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Where is the Venice of the North? A ViaTravelers Top 10

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The Italian city of Venice is famous for many reasons, such as its storied history, beautiful architecture, the Carnival, and obsession with masks. But what makes Venice famous above all else is its abundance of and historical reliance on its vast network of canals.

Having so many canals doesn’t make Venice unique, not by a long shot. Venice isn’t even the city with the most canals worldwide, not even in Europe. Regardless, its famed beauty and long history have made this timeless town the benchmark for comparing canal-heavy cities, where we get the moniker “Venice of the North.”

So where is the Venice of the North? Well, that’s tricky to figure out since there are at least 37 places in Europe alone that, at some point or another, have been dubbed Venice of the North. So here are our top ten European candidates deserving of the title Venice of the North!

Top 10 Venices of the North

10. Wrocław, Poland

Aerial view of Wroclaw, Poland
Piotr Mitelski / Adobe Stock
  • Population: ~675,000
  • Number of Canals & Waterways: ~15-20

Wrocław is a stunning historic city in southwest Poland on the banks of the Oder River, also known as Poland’s Venice. It’s built on a point where the Oder, Dobra, and Widawa rivers meet, and has several canals carving through the town.

These postcard-perfect waterways are crisscrossed by over 100 bridges. River cruises here are big business. They come in all shapes and sizes, from dinner cruises with live music to private catamaran tours.

Although a major city, Wrocław still deserves hidden gem status. But that is bound to change as it’s becoming one of Europe’s most popular university towns. Almost 20% of Wrocław’s population is made up of students. Little wonder then that Wrocław isn’t just a center of learning but also home to epic nightlife.

9. Strasbourg, France

Barrage Vauban, Strasbourg with pedal boats and flowers
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers
  • Population: 291,500+
  • Number of Canals & Waterways: ~5-10

Strasbourg is another positively ancient city in Alsace, France, home to the enormous Strasbourg Cathedral. Home to a storied history since the ancient Roman occupation, the blend of Franco-German culture seeps through at every turn.

There are several major canals and waterways throughout this family-friendly city. Intended for commerce, they also served as part of the city center’s defenses.

Part of this beautiful city’s appeal is that it also sits on the River Rhine, essentially bordering Germany. This makes it the ideal destination if you’re looking to sample the best of both countries if you’ve only got a short window.

Strasbourg’s city center is largely defined by the River Ile, and its waterways are still used for commercial shipping. They are also big tourist attractions, with river and canal cruises being very popular.

See Related: Best Rhine River Cruises to Book This Year

8. Stockholm, Sweden

Stockholm old town cityscape from City Hall top, Sweden
Mistervlad / Adobe Stock
  • Population: 985,000+
  • Number of Canals & Waterways: ~50 in the city (1000s in the Stockholm Archipelago)

The Swedish capital city of Stockholm is spread across 14 larger islands that are part of what is referred to as the Stockholm Archipelago. Like other Scandinavian cities like Copenhagen and Oslo, there is a huge sailing and boating culture here. One of the main forms of public transportation is ferry.

Sailing around Stockholm in summertime is the best way to admire this cool city. Considering there are around 30,000 islands of all shapes and sizes in the archipelago, you can take thousands of routes to view Stockholm’s unique blend of Medieval, Renaissance, and modern architecture – not to mention its natural beauty.

I highly recommend exploring the Old Town area, historically known as “The City Between the Bridges.” The name still applies, since there are around 60 major bridges crisscrossing the city’s waterways.

See Related: The Arctic Circle Train From Stockholm to Narvik

7. Hamburg, Germany

Hamburg Scenery
NilsZ / Adobe Stock
  • Population: ~1.95 million
  • Number of Canals & Waterways: ~40

The port city of Hamburg certainly deserves the title of Venice of the North if not for the number of canals and navigatable waterways, but certainly in terms of bridges. Hamburg has the largest number of bridges compared with any city in Europe. At around 2,500, it has more bridges than London, Amsterdam, and Venice combined!

The second largest city in Germany after the capital Berlin, Hamburg is a major cultural and historical hub. This popular tourist destination is known for its diverse cuisine, nightlife, and live events.

It’s also a geographical gateway city and also a gateway for English speakers. Part of the British occupation zone after WWII, Hamburg has developed something of an anglophilic vibe. There’s a particularly cute affinity for the Beatles here!

6. Giethoorn, The Netherlands

Boating in Giethoorn, Netherlands
Maurizio De Mattei / Shutterstock
  • Population: 2,800+
  • Number of Canals & Waterways: 4+ mile network

Giethoorn is teeny-tiny but has bunches of character. As well as being one of two towns in the Netherlands named Venice of the North, it’s also known as Dutch Venice. What it lacks in actual canals, it more than makes up for in sheer number of cute bridges and charming houses with traditional thatched roofs.

Giethoorn is an idyllic window into small-town life in the Netherlands, and its canals are a big part of everyday life. It’s almost impossible to drive around Giethoorn and apart from walking or biking, the easiest way to get around the village is by the canals. Many locals own some sort of boat, with canoeing being very popular for leisure and getting around!

