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Amsterdam is not Venice of the North

Posted on Aug 27, 2014 by

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I will never understand why people feel the need to use the name “Venice of the North” when referring to various cities in northern Europe (Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Hamburg etc). Yes, I know, they all have canals, they are all built on water and there is an extended use of boats as a mean of transportation. But, still, why do we have to compare them all with Venice? Venice may be very beautiful and romantic, but all of these cities are places in their own right, they are not “small” or “big” versions of Venice. There are no gondolas on their canals, or, if there are, they are probably the most kitsch things that you will see (or they were forcedly introduced by someone that feels the need to compare the city with Venice in the hope that they’ll get more money).

I have heard tourists complaining about the fact that, “Amsterdam is not Venice, not by far!” Well, if you want to see Venice, you should go to Venice, I would argue. If you come to Amsterdam, you’ll see no trace of Venice (even if you might hear a lot of Italian spoken on the streets). You will see a lot of stunning canals and bridges, a lot of boats, houseboats, flowers and beautiful architecture. You’ll see beautiful, cosy neighbourhoods, if you go off the beaten path. You’ll see a crazy, swarming river of tourists if you stay in the centre. You’ll see beautiful parks, windmills, many bikes, coffee shops and the Red Light District. And many other things that make Amsterdam such a lovely and unique city. And then you will love or hate Amsterdam for what it is, but not for not being something else that it is not.

Now, let’s just admire some of the lovely canals of Amsterdam:

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  1. Hi Dana, I have just stumbled upon your blog when looking for sources about Amsterdam being referred to as ‘The Venice of the North’. However, I don’t think Amsterdam is called this for the reason you are describing in this blog. It’s more about the negative impacts of tourism (locals being forced out of the city center to make place for tourists), of which Venice is a great example: Nice blog though!

    • The negative impact of tourism in Amsterdam is something that is mostly observed in the past let’s say 3-5 years. It is in this period when the tourist number really exploded and they started to take over the city. So, that’s not the reason. But, of course, each one is entitled to its opinion 🙂

      • I completely agree. Nothing to do with this. A 1959 publication lists Amsterdam as ‘Venice if the North’. 😂

    • I disagree. This is not the reason!

  2. I believe if they want to nickname a Dutch city this, it should be Giethoorn.

  3. You think you know, sorry but you might do your research better next time. Your article sucks the is a Venice of the North and it’s Bruges in Belgium dating back to the same time as Venice in Italy which they still use today to transport goods and people. Really lmao

    • At least 7 Northern European cities have been referred to as ‘Venice of the North’ in the last 80 years.
      Bruges seems to be the only one that ‘accepts and embraces’ the association. Most residents of other cities like Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Stockholm and St Petersburg do not (apparently because they feel their cities have enough to offer without a comparison to another city – and also that the term is more flattering to Venice than the likened city) which may account for the acceptance by the locals in Bruges.

      However, I agree that Bruges is much more widely accepted as the ‘Venice of the North’ in the English speaking world, in the past 15-20 years, as even official Belgian tourist publications have promoted it as such.

  4. I love Amsterdam and I agree with the author when she says Amsterdam is unique in its own ways. But let’s face it… the average tourist that visits the Dutch city is interested in marijuana (coffee shops) and Die Wallen / the Red Light District only.
    That is unfortunate – Amsterdam has a lot to offer – but visitors often treat its cultural attractions as an afterthought.

    Venice is an outstanding city that exudes elegance, culture, and class. The reference to the Italian city is, therefore, flattering. It is also useful for promoting the cultural heritage of the city. To put it simply, it is a smart marketing move.

    The similarities between Amsterdam and Venice go beyond their canals – both cities boast an incredible history: they were/are libertine, multicultural, tolerant environments. They’re entrepreneurial cities that saw their fortunes grow thanks to their high degree of internationalisation/commerce. Venice was the printing capital of the world, it has world-class universities… so does Amsterdam. Why don’t we try to focus on the things that unite these maritime cities, instead of complaining about nicknames? Next time a tourist tells you that Amsterdam doesn’t look like Venice, you could always tell them that many factors unite them… and that they should learn to appreciate the characteristics that make Amsterdam unique.


  1. A city built on water | Amsterdamian - […] is a well known cliché used in many tourist guides where Amsterdam is called the “Venice of the North“.…
  2. Visiting the fairy-tale village of Giethoorn | Amsterdamian - […] Amsterdam is “the Venice of the North”, then Giethoorn is “the Venice of the Netherlands” – when there are…

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