Why you need to take this canal cruise. Now.

Discover the jewel box city of Amsterdam: A photoblog…

Walk it, bike it, or get a languorous cruise…the ‘canal’-ity of life will inevitably  entice you in Amsterdam. Surprise, surprise. The throbbing nerve-centre of Netherlands has a predictably unoriginal name, literally meaning ‘Dam on River Amstel’. And a soul which is just the opposite….daring, independent, vivacious, lively. Over 4.5 million throng every year to admire its wonderland of 165 concentric canals, arched by 1500 graceful bridges and lined with trees and gable-crowned townhouses. And talking of surprises, try this: Venice lags far behind, with just 409 bridges.

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From swampy marsh to sophisticate city

Jump on to one of the small canal-cruise catamarans to drift along the calm waters and absorb the atmosphere. Rewind to the 16th-17th centuries. Swampy soil all around. Merchants and immigrants, rich from investing in the Dutch East India Company, spice import and slave trade, flooding in. Reclaiming the area, constructing houses, bridges, and canal walls over oakwood pilings from the Black Forest in Germany. Keep your eyes peeled for the three massive canals from the bygone days: the Herengracht (gentlemen’s canal), Prinsengracht (princes’ canal) and Keizersgracht (emperor’s canal). Notice that the houses on the Keizersgracht are grander…inspired from palaces of the Roman Empire, perhaps. Many exclusive, luxury hotels are housed here now. Feel the transition of the centuries melting in your line of sight? 

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Jewel box town

Marvel at the way the frugal Dutch dressed up these simple buildings. Elegant cornices, fancy mouldings and ornate gables (shaped like steps, vase necks, bells and points). Its a jewel box city! Most buildings are narrow, maybe 30-feet wide or less, with the slimmest side facing the canal. Interesting reason for that…taxes used to be based on the width of the house. Creative floor design…everything was made to fit in, shops on the ground floor, family residence in the middle, and warehouse in the attic. Notice how the houses proudly bear ‘establishment dates’…there’s one from 1616! 

Very few windows have curtains. No brainer…it allows more light. Prying eyes are obviously no concern here…mutual trust and respect for privacy solves it all. Slim houses, narrow staircases. you will see someone transporting furniture with the help of a pulley and lifting it in through removable windows. Handy idea. Some houses appear to lean towards the water, others are misaligned. Crookedly cute. One of them has open louvred windows on all floors, painted red on the inside. The vibrance is even more striking against the stark black painted brick facade. Black houses…only in Netherlands. Never say never.

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Floating houses

Several houseboats are docked along the canals…there are nearly 2,500 floating homes in all. Living on the water despite the dampness and gloom, or a forever-on-vacation feeling? Play ‘I spy’. Take a peek. Some are basic, others luxurious…gardens and hammocks on terraces, folding chairs on the front, colourful flower pots hanging from wooden walls, a library lined with books visible through a window, a table for four laid out on a floating porch. Some houseboats even have addresses and mailboxes. If the owner moves up the canal, would he change his address?

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Two wheel drive

A million people and a million bikes…a terrific vantage point to observe a swirl of the biking Dutch…doing chores, flirting, delivering, texting on two wheels. Suit-clad office goers with laptops, women with two toddlers in child seats, school boys and girls in cargo bikes, a man with a pet dog on a leash, shoppers with four grocery bags, an elderly man balancing a rolled mattress neatly on the cycle back. No latest models or hi-tech gadgetry being flaunted…just laid-back coolness. It’s infectious…having the urge to sell off your car and buy a bicycle instead?

All streets are cycle-friendly…bike lanes run next to the sidewalks with smooth surfaces, separate signs and traffic lights, wide enough for side-by-side cycling and overtaking. Cars are parked along the canal side and lower down, at the edge of the banks, row of boats are tied to the railings…which outnumbered which?

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Past to present

The cruise ends at the huge main port, where the river hits the sea. Modern ships with huge masts and sails are docked, where once upon a time, merchant ships from faraway lands used to sail in, loaded down with material delights (silks, spices, and porcelain). The world’s richest city, an international sea-trading port, and the cradle of capitalism, has metamorphosed into a vibrant, modern, fun, liveable city, top of every traveller’s bucket list. Feeling the vibe yet?

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103 thoughts on “Why you need to take this canal cruise. Now.

  1. This looks like so much fun and a unique way to see a beautiful place. The floating homes are interesting. They seem to be becoming more popular these days with the rising costs of property on land.

