Singel And Loving It
The Singel is the innermost of the four canals that surround the old city. There is also a Singelgracht, roughly a 5th outer canal, to confuse matters. Do not confuse the two.
Did you only want a short tour? Then this may be a good place to stop. If you do decide to leave here then we recommend you take a seat at one of the cafés next to the Haarlemmersluis water lock again. But be sure to pick up the tour here tomorrow - there’s a lot more to see!
If you haven’t had enough yet and wish to continue with the tour, then read on. Having arrived back on the Singel, we turn right and proceed south, walking on the right (west) side of the water.
One of the first houseboats you come across is actually a cat-boat, ‘de Poezenboat’. It’s a home for stray cats and you can’t fail to recognise it because the boat is covered by a net so the cats can walk freely around. If you want to take a peek, visitors are welcome daily between 1pm - 4pm. At this point, if you haven’t finished that herring from Stubbe’s, give it to the cats!
The Koepelkerk, part of the Renaissance Hotel conference centre
Moving on, you will soon pass the Koepelkerk on the other side of the canal. You can’t miss it. With its great height and rounded shape, it looks more like a mosque. It was built in 1668 by the Lutheran Church and displays the Lutheran symbol, a Swan, at the top. It actually burnt down in the 1820’s but has since been rebuilt. It stood abandoned for 40 years, but today it’s a fantastic conference facility managed by the adjacent Renaissance Hotel.
Along the Singel, there are several other hotels, including the small 3-star Singel Hotel that you will find directly after the Koepelkerk.
Although there may not be a great number of mainstream tourist attractions along the Singel, you are spoilt by the beauty of the canals themselves, the mix of old-style housing and the numerous boats along the quays. As we continue south down the west side of the Singelgracht, we’ll also find a collection of rather attractive houseboats.
Houseboats along Singel
There are a large number of houseboats in Amsterdam, around 2,400 in all. The high cost of accommodation in the city makes it difficult to afford to live there. As such, people will buy an old, disused commercial boat and convert it to a houseboat. It’s an attractive way to obtain affordable living in the city centre. You'll also find ‘Arks’, in addition to the more traditional boats, which are floating structures built specifically to be used as houseboats. If you think "floating trailer" rather than "ark", it will be very simple to discern the difference between the two types.
Having a little ‘villa’ like this in the city doesn’t look too bad, does it? And so close to the water as well! Not that anyone would be so tempted to do much swimming. The water isn’t that clean and you certainly wouldn’t want to swallow any of it. Sipping a beer however, whilst sitting on a houseboat on a sunny afternoon, definitely looks tempting.
Jurjen Heeck's homepage is an excellent read if you want to find out more about houseboats in Amsterdam.
Moving further along, as you reach the first bridge (Korsjespoorsteeg) crossing the water, you will find a couple of windows that form part of the meandering Singel Red Light District (RLD). If you crossed this bridge you would find one of the traditional Dutch bruin cafés, t'Koggeschip. It’s a laidback place and worth a visit. If you were then to continue past t'Koggeschip and away from the canal for about one block, you would reach one of the main streets of the Singel RLD. The street is named Oude Nieuwstraat, which means ‘Old Newstreet’. Yes, we know, the guy who named it must have had a sense of humour.
Here we offer a choice; if you are already in the mood for the RLD side of Amsterdam then join our RLD Tour that crosses our path here. Alternatively, if you want to continue then follow us south. There is a great walk ahead of you.
't Koggeschip-The smells, the smells, the smells, is gonna move 'ya
As you pass by t'Koggeschip, you can’t help but notice the smell. Our friend Zeze has named these urinoirs ‘piss-corners’. The smell always seems to make one want to go. We seldom manage to pass without paying a visit, and so we awarded it the honour of ‘Friend of AXXXTW Site’ as it has saved us many times.
And we’re off again, still moving south on the right (west) side of the canal. The next bridge you reach is Lijnbaansbrug. Next to the bridge on the you’ll find a small and picturesque canal named Blauwburgwal. Here you also find an unusual little shop on the corner (Singel 110) that appears to date back to the Dutch Golden Age of the 18th Century; a time when the Dutch dominated world trade in general and Asian trade in particular. This shop has a lot of Asian-style goods; not so much the real collectors’ antiques, rather those with an old-Asian appeal (china, vases, glass, paintings, small statues).
