Amsterdam and its famous canals
Whatever first comes to mind when you think of Amsterdam – whether it’s canals, Van Gogh, Anne Frank or interesting ‘coffee shops’ – no-one can argue that it’s one of Europe’s most energetic and culture-filled capitals.
A city founded on water, Amsterdam has some 165 canals – built from the 17th century onwards to provide a network for transport and trade, and to facilitate the expansion of the city through land reclamation. They have long been one of Amsterdam’s biggest draws for tourists, but in 2010 the historic importance of the city’s ring of canals was recognised internationally through its designation as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Today, 170 boats take over three million visitors on an Amsterdam canal cruise each year, with daytime, evening or even dinner cruise options. The best Amsterdam canal cruises will serve you drinks and snacks, provide commentary in a choice of languages, and offer discounts for groups. There are even companies that cater for private charters, so you can create the cruise of your choice with as many or as few people as you like.
Certainly, a canal cruise can be a memorable and easy way to experience some of Amsterdam’s most famous landmarks and attractions. The Anne Frank House, for example – probably Amsterdam’s most famous canalside museum – requires little introduction, but there are several other canalside mansions that house interesting and unique collections.
For instance, the fascinating Museum of Bags and Purses – which would certainly appeal to our sister site, the Fashion & Style Directory – tells the story of the development of handbags and purses from the 1500s through to today, and features the largest collection of those items (over 5,000 of them) anywhere in the world. From the Gianni Versace bag carried by Madonna at the 1997 premiere of Evita, to the very first bag purchased by museum founder Hendrikje Ivo (a tortoise-shell plated bag inlaid with mother-of-pearl, dating from about 1820), there is something there for every bag aficionado to enjoy, all collected for their quality, design and use of materials.
Another canal house that now hosts a museum is the Cat Cabinet, dedicated to the role of our feline friends in the arts and culture, and showcasing posters, paintings, lithographs and more. If you’re a film buff, you may also recognise the museum’s beautiful interior, which featured in the film Oceans Twelve.
If exhibitions about cats and handbags aren’t your thing, there is, of course, no shortage of other world-famous museums in Amsterdam, with the Rijksmuseum, Van Gogh Museum and Stedelijk Museum (specialising in modern and contemporary art) all situated in the city’s famous Museum Quarter.
And if the Museum of Bags and Purses has whetted your appetite for fashion, don’t worry – close to the Museum Quarter, the P.C. Hooftstraat is Amsterdam’s retail destination for luxury names, such as Cartier, Prada and Tiffany & Co.
Maybe that canal cruise – where you can just glide past the shops, resisting temptation – has even more advantages than first meets the eye!
Photo credit: Lavinia Marin