Introduction and Starting Point: Torensluis Bridge over the Singel
- Starting point: Torensluis bridge, just north of Raadhuisstraat on the Singel canal. Tram lines 1, 2, 5, 13, 14 and 17 stop close to this area.
- Duration: About two hours, depending on pace and optional stops to eat or explore museums and attractions more thoroughly.
- Keep in mind: Weather in Amsterdam changes often and quickly; bring an umbrella, a wind-proof jacket and a willingness to take shelter inside a cozy café if necessary. Comfortable walking shoes are a must on the cobblestoned streets and sidewalks.
- Watch out for: Bikers! Before crossing intersections or hopping off the sidewalk for a better vantage point, be sure to look around for bikers zipping by without warning. Cars are a given, but they're easier to hear.
- A good Amsterdam map is a must!
- Completed in 1648, the Torensluis is Amsterdam's oldest remaining bridge. At 39 meters, it is also the city's widest.
- The bridge crosses the Singel, which served as a moat around the walled city center of Amsterdam until the early 1600s.
- Toren is Dutch for "tower" and refers to the Jan Roodenpoortstoren, which stood on the site from 1616 to 1829. Sluis is Dutch for "lock."
- Barred windows of a former prison are still visible under the bridge.
- The larger-than-life bust is of Multatuli (the pen name of Eduard Douwes Dekker), author of "Max Havelaar," a famous book about abuse and suffering in Dutch colonies.
- The patio at Café Van Zuylen (pictured above) is one of the largest in Amsterdam.
Second Leg: Theatermuseum on Herengracht
Head west on the Torensluis across the Singel; continue on Oude Leliestraat (stop by award-winning Puccini chocolate shop on the southwest corner for its infamous "bomboni").
Turn left on Herengracht's odd-numbered side. As you approach busy Raadhuistraat, look across to the stunning Bartolotti House, home to the Theater Instituut Nederland (Theatermuseum). Here you can get a better appreciation for the entire facade.
Continue south on Herengracht. Turn right on the near side of Raadhuisstraat, then turn right again on Herengracht's even-numbered side to reach the museum entrance at No. 168.
- Five monumental buildings house the museum, which features a massive collection of costumes, scale-models and even sounds used in theater, as well as a multimedia bank of more than 65,000 performances and 60,000 books.
- Visitors also enjoy the manicured gardens and café in the courtyard.
- Designed by Hendrick de Keyser in 1617, Bartolotti House is a magnificent example of Baroque Amsterdam Renaissance architecture.
- Built for a wealthy merchant in 1638, contrasting Herengracht 168 (the museum's main entrance) boasts Amsterdam's first-constructed neck gable.
- The museum's exquisitely restored interior is worth the entrance fee. Original paintings of landscapes and goddesses by Jacob de Wit and Isaac de Moucheron grace the ceilings and walls. The grand marble staircase in the front hall dates to the 18th century.
Third Leg: Herengracht to Keizersgracht via Leliegracht
Continue down the Herengracht to Leliegracht. Cross over Leliegracht and turn left on its even-numbered side. Follow Leliegracht to Keizersgracht.
- Herengracht means "gentleman's canal."
- The Herengracht is widely known as the canal belt's most prominent address, as the plots of land were meant for the city's wealthiest citizens during construction of the Grachtengordel ("canal belt").
- This western stretch of the Herengracht features stately but charming canal houses, which contrast to its stoic mansions further east.
- Leliegracht means "lily canal."
- The Leliegracht is typical of the smaller channels that connect the three main waterways of the canal belt: quiet, pretty and calm.
- Don't miss Architectura & Natura, a 60-year-old specialty bookstore with a comprehensive selection of landscape and architecture titles (No. 22).
Dutch Art Nouveau Architecture
- Stand on the northeast corner of Leliegracht and Keizersgracht to marvel at the imposing building on the southwest corner opposite. Completed in 1905 and designed by Gerrit van Arkel, Keizersgracht 174 is a rare example of Dutch Nieuwe Kunst ("Art Nouveau") architecture.
- It is sometimes called "the Greenpeace building," as it used to house the group's headquarters (they have since moved). Notice the colorful religious image under the clock.