5. Copenhagen, Denmark

Scenic Copenhagen boat tour along historical waterfront
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers
  • Population: ~661,000
  • Number of Canals & Waterways: ~10-15

Most of the Danish capital’s commercial canals were dug in the 17th century. Consequently, the coastal city of Copenhagen has many picturesque waterfronts, not to mention a deep-rooted sailing culture.

Complementing a sea of interesting landmarks, attractions, and architecture, it’s also the center of Denmark’s delectable dining scene.

Copenhagen is starting to pop up on more travelers’ radars these days, but it still remains something of a hidden gem. It’s busiest in summer, but you can find cheaper flights in spring or early fall to enjoy lovely mild weather and fewer crowds. Read our full Copenhagen itinerary to make the most of your trip.

4. Colmar, France

Little Venice in Old Town Colmar, France
fottoo / Adobe Stock
  • Population: 67,700+
  • Number of Canals & Waterways: ~5-10

Colmar is another exceptionally well-preserved Medieval town in the Alsace region of France. Despite changing hands between the French and Germans a couple of times (and even being taken by the Swedes once), this historic commune’s fairytale architecture reflects centuries of Franco-German architecture.

The most charming (and photographed) parts of Colmar are the timbered houses and canals of the part of town actually known as Little Venice. Colmar is also a haven for foodies and winos. There are tons of great eateries, and you can source all sorts of delicacies at the Marché couvert Colmar.

3. Bruges, Belgium

Canal at Bruges, Belgium
ecstk22 / Adobe Stock
  • Population: 118,500+
  • Number of Canals & Waterways: ~15-20

Bruges in Belgium is one of the prettiest cities in Northern Europe. This city has historically relied on canals for trade and industry. Again, it’s hard to pin down how many distinct canals there are in Bruges, but quite a few are simply gorgeous.

The Groenerei, Dijver, and Spiegelrei canals are particularly noteworthy and popular with sightseers and photographers. This can be said for most of Bruges, as not only is it beautiful, but Bruges is also one of the best-preserved Medieval cities in the world. Consequently, the historic center is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Perfect for history buffs, foodies, and anyone seeking a quiet destination to dawdle around on foot or via the canals, Bruges is a dream destination for many. It’s also less than an hour from the coast, the famous city of Ghent and the Netherlands!

2. Birmingham, England

Birmingham Canal and Sunset View in England
dudlajzov / Adobe Stock
  • Population: 1.145 million+
  • Number of Canals & Waterways: 35+ miles network in the city (100+ miles in Birmingham area)

Settled since around 8000 BC, Birmingham’s vibe gets better with age. “Brum” is the gateway to England’s Midlands and the second largest city in the United Kingdom after London. Often referred to as the UK’s second city, it’s also been dubbed Venice of the North.

That’s a bit rich, considering this nickname was only bestowed upon Birmingham in a tourism campaign during the late 20th century. This campaign was also sold on the fib that Birmingham has more canals than Venice, which locals often tell anyone giving Birmingham a ribbing!

Historically, Brum has been the butt of many jokes, mostly stemming from its history as a grimy industrial city (think Peaky Blinders). Its extensive canal network was a vital commercial highway through Birmingham to the rest of Great Britain.

Today’s Birmingham is far from grimy – hence why Peaky Blinders is filmed in Liverpool. Brum is a hub of art, culture, shopping, dining, and nightlife. Birmingham also plays host to the UK’s biggest Christmas market!

See Related: A Long Weekend Cruising the Grand Union Canal

1. Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Amsterdam Bloemenmarkt with colorful flowers, canal boat, and Dutch architecture
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers
  • Population: 820,000+
  • Number of Canals & Waterways: 165

Lastly is the city easily most deserving of the title; Amsterdam, the capital city of the Netherlands. In fact, Amsterdam has more canals and far more bridges than Venice – so if anything, you might want to start referring to Venice as the Amsterdam of the South!

Amsterdam is one of our favorite cities and a top destination for all. Rich with a fascinating history, modern Amsterdam is a melting pot of cultures where the old meets the new. There’s so much to do here, (which we’ve written about at length) it’s hard to know where to start.

You’ve got world-class museums, galleries, and celebrated landmarks, as well as hedonistic nightclubs in the Red Light District and dank coffeeshops. You can scoff the brunch of a lifetime, enjoy gentle bike rides around town, or cruise the canals themselves – there’s something for everyone here.

See Related: Where to Stay in Amsterdam: Best Neighborhood and Hotels

FAQ

Where is the Venice of the North

Which one? At least 37 places in Europe alone have been dubbed Venice of the North. The most famous examples are Amsterdam, Birmingham, Bruge, Colmar, and Hamburg.

How Many Canals Are in Venice, Italy?

There are 150 canals in Venice, the most famous being the Grand Canal. There are also 435 bridges.

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