If you walk out onto the Lijnbaansbrug bridge, turn south and look along the canal to the right, you will see the Peace and Freedom monument. We don’t know the exact background to this monument but we assume the locals were proud to have built it at the time. Maybe not a reminder of their 18th Century Golden Age, more like a result of their second Golden Age; the hippie days of the 1970’s. It would be a struggle to describe this monument as beautiful but we can say it is interesting.
Off the bridge, back on the canal and again heading south. The next street on the right is Bergstraat, the second main street of the Singel RLD. Have a peek!
Continuing along the canal, just after Bergstraat you arrive at a large bridge named Torensluis. It’s actually more of a little square across the water. Here on the right you will find Oude Leliestraat with the coffee shop, Grey Area, and the delicious little chocolate store, Puccini Bomboni. It’s your choice which bad habit you indulge in, but either way make sure that you do.
Café van Zuylen
If you walk across the square to the other side (the east side), you will find a favourite place of ours in the summer months. Here you have the bruin cafe, Café van Zuylen (formerly named Café Ter Kuile) and the more modern bar/restaurant, Villa Zeezicht. Both have extensive terracing and are excellent places for a beer stop. Speaking of which, why not take a moment and order something. Have another beer!
If you are not ready for a beer stop just yet then don’t worry. There are many shops and cafés between the canals worth visiting. Also, further along the Singel, you will have plenty more opportunities.
Multatuli was here
On the Torensluis square you find a statue of the Dutch free thinker, Multatuli (1820-1887). Also, if you are very lucky, you’ll come across the homeless guy who will gladly tell you Multatuli’s life story for a couple of guilders (ooops, Euros!).
South again, this time on the left hand (east) side of the Singel. As we move on for the next couple of blocks, be sure to keep your eyes to the right in order to avoid the ugly steel and glass buildings on the left. Actually, the only good thing here is the Meneer Pannekoek place (pancake bakery). Although it’s not one of the rustique old-style Dutch pancake houses, its tacky Hollywood-style interior is a lot of fun, if just for the tackiness value alone. But do not be too afraid. Actually, this place has a pretty good atmosphere in the evening and you might want to give it a try.
When you pass the crossing with Paleisstraat, you may want to consider a detour, turning right over the bridge into Gasthuismolensteeg. There you will find a few unusual and interesting shops. We like the Brilmuseum with optical glasses of all shapes and styles; from classic round John Lennon to some that Elton John would have been proud to wear in his hay-day. It’s not clear if all spectacles are for sale or if just for display however, it is fun just looking around.
You will now pass the large and traffic ridden Radhuisstraat. Just about here on this second half of the Singel, you’ll notice that the line of houseboats along the quays stop. When passing Radhuisstraat, have a look left and you will get a glimpse of the Royal Castle.
At Singel 293 you will find the legendary Yab Yum club; look for the large green lamp outside (yes, green, not red). Our personal view is that, if you want to go to a sex club, there are better ones to choose from, especially if you don’t want to empty your wallet or give your credit card company a severe shock.
But you won't need to worry about that now. Yab Yum has been closed since January 2008. Whether it reopens is a matter of conjecture, at this writing (Nov 2008), Yab Yum only looks asleep, externally it looks the same.
As you continue walking along the canal, still on the left (east) side, you will pass several hotels. At Singel 301 you will find the low budget hotel, Hoksbergen. Just after that you will find the cosy little Hotel Esthera. Still further along, at 347, you will find the ugly but modern and efficient, Tulip Inn.
Once passed Radhuisstraat, life on the canal quietens. Not until the third bridge after Radhuisstraat does the hustle and bustle pick up again. Spreading from the lively Spui that runs parallel with Singel, there are several bookstores (some specialising in old books), a few sandwich shops and an abundance of restaurants. A couple of the restaurants have an entrance from Spui but if you take a table on the other side you will get a nice view over the Singel Canal.
Turning left on Heisteeg you walk past the Dutch Flowers coffee shop. And on Heisteeg itself you will find the famous Tweede Kamer; one of the coffee shops that constantly gets high reviews on the AXXXTW message board.
The end of Spui widens to a square and it is here that we find our next beer stop. When entering the square, turn directly right and you will reach another favourite of ours, Café Luxembourg. This is an old-style grand-café. Maybe a little worn out if compared with those on Leidseplein however, it’s a lovely place and oozes traditional charm. Have another beer! (Again!!)
During the daytime this is a nice place to just hangout, read a paper and have a beer or two. In the evening there can be quite a party, sometimes with live music. The veranda has a nice view over the bustling Spui. If you want a snack with that mandatory beer, try some Kip Kroketten. Sitting on the veranda and scouting across Spui, you can watch life passing by; people in the old bookstore to the left, the steel, grey Café Espirit opposite and students visiting the university building.
