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Walking the Canals of Amsterdam 1

One-Day Amsterdam Canal Exploration

From a cultural point of view, with its museums, galleries, theatres and other interesting venues all packed closely together, Amsterdam is a treasure.

The city is dense. So dense that it’s easy to visit numerous sites in a single day. Without any serious planning or forethought, a leisurely stroll of the city is a rewarding experience.

There are three ways to see Amsterdam: by boat, by bike, by foot.

Long sleek tour boats ply the canals by the hour, filled with hoards of happy camera-toting holidaymakers. However, if you don’t care for the crowds and wish for something a little more personal, boats are also available for private rental.

Although bicycles rule Amsterdam and are a great way to see the city, they are not for the faint of heart as the roads can be a little hazardous to the newcomer. Using a bicycle is an easy and efficient way to see Amsterdam.

However, it is by foot that the true essence of Amsterdam can be discovered. Four main canals surround the heart of Amsterdam and walking alongside them is a true pleasure. Brouwersgracht, like many of the other smaller canals, is a beautiful example. You can spend endless hours idly strolling about, all the while finding new things to enjoy.

If you wish to immortalize your visit, even the least experienced photographer can become the proud owner of beautiful photos. With Amsterdam as a backdrop, all you need do is point the camera and shoot.

On a sunny day, the tree-lined canals glint with reflective shades of leafy greens, the glistening water presenting a glorious display of warmth. And when the sun dies and late afternoon turns to early evening, the canals glow from picturesque streetlamps and ornate buildings that line the way. It’s a great place to explore.

It’s all so easy to enjoy. Stroll around at your own pace and take in the views, then stop at one of the many canal-side cafes. Perhaps choose one of the typical Dutch "bruin" cafes, a bar, or maybe a coffee shop (if that’s your cup-of-tea). There are plenty of good places to choose from and many with excellent outdoor terracing.

Sitting on a terrace, sipping a Witte Bier and watching the world go by … that’s Amsterdam.

Hopefully you are already poised, preparing to take in the canals for yourself. To help you get the most from your visit, we have put together two walks. The first, One-Day Amsterdam Canal Exploration, will have you join a couple of the key canals, enabling you to see a large part of the city along the way. The second, An Afternoon Along the Canals in Jordaan, will have you enjoying an afternoon in our favourite area of Amsterdam (no, not the Walletjes RLD).

Haarlemmersluis and Brouwersgracht

This tour will be taking you through the Brouwersgracht and Reguliersgracht, good examples of the beautiful small radial canals that intersect the main canal belt, like spokes on a bicycle wheel. We will explore the innermost main canal, Singel. Spend the whole day with us (you can afford to spend one day outside the RLDs!). We promise at the conclusion we will bring you back to the RLD.

If you take it at a brisk pace you can probably walk this tour in two hours. But we recommend taking it at a slow pace, with several stops and beer breaks along the way. Why rush a good thing when you can take it slow and enjoy the surrounding splendours.

In fact, why not start with a rest and a break for beer whilst considering the way ahead. Take a seat at the Habsburg Café (see below) and order a drink. Whilst there, take time to ponder the map.

You can click the little tour map on the top left for a larger version. Prepare yourself with this map and use it alongside a normal city map that has street names detailed. Also, print this text in order that we may guide you through Amsterdam. Our first walk is represented by the orange line on the map.

We would like to be able to guarantee that you will not get lost on this tour. Unfortunately however, we can’t. When we tested the route, a couple of our party went missing along the way. Naturally they blamed their tools; on this occasion it was a compass bought from Ikea! Okay, we're exaggerating! Seriously, with the two maps mentioned the route should be simple.

We have divided the tour into sections. If you want a really short walk, we recommend Brouwersgracht (or Reguilersgracht). If you have more time but do not want to spend a full day, you can finish either at the end of Singel (after the Flower Market) or later at the end of Reguilersgracht. For those who want to spend the full day (how could you not?), you can follow the route all the way through the city via Leidseplein and back to the Walletjes (we assume this is where you wish to end your evening in Amsterdam).

