The ultimate LOVERS guide to the Amsterdam canals

The ultimate LOVERS guide to the Amsterdam canals

10 January 2023

With over 70 years of experience on the Amsterdam canals, we can confidently say that we know our way around the city. We know the history, the best sights, the hidden gems and where to go in Amsterdam for the best photos. And we look forward to sharing the city with visitors every day, and sharing some of our best tips as well.

The canals of Amsterdam: a history

Any good guide of the Amsterdam canals will start with a brief history lesson of both the city and the canals as the two cannot be viewed separately. The earliest canals date back to the 12th-century, when they served as defensive moats, this also explains the circular nature of the canals. As the city grew, moats became waterways in the city itself instead of sitting beyond the city limits.

But the real growth of Amsterdam and its canal system happened from the late 16th- to mid 17th-century. The city prospered due to all sorts of trade and some of the city’s most famous canals were created during this time. Specifically the UNESCO World Heritage listed canal ring, including the Herengracht, Prinsengracht, and Keizersgracht.

Museum of the canals of AmsterdamThe canals of Amsterdam were created to be both functional and beautiful to attract wealthy merchants. The canals were lined with grand houses, built in a variety of architectural styles, reflecting the city's prosperity and cultural diversity. Today, these three canals form the heart of Amsterdam’s canal system. But they are flanked by many smaller canals and linked together by 1,500 bridges.

A great place to learn more about the Amsterdam canals is at the Museum of the Canals. This museum sits inside one of the beautiful merchant houses along the Herengracht. Interactive exhibits, films and audio show you the history of the canals and their meaning to the city today.

The best Amsterdam canal cruises

We won’t deny it, we are biased in favour of our own cruises. And for a reason, as our canal cruises are designed for the optimal guest experience. Our Amsterdam Canal Cruise is the most popular of its kind in the city, with comfortable individual seats, glass-top roofs and an expert audio guide. It is the boat tour in the city to try on your visit.

Our top 5 of Amsterdam canal cruises:

Attractions to visit along the Amsterdam canals

City Sightseeing Amsterdam boatThere are many attractions and museums you can visit that have found themselves a home along Amsterdam’s waterways. One of the easiest ways to visit these places is when you tour the city with the Amsterdam City Sightseeing Hop-on Hop-off boat. This boat has stops near some of the city’s best attractions, so that you can easily visit them while cruising through the city.

Amsterdam’s biggest museum sits on the edge of the water. The Rijksmuseum is the national museum of the Netherlands and features works by masters as Vincent Van Gogh, Johannes Vermeer, Frans Hals, and Rembrandt van Rijn. Through art and historical artefacts the museum portrays the story of 800 years of Dutch history.

If you are travelling to Amsterdam with kids, you will want to stop at NEMO Science Museum. This is where you can get hands-on with science. Kids can perform experiments (under supervision) in a chemistry lab, they can blow bubbles big enough to stand in, and much more.

Other museums to visit that stand along Amsterdam’s water ways include the famous Anne Frank House on Prinsengracht, photography museum Foam on Keizersgracht, the Rembrandt House Museum near the St Antonie lock, and the National Maritime Museum with its 18th-century replica merchant ship. There is an attraction for everyone on the Amsterdam canals.

The perfect picture of Amsterdam

View near the Armbrug in AmsterdamWhen you visit Amsterdam you will want proof to share with your family and loved ones at home, or your followers online. We know exactly where you should go take the best photos during your visit, and we are happy to share our tips with you. Of course, you will be able to take amazing photos from our cruises, but sometimes you just want to stand still and take it all in from the shore.

One place we recommend to take some time at is the terrace of Cafe De Regent van Amsterdam, near the Armbrug. Here your photos will have a backdrop where the canal houses appear to float above the water. Another great place for such a shot is on the Damrak, though the photo is harder to take because there is more happening on the shore.

When there are leaves on the trees, you will want to visit Amsterdam’s Lomanstraat, near the westside of Vondelpark. On this street, the trees cross over the street as their crowns have grown towards each other. If you walk along this street and look up, you might just think you are in a forest.

If you want your photo to include not only canal houses but also house boats, you should visit the Papiermolensluis and the Lekkeresluis, which connect the Prinsengracht and the Korte Prinsengracht. On the end of the Prinsengracht you can visit one of Amsterdam’s oldest cafes ‘t Papeneiland, which is known for its Dutch apple pie. Making this tip a great place for both photos and a Dutch treat.