South Singel and Amstel
Be a super-tourist! Visit the Flower market at the south end of the Singel and the beautiful views around Amstel.
Outside Café Luxembourg, turn right and head along the tramlines back to the Singel canal. A word of caution here; watch out for trams! At this junction they appear out of nowhere and, as with the bicycles in Amsterdam, the trams are out to get you.
If you decide against stopping at Café Luxembourg, don’t despair as there is another good stop not far away. But first, the Flower Market.
Leaving Spui behind, we walk towards Koningsplein, still on the left (east) side of the Singel. The flower market starts after Koningsplein, just across from Leidsestraat. It’s on the right hand side of this last segment of the Singel Canal.
The flower market is made up of a number of permanent stalls that are partly indoors and partly outdoors. You will find all kinds of beautiful flowers for sale here and it is worth acting as a proper tourist for half an hour, spending time to enjoy the colours, the smells and the active commerce that goes on. Of course, it’s not just for tourists. The locals buy their flowers here as well. If you visit in the spring you will find it even more buoyant as this is when most of the flower tourists are in town. Go-on, treat yourself to a bag of tulip bulbs. And remember to buy one for mom as well. You can find everything from your standard types to quite fantastic, multi-coloured, disco-tulips.
There are many restaurants on this lively little stretch of the canal; Indonesian, Italian, etc. A good café for lunch is Studio 2 at Singel 504. This is also a good place to get an English breakfast at the weekend.
The shops here cater for the tourist with clogs and windmills in abundance. We recommend the giant porcelain beer mugs that are perfect to take back home and using it when you are dreaming your way back to Amsterdam by having that evening Heineken. Or why not buy one of the gnomes from Laaf which is the first store you pass. At the back of the shop they have a display of gnomes in action, including one as a little fountain in the Canal.
There are other interesting shops as well. We particularly like the shop Marañon Hangmatten (Singel 488) because it reflects our lazy inclinations. It’s also the only specialist shop of its kind (hammocks) that we have found.
Different types of Genever at "Noords Wines & Liquers"
We also recommend that you pop into Noord Wines & Liquers, where you will find many different kinds of Genevers. Take time to read the sign outside with the Genever story. If you want to buy a typical Dutch present, why not go for one of the traditional painted porcelain bottles. But hey, why stop at one? This is good stuff, so stock up.
Work your way through the hustle and bustle of the flower market and turn left, passing the Munt Tower on your left. If you head for the Hotel De L'Europe (a fine grand hotel in 19th Century tradition) you will pass over a somewhat chaotic crossing. Here you should watch out for the cars, trams and bicycles. Now walk onto the bridge toward Hotel De L'Europe and, on your left as you look in the direction of Roking, you will see one of the starting points for several of the canal boat tours.
You will soon arrive at Nieuwe Doelenstraat. This is the southern border of one of the more prestigious areas of Amsterdam, housing the university, various theatres and diamond shops. There are also several nice hotels on this street, including the Golden Tulip Doelen Hotel at the end.
Café De Jahren
Just before you reach the Doelen Hotel, you will come across a great place called Café De Jahren. It’s a modern and spacious café, bar, brasserie and bistro all rolled into one. We like the mix of interior styles, old and modern combining. You find steel and glass complemented by wood and warm beige colours. There are two levels here and they have a fantastic tall bar with a mirror covering both floors.
At the rear of the De Jahren you will find an adorable terrace with a view out toward Kloveniersburgwal and the Amstel. You'll also find a wonderful salon boat, De Paradijs, which is frequently anchored next to the terrace. At the café you will find people in their 20’s and 30’s sipping beer or whatever the fashionable drink is for that month. Why not take one for yourself while you are there. Have another beer!
Bridge at Kloveniersburgwal
When you exit the café and turn right, you will pass the Doelen Hotel and the Balmoral pub. Stop and read the sign outside that will tell you about British King Edward VII and Sarah Bernhard. At the end of Nieuwe Doelenstraat you should turn right on Staalstraat and then cross over the old steel bridge to Kloveniersburgwal.
Turn right and walk south along Kloveniersburgwal. You will soon pass the little Hotel Nes, as you head toward the Halvemansbrug bridge that crosses the Amstel river. There are several good photo opportunities on this bridge so why not take a moment. To the right is the Munt, to the left are various houseboats and bridges and, to the rear, you have the terrace of Café De Jahren.