Haarlemmersluis, north end of Singel canal

We start at the Haarlemmersluis, the north end of the Singel where the canal begins. You will find it where Nieuwendijk changes to Haarlemmerstraat.

Cafés, coffeeshops, delicatessens, herring stands, theater-like street drama, beautiful Dutch buildings, the canal, propellers, flowers, etc. Everything you ask for... or not. All at the starting point of our tour.

On the east side of Singel you will find the Habsburg Café in a small square called Stromarkt (next to Haarlemmersluis). There are several other cafés and restaurants around there and one has a terrace on the water lock (see the picture). This is one of the best places in Amsterdam to sit and watch the world go by. It's the junction where Brouwersgracht joins the Singel Canal and is an excellent vantage point for some dramatic scenes. From the comfort of the terrace, you can watch boats as they manoeuvre through the tight turn. It is especially rewarding to watch inept tourists approach the turn, unaware of the larger tour boats that bear down upon them from just around the corner.

Been there, done that. Now we simply relax and watch as the Tour Boat Captains steer their long crafts effortlessly around with grace and style. Without any margin for error, these guys put the tourist would be captains to shame.

Finished that beer yet? Okay, but hurry up as it's time to start walking.

In the Haarlemmersluis area you may find a lot of people on the move. Nieuwendijk and Haarlemmerstraat are shopping streets and are often filled with a combination of tourists milling around and locals doing their grocery shopping.

At this point, a stop for some of the more daring among you might be the little herring wagon, Stubbe's Haring. Here you can try a local herring hamburger (not actually a hamburger, rather a herring on bread). It may not be to everyone's liking but we prefer it to McDonalds … at least we pretended to at the time. But, when in Rome …!

At the beginning of Haarlemmerstraat you will find an excellent cheese shop and bakery combined. Here you are presented with everything you need to put together a great food basket for the walk ahead. You’ll be pleased you did later on.

At Haarlemmersluis you should find time to look at the giant propeller. Perhaps you will enjoy it as a piece of art, or simply as a giant propeller. Whilst there, try to translate the Dutch inscription. If you can, treat yourself to an extra beer at the next stop.

Before you leave Haarlemmersluis, stand in the middle and take a good look around; traditional Dutch buildings, welcoming café's, fine canals, people on the move. It’s a great example of Amsterdam that makes it easy to understand why so many people fall in love with the place.

You will soon be walking down the Singel Canal but first, a little detour. If you have not left the café already, start by walking to the other side of the square (to the west side of the Singel). Just a couple of paces after turning left down the Singel, you will pass a few coffee shops; Rokerij, Bulldog and The Doors. Some of these may already be familiar to you as they cater for the tourist side of the coffee-shop scene. You might be tempted to stop at The Doors for a taste or a smoke of something nice, relaxing whilst listening to Jim Morrison do his stuff. If not then immediately past the three coffee shops you can turn right and be on your way.

Brouwersgracht

We start directly with one of the most beautiful canals in the city of Amsterdam. This is basically as good as it gets. And something called the "Brewers Canal" could not be bad, could it? We promise that it isn't!

You will now be moving west, up the Brouwersgracht. Along the way you will pass inner canals with each offering fine views: Herengracht (Gentlemen's Canal), Keizersgracht (Emperor's Canal) and Prinsengracht (Prince's Canal). Actually, Herengracht and Keizersgracht may even be better walks than Singel but they are all so beautiful it is difficult to decide. Anyway, these other canals will be included another time. Our focus for the moment is a walk along the Singel, so with band-aids (for the blisters) at the ready, let’s move on.

As a note, be sure to have your camera readily to hand as this particular area is idyllic. Curved bridges, leafy trees and boats quietly floating by make for excellent photographic settings. Have you stocked up with extra film?

