The Amsterdam Canals

The Amsterdam canals are often celebrated in songs and for good reason . They are the hub of our capital. Everything looks very different when seen from the water. The most famous song has to be “Aan de Amsterdamse grachten” from 1949, in which composer Pieter Goemans describes: “And over the water, a boat goes just like before” . That image is still topical and that boat … that’s us. During a cruise we show you the most beautiful places, while you float through the Amsterdam canals.

Rondvaart Amsterdam prijs

Canal cruise through the Amsterdam Canals

There are 165 Amsterdam canals and summed up they are 75 kilometers (82 yards/46.6 miles) long. Our boarding location is on Oudezijds Voorburgwal. This is the oldest canal in Amsterdam and it is located in the Red Light District. From here, the cruise takes you past het Kolkje (the famous short and narrow canal/lock), Het Open Haven front , the Oude Schans (Old Rampart), Amstel, Herengracht, Reguliersgracht, Keizersgracht, Prinsengrac ht, Amstel, Rokin, Grimburgwal and back to Oudezijds Voorburgwal.

Route of the canal cruise

Our cruise generally has the same route, but sometimes the captain decides to turn left instead of right. The route will then be slightly adjusted, but the cruise will still go along the famous spots in and around the Amsterdam canals. It can be very busy on the water and when that’s the case it may be that the floating route of the canal cruise changes a bit.

cruise on the Amsterdamse canals

What do you see along the way?

The cruise through the Amsterdam canals takes about 60 minutes. In this hour you will see many famous sites of the city, which the captain can tell you all about. The rich history of Amsterdam makes this tour so special. Many buildings are centuries old and they all tell their own story. The Magere Brug (Skinny Bridge), the dancing houses, NEMO … these are just a few of the wonderful treasures that Amsterdam has to offer.

 Amsterdamse Grachtengordel

The Amsterdamse Grachtengordel (the main canals forming concentric belts around the city) dates back to the 17 e century, consisting of the Singel, the Prinsengracht, Keizersgracht and Herengracht.

  • Het Singel
  • De Prinsengracht
  • De Herengracht
  • De Keizersgracht

These main canals have been dug around the Burgwallen. In 2010, the Amsterdamse Grachtengordel was included in the UNESCO World Heritage List. The four main canals run from the Brouwersgracht and end in the Amstel. When looking at the canal houses you can see the prosperity of the Golden Age and the 18 e century. The buildings have been renovated several times and therefore you see different facades and styles mixed together.

Het Singel

The Singel is part of the Amsterdamse Grachtengordel and is one of the four main canals. It was dug approximately in 1428 from the IJ to the Boerenwetering, but the remainder up to the Amstel was not constructed until around 1450. It had a rammed earth wall when it was built, which was later replaced by a stone wall. Initially, the Singel was the western city border. This changed when the city was expanded around 1585.

De Prinsengracht

The Prinsengracht is part of the Amsterdamse Grachtengordel and is one of the four main canals. It was designed by city surveyor Lucas Jansz Sinck and city carpenter Hendrick Jacobz Staets and was dug in 1612. In 1658, the part between the Leidsegracht and the Amstel was added and the last extension added the part east of the Amstel. This section is called Nieuwe Prinsengracht (New Prinsengracht). The Korte Prinsengracht (Short Prinsengracht) is an extension, between the Brouwersgracht and the Westerdok. The canal is named after the Prince of Orange.

De Herengracht

Herengracht was designed in 1612 by city surveyor Lucas Jansz Sinck and city carpenter Hendrick Jacobz Staets and is one of the four main canals. It belongs to the Amsterdamse Grachtengordel. The Herengracht was previously a moat that was dug in 1585. It used to be a ditch and has been widened to the canal as we know it today. It is named after the Gentlemen Governors of the city of Amsterdam. After 1658, the canal was laid between the Leidsegracht and the Binnen Amstel. Here is the Gouden Bocht (Golden Bend), where the richest citizens lived in beautiful buildings. The most beautiful house there, Huis de Neufville from 1731, is located at Herengracht 475. The part from the east of the Amstel to the water of the IJ, which was part of the later extension, is called Nieuwe Herengracht (New Herengracht).

De Keizersgracht

In design of city surveyor Lucas Jansz Sinck and city carpenter Hendrick Jacobz Staets in 1615, the first portion was dug from the Keizersgracht, between the Brouwersgracht and the Leidsegracht. The first idea was to create a boulevard here without water, but that was not convenient for potential buyers who wanted to reach their property by boat. With a width of 28.31 meters (93 feet/30.96 yards), the Keizersgracht is the widest canal in the center of Amsterdam. The latest extension is the section between the Amstel and the Plantage Muidergracht. This part is called the Nieuwe Keizersgracht (New Keizersgracht). The Keizersgracht is part of the Amsterdamse Grachtengordel and is one of the four main canals.

Amsterdamse canals

De Reguliersgracht

The Reguliersgracht was dug around 1658. The canal was initially supposed to run to the Amstel, but there was simply not enough money. For example, an expensive lock would have to be built. The section between Pri nsengracht and Herengracht has been excavated because soil was needed to raise Rembrandtplein (then Reguliersplein). The canal is named after the Reguliersklooster. Fun fact: in 1971 the Bond film “Diamonds Are Forever” was partially shot on the 3 rd floor of Reguliersgracht 36.

Het Rokin

The Rokin is a section of the (old course of the) river Amstel and is located between Dam Square and the Muntplein. The name has changed over the years from Ruck-in (1559), Rock Inne (1563) and ‘t Rockin (1564) to Rokin. The name arose because the buildings that stood on the Amstel had to “withdraw” (inrukken in Dutch) in order to realize a quay. In 2003 construction started for the North / South line, which resulted in the Rokin metro station.

De Amstel

The Amstel is a canalised river and was created by the confluence of the Drecht and Kromme Mijdrecht near Uithoorn. It starts at Nieuwveen and ends at Ouderkerk. From Ouderkerk to Amsterdam, the water is called Amstel. A trading settlement arose along the Amstel, making the village of Amstelredam the city of Amsterdam. The oldest mention of the village that has been found is from October 27, 1275. The Amstel ends at the Muntplein in the center of Amsterdam. It is believed that Dam Square was built at the mouth of the Amstel after floods that occurred in 1170 and 1173. The name Amsterdam therefore comes from “dam in the Amstel”.

De Grimburgwal

The Grimburgwal is a small canal located in the center of Amsterdam. Here the Nes, the Oudezijds Voorburgwal and the Oudezijds Achterburgwal come together. It was Amsterdam’s southern border until it became the southern border of the Red Light District in 1425. A large part of the University of Amsterdam is located on the Grimburgwal. In the 14 e century the canal was landscaped with an earthen wall, also called ramparts, in order to protect the city. Today, the Huis aan de Drie Grachten (House on Three Canals) from 1610 still stands here . It is surrounded by the Oudezijds Voorburgwal, the Oudezijds Achterburgwal and the Grimburgwal. The double house has a stepped gable on each canal. Due to poor maintenance, the Grimburgwal quay collapsed on September 1st , 2020.

De Oudezijds Voorburgwal

In the Red Light District you will find the oldest canal in Amsterdam , the Oudezijds Voorburgwal . The Oudezijds Voorburgwal was probably first a water channel, which was further dug up to the canal “De Oude Zijde”. The city was divided into two parts: “De Oude Zijde”, where the Old Church stood and “De Nieuwe Zijde” with the New Church. To protect the city, a moat with an earthen wall (burgwal) was dug on both sides.

Around 1385 new walls were added and the Oudezijds Voorburgwal, Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal, Oudezijds Achterburgwal and Nieuwezijds Achterburgwal were created. The latter is now called Spuistraat. These names often lead to confusion for people who are not from Amsterdam, which is not surprising.
Fun fact: the standard 52-card deck with Dutch images has the Oudezijds Voorburgwal as an image on the ace of diamonds.

