A friend of ours once referred to the canal houses at Damrak in Amsterdam as ‘dancing houses’ and we think that’s a great way to describe these tall, tilted, historical structures. Chances are if you’ve ever seen a picture of Amsterdam, you’ve seen the ‘dancing houses’ or other canal houses.
They are after all the iconic image of the city and their likeness can be found on everything from Delftware pottery, to postcards, magnets and so much more…
The ‘dancing houses’ are just a few of the many canal houses or grachtenhuizen that tower above the waterways of Amsterdam.
Venture farther out into the city and into the area known as the grachtengordel, Amsterdam’s canal district, an area of the city that turned 400 in 2013, and in 2010 was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site. Construction of the grachtengordel was a massive undertaking and consisted of a half-circle of three concentric canals, Herengracht, Keizersgracht and Prinsengracht, each lined with canal houses, and expanding out from the moat-like waterway called Singel, part of the city’s early defenses.
The houses, built for the wealthy bankers and merchants, sometimes did double duty, serving as both living and work space, with storage facilities in the basements or attics (notice the hooks above for hauling goods in through the windows, still used today for hauling furniture up to, or out of, the building). Others were used mainly as warehouses (pakhuizen), and quite a few, were strictly residential properties, urban palaces, for the upper classmen and their families.
A great way to experience the grachtenhuizen along Amsterdam’s canals is by boat and there are various companies offering canal cruises/tours (more on those in a future post). But, to get a closer look, consider visiting in person. A few of the houses in the grachtengordel area are now museums. Here’s a short list of a few to consider: