Venice could well be the world's most famous canal town: it's hard to imagine canals without envisioning the Italian city's winding waterways, gracefully arched bridges, sputtering vaporettos and striped gondoliers. Its beautiful canals are no secret, which is part of Venice's problem—every day, over 60,000 tourists flood the city's tiny streets. Venice's popularity as a tourist destination has led some advocacy groups—and UNESCO—to worry about its future. In 2009, Venice's permanent residents held a mock funeral for the city, which doubled as a sort of protest against tourism. Now, with massive cruise ships bringing even more tourists into the area, there's renewed concern that the large ships could even be compromising Venice's buildings and infrastructure.
If you dream of sauntering across picturesque canals, but want to avoid Venice's crowds, you're in luck: canals have been used since Mesopotamia, and there are beautiful canals in nearly every corner of the globe. Here are ten especially wonderful canal towns that aren't Venice.
Beautiful canals probably aren't the first thing you associate with Amsterdam, but they should be—Amsterdam actually has more canals than Venice. The first canals were built in the Middle Ages, as a source of transportation and defense. Radiating out from the city's core, Amsterdam has four main canals: the Singel, the Herengracht, the Keizergracht and the Prinsengracht. The Herengracht and Keizergracht were both built to create new neighborhoods for Amsterdam's wealthy, while the smaller Prinsengracht was meant for the middle-class. Today, you can see Amsterdam's classic gabled architecture along any of the canals. In 2009, UNESCO named Amsterdam's central canal ring a World Heritage site.