Het Kolkje

If you are talking about the Amsterdam canals, Het Kolkje (the famous short and narrow canal/lock) should certainly not be left out. Via the Zeedijk it runs to the Open Harbor Front. Its official name is Oudezijds Kolk, but it is popularly called Het Kolkje. The narrow canal dates back to the 15 e century and was initially the drainage canal to the IJ, which is now the Open Harbor Front. Only one quay is available for pedestrians..

The Open Harbor Front

You will find the Open Harbor Front between Prins Hendrikkade and Stationseiland . It arose because people wanted to build the Central Station and to do so they had to construct Stationseiland in the IJ. This happened between 1870 and 1880. It connects with the Western Door to the IJ, the Singel, the Damrak and the Oosterdok.

Amsterdamse canals

Sights along the Amsterdam Canals

If you take a canal cruise through the Amsterdam canals, you will pass the most impressive sights of our capital. Amsterdam has an incredibly rich history, which you really should see from the water.

The Central Station

Amsterdam Central Station is a train station built between 1881 and 1889. It was designed by, among others, Pierre Cuypers, who also designed the Rijksmuseum. It was the first Dutch station designed by a famous architect. The building was originally completed in October 1884. Officially it is called Amsterdam Central Station. Fun fact: in China there is a copy of the station in Shenyang.

De Schreierstoren

Amsterdam used to have a city wall with defensive towers. The only tower that still exists is the Schreierstoren. It was built around 1487 on the corner of the IJ and the eastern side of the capital. The name came about because it used to be called the Schrayershoucktoren. The city wall had a sharp angle at this spot and schray means sharp. There’s been said, however, that the tower takes its name from the wives of VOC members, who had to say goodbye to their husbands for a long time and therefore had to weep (cry). The tower is also called the “Tower of Tears” for the same reason. Fun fact: 1 of the stones of the Schreierstoren has been incorporated in the facade of the Tribune Tower in Chicago.

The Maritime Museum

The building housing the Maritime Museum was built in 1656 as a warehouse for the Admiralty of Amsterdam. It was designed by Daniël Stalpaert. It was a warehouse for ship equipment, cannons and sails of the war fleet. To provide the ships with drinking water, rainwater was collected under the courtyard. The contemporary museum has the second largest maritime collection in the world and was founded in 1916 as the De Vereeniging Nederlandsch Historisch Scheepvaart Museum . Two ships can be admired at the jetty of the museum: the steamship Christiaan Brunings and a replica of the VOC ship “Amsterdam”.

De Montelbaanstoren

The Montelbaanstoren was originally built in 1516 as part of the defense line around Amsterdam and overlooked the Zuiderzee (now known as the IJsselmeer) . The Duke of Alba, who was governor of the Netherlands during the Eighty Years’ War, wanted to build a castle near the tower called Monte Albano. This gave the tower the name Monte-Albaens-tooren, which has been bastardized to Montelbaanstoren. The ornamental crown, designed in the Renaissance style, was not built on top of it until 1606. The story goes that bell-ringer Japie was not so precise with ringing the bells. He did this more or less when he felt like it and, for example, rang the clock 5 times, while it was 1 o’clock. This has earned the tower the nickname Malle Jaap (Crazy Jaap).

The Dancing Houses

In Amsterdam many houses along the canals are very crooked. This is partly due to subsidence, but it was also the custom in the past to build houses in such a way that they lean forward. They called this “running facades”. Houses were often deliberately built in stages in the Middle Ages. Each floor protruded a bit, which is called overhang. It simplified the wood connections, it provided protection against rain and there was more space in the top floors. From the 20th century it was forbidden to build running facades and people started building the houses straight again. Because the houses with running facades and newer houses are mixed up, it seems as if some houses slope backwards, while these are just straight. In practically all sagging and therefore crooked houses the floors have been leveled, but not in the “Sluiswachtershuisje” from 1695. A café owner bought it and they say that this is the cheapest café in Amsterdam, because you already feel drunk after 2 drinks. Inside is a sign that says “Keep on drinking ’till the building makes sense again”.

