European Getaways: Canal Cities

European Getaways: Canal Cities

by Emma Bareihs
Stripes Europe

Trade, strategy, irrigation. The history of canal waterways has left a long-lasting impression on Europe’s cities. Once used as ports for merchants, these waters are a sparkling touch to the rich history of the surrounding land. Throughout the years, one function remains the same: transportation. Travel back in time by discovering the roots of the famed canal cities of Amsterdam, Venice and Colmar.

Venice, Italy
The beautiful city of Venice started as nothing more than malaria infested swaps, until around A.D. 400 when settlers from the Roman Empire began to build the city out of marble from the isolated Venetian lagoon. Now the city compromised of 100 small islands linked together by bridges, Venice, is possibly the most-well known canal city.

When exploring Venice there is so much to do. Enter from the famous Grand Canal to be welcomed by the Venetian architecture of Palazzo Ducale and the Basilica di San Marco. Escape the tourism by exploring the backstreets, where you’ll find Italian leather shops and churches dating back past the 11th century. Visit the Ca’ d’Oro gallery of Renaissance art to go back in time with Baron Giorgio Franchetti. Try some of the freshwater lagoon fish for dinner and gelato for dessert, and of course, find a ticket booth for the world-renowned gondola rides so you can view this artistic city from another angle.

Amsterdam, Netherlands
The eccentric character of Amsterdam is an enticing environment, especially for today’s younger generations. Originally a fishing village in the 13th century, Amsterdam is built around a dam in the center of the city. In the Middle Ages, the canals served as moats and transported merchandise to and from ships. Although only 25 percent of the canals from the 13th century are still navigable, Amsterdam’s canals are one of the city’s major highlights.


Cruise the waterways by ferry or open-air boat to get a feel for the Dutch city. A favorite way to navigate the city, besides by boat, is by bike. Cross the canals on two wheels to find a cozy café or historic museum to explore. Book tickets in advance to tour the famed Anne Frank house while you’re there. If you’re an art junky, be sure to check out the Van Gogh Museum for the world’s largest Van Gogh collection. And finally, don’t forget to stroll through the Albert Cuyp Market for a local feel of the city.

Amsterdam canal. Photo by Titov 

Colmar, France
Leading into the Rhine River, the Canal de Colmar is one of the greatest gems of this charming city. Ten miles west of the Rhine River, Colmar, France is a quaint canal city built by industrialists in the 19th century. In the area known as Little Venice, the canal swerves its way through the city’s fisherman’s district. On foot, you can hop down the cobblestone paths to discover the town’s enchanting fountains, statues, gothic churches and museums. Explore the canal’s banks which are lined with restaurants and cafés located in colorful, half-timbered medieval style buildings. But, don’t forget the wine! Known for being nestled in the Alsatian wine region, enjoy a glass of wine on the narrow streets along the water in truly one of the most beautiful European cities. With 1,000 years of history to offer, the canals of this imperial city keep the history of the region flowing.

Photo by

At one time these canals were driving forces in the survival of these cities, now these resourceful and beautiful waterways serve as the backdrop to many a romantic and scenic dinner. Walk where merchants once sold goods, admire the architecture reflecting from the water, or soak up the history and charm of these cities but no matter what, consider choosing a canal city for your next getaway. 

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