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While Venice might be the world’s most famous canal town, there are so many other places to visit in Europe which are equally as beautiful, graced by winding waterways, charming arched bridges and romantic canal boats casually streaming down river. Over 60,000 people descend on Venice every day, threatening its future. So, if you’ve ever dreamed about strolling through a romantic canal city but aren’t fond of the crowds, I’m here to share with you a collaboration of picturesque canal cities in Europe as well as a few river waterway towns that aren’t Venice!

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Alluring Canal Cities in Europe | Waterway Cities in Europe | Alternative Canal Cities other than Venice | Venice of the North | Boat Tours in Europe | Canal Towns that Aren't Venice | Historic Canal Towns | City with the most Canals | Canal Cities in the World | Best Canal Cities | Canal Cities Europe | Waterway Towns | River Cities in Europe - California Globetrotter

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Stretching from Portugal to St. Petersburg, Europe has no shortage of canal cities and river waterfronts all waiting to be explored by boat! Exploring any city by boat, gondola, paddle boat, punts or any other form of water transportation is a great way to truly experience the city, learn about how the river or canal played a vital role in the city’s history and have a great vantage point of the city! Most European canals or river cities offer some form of boat tours and are usually one of the top things to do!

Amsterdam, Netherlands
Alongside clogs, windmills and cheese, canals are automatically synonymous with Amsterdam. Did you know that Holland’s capital actually has MORE canals than Venice? While Venice actually only has 409 bridges connecting its canals, Amsterdam actually has 1281 bridges. With over 100km of canals and a plethora of arched bridges,  it comes as no surprise that Amsterdam is truly nicknamed “The Venice of the North”, giving you a plethora of picturesque opportunities and plenty of boating time.
 
Amsterdam’s canals were built during the Middle Ages both as a source of transportation and defense. Radiating from the core of the city, there are four main canals known as “grachtengordel”: the Singel, the Herengracht, the Keizergracht and the Prinsengracht. The Herengracht and Keizergracht became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2010. Three of the four canals are mostly for residents while the fourth, outer canal, the Singelgracht was built for defense. Exploring the canals are some of the best things to do in Amsterdam, meandering from one canal to the next!
Today, canal boats and boat houses line the banks of the canals while paddle surfers and paddle boaters often take advantage of water activities. A Canal Boat Tour in Amsterdam is highly recommended to discover the city’s sights and attractions or even doing a romantic dinner cruise! Consider spicing up your accommodation in Amsterdam by staying on a private house boat on a canal, one of over 2,500 and wake up with amazing views every day!

Averio, Portugal 
By David from Travelsewhere
 

Ordinarily Portugal’s cities like Porto and Lisbon are known for their epic riverfronts. Aveiro, however, is a little different. Situated on Portugal’s central coast by a large lagoon, the city is connected to the lagoon via a series of canals. Historically, the canals were used by locals for fishing and the harvesting of both salt and seaweed.
Aveiro locals navigated the waterways in and around the city on boats known as moliceiros, essentially the local equivalent of Venetian gondolas. Today, visitors can take a gentle cruise in these vibrantly colored boast past Aveiro’s traditional tiled houses and local markets. Some boat rides even venture out onto the nearby lagoon, but either option is a great way to see the local sights.

Even in parts of the city that have seen modern redevelopment, you can still find the canals gently coursing through, even if they ultimately go nowhere. Ultimately, the canals of Aveiro lend this oftentimes humble city a great deal of charm.

Bamberg, Germany
As one of the lucky ones, Bamberg was one of the few towns which survived WWII in Germany, therefore, preserving its historic Medieval City Center with a history that dates back over 1,000 years! While most of the town is spread out over seven hills, the loveliest part straddles both sides of the Regnitz River nicknamed “Little Venice” – a historic district once used as fishermen’s cottages. Today, you have the possibility of doing a boat excursion in Bamberg to explore the city’s harbor and the confluence of the River Regnitz with the River Main and River Danube in what is known as the Main-Danube Canal, Not far from Bamberg’s Little Venice, built on an island in a form of protest is the Bamberg City Hall.

Bath, England
Flowing through the beautiful Georgian town of Bath is the Kennet and Avon Canal which just recently celebrated 200 years of history in 2010! Connecting the River Thames at Reading to the Bristol Channel, the Kennet and Avon Canal is one of Britain’s most popular long-distance, waterside cycling and walking routes taking you through some of England’s most stunning landscape. The River Avon gently winds its way through the city of Bath with the triple-arched Pulteney Bridge one of the top attractions along the canal with the weir nearby. The chief engineer, John Rennie, took great care to ensure that the canal, bridges and buildings along the commercial route reflected Bath’s beautiful Georgian architecture. 
Considering that the town is surrounded by waterways, enjoying a river adventure in Bath is one of the main things to do which includes renting a narrowboat, cruising along on a skippered boat or even gently flowing downstream on Bath’s only floating restaurant. By enjoying a boat tour in Bath, you have a lovely chance to take in the impressive Georgian architecture.