If you decide to finish the tour early, this may be a good place to hang up your walking boots. We would recommended staying at De Jahren as we prefer it to most of the other places at Rembrandtsplein. Alternatively, you could always walk back to Nieuwmarkt or the Walletjes.
If you do decide to end your day here, you must promise to continue from this point tomorrow - our favourite canal, Reguliersgracht, is just ahead and you wouldn’t want to miss it.
If you can drag yourself away from the party at Rembrandtsplein, one of the most beautiful canals in Amsterdam awaits you; Reguliersgracht!
After crossing the bridge, continue straight ahead on Halvemanssteeg. This little street houses many different sorts of places; everything from shoarmas to coffee shops and gay bars. You should continue along Halvemanssteeg toward Rembrandtsplein.
If you are an Internet junky and need a fix, once you arrive at Rembrandtsplein you can turn right onto Reguliersbreestraat and drop into the EasyEverything Internet Café. We found it to be a bit of a depressing place, but it will serve the purpose. There were several other stylish and comfortable Internet cafes around town, most have closed in the last year, all driven out of business by the predatory business tactics of EasyEverything.
At this point we would recommend you resist the urge to snack on a krokette at Febo (on the left hand side, just before EasyEverything) as there are better food places a little way ahead.
Rembrandtsplein is the largest party area in Amsterdam, with plenty of pubs, bars and nightclubs. The evenings are noisy here with partying people and nightclub music coming at you from all angles. In this area you will find tourists and expats mixing it with locals. In the evening, our favourite bar here is the Three Sisters (followed by a spell at one of the nightclubs). But on a Saturday afternoon we would opt for the pub, St. James Gate, where you can watch football.
With all of its terraces open in the warmer season, Rembrandtsplein can be a tempting place. But we are on a quest to explore the canals so let’s not give in to temptation and head on south. From Rembrandtsplein, walk across Thorbeckplein (here they have a little art market during some summer days) and head past the tourist style scam strip clubs. Look out for a restaurant called, Mr Coco's Food Factory. It proudly advertises ‘lousy food and warm beer’.
Having navigated through all of that and having passed the statue of Wilhelm II, you will arrive at our favourite canal, Reguliersgracht. Before joining Reguliergracht, take a moment to admire the fantastic views along this particularly beautiful stretch of water. Another word of warning though, like Brouwersgracht, this area is often used by group bike tours!
Reguliergracht is a lovely place to be, with shimmering water, curbed characteristic bridges, moored boats, trees and 17th Century houses (many leaning a little drunkenly to one side like if the had got on or two Genevers too many). Welcoming bars are scattered throughout and the streets play host to busy motorists trying to squeeze cars into tiny spaces. There’s also the active cyclist warning of his approach as he races up from behind (ka-ching) and smiles as he whooshes through the flailing bodies. You can’t help but be taken in by it all.
Several nice cafés line the canal. They are generally small and cosy and ideal for those who want to get away from the typical tourist tracks. One such example is the café Ponte Arcari. It’s the very first place on the left (east) side and is worth a visit. You will also find the usual coffee shops around and Jamaica is one that you’ll see early on when walking on the east side.
Half way up Reguliersgracht you will pass Amstelkerk. This is a white, wooden church that houses the administration centre for this part of the city. It is also a small cultural centre and gallery.
Korte Café & Restaurant
Behind this church, just before Prinsengracht, if you turn left into the little square, you will find the Korte Café and Restaurant. In the summertime it's a nice place to enjoy a Sunday morning brunch whilst reading a newspaper. It's a little off the tourist route and is a very cosy place to eat. The restaurant has terracing during the warmer months and is next to the Amstelveld Square where they have a flower market on Monday and where children gather to play at other times. Grab a seat (inside or outside) and take a moment to relax. Oh, and help yourself to another beer (of course!).
Leaving the restaurant, you can turn left and continue south on Reguliersgracht. Whilst walking toward the south end of the canal, keep an eye on the streets to the right. Niuewe Looierstraat is one of these streets and is particularly pleasant, especially in summer when the trees, bushes and flowers are displayed in full glory.
You have now seen Reguliersgracht (probably one of the best of all the beautiful canals in Amsterdam) so, if you have had enough walking for one day, this may be a good place to stop. But if you want to follow our route back to the city centre, feel free to tag along.
With the scenic part of the Canal Walk over, why not join us for a party in Leidseplein?
