Medieval Amsterdam was enclosed by the Singel, part of the city’s protective moat, but this is now just the first of five canals that reach right around the city centre, extending anticlockwise from Brouwersgracht to the River Amstel in a “girdle of canals” or Grachtengordel. This is without doubt the most charming part of the city, its lattice of olive-green waterways and dinky humpback bridges overlooked by street upon street of handsome seventeenth-century canal houses, almost invariably undisturbed by later development. It’s a subtle cityscape – full of surprises, with a bizarre carving here, an unusual facade there – but architectural peccadilloes aside, it is the district’s overall atmosphere that appeals rather than any specific sight – with the notable exception of the Anne Frank Huis. There’s no obvious walking route around the Grachtengordel, and indeed you may prefer to wander around as the mood takes you, but the description we’ve given below goes from north to south, taking in all the highlights on the way. On all three of the main canals – Herengracht, Keizersgracht and Prinsengracht – street numbers begin in the north and increase as you go south.
If you are looking for a place to stay in Amsterdam, you may find our expert’s guide to the best area’s to stay in Amsterdam helpful on deciding where to visit next.