Bourton-on-the-Water, England
Often nicknamed the “Little Venice” of the Cotswolds, the main attraction in Bourton-on-the-Water is the lovely little River Windrush as it causally flows through the town, making this one of the most popular villages in the Cotswolds to visit. Though not very big nor deep, the town is not your typical “canal” city and no boats nor river ships will be seen cruising through, however, it’s still a lovely, quaint little Cotswold town. Along it’s path are several low laying stone bridges with soft honey hued limestone cottages lining its banks. Ducks here casually paddle around or snooze along the edges of the river while children off in the distance giggle vivaciously at their ice creams. Park benches are scattered along its banks which makes you just want to grab up a good book, and read surrounded by unparalleled beauty in one of the most quintessential British towns!
Bremen, Germany
By Toti from Italian Trip Abroad

The history of Bremen is around its river, the Waser. In the past, it was the main door to the city trades, today it is the main meeting point of the city, rich of clubs and bars, it is an amazing spot where take nice postcard.

The landscapes of Bremen is all around the river, the symbol of the ancient trades market brought immense wealth to the city and big brands placing the headquarters here and the young generation host many initiatives along its embankments.

On the riverside, there are not just restaurants, but there are a lot of alternatives to the common hotels. You can choose your accommodation at one of the vessels or boats along the river. There are five ships turned into a hotel along the Waser.

There are numerous boat trips along the Waser, even for the football match, the most popular in the city sailing every 2 hours from the center to the stadium. The most boat tours in Bremen offer the best views of the city.

Boating from Bremen to Bremerhaven, the new seaport of Bremen, is the best boat tour. It is possible to get on the boat with a bike and ride along the Bremerhaven after the boat ride. The duration of the tour is 90 minutes and is cheap as 10 euro, but there are the minimum participants at 20 persons.

Bruges, Belgium
Not far from Brussels, the capital of Belgium, is quite possibly the quaintest little town you ever did see! Also often referred to as “The Venice of the North”, located in the Flemish region, Bruges is literally something straight out of a fairy-tale with cobble-stoned streets, picturesque bridges and gabled houses lining the banks of the canals. Thanks to its port, this 13th century trade center brought the town immense wealth which can be seen in the immaculate Stadhuis (City Hall). Bruges’ canals are fed by the North Sea and a canal boat tour somehow makes the town ooze with even more charm, if such a thing were ever possible! The Bruges’ canals are referred to as “Reie”, named after the river “Roya” and is easy to explore on foot, hand in hand if you’re looking for a truly romantic experience in Bruges!
Rozenhoedkaai is the most picturesque corner along the Bruges Canal with offers stunning views of the city and the Belfort Tower in the distance. Here you can hop aboard a boat tour and cruise the canals, floating past elegant homes, churches and a few sleeping window dogs and a flock of swans most likely gliding gently past you in a straight line as this is a city of swans!

Cambridge,England
By Katy from Untold Morsels
 
Cambridge is a university city found on the banks of the river Cam, one hundred kilometres north of London. This beautiful city is renowned for its famous colleges and their prestigious alumni including Sir Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin.
 
The Cam river flows through the centre of the city and is lined by the ancient buildings of the university colleges, many of them dating back as far as the 13th century. This area is known known as ‘The Backs’ and it is where you can join a punt tour and hear stories of the university, Cambridge and its famous inhabitants.
 
As you glide under the Bridge of Sighs, note that it was built in the 19th century inspired by the bridge of the same name in Venice, Italy. Further along the river there are many more beautiful sites. The most spectacular is Kings College Chapel built by King Henry VIII in the 16th century. A triumph of engineering and English Gothic architecture, the chapel is known for its fan vault ceiling and incredible stained glass windows. 
 
After your punt tour, make sure to stop at one of the pubs on the river. The Anchor is popular with locals and visitors alike and a cosy meal or drink there would be the perfect way to end your day in Cambridge.

Colmar, France
Having been the center of a tug-of-war between Germany and France over the centuries, it’s rather surprising that the half-timbered medieval town of Colmar has survived the French Revolution and three major wars with practically no damage! Located in the Alsace region of France and known as “the Capital of Alsatian wine”, Colmar is a small city crossed by canals of the river Lauch lined with an array of Alsatian Burghers’ houses and cobblestone streets which is without a doubt the most picturesque part of Colmar. Formally used as the butcher’s, tanner’s and fishmonger’s quarter, the area is now more famously referred to as “Little Venice of Alsace” (La Petite Venise). 
 
