Amsterdam's canals

How many canals are there in Amsterdam?

Amsterdam has more than 100 kilometres of canals, which run through around 90 islands and are spanned by more than 1,500 bridges. The exact number of canals varies depending on the definition of the term "canal", but the best known and largest are the four main canals: Prinsengracht, Keizersgracht, Herengracht and Singel.

These form the famous ring of canals around the city centre, which has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In addition to these main canals, there are numerous smaller canals that run through the various city districts.

Why are there so many canals in Amsterdam?

The numerous canals in Amsterdam are the result of historical urban development and were created for various practical and economic reasons:

  1. Trade and transport: In the 17th century, the Golden Age of the Netherlands, Amsterdam was an important trading centre. The canals served as transport routes to move goods efficiently through the city and to the harbours.
  2. Urban planning and urban expansion: Amsterdam experienced rapid population growth in the 17th century. The canals were part of a well thought-out urban development plan that organised the expansion of the city. The ring-shaped canals that surrounded the city centre were planned both functionally and aesthetically.
  3. Water management and control: As most of the Netherlands is below sea level, water management has always played an important role. The canals in Amsterdam were used to regulate the water level and prevent flooding.
  4. Defence: In the early history of the city, the canals also served as lines of defence against possible invaders.
  5. Economic development: The canals contributed to the economic development of the city by facilitating trade and making Amsterdam a central hub for international trade.

These factors led to the construction and preservation of the numerous canals that today characterise the cityscape of Amsterdam and make the city a unique and picturesque destination.