Great Escapes

European Travel Blog

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Amsterdam’s Canals

At just over 400 years old and collectively over 100km in length, Amsterdam’s 165 canals are certainly a breath-taking sight. With the canal ring listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2010, they’ve been recognised as having outstanding universal value. But perhaps better yet, they’re a fabulous way of exploring the city when on a short break in Amsterdam.

History of the canals

Built during the 17th century, the first four (and main) canals were implemented as a way to improve defence and water management, along with residential development. Named Singelgracht, Herengracht, Keizersgracht and Prinsengracht, these are the four original and more notable canals in Amsterdam, which encircle the city centre in the shape of a half moon.

Amsterdam's canal and bicycles

Image credit: Dennis van de Water | Shutterstock

The dancing houses

We’re sure if you’ve ever visited Amsterdam, or even just seen a few images, you’ll have noticed the charming canal houses which form a beautiful silhouette in all their shapes and sizes. These houses are known as the ‘dancing houses’, as over time they’ve sunk, moved or tilted in the swampy soil along the canal bank, creating a rather unique and colourful view.

Amsterdam's canals, the dancing houses

Image credit: kavalenkava volha | Shutterstock

Bridges, islands and houseboats

As the city grew over time and more canals were created, you’ll find that today, Amsterdam rather spectacularly boasts no less than 1,281 bridges and 90 separate miniature islands. The most famous of these bridges is Magere Brug, or ‘skinny bridge’ (however as of 1871 it was made a lot larger and is no longer particularly skinny). Named as such due to originally being so narrow it was hard for just two people to pass each other on foot, this famous drawbridge is located on Amstel, between Keizersgracht and Prinsengracht.

Houseboats are a popular way of living in Amsterdam, where there are over 2,500 floating in the meandering canals. Some being more than a century old, if you take a walk along the canal bank you’ll discover many different colours, shapes, sizes and materials; however concrete houseboats are most popular as they require fewer repairs.

Amsterdam's canals, houseboats.

Image credit: ActiveSteve, Flickr

Events on the water

Depending on when you choose to visit, you may be lucky enough to experience one or two of the festivities that happen on and around the canals each year. April sees the city turn a beautiful hue of orange in honour of King’s Day, and there’s also a canal festival in August named The Grachtenfestival, where an abundance of classical music concerts take place both on land and water. During the winter months, the whole of Amsterdam comes alive with artistic displays during the light festival. A great way to see this is from a boat ride along the canal, as some of the creations are in the water!

Amsterdam's canals - light festival art display

Image credit: Julia700702 | Shutterstock


If we’ve inspired you to take a short break to Amsterdam, visit the Great Escapes website for more information and to book.


New destinations for great escapes: Amsterdam and Cologne

Last month we launched our new brochure for 2015 featuring self-drive and Eurostar breaks to Northern France and Belgium with two new destinations being featured, namely Amsterdam and Cologne. Both cities are easily reached by Eurostar, via Brussels with onward high-speed train connections and make great short break destinations.


Amsterdam is one of the liveliest and most cosmopolitan cities in Europe and its compact size means you can see most of the main attractions on foot, or even by bicycle, in just a few days.

36065_16881239_Serenity Use Only Photography credit: Kavalenkava Volha / Shutterstock

Possibly the city’s most distinguishing feature are the warehouses and elegant homes of the 17th century merchants from Holland’s Golden Age when it was the richest city in the world. These line the 165 canals which are collectively a UNESCO World Heritage site. They are spanned by over 1,000 bridges; that’s even more than Venice.

36057_17624032_Serenity Use OnlyPhotography creidt: S.Borisov / Shutterstock

The city also boasts some 50 museums and art galleries including the Rijksmseum, with its stunning collection of paintings by Dutch masters, the Stedelijk museum of modern art, not to mention the Van Gogh Museum,  as well as Anne Frank’s House, to name but a few. You’ll also find some fabulous markets, great street art as well as street food, a great range of restaurants, cafés and bars with a superb choice of beers. What’s not to love?! Packages are from £64pp. This price is based on one night’s bed & breakfast at the three star West Cord Art Hotel with two sharing a room and return ferry travel for a car and four passengers.


Germany’s fourth-largest city was founded by the Romans in 38 BC. Today it is one of the most diverse cities in Europe with a never ending list of attractions. On a walk around town you’ll discover an ancient Roman wall, medieval churches, avant-garde buildings and  a new postmodern quarter right on the Rhine.  Whether on foot, bicycle or even on a river cruise, Cologne is a beautiful city with its famous cathedral’s twin spires dominating the skyline. In fact the Dom is the country’s largest cathedral and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Remarkably while it was started in 1248, it was not finished for over 600 years later in 1880.

o Haake / KölnTourismus GmbHPhotography credit:  Udo Haake / KölnTourismus GmbH

Cologne, like Amsterdam, is a city for all seasons. Don’t miss the beer halls of the Altstadt (old town) which are lively anytime of year and the fabulous museums and art galleries can also be enjoyed whatever the weather. In spring join in the Carnival and in winter explore the Christmas Market.

Owner Dieter Jacobi / KölnTourismus GmbHPhotography credit:  Dieter Jacobi / KölnTourismus GmbH

Packages are available from £66pp. This price is based on one night’s bed & breakfast at the four star NH Cologne City Hotel with two sharing a room and return ferry travel for a car and four passengers.