10 April 2012

Guided Canal Boat Tour Through the Historic City of Amsterdam

A great way to tour the city of Amsterdam is via canal boat.  Explore the architecture, the monuments and life in this enchanting city.  All content property of EuroTravelogue™.  Unauthorized use is prohibited. 

After we awoke in Amsterdam on an historic day for Viking River Cruises, we were invited to embark on Amsterdam’s renowned glass-topped canal boats for a guided tour through the city’s legendary canals from its historic architecture and fabled gables to its quaint neighborhoods and charming houseboats. And you can actually rent one of these quaint and charming houseboats for your stay in Amsterdam! How cool would that be? Then it was onto a walk through the heart of the Jewish quarter including visits to the nearly 350-year-old Portuguese synagogue and the Jewish Historical Museum—both poignant reminders of the persecution suffered by the Amsterdam Jews during WWII. Topping off our morning tour was a scrumptious lunch at De Kas (The Greenhouse), whose fully-operational greenhouse determines the menu of the day based on only the freshest ingredients! I must say, it was the best lunch I had ever eaten! But for now, let’s embark on our journey through this quintessential “Venice of the North”…your glass-topped boat is standing by. We’ll come back to our tour of the Jewish quarter in a later post.

One of the glass-topped canal boats making its way through the Amsterdam waterways. All content property of EuroTravelogue™.  Unauthorized use is prohibited.    

Brief History

Capital city of the Netherlands, Amsterdam is world renowned for its enchanting canals, storied architecture, famous artists, Anne Frank, and of course, the infamous “Red Light District” and coffee houses. Combine all of that with 900 years of history and you will see that Amsterdam is a living museum with many of its centuries-old sites still intact! Founded in the early 13th century, Amsterdam was just a small fishing village that achieved tremendous commercial wealth and power in the 16th and 17th centuries while it endured the ravages of the 80-Year War that eventually led to its independence. While prosperity continued throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, Amsterdam suffered greatly once again through the onslaught of the Nazi occupation that nearly devastated the Jewish population. Through a history of great wealth and tragic loss, Amsterdam survives today as a cosmopolitan, as well as a progressive metropolis full of character, charm and an extremely benevolent culture. You can see much of Amsterdam's history via a canal-boat tour through the heart of the city.

Amsterdam’s Canals


Houseboats line most of Amsterdam's waterways and range from simple to elaborately designed and decorated homes on the water.  Their addresses are designated as "Opposite" the actual street address of the house it faces. All content property of EuroTravelogue™.  Unauthorized use is prohibited.

Charming house boats line the Herengracht or Gentlemen's Canal as well as most of the waterways throughout Amsterdam and are often dressed to the hilt with flowers and greenery. All content property of EuroTravelogue™.  Unauthorized use is prohibited.    

Seen from a bird’s eye view, Amsterdam’s network of canals forms a series of concentric semicircles that begin at the Ij Bay in the north and fan out to the southwest. Dating back to the early 17th century, the original plan called for the development of four major canals bisected by a series of intersecting canals. Actual construction began in 1613. Throughout the city, there are more than 500 bridges with the oldest dating back to 1648 and 16 locks that raise and lower the canal boats to the varying heights of the waterways. After having walked the quaint streets and cruised through its picturesque canals, I can certainly understand why Amsterdam is known as the "the Venice of the north."

If you look closely, this view provides a direct route across the four major canals in Amsterdam. All content property of EuroTravelogue™.  Unauthorized use is prohibited.     

Aboard our “green-certified” canal boat powered by natural gas, we cruised through three of four main canals:

  • Herengracht or Gentlemen’s Canal is lined with homes that once belonged to wealthy merchants and governors of the city.
  • Keizergracht or Emperor’s Canal is the second widest of the canals and named after Maximilian I [we’ll see more of him at the Westerkerk below].
  • Prinsengracht or Prince’s Canal is actually the longest and named after William I or the Prince of Orange who led the 80-year revolt I mentioned above.

