Why are there so many canals in Amsterdam?

Amsterdam is often known as the “Venice of the North” due to the fact there are so many canals! There’s 165 in the city adding up to a total length of 50km (around 31 miles). So it’s no wonder people often ask why are there SO MANY canals in Amsterdam?

Essentially there are so many canals in Amsterdam as a result of an increase in immigration back in the 17th century. As a result, a plan was put together to build four main, half-circle canals – three for mostly residential development and fourth for defence and water management purposes. Since then, it’s clear that this has increased quite a bit!

According to Amsterdam.org, the oldest canals are actually from the 14th century and in those days the waterway network was primarily constructed in order to get some dry soil. The dug up soil was then used to raise land or construct defense walls.

In 2010, Amsterdam’s inner canal ring was officially recognised by UNESCO as a world heritage site which places them under protection and ensures they are maintained according to international laws in order to preserve their historical significance. 

Nowadays, the canals still play an important role in the city as one of the main modes of transport and also as a location for events throughout the year such as Pride!

Ice Skating on Amsterdam Canals

Not every year, but occasionally the canals freeze over and people use the opportunity to get their ice skates on! The temperature has to be -4 for more than a couple of days for this to happen before the canals turn in to a big ice rink.

Can you swim in Amsterdam’s canals?

It’s generally not allowed unless it’s a certain designated area due to dangers associated with hygiene and all the boats! 

Do people live on Amsterdam’s canals?

Yes, and it’s pretty damn cool! The extra surface offered by canals is often utilised as living space (Amsterdam is an extremely dense city), with the use of houseboats. Some of which can be rented via airbnb and similar sites!

There’s also the worlds only floating animal sanctuary – De Pozenboat (The cat boat) which is pictured below. It features on our best FREE things to do in Amsterdam list, so you can find out more information here if it’s something that floats your boat.

De Pozenboot

One of the best ways to find out more about Amsterdam’s canals and see them too, is a boat tour – we definitely recommend doing one if it’s your first time in the city!