The canal ring of Amsterdam

The canal ring of Amsterdam was an engineering and cultural masterpiece when it was built. It’s fitting that it’s now included on The World Heritage List

Written by Michael Turtle

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle. He has been a journalist for more than 20 years and has travelled the world full time since 2011.

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle and has been travelling full time for a decade.

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Amsterdam, The Netherlands

The streets of Amsterdam are like a smorgasbord for those looking for history, architecture of depravity.

Step through doorways or look from outside – every block presents opportunities for exploration, study or escape. But it’s between the streets, in the canals that divide them, that the true wonder of the city flows.

The canals of Amsterdam were added to UNESCO’s World Heritage List in 2010 as an example of town planning that influenced the world for centuries. But when they were first built in the 17th century, they weren’t meant for inspiration – they were critical to the survival of the city.

Amsterdam Canal Ring, The Netherlands

They were in part necessary for the expansion of the urban area. The canals were used to drain away the swamps that once dominated the land and, in the spaces between the new waterways, the building began.

The canal system provided another important benefit, though. It gave protection to the city at a time when the Dutch were becoming an important power in the world and making enemies and attracting jealousies.

The relative peace and security that Amsterdam enjoyed saw it continue to grow and at one point the average income of a resident was four times that of someone in Paris.

At the time, this was the largest urban extension in the world. It was an impressive system to reclaim the land, it created a beautiful residential environment, and it allowed the country to grow economically and politically.

Amsterdam Canal Ring, The Netherlands

It’s easy for us to go to Amsterdam today and think the canals are cute. But they are not there as a simple tourist attraction – they are there because of ingenuity hundreds of years ago which enabled a city to grow and become a leading light in Europe.

Much of what you can see now is as history created it. The canal system – complete with embankments and facades – has survived in entirety.

Many of the old hydraulic systems have been rebuilt but most of the houses built in the 17th and 18th centuries are originals and are protected by heritage listing.

As part of my week of World Heritage Sites in Europe, I would now like to share some photos of what is officially called the ‘Seventeenth-century canal ring area of Amsterdam inside the Singelgracht’.

Amsterdam Canal Ring, The Netherlands
Amsterdam Canal Ring, The Netherlands
Amsterdam Canal Ring, The Netherlands
Amsterdam Canal Ring, The Netherlands
Amsterdam Canal Ring, The Netherlands
Amsterdam Canal Ring, The Netherlands
Amsterdam Canal Ring, The Netherlands
Amsterdam Canal Ring, The Netherlands
Amsterdam Canal Ring, The Netherlands

THE BEST ACCOMMODATION IN AMSTERDAM

Amsterdam is not a cheap city for accommodation but I think it’s worth paying to stay in the city centre.

BACKPACKER

It’s not the cheapest but I think the Generator Hostel is the best backpacker option.

BUDGET

Not your average hotel, CityHub Amsterdam is a cool idea for an affordable ‘room’.

BOUTIQUE

For a great designed boutique hotel, I would highly recommend The Hoxton.

LUXURY

And for cool modern luxury, have a look at the awesome W Amsterdam, with a great location.

UNESCO logo

This site is on the UNESCO World Heritage List!
I'm on a mission to visit as many World Heritage Sites as I can. Only about 800 more to go... eek!

21 thoughts on “The canal ring of Amsterdam”

  1. Amsterdam is a stunningly beautiful city which readily displays it’s creativity and history of innovation – and while it is impossible not to admire the canal system and the city’s architecture, in reading your article I am driven to learn more! Fascinating to imagine this city in its earliest evolutions.

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  2. Amsterdam is one of those places which has a rich culture and the diversity of history to match the beauty of the city. Have quite a few friends from the region and every time I’ve visited I’m blown away by just how crisp and fresh everything seems. Realize it’s not the same for everyone but…great job at capturing the essence in photos.

    Reply
    • I reckon ‘crisp’ and ‘fresh’ are great words to describe that part of the world. I was also amazed at how clean and orderly things felt in the Netherlands – and it’s not what you would necessarily expect from Amsterdam with its reputation for… other things 🙂

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    • The canals are beautiful and I reckon you could spend days just walking along them and exploring all the little details and ways they interact with the rest of the city. I enjoyed learning more about them and understanding why they were built and how they helped the city grow. They’re not just there for tourists, apparently! 🙂

      Reply
  3. I just love cities with canals! They are always more laid back and relaxing. And even people living in cities like that seem to be different – more patient and friendly, I think. I haven’t been to Amsterdam yet, but I already know I’ll like it.

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  4. Hey Michael,

    Love your design, and this story made me wanna travel to Amsterdam again right now!
    I think it’s finally time to go again.

    Reply
  5. Enjoyed your blog. We will be on the cruise through the Adriatic with a five hour stopover in Amsterdam on September 6. I was wondering how far the airport is from the old town area of Amsterdam? Do you know anyone who could give us an hour car tour around the most important canal areas in Amsterdam ? Should we Just use cab?

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    • Hey Susan. I sent you an email about this in repsonse to your other message but just wanted to reply to the comment here in case anyone else has the same question. There are ‘layover tours’ you can do from places like Amsterdam Airport. They will pick you up, show you around and make sure you get back in time for your flight.

      Reply
  6. These pictures bring back such fond memories. I lived in Amsterdam for 2 years in the early ’70s. And I have never stopped longing to return. It is my favorite city, and the Dutch are my favorite people. After living here in the US, I long for the tolerance of the Dutch. And for the intelligence and education of Europeans in general.

    Reply

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