Canals of Amsterdam

The canals are a defining feature of Amsterdam and the Canal Ring (Grachtengordel) is a UNESCO as a world-acclaimed monument.

Amsterdam Canals

How many canals & bridges are there in Amsterdam?

Amsterdam, also known as “Venice from the North”, has 165 canals and 1281 bridges. The most prominent canals are Herengracht, Prinsengracht, Keizergracht & Singel. Magere Brug and Blauwbrug are the best known bridges whilst Torensluis is the oldest.

Why are there so many canals in Amsterdam?

Before the canals & houses were built, the area was mostly swampland. The swamps were systematically drained one section at a time resulting in islands surrounded by canals. The canals remained a means of transport, water management as well as military defence.

Why do the main canals form circular arcs rather than straight lines?

The city grew outwards from the centre around 1640. The arc shape to some extent reflects the shape of the centre as the city extended outwards. The unique architecture of the Canal Ring is an expression of the economic success in the Golden Age.

How clean is the water in the canals?

The canal water is getting cleaner each year, although the sewerage from many of the house boats flows directly into the canals. Three times a week, the water in the canals is refreshed by opening the canal gates. The government organisation Waternet ensures that the water is as clean as possible by tackling causes of pollution. Each year they fish out 12000-15000 bikes from the canals. Officially it is not deemed safe for swimming. However, each year the Amsterdam City Swim takes place to raise money for charity -  so it's reasonably hygienic!

How deep are the canals of Amsterdam?

Typically the depth of the canals is between two and three meters. The locals joke that in the canals of Amsterdam there is one meter of water, one meter of mud and one meter of bikes.

Canal Cleaning Amsterdam

Photo by Gerben van Heijningen / CC BY

 

Do you need a license to use a boat?

If you own a boat and moor it in the city, you need a license from government organisation Waternet. Boats which are longer than 12m long are prohibited from mooring in Amsterdam.

Are there rules for boats using the canals?

There's no Highway Code as such but there is a speed limit of 7.5km per hour.

When were the canal houses in Amsterdam built?

Mostly in the 16th and 17th centuries. Some houses have the construction date on the front. The type of gable will often give a clue concerning age.

 

Who lives in the big canal houses?

The larger houses were once occupied by rich merchants. The canal houses are now mostly occupied by businesses or sub-divided into apartments. Visiting Museum Van Loon allows you to see what a canal house would have originally looked like on the inside.

 

Museum Van Loon Canal House

Museum Van Loon

 

Why are Amsterdam's canal houses leaning?

Many of the canal houses were purposely built so that they leaned forward. This enabled heavy or large goods to be winched to upper floors without hitting windows on the way up. The buildings which are leaning sideways have been affected by subsidence. The soft ground and failure of wooden foundation piles over the years is the cause.

 

How much does a canal boat house cost?

The starting prices for house boats in Amsterdam is around €280,000. The websites Funda and Marktplaats give up-to-date prices.

 

How does a canal house cost?

The price of a canal house in Amsterdam depends on the size and location. Starting around €1,200,000 and typically €2,500,000. Again, websites like Funda provide up-to-date information. Some of the more exclusive properties are not advertised online.

More on Amsterdam's Canals...

Reguliersgracht Canal

Amsterdam Canal Bridge over Reguliersgracht Lit Up at Night
The Reguliersgracht is one of the most picturesque and tranquil locations for taking photos of Amsterdam's canals and bridges. Read More »

Canal House Gables

Amsterdam Canal Bridge over Reguliersgracht Lit Up at Night
Many of Amsterdam's older buildings have decorative gables at the top. The canal house gables have come in a variety of style and give an insight into the history of the building. Read More »

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