More merchants' homes along the Gentlemen's Canal in Amsterdam. All content property of EuroTravelogue™.  Unauthorized use is prohibited.        

Now that you’re armed with a few lessons in local lore, we’ll explore the picturesque sights of Amsterdam from its fabled rooftops and elegant canal homes to the charming houseboats lining its waterways. I hope you enjoy this guided canal-boat tour through Amsterdam!

Architecture—a lesson in Amsterdam's fabled gabled architecture


Fabled gables of Amsterdam and the Netherlands.  To the left, the ordinary Triangle Gable and next to it is an example of the Step Gable.  All content property of EuroTravelogue™.  Unauthorized use is prohibited.   

You can see the evolution in gabled architecture from its humble beginnings of simplified "triangle" gables and "step" gables to the more ornamental "bell" and "neck" gabled rooftops—some adorned with imported marble statuary.


Note the "Bell" gable to the left and the more opulent "Neck" gables to the right—some even adorned with exquisite imported marble statuary from Italy as pictured in the middle house here.  This picture also shows an example of the traditional tall and lean Amsterdam canal home at the left and the much wider merchants' houses to the right. All content property of EuroTravelogue™.  Unauthorized use is prohibited.   

Merchant’s Houses

As merchants’ prosperity grew during the 17th century, so did the size of their homes along the canal—the Gentlemen’s Canal predominantly. You can distinguish these from the earlier homes because the houses are wider and feature elaborately decorated gables, some with imported stone statuary. If you look closely at the peak of the gables, you’ll see a cantilevered beam extending outward. Because most of these homes have very narrow staircases, the only way to move in furniture and appliances was to use these hoist beams to lift the fixtures up to the windows above. Also you’ll see that most of them have two front doors—the top for the merchant’s family and the lower for the servants.

Anne Frank Huis


The Anne Frank Huis Museum can be seen from the Prince's Canal in Amsterdam.  There is small plaque  on the right side of the doorway marking the location. All content property of EuroTravelogue™.  Unauthorized use is prohibited.        

For 25 months beginning in 1942, Anne Frank and her family along with the Van Pels family hid inside this house that can be seen from the Prince's Canal in Amsterdam. In August of 1944, she and two families were betrayed and later deported. Of the two families, it was only Otto Frank, Anne's father, who survived the war. Anne died in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in March the following year and her diary became her legacy.

Westerkerk


Westerkerk or West Church boasts Amsterdam's tallest tower.  It the burial place of Rembrandt however his precise location remains unknown. All content property of EuroTravelogue™.  Unauthorized use is prohibited.     
Close-up view of the Westerkerk or West Church bell tower showing the colorfully painted ornamentation decorating its four sides. All content property of EuroTravelogue™.  Unauthorized use is prohibited.    

Westerkerk or West Church was the only church that Anne Frank could see from the windows in her house. Rembrandt is buried there although his precise location remains unknown. Topping off the city’s tallest tower is the imperial crown of Maximilian I of Austria.


The charming little house belongs to the drawbridge keeper. All content property of EuroTravelogue™.  Unauthorized use is prohibited.     

Note that in this photograph, the cars have a small guard rail to prevent them from rolling into the canals.  On the other side of the canal, cars don't have that luxury and according to my guide, at least one car ends up in the canal each week. All content property of EuroTravelogue™.  Unauthorized use is prohibited.

Fun Facts:

  • Canal boats’ addresses are “Opposite – the address across the street from their position in the canal.”
  • At least one car ends up in the canal every week.
  • Amsterdam ranks #13 in top places to live around the world.
  • Thousands of bicycles make their way in and around the city. Be warned as they have the right of way along their routes and will stop at nothing that gets in their way. Just kidding, but they don’t take kindly to ignorant walkers, namely me, who was almost run over a number of times despite the ringing of their little bells.
  • More than 300 bicycles change ownership every day.

