Venice is usually the first name that pops up when we think about canal cities, right? But, there are dozens of stunning canal cities that offer plenty of charms on their own—from riverfront palaces to classical Chinese pagodas and even gondola rides. As our fascination with Venice-style canals shows no sign of abating, we have compiled a list of beautiful canal cities in the world that you can also visit. Each of them is built around canals, whether located amid the tropics, within a city’s historic heart, or in a tranquil outlying neighbourhood.
Here Are The World’s 10 Most Beautiful Canal Cities
1. Venice Of The Netherlands: Giethoorn
Giethoorn is a small canal city located within the De Wieden nature preserve, in the Dutch province of Overijssel in the Netherlands. This picturesque city has no streets, only concrete areas that are separated by numerous small bridges and canals. Geitheroon was built on water, crossed over by a few bits of land, and hence, can only be explored by foot or by boat. Also known as the Venice of the Netherlands or Dutch Venice, this town is known for its boat-filled waterways, footpaths, bicycle trails, and centuries-old thatched-roof houses. The village used to be a swampy marshland, so the only solution for 12th-century peat farmers was to dig canals to transport their goods.
The city still possesses four miles of waterways, which are crisscrossed by 180 wooden footbridges. The houses on the banks have beautiful front yards sloping down from thatched roofs. Roads do not extend to the central old town and the local government has outlawed motor vehicles here. But you can hire the much preferred “whisper boats” which are noise-free vessels that run on electric motors rather than noisy gas-powered engines. You can also bicycle or sail around the village (and legally you can try swimming as well).
2. First Manufacturing Town In The World: Birmingham
Located in the West Midlands region, the city of Birmingham was known as the City of 1000 Trades and the Workshop of the World in the Victorian era. The city was the heart of the UK’s industrial revolution and therefore, even the birth of canals here was purely for industrial reasons. The city’s canals were originally built to transport goods around the city and to various other towns.
Today, Birmingham features 100 miles of navigable, scenic canals that when compared in terms of length even beat Venice. Nevertheless, the remaining operable canals pass through several significant sections of the city such as Birmingham Town Hall, Arena Birmingham, and Brindley Place. This British city is home to 1.9 million residents making it the second-highest populated city in Britain. Birmingham offers quaint buildings and idyllic landscapes as boats journey through the canals and provide a magical view of Birmingham.
3. Venice Of The East: Alleppey
Alappuzha, traditionally called Alleppey, is considered to be the oldest planned city in the southern Indian state of Kerala and is amongst the best canal cities in India. It is located on the Laccadive Sea in Kerala and is the hub of the state’s backwaters. It is home to a vast network of waterways and is therefore rightfully called the Venice of the East. Originally the canals were built to transport coir (fibre from the outer husk of the coconut) but today, they are linked to pristine backwaters where thousands of houseboats offer their services. This picturesque city contains a 1,500 km-long network of canals, rivers, and lakes.
Explore the scenic beauty and the local culture of this canal city by renting your own jackwood-and-rattan houseboat for a languorous ride as you journey past women scrubbing clothes in the shallows, cormorants resting on wood pilings, and rice paddies. Lying near the Arabian Sea on the banks of the turquoise Vembanad Lake, Alleppey is a perfect place to enjoy a quiet break.
4. World’s Oriental Venice: Suzhou
Located in the centre of the Yangtze Delta, in the southeastern Jiangsu Province of East China, Suzhou is a historical town known for its beautiful canals and gardens. This canal city traces its history back to the 5th century BC, offering a glimpse of old China and its culture. A 30-minute bullet train ride from Shanghai will bring you to Suzhou with its 15 canals intersecting the city. Some of these connect to the 1,200-mile-long Grand Canal, the longest man-made waterway in the world. Both the Grand Canal, which was built between 581 and 618 BC, and the minor canals of Suzhou pass through many beautiful parts of the city.
The historic canal city of Suzhou is admired for its beautiful gardens too, many of which are considered UNESCO World Heritage sites. Also called the world’s Oriental Venice, Suzhou allows its visitors to meander through both the streets and the city’s waterways. Hop on a boat and float past ancient stone houses and stuck-in-time pagodas, and its 20 UNESCO World Heritage site gardens.
5. The Venice Of The North: Bruges
This fairy-tale medieval town is the capital and largest city of the province of West Flanders in the Flemish Region of Belgium. Known as one of Europe’s best-preserved cities, Bruges is a designated UNESCO World Heritage site. The city is surrounded by a chain of canals, often termed ‘Bruges Egg’ and is rightfully called The Venice of the North. The canals date back to 1128. The Bruges canals are called Reie (the city was originally built on the banks of the river Reie) and they meet the North Sea, passing by traditional homes, medieval churches, and scenic gardens.
This fairytale town is also known for its centuries-old fortifications, picturesque cobbled lanes, photogenic market squares, and museums such as the Groeninge and Memling that offer a glimpse into Flemish art, soaring steeples, and historic churches. The Bruges community goes the extra mile to welcome tourists and is therefore amongst the friendliest cities in the world. Take a half-hour-long canal tour that not only connects all of the city’s major areas but also gives you amazing views of Bruges city. Take in all the charming Gothic architecture as you float in Groenerei (green canal), considered the most romantic canal of all the canals in the centre of town.
