Amsterdam’s Canal Ring (Grachtengordel), the city’s charming 17th-century district and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is probably best known for the picturesque canals cutting through it. The area is comprised of three rings of semicircular waterways that are bisected by smaller canals radiating from the middle—like spokes on a very Dutch bicycle wheel. Hundreds of bridges cross the Canal Ring’s channels, connecting the 90 islands that were created during the Dutch Golden Age.
The district’s major canals are the Singel, Herengracht, Keizersgracht, and Prinsengracht. From east to west, the major radial canals are the Brouwersgracht, Leidsegracht, and Reguliersgracht. The Canal Ring can be navigated by foot, bicycle, and, of course, boat. A canal cruise is an excellent introduction to the UNESCO-listed canals, as glass-topped boats provide the best views of the city’s main sights. Options include hop-on hop-off boat tours and themed canal cruises that serve food and wine.
Things to Know Before You Go
- A number of cruise departure points are set along the famous canals, and tours are available in several languages.
- The Canal Ring circles some of Amsterdam’s most important sites, including the Red Light District, the Museumplein, the Anne Frank House, the Van Gogh Museum, Rembrandt Square, the Jewish Quarter, and the Museum Quarter.
- Barges, powerboats, Frisian skutsjes (sailboats), and rowboats ply the canals at all times of day and night.
How to Get There
The Canal Ring is located right in the center of Amsterdam. Lined with beautiful historic buildings (“canal houses”), the canals can serve as helpful visual guideposts and a fun option for getting around the city. Amsterdam's winding, cobblestoned city center can easily throw off your sense of direction, and the canals will always orient you back in the proper direction.
When to Get There
Because it’s part of the Dutch capital city’s landscape, as well as a mode of transportation and commerce, the Canal Ring is always open. The best times of year to enjoy a canal cruise are during the fine-weather summer months, and in the Christmas and New Year holiday season, when you can take an evening cruise during the Festival of Lights.