AMSTERDAM — Canal Ring

There are three main canals, Herengracht, Prinsengracht, and Keizersgracht which were built in the 17th century during the Dutch Golden Age from west to east. These canals form concentric belts around the city, known as the Grachtengordel and were built mainly for residential purposes. An outer canal, Singelgracht was built for defence and water management. The intersecting canals and streets were originally built to house and provide work space for artisans and workers but now you are more likely to find shops, bars, restaurants and cafes. Along the banks of these canals are some beautiful and impressive buildings and this area which is one of the prettiest areas in Amsterdam to walk around is part of the UNESCO World Heritage List.

The sights found here are:
Prinsengracht
Keizersgracht
Herengracht
Brouwersgracht
Singel
Multatuli-Huis
Torensluis
Huis met Hoofden
Leliegracht
Keizersgracht 174
Homomonument
Nine Streets Area
Felix Meritis Cultural Centre
De Kaaskamer
Bible Museum
Nederlands Instituut voor Oorlogs Documentatie
Leidsegracht
Metz and Co
Pijpenkabinet
Leidseplein
Spiegelgracht
Cat Cabinet
Stadsarchief
Museum van Loon
The Golden Bend
Munttoren
Tuschinski Cinema
Reguliersgracht
Rembrandtplein
Willet-Holthuysen Museum
Magere Brug
Blauwbrug
Zwanenburgwal
Groenburgwal

Prinsengracht

Prinsengracht
Prinsengracht means ‘Prince’s Canal’ and it is named after William 1, the Prince of Orange. It is the longest of the three canals of the Grachtengordel. It is also the liveliest of the canals with its houseboats, cafes, shops and galleries. The canal houses found along the banks were mostly built in the 17th century.

Traveller's Tip

During August each year a music festival is held at the Prinsengracht Canal on pontoons floating on water. Listening to the concert is free if you sit or stand along the banks of the canal but there are limited numbers of ticketed seats as well if you wish to get closer. Information about the concert is found on the website.
http://www.grachtenfestival.nl/gf/2010/index.vm?mainpage=home
Keizersgracht

Keizersgracht
Keizersgracht means ‘Emperor’s Canal’ and was named after Maximilian 1 who was the Holy Roman Emperor. It is the second and widest of the three main canals and is found between Prisengracht and Herengracht. It is not quite as elegant as Herengracht but the finest houses can be found between the Westermarkt and Vijzelstraat. This part is where the ‘slipper parade’ used to take place after church between 2pm and 4pm when most of Amsterdam strolled up and down these streets to see and be seen in all their finery.

Herengracht

Herengracht
Herengracht means ‘Lord’s or Gentlemen’s Canal’ and is named after the heren regeerders who governed Amsterdam in the 16th and 17th centuries. It is the first of the three major canals. The most fashionable part is called the Golden Bend and here you will find many wide mansions, courtyards and coach houses.

Brouwersgracht

Brouwersgracht
Brouwersgracht means ‘Brewers’s Canal’ and it is the northern border of the Grachtengordel. The name comes from the fact that many breweries were established along here during the 17th and 18th centuries. Many of these former breweries have been converted into warehouse apartments. This canal is known for its humpback bridges and houseboats.

Singel

Singel
The Singel Canal served as a moat around the city of Amsterdam from 1480 until 1585 when the city expanded. The canal runs from the IJ bay, near Centraal Station, to Muntplein Square, where it meets the Amstel river. It is the inner-most canal in Amsterdam’s ring of canals. Singel Canal is lined with some beautiful and highly ornate canal houses built during the 17th century which was known as the Dutch Golden Age.

Multatuli-Huis
This museum honours the beliefs and work of the 19th century writer Eduard Douwes Dekker who was known as Multatuli which means ‘I have suffered greatly’. He was the son of a sea captain and he went with his father to the Dutch Indies (Indonesia) and joined the Dutch Civil Service. After years of poverty and travelling he wrote and published his book in 1860 about the evils of Dutch colonialism called Max Havelaar. When this book came out there was hosility towards it and its author by many people. Dekker then moved to Germany and spent the rest of his life there. Today he is highly respected by many for his work and this museum is dedicated to his life and his writing. You will find a sculpture of Multatuli on Torensluis.
For information about the museum visit the website at: http://www.multatuli-museum.nl/en/index.html

Torensluis

Torensluis
This very wide bridge that crosses the Singel is the oldest and widest still remaining in Amsterdam. It once had the tower — Jan Roodenpoortstoren which stood here from 1616 to 1829. The dungeons of the tower have been restored and made accessible to the public and exhibitions and events are held here. You can still see the barred windows of the dungeons under the bridge. On the bridge itself is the sculpture of Multatuli and the large outdoor area of the Cafe van Zuylen.

Huis met Hoofden

Huis met Hoofden
This building is a magnificent example of Dutch Renaissance style and it is one of the grandest double houses from the 17th century. It was built in 1622 and is now the headquarters of the Monumetenzorg which is responsible for many of the city’s monuments. It isn’t open to the public but the outside is still worth a look. The facade features a step gable with six heads at door level representing the greek gods of Apollo, Ceres, Mars, Minerva, Bacchus and Diana. Other decorations include lion masks, obelisks and vases.

Leliegracht

Leliegracht
Most canal cruises turn down the little Leliegracht (Lily Canal) offering visitors a unique perspective. There are lots of great specialty bookstores on this canal.

Keizersgracht 174

Keizersgracht 174
This building found at the intersection of the Keizersgracht and Leliegracht canals is the headquarters of the Eerste Hollandsche Levensverzekerings Bank Insurance Company as well as housing other companies. It was built between 1904 and 1905 in the Art Nouveau style of architecture and in 2001 it gained Rijksmonument (national monument) status. It was one of the first office towers in the Netherlands. It has a copper-plated roof with a small tower and decorative cast-iron fencing as well as a mosaic of a guardian angel just under the clock on the facade. The building served as the international headquarters of Greenpeace for 15 years.

Homomonument

Homomonument
This monument is found on the Westermarkt and was unveiled in 1987. It is a memorial to support gays and lesbians against oppression and persecution for their homosexuality. The monument consists of a series of triangles which refer to the pink triangle gays and lesbians wore back in the 70s. There is a triangle on the water which is the central point and a podium triangle on land and a memorial triangle at street level. All the triangles measure 10 x 10 x 10 metres, creating one large triangle which measures 36 metres on its sides.
For information about this monument visit the website at: http://www.homomonument.com

Nine Streets Area
The 9 streets (De 9 Straatjes) is a favourite shopping spot in Amsterdam and is named after the nine side streets connecting the main canals from the Singel to the Prinsengracht between Leidsestraat and Raadhuisstraat and just a few minutes from Dam Square. This picturesque area is full of hand-laid brickwork lanes, dotted with designer boutiques, cozy cafes, vintage stores and specialty shops. You can pick up a district shopping map from any of the retailers in the area.
For information about this area visit the website at: http://www.theninestreets.com/ninestreetsguide.html

Felix Meritis Cultural Centre
This is the European Centre for Arts and Science. The 18th century building housing this centre was the home of the Felix Meritis Society (Happiness Through Achievement) which was set up in 1789 to promote the arts and sciences. It has been the scene where like-minded people could meet together for political, intellectual and cultural debates and lectures as well as concerts and theatre productions. Over the years it has had several owners including the Communist Party between 1949 and 1968. There is a cafe here where you can enjoy some coffee and overhear or join in with some stimulating conversation.
For information about this centre visit the website at: http://www.felix.meritis.nl/en

De Kaaskamer
If you like cheese then this is the place for you with over 300 cheeses to choose from. It is a delicatessen full of Dutch and organic cheeses as well as olives, tapenades, salads and lots of other goodies if you are in the mood for a picnic. You can also buy takeaway baguettes. The shop is found at Runstraat 7 and it is open on Mondays from 12pm to 6pm; Tuesdays to Fridays from 9am to 6pm; Saturdays from 9am to 5pm and Sundays from 12pm to 5pm.
For information about this shop visit the website at: http://www.kaaskamer.nl

Bible Museum
This museum is housed in two identical canal buildings dating from 1662. The decoration inside is very elegant with a grand staircase and magnificent painted ceilings by Jacob de Wit dating from the 18th century. The ceilings depict the four seasons, mythological scenes and the signs of the zodiac. The museum has exhibits of archaeological finds from the Middle East and there are also some fantastic models of ancient temples including the Tabernacle which is a tent in the desert containing the Ark of the Covenant with the Ten Commandments made in 1849-65 of wood, fabric and gold leaf. There are also huge amounts of Bibles on display including the first Bible printed in the Low Countries, dating from 1477 and the first edition of the authorised Dutch translation from 1637.
For information about this museum visit the website at: http://www.bijbelsmuseum.nl/english.aspx