Het Waterlooplein

The Waterlooplein (a square) is located in the center of the city and is named after the Battle of Waterloo. It was created in 1882 and disappeared in the 70s and 80s due to the construction of the subway and the construction of the Stopera. Later, the market around the Stopera was created. It used to be a Jewish market, but nothing was left of it after World War II. Nowadays, a flea market is held every week from Monday to Saturday at this place with about 300 market stalls.

The Red Light District

Before 1385, the west and east of Amsterdam were screened off with a moat and earthen wall (now Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal and Oudezijds Voorburgwal). Later, more of these were built and so “de Wallen” or Red Light District was created.
The Red Light District is located in the oldest part of Amsterdam, with the Old Church as the oldest surviving building. This church and the Warmoesstraat exist from the 13th century. In the Middle Ages there was a harbor with a center for entertainment. Sailors could already go there for drinks and sex.
The eastern part of the Red Light District is the famous part because this is where the ladies of pleasure work. Traditionally, red lamps are lit in front of the prostitutes’ rooms. The story goes that there used to be many widows in the city because their partners did not return from the sea. After a year of mourning, they hung a red lantern on the door to show that they were ready for male contact again. That would explain the red lights.
Around 1930, the ladies were no longer allowed to lure customers from the doorway. They were allowed to sit behind the window with the curtains ajar. The window prostitution as we now know it was originated.

The 7 bridges

There are 1539 bridges throughout Amsterdam, 252 of which are located in the city center. Yet there are a number of bridges that stand out, such as the famous “7 bridges”. What’s special about this is that these arch bridges can all be seen from the Herengracht from a tour boat. This is because the Reguliersgracht is the only canal that runs in a straight line. You can look through all these bridges and it really is a breathtakingly beautiful view.

The Skinny Bridge

Around 1691, a bridge over the Amstel was built to connect Kerkstraat with the other bank. This was called the Kerkstraat Bridge. In 1871 this bridge was demolished due to dilapidation. At the end of 17 e century, a lot cheaper, smaller bridge that was not of stone, but of wood came in its place. Because it was narrower, it was given the name Skinny Bridge. From then on it had to be renovated often for a variety of reasons. Finally, a slightly larger, wider bridge was built in 1934. The Skinny Bridge has been a national monument since 2002.
There are many stories about the Skinny Bridge, but one remains: it is the love bridge of Amsterdam. Legend says your love will last forever if you kiss your lover while floating under the bridge.

The Old Church

The Old Church is the oldest building in Amsterdam. It is built in 1306 as the St. Nicholas Church, after which, in the 15th and 16th centuries still parts were being added. The funny thing about this church is that in the same square prostitutes are working and that two houses further there is a nursery. In the middle of it all is a bar. So they say that at this square you can do whatever you want … first you leave your child at the daycare, then you get drunk at the bar, visit the prostitutes and finally confess your sins in church.

The 7 bridges

There are 1539 bridges throughout Amsterdam, 252 of which are located in the city center. Yet there are a number of bridges that stand out, such as the famous “7 bridges”. What’s special about this is that these arch bridges can all be seen from the Herengracht from a tour boat. This is because the Reguliersgracht is the only canal that runs in a straight line. You can look through all these bridges and it really is a breathtakingly beautiful view.

amsterdam central station

Canal cruise with Floating Amsterdam

You get to see all this and much more when you take a luxurious cruise with one of our open sloops. Book your tickets now and experience the capital’s magical history. After this you will understand why the song says: “To the Amsterdam canals, I have pledged my heart forever”.

Testimonial Foto


Eric and Yari were fabulous hosts and were both informative and very funny. Loved it. The hour flew by! Worth every penny for a more personable fun experience! More reviews »

louise w
April 2019

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Testimonial Foto

Just Perfect

What a beautiful trip around the canals of Amsterdam drinking a nice bottle of Rose. Chanise and the pilot (sorry I didn’t ask you’re name) were very informative and I have a few restaurants and bars to visit… Read more »

Februari 2019

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