Decorated floral balconies spill into the canal and small wooden canal boats stream merrily, merrily down river. Discover the charm of Colmar by cruising along one of the flat-bottomed canal boats and learn about this history of the canals and the meaning behind the colorful array of houses, some with wooden window shutters with a heart shape in the middle which also have a hidden meaning. 
Copenhagen, Denmark
 

Come to Copenhagen, she said. The capital of Denmark, Copenhagen is a colorful, cobblestoned city chock full of charm and surrounded by water and a network of canals. Settled by fishermen over 1000 years ago and celebrates its founding by Bishop Absalon in the 1100’s. But it wasn’t until 1443, that the city took over the title of Danish capital from nearby Roskilde. The Danish word for Copenhagen is København and means merchant’s harbor.

A compact and green city, the Danes take pride in the fact that their canals are so clean you can swim in them. And people do! Take a dip in the cool crisp Baltic water at one of several public harbor baths along the main Copenhagen canal. Or take a canal cruise and see modern Danish architecture next to historic castles and churches. Wave to the Little Mermaid, Copenhagen’s iconic albeit diminutive mascot. Prefer to be the master of your own vessel? Rent an electric picnic boat and tour the waterways of Christianshavn and Slotsholmen.

Copenhagen, Denmark | Alluring Canal Cities in Europe | Waterway Cities in Europe | Alternative Canal Cities other than Venice | Venice of the North | Boat Tours in Europe | Canal Towns that Aren't Venice | Historic Canal Towns | City with the most Canals | Canal Cities in the World | Best Canal Cities | Canal Cities Europe | Waterway Towns | River Cities in Europe - California Globetrotter

You can really see the city like a local if you rent a bicycle and enjoy the many roads and bridges made just for traveling on two wheels. Follow the scenic harbor route across Cykelslangen, the “bicycle snake” bridge to enjoy the water and cafes at Islands Brygge. Or take the Inner Harbor Bridge from the world-famous colored houses and boats of Nyhavn canal all the way to Refshaleon and the new home of Copenhagen Street Food. A perfect place to find something to eat, sit outside and watch the canal traffic sail by. 

Delft, Netherlands 
By Phoebe from Lou Messugo
 
The city of Delft in the Netherlands feels like a smaller, and possibly even prettier, version of Amsterdam without the enormous crowds.  This makes it a fabulous place to visit.  Its cobblestone streets, lined with classic Dutch brick houses, weave along small canals, adorned with flowers and bikes, of course….

The city has a rich cultural heritage; it is the home town of Dutch Master Johannes Vermeer (he is buried here in the Oude Kerk) and is also the home of Delftware, the famous blue and white pottery produced since the 16th century.  The city has strong links to the Royal family and the House of Orange, with another famous son, William of Orange, buried in the Nieuwe Kerk on the central square.

Delft is easily visited in a day from Amsterdam, The Hague or Rotterdam and its compact size makes it perfect for wandering around in, exploring the Delft canals, popping into cheese shops and stopping at quirky little cafés for stroopwafels and coffee.  I visited on a cloudy day and even without the sun Delft is wonderfully photogenic and full of charm.

Gdansk, Poland
Located along the Baltic coastline, it comes as no surprise that Gdańsk has some major waterways and as a result, joined the Hanseatic League in 1361, making it the largest and most vital port for trade. Trade thrived between the Baltic nations and as a result, architectural styles were adopted in a similar fashion from Amsterdam to Copenhagen in Gdańsk and beautiful red brick buildings as well as colorful gilded houses line the Gdańsk waterfront. 
The Gdańsk Crane along the River Motława embankment is often considered to be one of the most unique medieval structures in Europe and is an iconic landmark of Gdańsk which dates back to the 14th century. It combined the functions of both city gate and a port crane that was used to load and unload goods as well as attaching masts to ships. 
 
While you won’t find charming gondolas or paddle boats to explore the river or canals, there are river cruises along the River Motława and one of the most popular boat tours in Gdańsk is aboard a Pirates of the Caribbean-esque galleon ship, where you can explore the waterfront, the history of the first shots of WWII fired in Westerplatte and more!
Ghent, Belgium
Mistakenly overlooked by many for the romantic canals of Bruges, Ghent is equally as charming, if not more impressive than its rival. Perhaps that’s because for centuries, the town was an bustling industrial center coated in layers of grime and only began a restoration program in the 1980s to revive it to its former glory. Though Ghent is still one of the hidden gems of Europe, it is quickly gaining popularity for its romantic canals, turreted structures and churches to it’s imposing medieval castle surrounded by a moat. 
 
