During Holland's Golden Age, when spice trade with Asia and North Africa was booming, wealthy merchants built mansions along the expanding canal ring that became Amsterdam. Today the fashionable homes have been reincarnated as upscale offices, hotels and museums.
With their striking gables and ornate gargoyles, the mansions create an odd, tilting landscape that was added to UNESCO's World Heritage List in 2010. Since space was at a premium, the structures are long and narrow, with roof-high hooks that are still used to raise and lower furniture. Most have two entrances—one for the wealthy above ground, another for servants and tradespeople, who entered below—as well as beautiful rear gardens.
The Canal House Museum (Het Grachtenhuis) reveals secrets of Holland in its heyday through displays showcasing the Canal Ring expansion. Other museums dedicated to preserving the heritage of 17th century canal-side living include Museum van Loon, once home to the co-founder of the Dutch East Indian Company, with a first floor piano and original coach house. There's also Museum Geelvinck, owned by one of Amsterdam's wealthiest families in the 17th century, featuring exhibits that reveal how other cultures touched Amsterdam. In addition, there are Sunday concerts at 16:45.
To really experience canal-side living, book a room at the glam, antique-filled Canal House Hotel. Or stay at the acclaimed Pulitzer Hotel, an amalgam of 25 historic canal homes outfitted with modern amenities.