdam Canals.

The water is also the prime area for seasonal events.

Enjoy the Keukenhof and Amsterdam Light Festival from the Canal Cruise Boat

Major Canals of Amsterdam

Major Canals of Amsterdam
Image: Matthew Dixon Photography (Canva)

There are 160 canals running across the city. 

However, there are four major Amsterdam Canals that support the city. 

The Major Amsterdam Canals are: 

Singel Canal 

Singel Canal
Image: Shane Aldendorff / Pexels (Canva)

Singel is one of the oldest Canals in Amsterdam. 

It served as both a means of transportation and defense for the city. 

It also worked as a most when the city expanded beyond Singel in 1585.

It is now the innermost canal and one of the most picturesque spots in the city. 

You can catch sights of Nieuwe Kerk and Amsterdam Tulip  Museum near the Singel. 

Heregracht Canal

Herengracht is the second canal in the Amsterdam Canal Ring. 

Lying between the Singel and Keizersgracht, it is regarded as the most important canal. 

In the 17th century, the canal housed the wealthiest merchants, powerful regents and mayors. 

Now visitors can watch the seven bridges and dancing house at Herengracht. 

Keizersgracht Canal

Keizersgracht Canal
Image: Miroslav_1 / Getty Images (Canva)

Keizergracht is the widest canal in the inner city.

It is one of the most popular canals and houses beautiful bridges and merchant houses.

There are many historical buildings near Keizergracht.

Visitors can also find Museum Van Loon, interesting nightlife scenes and coffee shops.

Prinsengracht Canal

Prinsengracht Canal
Image: Travelism / Getty Images (Canva)

Prinsengracht is a 2-mile-long canal in the heart of Amsterdam.

Running parallel to the Keizersgracht, it is the outermost canal of the 4 main Amsterdam Canals. 

It is filled with historic churches, museums and cafes. 

Amsterdam Canals Ring Layout and Architecture

While most canal cities are rectangular, Amsterdam has semi-circle canals.

Herengracht is the first and most elegant canal in the center of Amsterdam.

Amsterdam Canals Ring Layout and Architecture
Image: Anastasia Collection (Canva)

Also known as the Lord’s Canal, it houses the Golden Bend section lined with mansions and inner gardens. 

Some significant attractions of Herengracht include the Museum of the Canals, the Nine Streets and Begijnhof. 

Parallel to the first, Keizersgracht is the second and widest of the three canals. 

This canal is also called the Emperor’s Canal and its calm waters flow into bustling neighborhoods. 

Most of the city’s Hop-on and Hop-off boat tours go through this canal. 

The third and longest canal is Prinsengracht or the Prince’s Canal.

This canal runs through major city attractions like the Anne Frank House, the West Church, and the Houseboat Museum. 

In addition to the three primary canals, a moat that encircled the City during the middle ages called Singel runs in the center of the Amsterdam Canal Ring. 

Singel runs from the IJ Bay behind the Central Station to Muntplein Square, where it meets the Amstel River. 

Here you can enjoy the city’s most picturesque bridges and canal houses and visit the most popular neighborhoods like Red Light District.

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Amsterdam Canals – FAQs

1. Where are the canals in Amsterdam?

The Amsterdam canals run from Central Station to Muntplein Square, where the canal reaches the Amstel River. 

2. Can you swim in Amsterdam Canals?

No, it is not legal to swim in the Amsterdam Canals.

3. How deep are Amsterdam canals?

The average depth of the Amsterdam Canal is 2.6m below the sea level. 

The deepest point of the canal is 4.5m below sea level. 

4. How many canals are there in Amsterdam?

There are more than 160 canals in Amsterdam. 

The canal rings and the canals that cut through the rings are the primary canals. 

5. Are the Canals in Amsterdam man-made?

The Amsterdam Canals are man-made.

They were built for water management and defense of the city during the early 17th century. 

6. Do the Amsterdam canals freeze?

Yes. Rarely the canal freezes when there are sub-zero temperatures during the winter.

7. Who built the Amsterdam Canals?

The governors of Amsterdam during the 16th and 17th centuries built the Amsterdam Canals. 

Herengracht was the first canal built by them. 

Various tickets for Amsterdam Canal Cruise tickets

If you are planning to cruise down the Amsterdam Canals, here are the best options for you 

Amsterdam-Dinner Canal-Cruises

Dinner Cruises tickets: Dinner cruises are the best way to enjoy a cruise down the Amsterdam Canal and experience Dutch cuisine. 


Evening Cruises tickets: Sail through the Amsterdam Canals during sunset for the most picturesque experience.

Luxury Boat Tour

Luxury Canal Cruises tickets: Board a luxury boat with modern amenities to cruise through the Canals of Amsterdam.

Amsterdam Romantic Canal Cruise

Romantic Canal cruise tickets: Get the tickets for the most romantic canal cruises in Amsterdam for the best night out or date with your partner.

Private Amsterdam Canal Cruise

Private Canal Cruises tickets: If you wish to cruise with a small group and only your friends and family, book a private Canal cruise.

Open Boat Amsterdam Canal Cruise

Open Boat Amsterdam Canal cruise tickets: If you are taking the Amsterdam Canal Cruises for sightseeing, open boat tickets are your perfect match. 


One-Hour Canal Cruise tickets: Low on time, but wish to tour the entire Amsterdam City? Get the One Hour Canal Cruise ticket for the most comprehensive tour. 


Hop on Hop off tickets: Cruise through the Amsterdam Canals and past various attractions. If you wish to visit one of those attractions, hop off the boat and enjoy your tour. 

Luxury Open Boat Cruise

Amsterdam Canal Cruises with drinks: The best way to explore the city during your vacation in Amsterdam is to take a Canal Cruise with drinks and food. 

Amsterdam Canal Cruise from Central Station

Canal Cruise from Central Station: Central Station offer various canal cruise options and is one of the most accessible port. 

Amsterdam-City Pass

Amsterdam Passes: If you are touring Amsterdam and wish to visit multiple attractions, then Amsterdam Passes are your money-saver option.


Amsterdam Light Festival cruises: Hop on to the dedicated cruises to explore the annual light festival of Amsterdam that attracts millions of visitors. 

Featured Image: RoundTheWorldMagazine.com

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