Nederlands Instituut voor Oorlogs Documentatie
This is the Netherlands Institute for War Documentation and it was established in 1945 to house large collections of archives of documents, newspapers, 100,000 photos, and 50,000 books relating to the occupation during WW2. This is where Otto Frank donated his daughter Anne’s diary. In more recent years it has expanded its collection to include from WW1 up to the present day, with particular emphasis on the former colony of Indonesia. It is not generally open to the public but you are welcome if you are doing academic or family-related research. It is worth a walk past just to see the exterior which resembles a French château with its sculptures of mythical figures.

Leidsegracht

Leidsegracht
This canal offers a rest from the busy street of Leidsestraat which is found one block away. The canal houses on Leidsegracht are among Amsterdam’s most beautiful, with their neck gables leaning over tree-lined streets and brick walls. Some of the best vantage points include looking north to see the back side and towering steeples of De Krijtberg church, and looking west at the intersection of the Keizersgracht canal.

Metz and Co
This is the oldest department store in Amsterdam and traces its roots back to 1740 when it was established as a textiles shop. The shop was used by the wealthy as well as the royalty of Amsterdam and was known for its role in introducing design in the Netherlands. The company grew quickly in the 19th century to become an international trader in fabrics and consumer goods. It was taken over by the British Company, Liberty after WW2. The building belonging to Metz and Co today has been used by them since 1890 and is found on Leidsestraat. This building has a distinctive cupola on the roof which was built in the 1930s and this area is used for wedding ceremonies. The view from here is fantastic. A restaurant is found here as well.
For information about this store visit the website at: http://www.metzco.eu

Pijpenkabinet
This rather unusual museum displays a collection of over 2,000 pipes which are organised chronologically from pre-Columbian pipes, through the Indians of North and South America and ending with Europe and America from the end of the 15th century until today. During the Golden Age of Amsterdam in the 17th century, smoking a pipe was a symbol of status and only the poor didn’t smoke. The longer the pipe, the more important the person. There is a pipe shop in the basement where you can buy pipes.
For information about the museum visit the website at: http://www.pijpenkabinet.nl

Leidseplein

Leidseplein
This busy square was developed in the 17th century as a place for farmers to leave their carts before entering the city. It is now a tram intersection and a lively nightspot. You will find lots of theatres, cafes, restaurants and cinemas here. There is also plenty of free entertainment with the street musicians, jugglers and other performers especially in the summer months. One of the popular hotels near here is the American Hotel which was built in 1900 in the Art Nouveau style and is worth a look even if you don’t wish to stay here.

Traveller's Tip

Just be aware that this is an area for pickpockets as well as lots of drunken people.
  • The American Hotel was the place where the famous spy, Mata Hari had her honeymoon.
    Spiegelgracht

    Spiegelgracht
    This is one of the smallest canals in Amsterdam but it is a favourite of many people because of the beautiful shops that line its streets. This area is known as the Spiegelkwartier and it is the unofficial antique district of Amsterdam and one of its best shopping areas. Among the items you might see are dolls with china heads, rare editions of early children’s books, Indonesian puppets, Persian tapestries, landscape paintings, art prints and reproductions, brass Bible stands, candlesticks, copper kettles, music boxes, and old Dutch clocks.

    Cat Cabinet
    The Kattenkabinet or Cat Cabinet is a museum for ‘cat lovers’. It is housed in a lovely old canal house and there is a lot of cat related art and objects as well as some of the real thing scattered about.
    For information about the museum visit the website at: http://www.kattenkabinet.nl/english.html

    Stadsarchief

    Stadsarchief
    This is the home of the Municipal archives of Amsterdam. They were moved here in 2007 and they are one of the biggest city archives in the world. Contained in these archives is the history of lots of important Dutch historical figures as well as information about large Dutch companies amongst other things. Some of the treasures found here are collections of drawings and maps of Amsterdam from the 17th and 18th century. You can visit the archives to research the history of the city as well as to see the exhibitions held here or watch one of the archival films. The building which houses the archives is also interesting. It was built between 1919 and 1926 and is styled after North American buildings of the same era. It has a concrete structure covered with granite, oak, iron and a ceramic interior.
    For information about the Stadsarchief visit the website at: http://stadsarchief.amsterdam.nl/english/home.en.html

