Amsterdam Canal Tours

I think of Amsterdam as a painter’s palette with a variety of colors to dip into. There are the vibrant rainbow shades of the famous floating flower market complemented by the subdued ochre tones of old city buildings bordered by blue canals.

And everything in this gallery of a city is easy to get to and easy to see. Whether by boat, foot or public transportation, no place is more than a few minutes from the heart of the Old Town.

On our trip to Amsterdam in July ’05, we stayed at the SAS Radisson (888/201-1718 or visit,a comfortable 5-star hotel in a centrally located, quiet part of town. For our 4-day/3-night stay, we paid $499 each, including breakfast.

Of great help to us in getting around the city and country was ITB (Amsterdam; phone +31 20 305 1365 or visit
. . . or contact their U.S. representative,
Virtuoso Travel, in Ft. Worth, TX; 866/401-7974, www. We booked several short tours with them.

Another resource — we have since learned that Key Tours (Postbus 165, 1000 AD, Amsterdam; phone [+31] 20 2000 300, fax 329 or visit can make similar arrangements and is easy to use.

For information on Amsterdam and the Netherlands in general, go to

The first thing to do in Amsterdam is take a canal tour of the city. This capital of the Netherlands is laced with 165 concentric and radial canals spanned by more than a thousand bridges tying together the cobblestoned streets. The canals are fed by the country’s famous dikes.

For centuries the low-lying Netherlands has been faced with the type of problems wrought by Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. The Dutch have reclaimed much of their country from the North Sea. To accomplish this feat, the people who settled these marshy lands in the first century A.D. began successfully building dikes. In 1287, these structures failed and their farmland was flooded.

From that point, perfecting the construction of dikes became the first order of business, with windmills being built to pump the excess water from the land. Today about 27% of the land is below sea level, with at least 60% of the population living on it.

In the 17th century, the government ingeniously decided to utilize all of this excess water by building canals to link the town and country. Canal tours are readily available at docks throughout the city. You can select a personal ride on a beautifully crafted salon boat or opt to go on a group canal tour.

On our canal tour ($33.50 per person, including a visit to the Anne Frank Museum, booked through Key Tours), we passed rows of lovely, picturesque structures dating back to the 17th century, Netherlands’ golden age. Mostly these were built as narrow-fronted, multistoried merchants’ houses. (Back then, taxes were charged based on a building’s width.)

The houses are characterized by traditional ornamented gables. All the buildings uniformly fit the earlier era’s appearance; no glaring examples of modern architecture break up the antique look. If owners want to build new buildings or restore old ones, they have to submit plans guaranteeing that the look of the original will be maintained.

As we floated down the canal, we saw houseboats with colorful gardens of potted flowers spilling over railings. Window boxes filled with blossoms brightened many a boat, while others looked like gardens themselves.

Most boat tours pass the Anne Frank House, where the young Jewish girl, her family and friends were hidden away during the World War II Nazi occupation. As is well known, she and the others were discovered and shipped off to concentration camps to die.

Walking hunched over through their cramped attic quarters was a very moving experience. Also poignant was the display of memorabilia and excerpts from her diary.

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