Our houseboat was situated on the Singel Canal and we quickly discovered that this was the territory of a resident Heron who would frequently circle the area, sometimes actually landing on our roof but mostly preferring to watch the world and the other ducks go by from his little blue and white boat. To my surprise Herons are remarkably common in Nl, even in the centre of Amsterdam.
This canal owns it name because of the many breweries which were situated here in the 17th and 18th century. The old warehouses where coffee, sugar and spices were stored in the same period, are now (most of them) very expensive apartments with picturesque view on houseboats and bridges.
As the water in Amsterdam used to be in connection with the sea you will find some locks throughout the city.
Most of them are used to clean the waters in Amsterdam at night. Between 22.00 and 05.00 14 locks are closed. At the east side of the city near the Amsterdam Rijnkanaal a pump is switched on. 600.000 cubic meter water from the IJsselmeer is pumped into the Amsterdam canals. At the westside two locks remain open and the water leaves through them into the IJ and passes through the Noordzeekanaal to the Northsea. This process is done 2 to 4 times a week, except when it is freezing. Just to get some ice on the canals for skating the work is stopped for a few days untill the ice is thick enough.
For those of us who prefer not to feel like tourists while visiting other countries, those big, commercial canal boat cruises on the Damrak and throughout Amsterdam just don't attract. But leaving Amsterdam without having cruised the canals seems wrong somehow. During my first visit to Amsterdam my host Marcel (of Marcel's Creative Exchange Bed & Breakfast fame) suggested that I go to Boom Chicago on the Leidseplein and take their boat cruise. Wow, what a nice alternative.
The pilot asked us where we'd like to go; big canals or little canals. The ride cost around 10 euro and we, all ten of us, were encouraged to smoke and drink whatever our hearts desired. Of the ten people who filled our little boat there were Spaniards, Danes, Americans, and Norweigians represented. Contributions to the good time included Heineken, joints, and interesting conversation. Some of the best photos of my vacation were taken on that ride.
Of course, this is for warmer weather because the boat is not glass covered. But I highly recommend this ride.
Cross the 'IJ' behind the central station with the 'ijplein'-ferry. When you get off, walk along the waterside to the east (right) untill you arrive at the orange building called 'wilhelminadok' to enjoy a lunch, watching the ships sail in and out. A lovely way to spend a sunny afternoon without the hustle of tourists in the centre.
Go to places where a normal tourist doesn't go! Explore the world behind the facades of canal houses. Find unique Dutch private interiors with antique or surprising modern furniture. See the year round interesting gardens, coach, summer or alms houses. More info and pictures on uhgt.nl.
Amsterdam is a city that beckons visitors to look around corners and into shops, streets, and alleys. Everything changes wherever one looks. Not only is Amsterdam a beautiful city to visit, it is a wonderful city to explore. Here are just a few self-explanatory examples. I wish I could put in the photographs I took on a short one hour walk going from Centraal Station along Damrak Straat to the main square. There are endless possibilities in every direction.
Instead of doing a canal cruise on the regular big canalboats, its much nicer to rent a boat yourself. For example Classic Canal Charters offers authentic, comfortable ships. Small and bigger ones, for 2 persons until for 100 persons
They can arrange the catering but you can also bring your own wine and food.
Rental includes skipper and that's good because they know the Amsterdam canals the best.
You'll see these characteristic drawbridges anywhere in Amsterdam. And yep, they still open its bridge-doors to let boats pass through. Usually made of wood you'll find other materials, too. It is a readily painted area and famous painters (Vincent Van Gogh 1883) has immortalized these drawbridges ...
One of Amsterdams many canals - Waalseilandsgracht - You can see some of the house boats on the canal. People actually live in them full time and some of them are even hooked up to the water and electric supplies.
Just in the last section of the river Amstel, there's a lifting bridge that is maybe most on picture as almost all canalboats float by it and it is close. The bridge - of which it's exact name I forgot - is called after a German soldier who saved the live of a few jews that were caught and put on transport. These little stories make the canalboat "rides" a definately must as the guides always know so much more about the town then a book can tell you. They are also always available in answering all personal questions and often make a lot of funny jokes.
The best way to tour the canals is in a small private boat. Some bars (and one pizza place that I know of) cater to passing boats. Biertje to Go! :)
Amidst the main canals are some very beautiful tiny winding canals that have no road access. This is a wonderful leisurely way of seeing the city.
My first Queen's Day in the Netherlands a Canadian friend and I were "picked up" on the side of a canal by some extremely happy, spirited Nederlanders. We had the most amazing day. Since then, I have had the joy of celebrating Canada Day in the same way :)
The Magere Brug, or skinny bridge (because it was so narrow when originally built only one person could cross at a time) on the Amstel river does not make an impression if you go in the daytime.
Apparently it is lit with hundreds of tiny lights at night which makes it look really beautiful. We learnt about it after we left Amsterdam - so make sure you go there when it's dark.
Carry a picnic lunch and find a quiet place to eat and rest up half way through a self-guided walking tour of the maze of streets, canal rings and canalhouses that make up this fantastic city. The canal boats are appealing to some, but if you don't want to struggle to understand your "English-speaking" guide's accent above the harbor and boat noise and the yak of fellow travelers who also can't hear/understand - then by all means travel at your own pace and see Amsterdam up close and personal. Get a good guidebook and save the hard earned euros, learn a lot more, and have way more fun. Here's a link for a walking tour of the Western Canal Ring
Amsterdam's main architecture is found along the canals. The huge variety in canalhouses will leave most architecture lover breathless and added the many other architectural styles within the town, makes it a sheer impossibility to enjoy all of it. Actually, the mixture of styles also has something chaotic, another side that Amsterdam is (in)famous for. Anyway, enjoy the buildings as they are and look up time and time again to not miss anything.