The area around Brouwersgracht was where trading ships in the olden days unloaded their cargo. Subsequently there are a lot of old warehouse buildings, most of which have been lovingly restored and turned into apartments.

Whilst passing, have a look at the streets to your right. The Amsterdammers are quite creative in using what little space they have available to them in the narrow streets. Without room for a garden, they make the most of flowerpots and plant holders. Of course, not all the plants you see growing are ‘smokeable’ and we did notice some that were normal, boring houseplants. A good example of such a street is Binnen Vissersstraat.

Herengracht

Where Herengracht flows into Brouwersgracht, you will find the restaurant De Belhamel offering fine dining with a great view down Herengracht; an excellent combination.

Just after Herengracht you will reach a little square on the right called Herenmarkt. On a weekday, children play basketball in the playground there. Be careful to avoid any stray basketballs. They can hurt, as we found out.

You will find many houseboats along Brouwersgracht and some are quite pretty and worth a closer look. There is one just opposite Herenmarkt that is a lovely old style sailboat, still with the mast on.

As you continue to walk toward Keizersgracht, you will find Frederic's bike rental on the right hand side. This part of Brouwersgracht is usually rather quiet, except at the weekend when tourists flock to hire cycles on which they make great plans to explore the city.

Be a little careful. If, at any stage during your walk, you hear an infantry-like, earth-moving sound accompanied by high pitched pinging bells approaching from behind, take it from us and get out of the way. These group bike tours often have little regard for pedestrians and, given the chance, may well storm right through you.

If you are tempted to take part in one of these bike ‘herds’, several businesses arrange group tours through the city. One of these is Yellow Bikes and you will not fail to notice their yellow caravans racing through the streets of Amsterdam.

Further up on Brouwersgracht you will hit Prinsengracht and be presented with another excellent opportunity to use up some more film. If you walk onto the Papiermolensluis bridge that crosses Brouwersgracht, you will see canals stretching in all directions. It is a large, open span water crossing that has several great views.

The name Brouwersgracht comes from the time when there were a lot of breweries in the area. Apparently, the local water was not so great at the time so people drank beer instead. They must have been a thirsty bunch because a great deal of beer was consumed then, as it is today.

If you were to continue along the Brouwersgracht, you would find a fine beer and wine shop. They offer wine tasting in very nice surroundings however, we don’t remember the name of the place and this is due to the quality and quantity of wine we sampled!

Café Tabac

You should now cross the bridge to the other side of Brouwersgracht, turn left and then head back toward Singel. Here you will find a small café-bar named Tabac, sitting on the corner. It’s time to relax, so grab a seat at one of the tables outside and order a beer. You deserve it. If not, just tell yourself that you do!

This is a very nice place to sit and watch life go by but if the terrace is full, try to grab one of the benches at Papiermolensluis. Now would be an excellent time to delve into that food basket you brought along.

As something of a contrast to the walk so far, you may find this area a little livelier. Remember what we said about the roads in Amsterdam being somewhat hazardous? It was here that we spotted a tourist ride past, catch sight of some beautiful girls at a café and end up vaulting over the bonnet of an oncoming car. Perhaps another reason for you to stick to walking.

As you stroll back towards Singel on this, the south side of Brouwersgracht, you will pass Keizersgracht on Pastoorsbrug. When you reach Herengracht, turn left and walk back over the bridge to the north side. Continue back on Brouwersgracht and then take a right over a cute little walking bridge called Melkmeisjesbrug (The Milk Girls’ Bridge). After this bridge, turn left and continue towards Singel. Here you will see a couple of good examples of local traditional buildings, restored to original glory.

If you have any film left, grab that camera. For the best shot, you will need to cross over to the other side of the water to take your picture. Of course, you may have noticed this building from earlier in the walk, in which case you have probably already captured it on film.

Before arriving back on the Singel, you will pass another one of the more famous coffee shops in Amsterdam, Siberie.

Continue the walking tour here.

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