This was just the first excursion aboard the Viking Odin and with Viking River Cruises, and we haven’t even left port yet! Many more adventures from the Netherlands coming your way on EuroTravelogue.

Additional Reading:

43 comments:

  1. Great photos Jeff! I like Amsterdam and think a canal cruise would be a great way to see the city. Spending the night on a canal boat would be fun as well!

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  2. Amsterdam is so photogenice and with a photographer like you, Jeff you make it look more adorable.

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  3. Looks lovely. I just reviewed a book that took place in Amsterdam but it was about the famous Cannabis Cup that takes place there yearly.
    One thing I read was that the food isn't all that great.
    How's the food on the Viking river cruise?

    The Wanderfull Traveler

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  4. Hi Jeremy, I too would love to spend a night in one of the floating pods / hotels on the canals. I hear wonderful things from my friends in New Jersey who did just that. Thanks for stopping by my friend and sharing your kind words.

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  5. Hi Marlys, agree, around every corner is a Kodak moment waiting to happen ; ). Thx for your kind compliements...they go a long way with me!!

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  6. Hi Murissa,
    Didn't have an opportunity to sample some of the food in Amsterdam save our visit to De Kas...the place we stopped for at lunch after the canal tour...the best lunch I have ever eaten. As for the food onboard Viking, simply scrumptious! And the wine pairings were superb!! Thx for stopping by to share your thoughts.

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  7. I wish I would have had the time to take a canal boat tour when I was in Amsterdam. My time there was much too short. Love your photos -- what a photogenic city. Glad you mentioned Anne Frank Huis. I was quite moved by my visit there.

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  8. Hi Cathy!! Well, you'll just have to put it on your list for your next visit to Amsterdam...#1 item if you ask me...helps establish the lay of land, so to speak. I wish I had the time to visit the Anne Frank Huis...I really wanted as well but I least I was able to visit the synagogues and Jewish Historical Museum--both profoundly moving indeed!! Thank you so much for your compliments and for stopping by to share your thoughts and experiences!

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  9. Great post Jeff, very detailed and awesome photos. Anne Frank house is high on my list...

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  10. Beautiful post. Oh to live on one of those houseboats...

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  11. Hi Lorenzo and thank you for your kind words. I only wish I had time to tour the Anne Frank House...but I will save it for my next adventure! Thx for stopping by to share your comments!

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  12. Greetings RestlessJo and thanks for you compliments. I share your sentiment about living on those houseboats...what an enchanting and romantic experience it must be !! Thx for stopping by and for following my blog!

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  13. I'm not into cruise vacations but a river cruise seems much more manageable. Looks like you can get great shots... right from the boat!

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  14. Hi Leslie, River Cruises offer a great way to visit so many European destinations from the convenience of your floating hotel. No trains, no planes, just the visual romance of the river and the sites along the way. This post was not taken aboard my river cruise ship but a separate glass-topped canal boat that cruised through Amsterdam...one of the many excursions Viking planned for all of us. Thx so much for stopping by and sharing your thoughts.

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  15. I've been on one of these canal cruises. They're pretty good and last an hour or so going right out into the harbour and back through the city. You can buy a city card that will allow access to many of the museums, trams, trains and a boat ride for a few Euro.

    Recommend the Brown Bars (so called because of the colour of nicotine on the inside) if you like beer, these are the places to go.

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  16. Thank you Frank O' File for sharing those wonderful tips for a visit to Amsterdam. I love it when folks add helpful information for my readers. Thank you so much for stopping by and sharing your comments! And please, come back and share as often as you like!

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  17. Unlikely I hadn't a canal boat tour as I was in Amsterdam in January and it rained all the time...so annoiying! Despite the weather, the city itself is lovely....and have a magic atmosphere!

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  18. Hi Francy and thank you so much for stopping by. Sorry to hear about the weather conditions during your visit to Amsterdam. Well, you'll just need to visit once again and hope you have clear skies with plenty of sunshine.