As one of the best places to visit in Belgium, a boat ride along the Ghent canals is one of the best ways to explore the city center. Enjoy a variety of boat rides in Ghent from open convertible boats to top boats and electric boats, there are a variety of tours to discover the history of Ghent as well as admire some pretty fascinating architecture! With the purchase of a Ghent City Card, you even have access to the Hop-On, Hop-Off boat tours!

Gothenburg, Sweden
By Vanessa from Snow in Tromso
 

Gothenburg is Sweden’s second-biggest city, dating back to 1621. This gem on the west coast of the country features neo-classical buildings along the canal, as well as wooden buildings from the 19th century in the lovely neighbourhood Haga. Once the poor side of town where the working class lived, Haga is now the hippest part of the city and it’s where you should come for a cup of coffee and a cinnamon bun. A Gothenburg boat tour on the canal should not be missed when visiting the city either and that way, you’ll even get to see the harbour of the city with its trademark building: the so-called «lipstick» tower or Skanskaskrapan!

London, England
Anglophiles love to flock to London for the impressive Tower Bridge and the Royals, but most probably don’t think of visiting London for its canals. Built mostly in the 19th century to help transport timber, coal and building materials, they were largely abandoned after the steam engines changed the way we transport goods. Yet today, they are still some of London’s secret spots, off-the-beaten-path from your average tourist looking to hit the top 10 things in London. 
One of the most popular canals in London, however, is Little Venice – a lovely little area of London where the Grand Union Canal meets the Regent’s Canal. It wasn’t always lovingly referred to as “Little Venice” but is thought to have been dubbed as so by Robert Browning who once lived in the area. While it in no way looks anything like Venice, it does however have a feeling more reminiscent to Amsterdam with narrowboats lined along its banks. Pop down to The Waterside Cafe for a typical English Breakfast or take the London Water Bus between Little Venice and Camden Market between March and September. 
Strasbourg, France
Home to the headquarters of the European Union and one of Europe’s greatest Christmas Markets, Strasbourg is a half-timbered town encircled by canals that was built t o connect Paris and northern France with the Alsace and Lorraine regions, as well as the Rhine River in Germany as part of the Marne-Rhine Canal. When it opened in 1853, it was the longest canal in France at 303 km (194 miles). 
Today, doing a Strasbourg boat tour offers stunning vantage points around the city, especially when cruising through Petite France. There are a variety of boat tours in Strasbourg, each offering a different experience, discovering the history of the city, the architecture and the covered bridges. Explore Strasbourg by cruising through the historic city center, the European Union, the eastern side of the city and so much more! 
 
While strolling through Petite France, you can even catch a glimpse how large canal boats navigate the waters, moving from one canal to the next or you can simply walk along the entire length of the canals from the Strasbourg Cathedral to Petite France which is one of the loveliest ways to explore the Strasbourg canals! 
St.Petersburg, Russia – Our World for You
By Janis from Our World For You
 

St Petersburg in Russia is full mystery, grandeur, intrigue and culture. This colourful Imperial city was founded by Tsar Peter the Great in 1703. Not only does it have incredible imposing palaces and centuries of rich history amongst its streets, it has an amazing web of waterways stretching over 42 islands!

St Petersburg’s rivers and canals are fed by the Baltic Sea via the Gulf of Finland. The city’s main artery the River Neva meanders off, winding its way through the city. Taking a boat trip along the Neva and through the canals, provides a wonderfully different aspect to the city landscape. St Petersburg has some magnificent architecture in so many striking styles, St Isaac’s Cathedral, The Hermitage, Mariinsky Theatre and one of my highlights, Church of the Savior on Blood which can be seen along a river tour in St. PetersburgA city waiting to be discovered.

Utrecht, Netherlands
Though not nearly as popular as it’s bigger neighbor just an hours drive away, Utrecht is the less-touristy version of Amsterdam and has a way more authentic feel to it. Here locals and tourists alike converge along the canal embankment to enjoy a coffee and relax at one of the many water-side terrace cafes in old dock cellars. 
 
Stretching for almost two kilometers, the Oudegracht is Utrecht’s most famous canal. Built in the 12th century, the canals of Utrecht are vastly different from those in Amsterdam. By the mid-12th century, locals decided to dig tunnels from the docks to the canal-side houses which created the double docks we see today. 
 
