Complete History of Amsterdam’s Canals

Amsterdam's Canals

Amsterdam is also known as the Venice of the North for the numerous canals, bridges and islands it has. The three major canals in the city are Keizersgracht, Herengracht and Prinsengracht. They were created in the Dutch Golden Age in the 17th century. The canals make up concentric semi-circular belts that go around Amsterdam. The belts are also known as grachtengordel. More than 1,500 monumental buildings are situated along the main canals. The 19th century canals are on the World Heritage List of UNESCO.

History of Amsterdam’s Canals:

The canals in Amsterdam form a system that has allowed the city to carry out trade and defend itself quite successfully in the past. This is a result of careful city planning in the 17th century. During that time, immigration was at its peak and there was a need for a comprehensive plan for canal development. Grachtengordel canals were created to facilitate effective city development, especially in the residential areas. An outer canal called Singelgracht was then made for water management and defense purposes. If you take a boat tour of Amsterdam you will be able to see it for yourself.

In the plan, provisions were made to include canals that would connect the main ones along the radii. It also comprised of a number of parallel canals, a canal along the inner perimeter and over 100 bridges. Work on them started in the west and proceeded to the east. Construction of the north-west structure began in 1613 and went on till 1625. The southern sector of the canals was started only in 1664, and work on it went slowly, owing to economic depression.

Some of the Widely Recognized Canals in the Belt:


The canal is also known as the Emperor’s Canal. It is the widest of the Grachtengordel canals and is the second among them. The canal was named after the Holy Roman Emperor Maxmilian I.


Amsterdam (during medieval times), was encircled by Singel. Between 1480 and 1585, it functioned as a moat. After 1585, Amsterdam grew beyond the borders of Singel. The canal begins at IJ bay and extends till Muntplein square. Singel touches Amstel River at this point. The canal is currently the inner-most in the semi-circular belt of the canals in Amsterdam. It is different from the Singelgracht canal which formed the outer city limit in the 17th century.


Also known as the Prince’s Canal, Prinsengracht is the longest canal in the city. It is also the outermost (fourth) canal in the system. The canal derives its name from the Prince of Orange. The majority of the houses along the canal were developed in the Dutch Golden Age. Several bridges go over the canals; nevertheless, they do not connect with Jordaan’s streets. Some of the interesting places to see along the canal are Anne Frank House, Noordermarkt and Westerkerk. You can board a canal cruise boat to see these sights up close.

Other Impressive Canals in Amsterdam:

Zwanenburgwal: Located in the middle of Amsterdam, Zwanenburgwal is both a street and canal. Two notable personalities lived in this area – Spinzoa, the philosopher and Rembrandt, the painter. The street was voted one of the most beautiful in Amsterdam, in 2006, by the locals. Zwanenburgwal connects the sluice gate of Sint Antoiniessluis and Amstel River. It was originally called Verversgracht, after the textile companies that had established themselves along the canal.


The canal, located in the city center, forms a part of the system of canals connecting the Keizersgracht, Herengracht, Singel and Prinsengracht. The canal forms the belt’s northern limit. Brouwersgracht too forms a street that is recognized as one of the most appealing in the city.


Running along the southern end of the canal belt is Kloveniersburgwal, which connects Nieuwmarkt and Amstel River. It surrounds the edge of Medieval Amsterdam. In the 17th century, the eastern side of the canal became quite densely populated. Now it is home to some of the grandest mansions in the city. One of the most beautiful is Trippenhuis, which currently contains the KNAW. Kloveniersburgwal was sought after by Dutch East India Company’s administrators. This was because it was situated close to the Oude Hoogstraat, the nerve center of the company.

Seranggracht, Lamonggracht, Brantasgracht and Majanggracht:

These are the most recent canals to be built in Amsterdam. They were created in 1995 along Java Island, which is man-made. Modern canal houses with traditional interpretations line these canals. The houses were designed by 19 Dutch architects. Nine metal bridges with ornate designs have been developed over the canals to help cyclists and pedestrians cross them with ease.

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