Amsterdam Canal Belt


If you’re walking around in Amsterdam’s centre, you will find yourself in the canal belt – it’s impossible to miss. With beautiful 17th-century houses lining each side of the canal, charming cafes, and endless bridges you could spend an entire day walking around and taking in the scenery.

The four canals that make up the inner canal belt in Amsterdam are the Singel, the Herengracht, the Keizersgracht, and the Prinsengracht. This area is known in Dutch as the ‘Grachtengordel’. Built in the 17th century to deal with an increasing population during the Dutch Golden age, it is now a UNESCO World Heritage site.

To get to the Singel canal, you need to come out of the front of Amsterdam’s central station, turn right and walk for about 5 minutes until you can see water. Because the inner canal belt is in an arc around the city, it is easy to navigate your way around. To reach any one of the other canals you can turn right on one of the bridges along the Singel and follow the street to the next canal.

Amsterdam Canal Belt - Unesco World Heritage

© Unesco

History of the Amsterdam Canal Belt

Amsterdam’s canals were built during the late 16th and early 17th centuries during the Dutch Golden Age. This project was designed to create a new port city to allow for better transportation, protection from enemies, effective water management and provide more space for urban development. Because at that time the land they needed to do this was on a swamp, and the Ijsselmeer was sea, they had to drain it by using the canals and by filling in the spaces in between to create land. It became a blueprint for urban planning across the world until the 19th century.

Amsterdam Light Festival 2016

Canal belt area decorated for Amsterdam Light Festival

UNESCO World Heritage site

Because of its rich history, the canal belt in Amsterdam became a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2010. It was nominated in 2006 because it demonstrates urban planning on a large scale, and it was unique in terms of engineering, town planning and construction over two centuries. Amsterdam was a centre for culture, trade, intellectual exchange and was pioneering in the technical, maritime and cultural fields. The ‘port city’ was born and the gables and facades of the traditional Amsterdam canal houses were established. This earnt Amsterdam’s reputation as being the Venice of the North.

Bridge in Amsterdam canal beltThe best places for you to take photos in the canal belt Amsterdam

Of course, you want to take home some good pictures of the Amsterdam canal belt or share them directly online with your friends and relatives. Thus we selected a few picturesque hotspots for you, where you can take the perfect photograph or selfie. We definitely recommend roaming around the canals to find your own perfect picture, but make sure you don’t miss out on the following spots;

  • Outside Herengracht 161 there is a bridge and if you look through it you’ll see 7 bridges in a row
  • The golden bend on the Herengracht between Leidestraat and Vijzelstraat which showcases some of Amsterdam’s most opulent canal houses
  • The Brouwersgracht with the old breweries
  • The Groenburgwal with the Zuiderkerk in the background
  • Magere Brug (Skinny bridge) and the Amstel area
  • The view of the Westerkerk
  • The homo monument (Gay monument) near the Westerkerk
  • The Grimburgwal and the house on three canals
  • The Bloemenmarkt (Flower Market)
Amsterdam Canal Belt as Winter Wonderland

Amsterdam Canal Belt as Winter Wonderland

Things to do in the Amsterdam Canal Belt

Roaming around in the canal belt will keep you busy for a few hours. Just enjoy the sights, architecture and culture. If you’re up for a break there are plenty of cosy cafes and restaurants where you can sit down, have a drink or a full meal. When it’s cold you might want to try a Dutch hot chocolate with a “Stroopwafel”. They’re one of the best if you ask us!

If you’re up to do something more active, you might want to do some shopping. In the inner canal belt, you’ll find an area referred to as “the nine streets” or “Negen straatjes” in Dutch. The are is popular because of the many one-of-a-kind stores; boutiques, vintage stores, galleries, bookstores, and delicacy stores.

Museums in the area

In the canal belt area, you’ll also find several museums. Best known is, of course, the Anne Frank House. But there are several others to be explored;

  • Het Grachtenhuis / Museum of the Canals: Take a look at interactive exhibits that explain the history of Amsterdam’s inner canal ring.
    Address: Herengracht 386, 1016 CJ Amsterdam
  • Museum Willet-Holthuysen: This is a great example of a classic 17th-century canal house furnished with rare objects, glassware, silverware, fine china and paintings.
    Address: Herengracht 605, 1017 CE Amsterdam
  • Museum van Loon: Another classic example of a beautifully kept canal house with family portraits dating from the 17th to the 20th century.
    Address: Keizersgracht 672, 1017 ET Amsterdam
  • Bijbels Museum / Biblical Museum: Look at a collection of bibles from across the centuries in this museum on the canal belt in Amsterdam
    Address: Keizersgracht 672, 1017 ET Amsterdam