6. Venice Of The Alps: Annecy
This historic city of France is located in the Haute-Savoie region, along the shore of Annecy Lake, one of the cleanest lakes in the world. Referred to as the Venice of the Alps, Annecy is known for its charming canals, its flower-bedecked banks, its small delightful bridges, and beautiful houses with colourful facades. The city has three canals, which along with the Thiou River cuts through the old city. Of the three canals, Canal du Thiou is the most popular, with the famous 12th-century Palais de l’Ile situated on one corner of it. This canal was initially constructed to protect the city.
Today, these waterways are a hallmark of the very picturesque old city. Spend the evening among the canalside restaurants and bars of Annecy, or explore the cobblestoned streets. You can capture the perfect picture as the light hits the canals making the water gleam startlingly green-blue like sea glass. We’d recommend swinging by the local morning market (on Tuesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays) and heading for a morning picnic in the Jardins de l’Europe between the Thiou River and Canal du Vassé.
7. City Of Angels: Bangkok
Located on the delta of the Chao Phraya River, Thailand’s capital Bangkok, is an old canal city. The canal system dates back to the 18th century, and even today allows you to explore this bustling metropolis via boat. The khlongs (canal) were constructed in Bangkok to transport both goods and people, but many of them were drained due to the risk of cholera. Today, Bangkok has 1,682 canals, totalling 2,604 kilometres in length, of which nine canals are primary flood drainage conduits. Take a boat trip to the downtown Thonburi neighbourhood and the outlying Green Lung area to check out the khlong system.
View the old, crooked homes to get an idea of how farmers and fishermen still get around via canals and elevated walkways. The city is known for its floating markets as well, of which the major five are Amphawa, Bang Nam Pheung, Damnoen Saduak, Khlong Lat Mayom, and Taling Chan. The main training canal in Bangkok is the 18-km-long Khlong Saen Saeb. It runs east to west across Bangkok. The canal also connects you to important historical places and shopping centres.
Also Read: The 7 Best Places To Visit In Bangkok
8. City Of Canals: Venice
One of Italy’s most popular destinations, Venice is a major seaport and capital of both the province of Venezia and the region of Veneto in northern Italy. This island city is situated on a group of 118 islands separated by canals, which are further connected via bridges. It could be referred to as the nonno (grandfather) of all canal cities, as Venice is known for its historic architecture and stunning canal system. As Venice is the biggest automobile-free city in all of Europe, it boasts 400 footbridges, 170 canals, and no roads at all.
This picturesque canal city attracts over 50,000 visitors annually and is known for the traditional rowboats called gondola that serve as its main mode of transportation. Venice has only 350 of those today. The main waterway, the Grand Canal is 3,800 metres long and has three bridges. However, the rise in sea level caused by climate change has made the Italian city of Venice prone to frequent flooding. Over the last century, the city has sunk five inches. Just last year (2019), the city was hit with the highest tide in more than 50 years. The intense “acqua alta” or high waters, peaked at 1.87m (6ft), according to the tide monitoring centre.
9. Waterfront Wonderland: Cape Coral
Cape Coral City, located in southwest Florida, was founded in 1957 and developed as a planned community. With its 400-mile-long canal system, the city has the longest canal system in the world. Nicknamed the Waterfront Wonderland, this city is renowned for its Gulf Coast beaches, verdant golf courses, and family attractions like the popular Sun Splash Family Waterpark. Most of the canals were constructed in the 1970s, and today there are more than 150,000 canals.
Having a family car parked in front of the house along with a family boat out back is a common occurrence. The system of this canal city provides enough water for irrigation and also serves as protection from floods. Home to both saltwater and freshwater lakes, the city also has access to the Gulf of Mexico via the broad Caloosahatchee River and Matlacha Pass. Try the waterfront restaurants along Cape Coral or have a picnic on the beaches at the Yacht Club Community Park or the Four Freedoms Park.
10. Venice Of The North: Stockholm
Built upon 14 islands situated in Lake Malaren, the Swedish capital of Stockholm is one of the greenest cities in the world. The islands are connected by 57 connecting bridges and a third of the city is composed of water. Often called Beauty on Water, the Stockholm archipelago is the largest in Sweden, interlinking over 30,000 islands of varied sizes. The city is located on Sweden’s southeast coast and also connects the city to the Baltic Sea to the east. Take a boat around the city to enjoy The Royal Palace, lush landscapes, the old town (Gamla Stan) south of Norrmalm, museums such as Skansen Open-Air Museum and The Vasa Museum with its intact 17th-century warship, and art galleries like Magasin III Museum & Foundation for Contemporary Art and Fotografiska.
The city also has 12 large parks, each over 200 acres that account for 1/3 of Stockholm’s total open space. You can also take a bike ride. Explore Canalside beaches like Rålambshovsparken which draw families for picnics, and check out the trendy island of Södermalm that offers cool bars, vintage shops, and a great view across Riddarfjarden canal. In winter, smaller canals in the Scandinavian city freeze and offer an opportunity for skating.
Canal-centric Vacay With The Most Beautiful Canal Cities
While there is only one Venice, there are many gorgeous and lesser-known water worlds across the planet. They all possess their own canal systems which are an integral part of their life and boast diverse cultures. As Venice has been suffering from over-tourism for quite a while now, there is no harm in keeping some alternatives open for your canal-centric vacation. Plan your next trip by keeping this list of the world’s most beautiful canal cities handy, along with tips on how to best enjoy them. If we have missed any of your favourites, let us know in the comments below.