Follow the canal to its end, turn right and head towards Leidseplein. You can then choose either the Lijnbansgracht or the Prinsengracht. We prefer the Lijnbansgracht so, off we go. Walking along it, you will notice some interesting houses across the canal on your left. These are modern-style houses with gardens, bushes and trees. An unusual and interesting mix of nature and architecture.
Half way up Lijnbansgracht, when you reach Vijzelstraat, you might get a little confused. You can’t continue on Lijnbansgracht because there isn’t a street (who stole the street?). Instead, you will have to turn right (north) onto Vijzelstraat, then left across the street to Nieuwe Weteringstraat and soon you’ll be back onto Lijnbansgracht.
After a bit of a walk you will arrive at Spiegelgracht, another spot where you may want to take a few photographs. Spiegelgracht is next to the Rijksmuseum and, as such, it is home to many galleries and fine art and antique dealers. Also nearby is the Van Gogh Museum so feel free to pay a visit if you have the time.
As you continue on Linjbansgracht, on the right (north) side, you will see a white building across the street. This used to host the Club Chatterly. Oh what pleasant memories.
Further ahead you reach a triangular shaped block where you find the bar, De Saloon. Here you have a choice of taking the path to the left or to the right. If you venture to the right you will arrive at Korte Leidsedwarsstraat, where the party area around Leidseplein begins. On this street you have plenty of opportunity to get a great steak or an ‘all-you-can-eat’ meal of ribs. But we recommend you venture left and continue west on the last nice stretch of Linjbansgracht. From here you will soon arrive at Kleine Gartman Platsoen, a little square just before Leidseplein.
Grand-Cafés at Leidseplein
If you have followed our walking tour to the letter (including all the beer stops along the way), you will arrive as people start to populate the many bars, grand-cafés and restaurants around Leidseplein. If you are lucky, you’ll run into the cool Robbie Nolan trio performing their ‘gypsy-jazz’ in the square. If Robbie’s not there then there will be other street performers to watch.
You will find plenty of discos, music venues and theatres (like Melkweg) in the area. You will also find Boom Chicago, a theatre group with a very entertaining and ironic show about the Dutch way of life. And be sure to have another beer at De Leydtse Herberghe Grand Pub or at the Irish bar next to De Leydtse Herberghe.
Of course, we have to end the day in the Walletjes, right? The Oudezeijds Voorburgwal canal exploration is the perfect excuse to go there.
Okay, so the real canal walk is over but, paraphrasing Clint Eastwood, let’s see if we can really ‘make your day’. We’re going to take you back to the city centre but, although there will be lots to see along the way, it’s probably getting dark now and we’re sure you are in a hurry to get back in time for some, hmmm, proper action.
So, let's get you back to the centre; start by heading along Leidsestraat. As a side note here, one evening whilst navigating ourselves towards O.Z. Voorburgwal, we came across a movie crew on location. They were shooting a scene on one of the salon boats, De Paradijs, and their lights along the canal created a spectacular view.
The lighting guy we chatted to claimed it was a ‘big’ movie, directed by ‘what's-his-name’, who had directed ‘what’s-it-called’, you know, that really ‘big’ movie. This film being shot was "Psyche Killer" One of our party members actually snuck in and became an extra, taking the role of Dark Man #2, Canal Side.
Time to go back to the Wallen
You can probably guess where we're going to next. You should continue on O.Z. Voorburgwal in order to take in a final canal exploration, at the Wallen Red Light District. If you can tear your eyes away from the windows there, you’ll notice that the canal is shimmering quite magnificently with the red, neon and ultra-violet lights emitted from the windows. Unfortunately, it's not permitted to take pictures in this quarter so we'll have to leave it to your imagination.
If you want to spend some time in this area but would first like to learn more about it, we can help. Read our complete RLD Walking Tour and Photo Tour for more information. And, of course, you have the rest of this website to browse through as well.
After spending whatever time necessary in the RLD, we recommend you end the evening by walking to nearby Nieuwmarkt and (guess what?) having another beer!
Netherlands Board of Tourism have covered a couple of good shopping walks: Check them out: (http://www.visitamsterdam.nl/city/walks/citywalks.html).
NBT also have a couple of booklets covering certain themed walks. Although we haven’t tried them, they appear to present a good way of exploring the city.
As for ourselves, well, after a lot of hard work and plenty of walking (it's a tough life), we have created the ultimate walking tour of the Red Light District. You can find the tour in the RLD FAQ.
There are 165 canals in Amsterdam and 400 bridges. If that appears a lot, it is. Perhaps one day, we'll cover them all.