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  2. I love Amsterdam, it’s such a warm, friendly, lively city and with much to see and enjoy for a visitor. Seeing it by boat is always a pleasure, you can relax as the beautiful city offers itself up to you from the water. Your photos are lovely.

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  3. Amsterdam is such a charming city isn’t it. It really does seem to mirror the Dutch persona – very friendly, open and welcoming. I haven’t done a canal cruise there and really should – I have friends who live there and do visit regularly!

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  4. Amsterdam is such a lively city with so many canals and bridges. Those sleek and narrow houses are so beautiful especially the black house with the red window. And the floating houses! You are right they will always give the feel of vacation. I liked that if the owner moves up the canal. Will he change his address?? Awesome pictures.

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  5. Wow that’s really interesting about the pully systems and the pull out windows. It makes sense and I wish we had that here as I can’t even take some pieces of furniture to the second story of my inner Sydney flat! Great post!

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  6. I took an evening canal cruise in Amsterdam and it was lovely. The only shame was they served stir fry instead of Dutch food! I really loved seeing all of the old houses and learning about the history of the city.

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  7. Why didn’t I do this in Amsterdam – you’re making me regret some life choices 😀 what a beautiful experience and such a great perspective to see the city from. I also love your fun and whimsical style of writing ❤

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  8. I’ve always wanted to visit Amsterdam, but for some reason we haven’t made it there yet. Hopefully we can check it out soon! Love the photos you took–the houses, especially the ones on the boat all look so adorable. Would love to go for a bike ride and take a boat along the canals, too!

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  9. I went to Amsterdam last February actually, my first city I ever stepped foot in, in Europe. Sadly, I did not get to do a canal cruise BUT I did ride a bike everywhere to get my bearings on the city! So cool to just ride up and down streets, taking in the culture, views and trying not to hit the other million people on bikes haha. Great pictures 🙂

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  10. Just when you think you cant find more reasons to love Amsterdam you do. For me it was always the architecture and cafes of Amsterdam that made me want to go there and now thanks to your post I found the best way to soak it all in 😀 Surely taking one of these canal cruises!

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  11. Your beautiful writing style and photos made me to start planning visiting Amsterdam as soon as possible. I believe sunny spring days would be perfect time to enjoy Amsterdam!

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  12. I did a canal cruise last time I was in Amsterdam – it’s a great and easy way to see the city. It’s so pretty from the water! I had a great time photographing all the gorgeous buildings.

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  13. The architecture in Amsterdam is so cool and I think a canal ride like this would be the perfect way to see the city. I might stop in a cafe first and bring a little party favor to enjoy the ride with. Thanks for sharing all your beautiful photos too!

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  14. As soon as I saw the first image, I knew this would be about Amsterdam. The canals are truly iconic. Thanks for the history lesson, I didn’t know most of these things, and it’s so great to be educated. It looks like a great tour! Your musings are also really cool, makes you think 🙂

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  15. I took this tour! And yes, I agree with you that it is a must. I learnt many interesting things about the city’s past and present and I could appreciate some interesting architecture and nice canals

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  16. The architecture never gets old to look at. I love anything that has to do with water and this canal cruise is something I would definitely consider. Europe is so charming and I had no idea this cruise puts Venice to shame!

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  17. I agree that the best way to experience this lovely city is by a cruise. I am glad that I did one… The next time I want to do the hop on and off one so that I can visit some of those lovely places along the cruise. Lovely pics you have captured

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  18. I haven’t yet been to Amsterdam but I keep on meaning to go. With budget airlines flying from the UK, it is so cheap for me to go. I would love see the house boats there and experience a river cruise. Hopefully this summer!

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  19. I love the style of those houses. It is my dream to live in those kind. Amsterdam is one of the countries that I am dreaming to visit someday with my boyfriend. You are very lucky for having the chance to explore it. More travels to come.

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  20. Years ago I passed through Amsterdam for just one day. I was blown away by how beautiful the city is, and I have been looking forward to returning ever since. Thanks for this information. I am filing this post away for when I get around to getting back there.

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  21. 1500 bridges?? You would be my idol if crossed each of those bridges haha. I’ve never visited Amsterdam but I sure wish to and I hope to take the cruise as well. Another one of those bucket list items!

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  22. I’ve visited Amsterdam a good handful of times now but have never gone on a canal cruise! Maybe I should… your photos and description are certainly making me regret my decision not to have done one yet. I love the simple architecture of Amsterdam, and looking at toe pictures a canal cruise is the perfect way to get my architectural fix in.

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  23. I took this canal cruise and really enjoyed it then. Your description took me there again. I don’t think a walking tour would be anywhere close to this. That would be a different perspective altogether.

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