Fourth Leg: 'House with the Heads' on Keizersgracht
From the northeast corner of Leliegracht and Keizersgracht, turn right on Keizersgracht's odd-numbered side. Look for No. 123 on the right, the Huis met de Hoofden, or "House with the Heads."
Huis met de Hoofden ("House with the Heads")
- This highly decorative red-brick and sandstone house is another fine example of the Baroque Amsterdam Renaissance style.
- Along with Bartolotti House, this is one of only three surviving 17th-century predecessors to the double canal house.
- Designed by Hendrick de Keyser, his son Pieter completed the building in 1622, the year after his father died.
- The six carved heads of Classical dieties adorning the facade give the house its name. They are (from left): Apollo, Ceres, Mars, Minerva, Bacchus and Diana.
- Originally built for a rich merchant, the building has also served as an auction house and a high school. From 1983, it housed offices for the City of Amsterdam Department of Monuments & Historic Sites; in February 2006, the building was sold to a private owner. The city offices will move, but this historic gem will remain open to the public.
- Keizersgracht means "emperor's canal."
- As the middle canal of the main three, Keizersgracht feels calmer than the closer-to-center Herengracht and shop-filled Prinsengracht.
- This western stretch of the Keizersgracht offers some of its most picturesque canal houses and bridge views, but maintains a laid-back air with its occasional houseboats.
Fifth Leg: Keizersgracht to Brouwersgracht
Continue down the Keizersgracht until you reach Brouwersgracht. Cross the bridge and turn left on Brouwersgracht's even-numbered side. This intersection offers a lovely view of the opposite bridge over the Keizersgracht.
- Brouwersgracht means "brewers' canal."
- The Brouwersgracht is the northern border of the Grachtengordel; construction of the canal belt began here in 1614.
- The canal gets its name from the many breweries established here in the 17th and 18th centuries, most of which have been converted into trendy warehouse apartments.
- This canal has a friendly, carefree feel and is known for its picturesque humpback bridges and many houseboats.
If you have time, explore a longer stretch of this canal, beyond the Prinsengracht; then return to the Prinsengracht for the continuation of this tour.
Sixth Leg: Prinsengracht
Walk down the even-numbered side of Brouwersgracht to Prinsengracht, where you'll have to cross the Papiermolensluis ("paper mill lock") bridge to the left. Stop for a minute to take in the view of the intersecting Lekkeresluis ("delightful lock") bridge, before crossing it to reach Prinsengracht's even-numbered far side.
- Prinsengracht means "prince's canal."
- The Prinsengracht is the longest of the three main waterways of the Grachtengordel (approximately two miles).
- Filled with houseboats, cafés and locally-owned shops and galleries, Prinsengracht is by far the liveliest of Amsterdam's three main canals.
- This particular western stretch is (roughly) the eastern border of the Jordaan neighborhood, originally built for workers and now a popular area for hip, young residents. The Jordaan is known for its dense collection of smaller canal houses, narrow streets and a distinctive bohemian feel.
- On the southwest corner of Prinsengracht and Brouwersgracht (at No. 2) stands one of Amsterdam's oldest brown cafés, Café Papeneiland, which opened its doors in 1642. The building features a magnificent double-sided, step-gable design (pictured above).
Seventh Leg: Noorderkerk on the Prinsengracht
Stroll down the even-numbered side of the Prinsengracht until you reach a large, brick-paved square on the right. This open area is called the Noordermarkt.
- The church that dominates the open square is the Noorderkerk, or "north church," designed by Hendrick de Keyser and completed in 1623 (after his death).
- The Noorderkerk's footprint takes the shape of a Greek cross; the triangular spaces at each of the four corners create an octagonal groundplan.
- This design lends itself to an interior in which attendees can see the pulpit clearly from any seat in the circular pews.
- Noorderkerk was originally built for the working class of the Jordaan, who felt the Westerkerk was too far away. (See the final leg of this tour for more about the Westerkerk.)
- Today, the Noorderkerk still has a solid Protestant congregation and holds regular Saturday concerts.
- The Noordermarkt, or "north market," is home to a bustling flea market every Monday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., specializing in clothes, fabrics and some bric-a-brac treasures.
- On Saturdays, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., the Noordermarkt hosts an organic boerenmarkt ("farmers' market"), where vendors offer biologische ("organic") vegetables, fruits, meats, cheeses and even condiments. It's truly a feast for the senses!
