Amsterdam Grachten 01 Header

Along the canals of

Amsterdam

Magnificent mansions, ornate gables, cosy houseboats and bridges adorned with bicycles: the canals are Amsterdam’s most famous cityscape. Curious about the best spots? Join us on a visit to the Herengracht, Keizersgracht and Prinsengracht.

Explore the Amsterdam Canals
Amsterdam Grachten Bg Intro

The canals in the Golden Age

Amsterdam’s main canals – the Singel, Prinsengracht, Keizersgracht and Herengracht – form a crescent around the city centre. Although the first canals were built as early as the 14th century, the main network of canals was expanded significantly in the 17th century. In the Golden Age, Amsterdam was almost bursting at the seams, but thanks to the canals, the city could expand into the swampy land around the Amstel River. This massive construction project began in 1613. Fifty years later, Amsterdam had grown to five times its original size. The lots along the Prinsengracht, Keizersgracht and Herengracht were sold to wealthy families and these monumental buildings still attest to the wealth of the Golden Era.

“The canals continue to be Amsterdam’s star attraction. Every season, there is something interesting to do near, on or even in the water.”


On King’s Day (27 April), the canals change into a sea of orange with colourful decorated boats and, in winter, you may find Amsterdam residents on skates gliding along the canals. But real daredevils wait until summer: during the Amsterdam City Swim, swimmers dive into the water for a two-kilometre charity race

Watch the commencement of the Amsterdam Canals

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Amsterdam Grachten 03 Chapter Herengracht

Magnificent mansions along the Herengracht

The Herengracht (Lords’ Canal) is the first canal after the Singel. As the name suggests, the lots along this canal were intended for the wealthiest merchants of Amsterdam. This is evident from the famous Gouden Bocht (Golden Bend), a stretch that concentrates the most monumental and the widest canal houses in the city. According to 17th century law, the wider the facade, the higher the property tax. Unlike the owners of the more typical narrow canal houses elsewhere in the city, the residents of the Herengracht could easily afford the additional width. 

Amsterdam Grachten 04 Herengracht Intro 1
© Restaurant Herengracht
Amsterdam Grachten 04 Herengracht Intro 2
© Restaurant Herengracht

Dinner at Restaurant Herengracht

A bit overwhelmed by all the splendour of the Golden Bend? Sink back in a comfortable leather sofa at the upscale restaurant Herengracht. Even here there is plenty to feast your eyes on: the walls of the restaurant are lined with the Realistic art of painter Jesse Faber. Weather permitting, grab a spot in the courtyard and savour a hearty club sandwich or indulge in a steak tartare. At night, the garden is heated – perfect for relaxing over a refreshing cocktail.

Amsterdam Grachten 05 Herengracht Kunst
© Restaurant Herengracht
Amsterdam Grachten 05 Herengracht Kattenkabinet
© Kattenkabinet

Charming art in the Kattenkabinet

The stately door of Herengracht 497 conceals a surprising cat oasis. Enter the Kattenkabinet (Cat Cabinet) and you will find numerous pairs of fierce green-yellow cat eyes lurking from every corner. This historic building in the Golden Bend is fully dedicated to felines, with paintings, drawings, posters and sculptures of cats. The collection features works by such famous artists as Rembrandt, Corneille, Picasso, Jože Ciuha and Sal Meijer. The displays are testament to one man’s great love for his cat: the Kattenkabinet was established in memory of John Pierpont Morgan (1966-1983) – the beloved red tomcat of founder Bob Meijer.

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The widest canal Keizersgracht

The Keizersgracht (Emperor’s Canal) is the widest canal in the Amsterdam city centre. More than 30 metres wide, this canal was named after Austrian emperor Maximilian. The canal was almost not built: the original city plan included the design of an upscale boulevard at this location, modelled after the Voorhout in The Hague. But in the end it was never built; the future residents seemed to prefer commuting between their homes and warehouses by boat.

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© Museum Van Loon
Amsterdam Grachten 07 Keizersgracht Intro 2B
© Museum van Loon

A visit to the Museum Van Loon

The Museum Van Loon provides an intimate look at the wealth and opulence of the Golden Age. Designed in 1672, this magnificent mansion at Keizersgracht 672 was once the residence of Ferdinand Bol, an apprentice of Rembrandt. In 1884, the building was acquired by the noble family Van Loon, who resided here until the 1960s. Today, the house is open to the public and visitors can admire the ornately decorated salons with beautifully laid out tables, made-up beds and a surprisingly large garden with a coach house. The walls are decorated with portraits of the Van Loon family, including Willem van Loon, one of the founders of the Dutch East India Company.

Amsterdam Grachten 08 Keizersgracht Foam2
© FOAM
Amsterdam Grachten 08 Keizersgracht Foam
© FOAM

Photography museum Foam

An absolute must-see for camera fans. Behind the gates of Keizersgracht 609 awaits the photography museum Foam. The strikingly modern interior of the historic buildings offers the perfect setting for temporary exhibits of internationally renowned photographers and upcoming talent. The museum showcases a variety of genres, ranging from news, fashion and documentary photography to historic images. After your visit, peruse the well-stocked book store or enjoy a coffee in the cosy café.

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Across from the Jordaan Prinsengracht

Counting from the Singel in the city centre, the Prinsengracht (Prince’s Canal) is the fourth and longest canal of Amsterdam. This canal lies in a more quiet end of town: once you cross the bridges, right across from the popular Jordaan neighbourhood. The most famous building along the Prinsengracht is number 263: the Anne Frank House, one of Amsterdam’s most poignant museums. The church a few doors down is the Westerkerk church, which is famous for the Westertoren, the highest bell tower in the city.

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© Timothy Hoenson | Café 't Papeneiland
Amsterdam Grachten 10 Prinsengracht Intro 1
© Timothy Hoenson | Café 't Papeneiland

The oldest café in Amsterdam Café Papeneiland

For a touch of authentic Amsterdam, make sure to stop by Café Papeneiland, an original ‘brown café’ on the corner of Prinsengracht and Brouwersgracht. The city’s oldest bar dates back to 1642 and is run by the Netel family. The name ‘Papeneiland’ is derived from an old derogatory term for Catholics, papen, and refers to clandestine catholic church that used to be located across from the café. Rumour has it that an underground escape route connected the church to the café. Go down the stairs inside the café and on the right you will find a door that is always locked and is said to lead to the tunnel. In addition to sampling Dutch spirits and local brews, you can also enjoy traditional Dutch pieces of cheese, slices of liver sausage and homemade apple pie.

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© Boothuismuseum
Amsterdam Grachten 11 Woonboot 1
© Boothuismuseum

Floating homes Houseboat Museum

Always wondered what it would be like to live on the water? The Houseboat Museum at Prinsengracht 296K lets you take a peek inside the hold. The former cargo ship Hendrika Maria served as a home for twenty years. It was converted into a museum back in 1997, but it seems as if the residents have just stepped out for a quick errand. The cosy living space is furnished with old-fashioned armchairs that invite you to sink back with a cup of coffee.

Amsterdam Grachten 11 Woonboot 2
© Boothuismuseum