When you think of a city of canals, chances are Venice comes to mind. And for good reason: There are 150 waterways criss-crossing this historic Italian City, including the UNESCO-designated Grand Canal. While Venice is undeniably one of the most beautiful cities in the world, it’s definitely not the only canal town out there. Check out these five charming canal cities that aren’t Venice.
Giethoorn, The Netherlands
Next to Venice, Amsterdam is one of the most well-known canal cities in the world. If you’ve been to Amsterdam or are looking for something smaller and more charming, head to Giethoorn, which is less than a two-hour drive from Amsterdam. This primarily car-free spot — known for its beautiful canals and thatched-roof houses — is sometimes referred to as the “Dutch Venice.” There are lush footpaths and bike trails around Giethoorn that make it feel like the Dutch village popped out of the pages of a fairy tale.
Join a scheduled canal tour or rent one of the electric boats that seat two to three people and explore on your own. Remember to be respectful of people’s privacy as you are walking or boating around, and do not trespass onto people’s yards. Giethoorn is not a tourist village, it is a functioning town with around 2,600 year-round residents.
On the outskirts of Mexico City lies Xochimilco, which translates to “the place where flowers grow” in Spanish. However, many people also call the suburb the “Venice of the New World.” You won’t find elaborate Byzantine and Venetian Gothic-style architecture here, but you will see the remnants of a vast Aztecan water transport system. A series of human-made islands (known as “chinampas”) built for agricultural purposes create a canal network in a shallow lake.
Xochimilco was designated as an official UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987 for its historical and cultural significance. Locals have been cruising the canal network, ferrying goods around in flat-bottom boats called trajineras, for centuries. Today, you can book festive, scenic tours on the brightly colored trajineras. Passing boat traffic includes serenading mariachis, vendors selling tacos and trinkets, and celebrating families — especially on Sundays.
Bruges is another stunning canal town located in the Flemish region of Belgium. It dates back to the ninth century and was founded by the Vikings. Its link between the river Zwin and the North Sea made it an important international trading port. Bruges features quaint cobblestone streets and gorgeous bridges. Gabled homes line many of the canals that form a moat around the fairy tale town.
Some of Bruges’ canals date back to the 1100s. Explore the inner canals, which form a leisurely two-mile walk that takes you past some of the most romantic views and picturesque old streets. Walking around Bruges today, it’s hard to imagine that by the mid-1800s it was the poorest city in Belgium. It was tourism in the 20th century that helped breathe new life into this historical gem.
Scenic canals, historical buildings and castles abound in Annecy, but it raises the bar for other canal towns with its stunning turquoise lake and surrounding mountain scenery. Annecy is in the Haute-Savoie region near Lac d’Annecy, which is the third-largest lake in France and is bordered by the French Alps. Vieille Ville may have more canals than roadways, and each one is lined by beautiful pastel buildings. One of the most iconic photo spots includes the 12th-century Palais de l’Ile, located on a triangular turn of the main Canal du Thiou.
The city of Alappuzha is nestled deep in the southern Indian state of Kerala. A true “water city,” Alappuzha is famous for its network of interconnected backwater channels, boat races, beaches, and maritime commerce. The region is also known for its houseboat cruises that letvisitors explore the watery thoroughfares.
The biggest houseboats stick to the primary river “highways” that feature the heaviest traffic and most easily accessible tourism sites. However, the smaller vessels branch out and let you go beyond the basic routes to fully explore the incredible geography the region is known for.