- Historically a site for demonstrations, protesters gathered at the Noordermarkt in February 1941 to rally against the Nazi deportation of Jews (the event is commemorated on the church's south side).
Eighth Leg: Egelantiersgracht
Continue down the even-numbered side of Prinsengracht to Egelantiersgracht on the right.
If you're a hungry vegetarian, first stop at Bolhoed, a casual restaurant at No. 60 Prinsengracht (known for surprisingly delicious vegan desserts).
- Egelantiersgracht is named for the flowering plant "eglantine," a sweetbriar or honeysuckle variety.
- Its flora-inspired name fits its character, as the Egelantiersgracht's tree-lined streets form a charming canopy over the water and flower boxes adorn its bridges in summer.
- Canal houses on the Egelantiersgracht were originally meant for artisans, and now top the list as some of the Jordaan's most desirable addresses.
- Café 't Smalle, on the northwest corner with the Prinsengracht, serves traditional Dutch fare in one of the most idyllic canalside settings in the city.
- On the opposite corner is Rock Archive, a gallery of impressive music photography. Next door you'll see the window of the Amsterdam Tulip Museum, where you can learn the history of this oh-so-Dutch flower that's not even native to Holland (the main entrance is around the corner to the south, at Prinsengracht 112).
- Take time to meander down pretty Egelantiersgracht; its peaceful and beautiful nature will make you and your camera happy.
Ninth Leg: Bloemgracht
Follow Egelantiersgracht down to the first bridge crossing (if you strolled along the even-numbered side, you'll need to cross this bridge, called Hilletjesbrug). Turn left on Eerste Leliedwarsstraat (sometimes abbreviated on maps as "1e Lelie Dwa Str"). Cross Nieuwe Leliestraat and continue toward Bloemgracht.
Along with the stylish boutiques so typical of the neighborhood, you'll likely notice oil paintings of the area in the windows of Atelier Galilea (No. 4), as you walk down this tiny side street. As you approach the Bloemgracht, you'll have a stunning view of the Westerkerk's tower.
- Bloemgracht means "flower canal."
- Turn right on the even-numbered side and head down to the second bridge crossing at Derde Leliedwarsstraat (abbreviated on maps as "3e Lelie Dwa Str"). Cross the bridge to the left, then immediately turn left on Bloemgracht's odd-numbered side.
Three picture-perfect, step-gabled houses with bright-red shutters stand on your right at Nos. 87-91. These date back to 1642. Beautiful houses like these are responsible for the Bloemgracht's reputation as the "Herengracht of the Jordaan."
- Like Egelantiersgracht, pretty Bloemgracht offers visitors a break from busy Prinsengracht and a chance to experience the best the Jordaan has to offer.
- As you continue east along the Bloemgracht, take note of the plaques above several of the houses' doors. These often include a construction date and a hint about the building's purpose.
10th and Final Leg: Westerkerk and Anne Frank House
Head east on Bloemgracht back to Prinsengracht. You'll be standing directly across from the Westerkerk and the Anne Frank House. To reach both, turn right on Prinsengracht's even-numbered side, then left on busy Raadhuistraat. Turn left again on Prinsengracht's odd-numbered side.
- The Westerkerk ("west church") opened its doors in 1631, 10 years after the death of its architect Hendrick de Keyser.
- At 85 meters (272 feet) tall, the Westerkerk's tower is the highest in Amsterdam. It bears the symbol of the imperial crown of Maximilian of Austria, who gifted it to the city in thanks for the city's support.
- Dutch master painter Rembrandt was buried in the church, although his grave has never been found.
- In 1966, Queen Beatrix and Prince Claus married here.
- The hour bell is the heaviest in Amsterdam; the carillon (set of 50 tuned bells) plays every Tuesday from 12 noon to 1 p.m.
- Barring renovations, visitors may climb the tower to earn breathtaking views over Amsterdam.
- The Westerkerk holds Protestant services on Sundays at 10:30 a.m.
- The canal house at 163 Prinsengracht was the temporary hiding place of Jewish girl Anne Frank and her family (and four others) during the World War II Nazi occupation of Amsterdam.
- Here, visitors can see the secret annex where she wrote her world-famous diary.
- The unique museum is one of the city's must-see attractions and provides a somewhat indescribable experience.