    Museum van Loon

    Museum van Loon
    The van Loon family owned this magnificent house between 1884 and 1945. The house is one of a pair and dates from 1672. Its first occupant was the artist Ferdinand Bol who was a student of Rembrandt. After extensive renovation the house was opened to the public as a museum. A visit here will give you a glimpse into the life of a wealthy 17th century family living an opulent lifestyle in a canal-side mansion. Inside the house you will find more than 80 of the van Loon family portraits, including those of Willem van Loon, one of the founders of the Dutch East India Company. There is also an ornate marble staircase with a brass balustrade leading up through the house. The rooms are filled with richly decorated panelling, stucco work, mirrors, fireplaces, furnishings, porcelain, medallions, chandeliers and rugs amongst others. The garden is beautiful with its carefully tended hedges and there is a coach house modelled on a Greek temple.
    For information about this museum visit the website at: http://www.museumvanloon.nl/eng/home.php

    Traveller's Tip

    In the basement of the museum is a video of the grandson of the van Loon family describing his memories of visits he had here. Try and view this first before you tour the house to give you a better perspective on what you are looking at.
    The Golden Bend

    The Golden Bend
    This is the most prestigious part of the Herengracht canal and is found between Leidsestraat and Vijzelstraat. After 1663 when the three main canals were extended the people who bought land on the Herengracht canal were encouraged to buy two lots and build double-width mansions. This is where the wealthy people of Amsterdam built their mansions with classical facades, stuccoed ceilings and fine gardens which were open to the public once a year. The richest people lived by the curve of the canal at Nieuwe Spiegelstraat which became known as the ‘Golden Bend’. Some of the houses to see along this stretch of the canal is the one found at Herengracht 475 which is the house of the De Neufville family dating from 1731 and 476 which belonged to Francois de Vicq who was associated with the Dutch West Indies Company. Both of these houses are known as having the prettiest facades. Another house to see is Herengracht 466 which is found on the corner of the Nieuwe Spiegelstraat. It was the office of the Dutch Trade-Society from 1858 until 1926. On the other corner at Herengracht 464 is the office of lawyer Bram Moszkowicz. Today at the Golden Bend you will see mainly banks, insurance companies and some cultural institutions such as the Goethe Institute, and the Kattenkabinet at Herengracht 497.

    Munttoren

    Munttoren
    The Munttoren or Mint Tower is a remnant of the old, medieval city wall that was built between 1480 and 1487 and was used to mint coins in the 17th century. The original Munttoren consisted of a guard house and two towers but a fire in 1618 burnt all but the guard house and part of the western tower. This tower was rebuilt in the original 17th century style and features a spire and a clock with four clock faces. The bells are the original ones and they chime every quarter of an hour.

    Tuschinski Cinema
    This old cinema is located between the Munttoren and Rembrandtplein. It was built by a Polish immigrant called Abraham Tuschinski and it opened in 1921. It has a lovely old Art Deco interior which has been preserved despite the recent expansion of the building.
    For information about the cinema visit the website at: http://www.pathe.nl/english

    Reguliersgracht

    Reguliersgracht
    This serene canal gets its name from a convent, Reguliersklooster that was found here from 1394 to 1532. The canal was built in 1664 when the city expanded to meets the needs of its growing population. The canal is famous for its seven humpbacked bridges, which give the Seven Bridges Hotel and the Seven Bridges Jazz Festival their names. An interesting canal house to see along this canal is on the northeast corner at number 39, which dates from 1690 and is one of the most photographed bell gables in Amsterdam.

    Traveller's Tip

    On the first Saturday in September there is a one-day free music festival called the Seven Bridges Jazz Festival that is held on the canal.
    Rembrandtplein

    Rembrandtplein
    This square was a dairy market in the 18th century and was then called Botermarkt (butter market). The city renamed the square Rembrandtplein in 1852 when it unveiled a statue of Rembrandt commissioned by sculptor Louis Royer. In 2006 on the 400th anniversary of Rembrandt’s birth the city put 22 bronze figures on the square. There was also a three-dimensional replica of Rembrandt’s most famous masterpiece, The Night Watch. The square has now developed into a centre for nightlife with the opening of various hotels and cafes. It is very popular especially in the summer when it is packed with people enjoying a drink and eating a meal from one of the many cafes serving meals and drinks alfresco. In the middle of the square is a green rectangle of grass which is especially popular on sunny days. Around the square there are some quality night clubs and gay venues as well as respectable diamond factories and souvenir shops.

    Willet-Holthuysen Museum

    Willet-Holthuysen Museum
    This is another elegant 17th century canal house with an ornamental garden to visit. It was built in 1687 and was renovated several times before its last owner, Mrs. Willet-Holthuysen willed her mansion and all its contents to the city in 1885. There is a chance to view both the wealthy owners’ rooms as well as the servants’ quarters to allow you to compare the glittering lifestyles of the wealthy and those of the ordinary folk who took care of them. Among the most interesting rooms are a Victorian-era bedroom on the second floor, a large reception room with tapestry wall panels, and an 18th century basement kitchen that is very realistic. As well as the rooms and period furniture there is a wonderful collection of fine and applied art and selections from the collection are shown in alternating exhibitions in the rooms on the first floor. Make sure you visit the stunning ornamental gardens.
    For information about the museum visit the website at: http://en.willetholthuysen.nl

    Traveller's Tip

    Make sure you hire the audio guide for your visit to the house as it will give you a better insight into the house and its former inhabitants and it is worth it for the small cost of hire.
    Magere Brug

    Magere Brug
    This famous skinny bridge across the river Amstel at Kerkstraat between Keizersgracht and Prinsengracht is an Old Dutch design wooden bridge known as a double-swipe or balanced bridge. Legend has it that the bridge was named after the sisters Mager, who were supposed to live on opposite sides of the river and they had the wooden bridge built to make it easier to visit one another. The more realistic reason is that the original bridge got the name because it was so narrow (mager means skinny in Dutch) that it was hard for two pedestrians to pass each other. As traffic along the river increased a wider bridge replaced the narrow one in 1871 and over the years it has been replaced several times. The one you see here today was built in 1969.

    Traveller's Tip

    Make sure you visit the bridge at night when it is illuminated as it is very pretty and makes a great photograph.
  • The bridge was used in the 1971 James Bond film Diamonds are Forever.
    Blauwbrug

    Blauwbrug
    This bridge connects the Rembrandtplein and the Waterlooplein areas and includes a tramway that crosses it. Blauwbrug means ‘blue bridge’ and refers to the original wooden bridge that stood here which was painted blue. The current bridge dates back to 1884 and was inspired by the Pont Alexandre III in Paris. The Blauwbrug’s brick and sandstone foundations resemble ships’ bows and the marble lampposts also feature ship sculptures. Also on the bridge are decorations of masks, ornate lanterns and the imperial crown of Maximilian of Austria.

    Zwanenburgwal

    Zwanenburgwal
    This canal and street is where the artist Rembrandt and philosopher Spinoza lived. In 2006 it was voted one of the most beautiful streets in Amsterdam by readers of a local daily newspaper. Zwanenburgwal flows from the Sint Antoniessluis sluice gate (between the streets Sint Antoniesbreestraat and Jodenbreestraat) to the Amstel river. The canal was originally named Verversgracht (dyers’ canal) after the textile industry found in this area. Dyed textiles were hung to dry along the canal. At the intersection of the Zwanenburgwal and the Amstel river is the Joods Verzetsmonument which is a 1988 monument to Jewish resistance fighters during WW2. A remembrance of the Kristallnacht is held at the monument every year.

    Groenburgwal

    Groenburgwal
    This is another small but picturesque canal in Amsterdam. In this area textiles were woven and were dyed and stretched on wooden frames to dry along the canal. The canal is named for the green dye houses that were found here. One of the loveliest and most photographed bridges is found over the canal at Staalstraat. It is a wooden drawbridge and from it you have a great view of the tower of Zuiderkerk.

    Traveller's Tip

    Claude Monet painted a picture around 1874 called The South Church, Amsterdam seen from the Groenburgwal which is owned by the Philadelphia Museum of Art. This painting includes the wooden drawbridge.