Amsterdam's Canal Ring: A UNESCO World Heritage Site
Beyond tulips and windmills, Amsterdam's global image is entwined with water. The Canal Ring (Grachtengordel), comprised of 165 fluid channels, was developed in Holland's 17th century Golden Age through drainage and reclamation of land that would otherwise be underwater. In the ensuing four centuries, it has supported maritime trade while evolving into one of the world’s most recognizable urban landscapes. In 2013, its 400th birthday, UNESCO added the Grachtengordel to its World Heritage List.
Today the Canal Ring is both a historic transportation network and a stunning backdrop for local festivals and celebrations. What was initially a geographic feature that enabled growth beyond Amsterdam's fortified boundaries has evolved into a landmark lined with gabled mansions built during the height of Dutch maritime trade. The most famous rings of the belt—the Prinsengracht, Keizersgracht, Herengracht and Singel canals—form the concentric loop that gives that gives Amsterdam its half-moon shape.
The canals, notably Prinsengracht, are packed with floating and land-bound party-goers on annual festivals like King's Day (formerly Queen's Day) in April, plus Gay Pride and Grachtenfestival in August. Canal cruises offer an excellent introduction to city sights and are a great way to see Amsterdam by boat. Options include one-hour tours, hop on-hop off excursions, and romantic dinner cruises, offered in numerous languages by companies with departure points throughout the city.