The Canals of Amsterdam: 8 Reasons to Celebrate their 400th Birthday
Amsterdam canal with houseboats and historic buildings

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Canal in Amsterdam
The canals of Amsterdam are celebrating a birthday in 2013 and it’s rather a big one.

One that you and I will likely not reach – 400 years! I’m just aiming for an even happy and healthy 100 years! But the canals are aging rather well and 400 years later remain an exemplary example of city planning done right.

One of the famous Amsterdam canals

This is one birthday party you don’t want to miss and fortunately it’s going on for an entire year.  If you got to me 400 years old, wouldn’t you want a long celebration too?

So just what makes Amsterdam’s canals so special?  These 8 reasons:
Town hall and Chinese center seen from a canal in Amsterdam.

1) There are over 100km of canals which have resulted in  an incredible 90(ish) islands and 1500 (ish) bridges. Just think how long you could spend exploring!

Amsterdam canal with houseboats and historic buildings
2) The inner ring canals are lined with historic buildings – 1550 of which have a monumental building status.  No wonder they earned UNESCO World Heritage Site status in 2010.

3)There are locks so there are never ebbs and flows in the canals. Genius!

Town hall and Chinese center seen from a canal in Amsterdam.

4)The canals might be cleaner than your bathtub.  They’re flushed five times a week!  I don’t know about you but that’s more often than I clean my bathroom, unless of course you would like to come over and clean it.

Houseboat on a canal in Amsterdam.

5)There are a lot of houseboats on the canals of Amsterdam – ~3000 of them.  Unfortunately  they’re not cheap to live in. But don’t worry, #8 below offers a good alternative.

One of the 1500 bridges over the canals in Amsterdam.

6)You can swim in some parts of the canal.  The Amsterdam City Swim is a canal swim for charity held every year, and even Princess Maxima participated last  year.  This year it’s being held on September 8th, but registration has already closed for individual registrations.  Would you be one of the brave 1600 swimmers? I think I would just stick to cheering on the sidelines for this one – that water has to be cold! But diving in the canals in a dry suit?  Now we’re talking!

Courier boat on a canal in Amsterdam.

7) Walking along the canals at night is a perfect opportunity for people watching. This was a tip given to me by our guide who explained that the Dutch don’t normally close their curtains, so at night when the lights are on you get a glimpse (for better or for worse) into the local’s lives. Lets just leave it at that.  Moving on…

Boat on a canal in Amsterdam.

8) Some Dutch consider their boats to be their gardens.  As explained to me by Sebastian my guide in Amsterdam, My boat is my garden. Some people go to their gardens to relax, I go to my boat.  I relax by inviting a few friends and driving my boat along the canals.  Ummm, can we be friends?  Tip:  If you can’t afford to live in a houseboat, become friends with someone who at least owns a boat.

Amsterdam canal with bridge and monumental buildings.

Bonus:  There’s even a cat sanctuary house boat!  I’m a huge cat lover. I have 2 adorable black cats named Fuego and Coco (named after places I discovered while traveling – bonus points if you can figure out them out) that I adopted from the animal shelter.  I really wanted to see De Poezenboot (The Cat Boat), after reading about it on my friend Cheryl’s blog, but sadly missed it.

What are other reasons can you think of to celebrate the 400th birthday of the Canals of Amsterdam?

Thank you to Amsterdam Tourism for inviting me to participate in the canal’s 400th birthday celebrations!  As always all opinions expressed are my own and the Tourism board does not promote being a voyager – even if the Dutch don’t close their curtains![/fusion_text][/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]

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About Author

Laurel Robbins is the founder of Monkeys and Mountains, an adventure travel blog and company that helps people plan their hiking, cycling and wildlife vacations in a sustainable way. Although Canadian, she lives in Munich, Germany. You can find her hiking in the mountains on most weekends.


June 13, 2013
I saw a few people kayaking on the canals when I was in Amsterdam. I would have loved to do that, especially if the weather had been nicer.
June 13, 2013
@Jennifer - Kayaking would be a great way to experience the canals - but agreed, would want good weather for it.
Roberta Loufek
June 13, 2013
Ah, the memories - went to Amsterdam during nursing school for an international study program. Loved the Van Gogh museum and the canals. Thanks for the lovely photos. Now let me guess to where you were referring: Fuego was Tierra Del Fuego and Coco was Playa del Coco?
June 21, 2013
@Roberta - You're so lucky that you lived in Amsterdam. Regarding the names, good guesses and very close. Fuego is named after Fuego Volcano in Guatemala and Coco is named after Coco Islands where I met my husband shark dicing.
June 14, 2013
This city is on my "must-go" list, and yes, I'd love to take a walk by the canals! Lovely pics.
June 21, 2013
@Zhu - It was on my list too and I could have spent several days just wondering along the canals.
June 14, 2013
I am always happy to celebrate anything that place!
June 21, 2013
@Andrea - Me too! I want to go back already!
June 15, 2013
Great collection of fact - though I think I would prefer my bathtub to a dip the the canals I've seen:)
June 21, 2013
@Mette - I'm not so sure, my bathtub could use a good cleaning :)
June 17, 2013
I'd love to do an Amsterdam canal tour and think it would be great fun to at least spend a few nights on a boat. Are some of the boats floating B&B's?
June 21, 2013
@Leigh - Me too. I'm sure that some of them are B&Bs but unfortunately I didn't stay in one.
June 17, 2013
I'm sure there will be a mega party there if the dutch people have anything to do with it. I've travelled the world and thery're always the most fun to hang out with.
June 21, 2013
@Simon - :). Agreed, Dutch people are fun!
June 18, 2013
My hubby and I had a our first trip to Amsterdam last June. We loved it so much we are going back there in 6 weeks! The canals are gorgeous! Thank you for reminding me why we fell in love with it.
June 21, 2013
@Nicole - I can totally see why. My hubby was supposed to join me there but it didn't work out. Now I definitely want to go back and spend more time there.
June 23, 2013
One of my favourite memories of my childhood was a family holiday in Amsterdam. I loved going on the canal boots and was fascinating by the architecture. From memory the hotel was excellent too. Would love to go there with my kids one day.
July 1, 2013
@Spencer - Glad that Amsterdam holds so many great memories for you. Think it would be a great city for kids, even though I didn't explore that side of it.
June 27, 2013
I wouldn't exactly say that the canals are clean, even if they're flushed :) But yeah, they are an amazing sight if you've never seen anything like it before.
July 1, 2013
@Danny - Whew, glad I didn't go for a swim then :)
August 13, 2013
Amsterdam is one of my favorite cities! Thanks for linking to my cat boat post. :P

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