Sunday, 26 August 2012

Amsterdam Canals Running Route

Click here for route map
Length 7.1 km (4.4 miles), terrain flat

Amsterdam running routes:
Three parks route
Amsterdam canals run

Sloterpark lake loop
Amstel river trail 
Amsterdamse Bos run
For more running routes, see Route List.

Thanks to the creative photographers at Flickr CreativeCommons for the great photos!

Amsterdam is one of my favorite cities. It combines the cultivated, old-world waterside charm of other Dutch towns, but adds a wide-open, experimental attitude that is hard to find elsewhere. There are curving canals lined by gracious, Georgian-style homes. And there are lines of sex-shops and marijuana-selling "coffee houses" just around the corner. It's a bit jarring at first, but also somehow refreshing.

I remember my first walk through the city, more than 20 years ago, with my wife and family, pushing a baby buggy through de Walletjes (the red-light district). After trying to distract the kids from looking too closely at the sex shops, we came to a beautiful churchyard surrounded by old houses, and every house had a prostitute standing in the doorway. What a juxtaposition. That's Amsterdam.
Beautifully captured Herengracht at dusk, photo by Alexander Wilkens
But since then, I've been back to Amsterdam a few times and I've grown accustomed to its quirky character. And so I've written up this jogging route celebrating the elegant canals ("grachten") on the west side of the old town, with a side-trip to Jordaan, a simpler, working-class neighborhood next door that is now quickly gentrifying, as a cheaper alternative to the impossibly expensive merchants' homes along the grachten.

There are four main canals forming a half-circle around the old town, to the west and south. From inside to outside there are the Singel ("singel" means a defensive moat), the Herengracht ("patricians' canal"), the Keizersgracht ("kaiser's canal") and the Prinsensgracht ("prince's canal"). All are scenic and worth seeing. We'll go up and down each of them a bit. The Herengracht is perhaps the most beautiful of them all, though many of the old homes are now used as offices.

NOTE: There are zillions of bikes underway in any Dutch town, so be prepared to share the way with lots of crazed bicyclists!

The Amsterdam Grachten Route
We'll start right in the center of old Amsterdam on the Dam square, between the royal palace and the Nationaal Monument. The Damrak pedestrian shopping street (a bit shabby, I think) leads from the train station to the square.
Dam square at Christmas, moody photo by ToonE
The palace, lining the west side of Dam, looks a bit shabby itself, and passed-over by all the crowds of bargain-hunters swarming all over, looking for great deals. The palace used to be the city hall, but was then given to the royal family to use. It still looks more like a city hall, though. It's a bit loud and crowded here, like the whole downtown. So let's get out of here!

Face the palace and run westwards along its right side, along Mozes en Aaronstraat, with the New Church (Nieuwe Kerk) to the right, the Netherlands' coronation church. This is the first of several impressive churches that we'll pass, in typical Dutch gothic style.

The street ends just past the church and palace, so turn right, then left on Molstraat to continue, across from the main entrance of the New Church.

You'll now cross the Singel canal, right at the old boat lock (where the road rises over the canal in a dome shape). It already looks great here: nice old houses and waterfront cafés. And the crowds have already disappeared, so it's time to enjoy the run.

Continue straight to the next cross-street, the Herengracht, and turn right. This is what the grachten are all about: stately old homes, red-brick with white window frames, lining each side of the canal, with stone bridges spanning the water at regular intervals. Houseboats and other boats line the banks, and occasionally a boat tuckers up or down the canal.
Herengracht, photo by zamito44
The homes were built by rich merchants, who, during Holland's golden age in the 1600s, made big fortunes trading in spices, tulips and slaves.

Luckily, the Dutch seldom close their curtains, so you can look right inside most houses, although it's considered indiscreet to do so. But, like in all old Dutch towns, many houses have an irresistible, cultured charm, with pianos in the parlor, walls covered with bookshelves, brass lamps, paintings on the walls. They look like Renoir paintings, the 19th-century bourgeoisie still lives in old Dutch neighborhoods like this.

Run northwards for the two long blocks until the Herengracht canal and street end by running into the Brouwersgracht ("brewers' canal", the old beer-brewing part of town). Cross Brouwersgracht and then turn left.
Great picture of Herengracht at Brouwersgracht, photo by Daniel Peckham
You'll immediately pass the Herenmarkt market square on the right. The old West Indies Company headquarters house is at the back side of the square.

Next, you'll pass Keizersgracht and Prinsensgracht, leading off to the left. Down Prinsensgracht, you can see Norderkerk, the church that was built to serve Jordaan.

After Prinsensgracht, you're entering the Jordaan neighborhood, where the houses are smaller and simpler, an area where the working people lived. The whole neighborhood was fairly run-down until it was rediscovered in the last decades as a central, pleasant and affordable place to live, right near the downtown.
Jordaan street, photo by Jacob Christensen
Keep running down the left side of Brouwersgracht until you reach the smaller canal, Palmgracht on the left, where you turn.

Run westwards on Palmgracht for just one block, then turn south on Palmdwarsstraat.
Shady Jordaan street with canal, another nice photo by Jacob Christensen
When you get to the next little side-canal, Lindengracht, turn right and run west for one block and then turn south again on Tweede Lindendwarsstraat. This street changes its name with every block, but just ignore that. Keep running until the street ends at where the two large canals come together, Egelantiersgracht and Prinsensgracht.

Turn left and then right to cross the bridge and run south along Prinsensgracht. On the next block, along the left, you'll see the Anne Frank house, where she and her family hid for two years before being turned in to the Nazi occupiers, and then sent off to death camps. There are often long lines of people waiting to get inside.

The Westerkerk follows, still another beautiful gothic church, with its ornate tower, the highest in Amsterdam. Rembrandt is buried there.

Keep running south on Prinsensgracht, with beautiful merchants' homes on the left side of the canal and more of Jordaan's side-streets along the right side. After Berenstraat, you'll go by the houseboat museum (located in a houseboat, of course), fitting for an area with seemingly endless numbers of houseboats parked along every canal.

At Runstraat, turn left to run a block to Keizersgracht, where you turn right and continue southwards again.
Along Keizersgracht, photo by Fredzurich
Now, almost with every block, the canal turns a bit to the left, forming a circle along the south side of the city.

When you get to the little tree-lined north-south side-canal called Reguliersgracht, turn left and run up one block back to Herengracht, where you turn right and continue two blocks, until it ends at the side-arm of the Amstel river, the Binnenamstel.

Now cross over to the other (north) side of Herengracht and start running back, westwards, following it as it curves northwards. This is the most impressive section of the street -- between Leidsestraat and Vijzelstraat -- called the "Golden Bend", with mansions built on double-wide lots.

When you get to Gasthuismolensteeg, turn right and run the three blocks back past the royal palace to Dam square, your finish line. Great city, huh?