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  19. Very nice pictures of the Amsterdam Canals!
    Have you allready downloaded our free Go!CANALS App to explore the city and share your Amsterdam Canal experience?

    Enjoy your time in Amsterdam :-)

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  20. Greetings Het and thank you for your kind words. I love the video in your link above and so glad you included it! Thank you for stopping by and sharing your thoughts and link!

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  21. A canal cruise is a must do when I visit Amsterdam! Love the "Neck" gabled houses and the West church bell tower. Charming city.

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  22. Hi Debbie, This was the PERFECT introduction to Amsterdam on our first full day in the Netherlands! Yes, you must embark on one the next time you're in town..perhaps our friend Keith at Velvet Escape will join you!!

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  23. Love love love this. I really loved Amsterdam and can't wait to go back. Your photos are beautiful, and the city is really something special.

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  24. Hi there Jenna and thank you for your kind, kind words!!! I had a fantastic time in Amsterdam that morning and really look forward to returning soon!

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  25. I hope to visit there really soon, those boats looks absolutely stunning.
    long island used boats

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    1. Hi Emilio and thx for stopping by. Since you had nice things to say in your comment, I am going to allow the link as well.

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  26. hai jeff, i love your blog so much and i put you in my blog as my inspiration, jeff can you help me how to put widget for people to contact me through email and also how can i get widget like yours to the reader how to follow from twitter,pinterest,rss, can yougive me the link so i can put it in my blog, thanks so much for your help,

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    1. Hi Wenda,

      I am honored by your compliments. And glad to help you out. Please send me an email to the address above and I can help you with your request.

      Thanks again for stopping by and for your kind words.

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  27. These vessels are fabulously beautiful. Especially the one at the very top of the post. What a wonderful trip!

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    1. Thx so much for stopping by Jim to share your comments!! I totally agree with you...so many beautiful sites in Amsterdam!!

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  28. River cruises seem like all the rage! I like that they aren't massive and distracting, like traditional open water cruises.

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    1. Hi there Leslie!!! I can't thank you enough for stopping by and sharing another comment! How wonderful! And yes they certainly are all the RAGE!!!! LOVE THEM!

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  29. Touring Amsterdam from canal level is a fun way to see the lovely city. It's also a walkable one which makes for easy exploring.

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    1. Hi there Donna and thanks so much for stopping by! I totally agree with you...actually, I walked the city with Keith from VelvetEscape before the canal-boat tour so I had the best of both of both worlds!

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  30. Hi Jeff...I loved your blog and I did use some of your pictures on mine http://experienciasdeviagens.wordpress.com/2013/04/15/se-amas-tulipas-va-a-amsterda-na-primavera/ (of course giving you all credits). Thanks! (I´m a Brazilian citizen and I´m new on this "writting a blog" and reading yours gave me a such inspiration

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    1. Hi Maria,
      Thank you so much for your kind words and link back to my site in your article. Please see the message I sent to your page in Facebook regarding using other people's photos. Thanks.

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  31. I've done this canal cruise a number of times and always see and learn something different every time! If you visit this great city ensure you do it! Great blog and photos - takes me back!

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    1. Hi there. Yes, I have visited and ridden the canal-boats...all those pics above are mine. Thank you for stopping by for your kind compliments too!!

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  32. Wonderful Photo's. I've never been to Amsterdam looks very interesting. Love the West Church Bell Tower. Thankyou.

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    1. Hi there Rita! Thank you very much for your kind words! I fell in love with Amsterdam when I visited last year! You really must see this enchanting city in the Netherlands!

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  33. Took a river cruise here about a year back but forgot to bring along my camera -- at least I got to fully enjoy the view! This post really brought me back, thanks for sharing.

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    1. Hi there Tyler!! I am so happy that you relived your journey my friend however, you will just have to return to take pics of your own, and don't forget your camera. ; )

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