One of the most popular things to do in Utrecht today is doing a canal boat excursion and is one of the best ways to truly experience Utrecht. By doing so, you’ll be able to admire the canals, the wharves and the cellars, be charmed by the old bridges, fascinating architecture. You’ll even catch a variety of boaters streaming down stream from canal cruises, to personal boats and kayaks! Here, anything goes!
 
Looking to come to Europe? On a Budget? Want to travel by train through Europe? Consider any of the following travel guides to help you plan your trip, all of which I highly recommend!!
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. If you click on one and make a purchase, I might make a little extra spending money, at no extra cost to you. As always, all opinions are my own and these products/services have been found useful during our travels and come highly recommended to you from yours truly!

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Replies to Alluring Canal Cities in Europe

  1. So many gorgeous cities!! You know I didn’t even think of Copenhagen or Stockholm when we were trading messages about this collaboration! Love seeing some of these other cities in France and England – there are so many beautiful places to visit!

  2. WOW! What a fantasic collection. There’s a few I didn’t know about but have my eye on now. I’m looking at you Averio. I also love punting on the backs in Cambridge – such a fun thing to do when the weather’s nice.

  3. I’ve fancied visiting Aveiro in Portugal ever since I first read about it. I do love a city with canals although I’ll confess I was a bit disappointed with Bourton on the Water. We’re big fans of Amsterdam though – and Venice of course but in the off season. thanks for sharing on #FarawayFiles

  4. They’re all so pretty! 😀 I’ve been to a few, but I’d like to see all of them, especially Colmar, Strasbourg and Utrecht, they’re high on my wish list 😀

  5. Great list! There is just something about canals that are so charming. I want to work my way through this list. I think Bruges is at the top for me of the places I haven’t been yet. #TheWeeklyPostcard.

  6. What an impressive list of canal cities, Lolo! Other than London, I haven’t seen of the other ones, which makes me feel quite bad! Bruges was at the top of my list for a long time, but every time we made plans to go there something happened and we didn’t. Hope to see some of these someday.

  7. There is something so alluring about canal cities! I’ve only been to one and that is Amsterdam but would love to visit all the others that are highlighted.

  8. There are so many picturesque towns and cities in this post, I love visiting places with canals and little rivers and even better if it includes a boat trip. Thanks for including us #farawayfiles

  9. I’ve been to some of these, and there are others that are on my list! What is it about the water, that makes everything around it look that much more beautiful?! Lovely post! #farawayfiles

  10. There is just something about water that makes everything around it more alive… So many gorgeous cities! I’ll need to plan vacations back to Europe to see them all; other than London, I haven’t been in any of these places, though a few of them have been on my travel list for a while. Great post, beautiful photos!

  11. All of these beautiful photos want me to get on the airplane and visit the places you mention! I especially appreciate the info on Amsterdam, as we’ll be visiting there this summer, but Strasbourg and Colmar some day as well. Perhaps you can’t see as much by boat as you can from a tour bus, but it’s so much more relaxing!

  12. There are so many great ideas on this post! I have been to Strasbourg and Colmar and the presence of the canals make the wonderful architecture even prettier. It was so fun to see the cities from boats. Sadly, I was not able to see the London canals during my last visit to the city. I hope I can continue using London as a jumping point to the rest of Europe. In that way, I can continue discovering the city (including the canals). #TheWeeklyPostcard

  13. I’ve been to London, but didn’t realize there were any canals there. The only other city on the list that I’ve visited is Amsterdam, which I guess is the quintessential canal city and the one that most people think of. I found the canals to be very enchanting and they made for such idyllic scenes. I’d love to go back there one day.

  14. Really enjoyed this post. I’ve been in love with canals since I read Narrow Dog To Carcasonne, which is about this English couple that takes their canal boat from their home through England, across the Channel and down to the southern coast of France. Any one of these cities would be a pleasure to visit. Thanks for sharing on #TheWeeklyPostcard!

  15. I’ve never heard of Bamberg before – looks so lovely! Gdansk and Cambridge are on my travel bucket list! I guess my favorites here would be St.Petersburg, Colmar and Bruges! #TheWeeklyPostcard

  16. It’s funny, I’ve visited many of these, unless they’re in England or Germany it seems. Or St Petersburg, much as would like to see that city. Bamberg has been on my list a while it just looks great, as has Colmar. Love me a good network of canals! #TheWeeklyPostcard

  17. Oh my, so many canal cities to choose from – all of them look so pretty and charming! Of all the cities that are featured here, I would love to go on a canal cruise in London because I had never expect to find canals in London unlike the others which are known for their rivers and canals 🙂 Great compilation!

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