Why is Amsterdam Called The Venice of the North? (Plus Other Names The City Could Go By)



Cities around the world have nicknames. New York City is the “Big Apple” or the “City That Never Sleeps.” Paris is known as the “City of Light.” These nicknames are earned because of the city’s reputation over the years or because people want to advertise their city. For example, San Diego is nicknamed “America’s Finest City” because Mayor Pete Wilson was upset that San Diego didn’t get chosen as the site of the 1972 Republican National Convention. So, he nicknamed San Diego “America’s Finest City” as a way to tell Republican bigwigs off and encourage people to visit the city. It worked, and now San Diego is one of the most visited cities in the United States.

As for Amsterdam, there are several nicknames attributed to the city in the Netherlands. One of the most famous nicknames it goes by is “The Venice of the North.” Let’s explore why Amsterdam is called the Venice of the North. We’re also going to explore the other nicknames it could go by and the things to do in Amsterdam when you visit.

Where is Amsterdam?

Bicycles lining a bridge over the canals of Amsterdam, Netherlands
There are more than 880,000 bicycles in Amsterdam, which is nearly the number of inhabitants of the city.


Amsterdam is located in the Dutch province of North Holland. The city is situated in the western part of the Netherlands, a close distance to the sea. The Netherlands is in Western Europe and borders Germany and Belgium. The most populous city in the Netherlands, about 920,000 people are living in Amsterdam, but the metropolitan area has more than 2.4 million people. The city has a total area of 84.68 square miles, of which 20.68 square miles of it is water. Amsterdam means “Dam on the River Amstel” because Amsterdam is located at the mouth of the river where dams were built to stop flooding.

Venice of the North

City center of Amsterdam from the sky (aerial photo)
Because of its many canals in the city, Amsterdam has more than 2,500 houseboats floating around.

©Joost Adriaanse/Shutterstock.com

Venice has canals serving as transportation waterways all over the city. It’s a picturesque city that has captivated millions of people around the world. Everyone who goes to Venice gets on a gondola ride and takes pictures of the typical Italian buildings. If you travel hundreds of miles northwest, you will run into another city that has canals, much like the ones in Venice: Amsterdam.

Amsterdam has 165 canals and more than 1,500 bridges connecting each of the 90 islands in the city. There are about 62 miles of canals in the city, as well. The most popular and famous canals are the Keizersgracht, the Prinsengracht, and the Herengracht canals. Some cars are allowed in Amsterdam, which is not the case in Venice. The municipal government is slowly taking action to allow vehicles into the city because of the rising sea level.

Many of the canals in Amsterdam were built in the 1600s when the population in the city was starting to grow. As the canals were built and connected the city, this allowed for more influx of people and the population of Amsterdam boomed. Today, canals serve many purposes, from transportation to tourism. And there are people still living in houseboats today.

Other Cities Nicknamed “Venice of the North”

The nickname “Venice of the North” wasn’t just exclusive to Amsterdam. In fact, in several cities throughout Northern Europe, there are canals like the ones found in Amsterdam or Venice. Here are some other cities that have been called or call themselves “Venice of the North.”

  • Ålesund, Norway
  • Amiens, France
  • Birmingham, UK
  • Bruge, Belgium
  • Colmar, France
  • Cork, Ireland
  • Copenhagen, Denmark
  • Gdánk, Poland
  • Hamburg, Germany
  • Leeds, UK
  • Lübeck, Germany
  • Manchester, UK
  • Passau, Germany
  • Saint Petersburg, Russia
  • Stockholm, Sweden
  • Strasbourg, France
  • Wroclaw, Poland

Other Nicknames the City Has

Amsterdam bikes walk canal pride gay rainbow
Amsterdam is known for being a bastion of progressivism. It legalized marriage equality in 2001, becoming the first city in the world to do so.

©Kai D. Wright/iStock via Getty Images

Like many other cities in the world, there isn’t just one nickname that people call Amsterdam. Sometimes nicknames are formed to shorten the city’s name. For example, New York City is NYC or NY. When it comes to Amsterdam, the city has various nicknames that shorten its name. Amsti, Ams, Dam, and Adam are the most popular ones. As you can tell, all of them are just a shortened version of Amsterdam.

But there is one more nickname Amsterdam has that is quite historical and coined centuries ago when Jews were being expelled from other countries.


The word “Mokum” means safe haven in Yiddish. This term has been used for centuries to describe Amsterdam and what it means for Jewish people. The term captivated more popularity during and after World War II, however. When the Nazis were rounding up Jews and sending them to their deaths in concentration camps, a few brave souls in Amsterdam and elsewhere housed many Jews in secret. One such Jewish girl was Anne Frank, who lived for several years in the Miep House which is now a museum in the city. 

But the nickname was coined long ago, before the horrors of the Holocaust. About 500 years ago, Amsterdam was one of the few cities that welcomed displaced Jews from Spain and Portugal. The Spanish Inquisition was rampant, banning Jewish people from certain places, having them wear signs to mark them, and even killing them for not practicing Roman Catholicism. It was very reminiscent of the Holocaust that would unfold once more 400 years later.

Today, less than 30,000 Jewish people live in Amsterdam. It’s far less than the 102,000 Dutch Jews who were murdered in the Holocaust. But the term “Mokum” still lives on with more pride than ever.

Things to Do in Amsterdam

Traditional dutch pastry called Tompouce with orange top layer and dutch flag, which is typically eaten during King's Day celebrations
Amsterdam, unlike the Netherlands as a whole, permits the use and possession of marijuana, as well as the sale of small amounts of marijuana in licensed coffee shops.

©Milos Ruzicka/iStock via Getty Images

Amsterdam is a world-class city and one of the most popular cities in the world. Tourism is at an all-time high and Amsterdam receives millions of them every year. Because of this, much of the city has ensured that things are catered to visitors. There are canal cruises, walking tours, bike tours, and other types of ways to tour around the “Venice of the North.”

Specifically, you have to hit certain sights to make sure you have the full Amsterdam experience. For those who love museums, go to the Anne Frank Museum to learn about the Jewish girl who was murdered in the Holocaust. You’ll be able to walk through the several stories of where she lived. You should also head to the Van Gogh Museum where you can learn about the artist’s life and see many of his famous paintings.

For those who love flowers, go to the floating flower market called Bloemenmarkt to see the tulips up close. Beer lovers can peruse through the Heineken Experience and even try a beer at the end of the tour. Lastly, walk around the Red Light District, have a stroopwafel overlooking a canal, or peek inside a coffee shop.


And there you have it, Amsterdam is called the Venice of the North because of the many canals it has. There is a striking resemblance to Venice, but also other cities around Europe. The canals have put Amsterdam on the spot, as well. Amsterdam is one of the most visited cities in the world. People flock to the city to visit its museums, walk along the canals, and experience Amsterdam at its fullest.

If you find yourself in Amsterdam, explore its sights and enjoy everything around you. It’s a magical city that makes you feel safe and welcomes you with open arms because it’s full of diversity and inclusion. And when you walk along the canal, think about how Amsterdam is the “Venice of the North.”


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