3 Canal Cities in Europe That Aren’t Venice


The calm waters of the canals in Bruges. (Image: Pixabay / CC0 1.0)

Venice is arguably the most popular canal city in Europe. However, if you’re planning to visit the city, you might want to consider alternative options. Why? Well, Venice can get extremely congested since it attracts hordes of tourists. As such, you might not get the magical experience you are looking for from canal cities.

And besides, isn’t the beaten path to cliché? Other canal cities that are as beautiful as Venice await you. When it comes to picturesque canal cities, travel buffs will never be short of wonderful destinations in Europe.

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1. Empuriabrava: Girona, Spain

First on our list is Girona’s Empuriabrava. This luxurious marina city perfectly fits the concept of a canal city. Empuriabrava’s beauty cannot be compared to its former self. The site formerly sat on a lush swampland.

In 1964, community leaders planned to renovate it. And after completing the renovation 11 years later, Empuriabrava turned into the stunning “Venice of Spain” that we know  today.

Boats and yachts occupying the canals of Empuriabrava. (Image: Pixabay / CC0 1.0)

With nearly 15 miles of beautiful canals offering picturesque locations, your phone’s storage will likely fill up with photos of the city in no time. Take a road tour and you’ll find excellent views of beautiful residential architecture, some medieval castles, and a few museums. Or you can cut the chase and enjoy the leisure activities on the beach.

Hungry? You can choose from plenty of seafood restaurants in town to dine in. However, some are only open seasonally. So remember to book these places ahead of your trip.

Bruges: Belgium

The combination of winding canals, 15th-century buildings, and ornate churches make for a wonderful trip in Bruges. Declared by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site in 2000, this colorful city used to be a compulsory stop for merchant ships.

From fabrics to Basque and Castilian wools, the thriving merchants in the city dubbed it as the heart of the European economy during Medieval times.

Even to this day, it’s role as a central trade hub remains strong. Bruges’ Zeebrugge is the world’s largest port for vehicle exports and imports. Now, when it comes to exploration, you can either take the boat expeditions or the horse-drawn carriage tours. Both are highly recommended.

The point of visiting the city is to see its canals. So, a boat ride is a must. Even some of the inaccessible parts of the city can be viewed by boat. And let’s be honest, it’s hard to resist the charm of boat rides on romantic waterways, right?

If you want to check out some historical sites, opt for horse-drawn carriages tours. Complete with explanations from the carriage drivers, you’ll pass by museums, ride along the canals, cross the small idyllic bridges, and view the Beguinage where “husbandless, independent women once lived in the past.” Besides the day tours, night tours in horse-drawn carriages are also available.

When it comes to a place to eat, we recommend chef Gert De Mangeleer’s adventurous cuisine at the 3 Michelin-starred Hertog Jan restaurant.

Utrecht: Netherlands

What makes Utrecht standout among other inner-city canals in the world is the wharves. These flat areas along canals allow boats to dock and unload. And just beside these wharves are traditional wharf cellars refurbished into houses, shops, and restaurants.

Utrecht by night. (Image: Pixabay / CC0 1.0)

Exploring Utrecht’s historic and unique areas only takes a day since the inner canal ring stretches for less than four miles. Whether you take the boat or walk along the streets, every picture you take here will be perfect.

Occasionally, when you take a stroll, you’ll come upon locals greeting from their terraces with a beer at hand. Their friendliness fits perfectly with this wanderlust of a place.

When your visit is almost done, kiss Utrecht goodbye in the Dom Tower because this is where you’ll find the best vista of the city. But this will require a bit of effort from your side — 465 steps are what it takes to make it to the top of the tallest church steeple in the Netherlands.

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