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“To the canals of Amsterdam I have pledged my whole heart”

Each August Amsterdam is home to the Grachtenfestival (Canal Festival) — a series of concerts on and around the city’s famous canals.

The final concert always takes place right where the tradition began: at Prinsengracht.

And every year the finale of the Prinsengracht concert always ends the same way: with a rendition of a song all true Amsterdammers know by heart:

The Prinsengrachtconcert traditionally closes with an ode to the canals of Amsterdam

The Canal Festival started when Hotel Pulitzer — an upscale hotel at the Prinsengracht — organized a piano concert atop a huge barge docked in the canal, across from its front entrance.

Over the years that one recital has grown into an event that lasts 10 days and includes concerts at over 50 locations — ranging from private canal house salons to outdoor concerts along the canals and the IJ river.

The 2014 edition marked the event’s 33th anniversary — although we should point out that in its current, much expanded format it was the 17th.

The finale always takes place at Prinsengracht. Hundreds of boats fill the canal around the podium (which is built on top of barges) and thousands of people line the quays and bridges.

That concert — broadcast live on national TV — traditionally finishes with an ode to Amsterdam, a song called “Aan de Amsterdamse Grachten.”

The concert’s top-billed artist will sing his-or-her rendition of the song, while tens of thousands of Amsterdammers join in.

This is, after all, not just any song: if Amsterdam were a country, this song would surely be its national anthem.

Here’s the 2013 rendition, by tenor Joseph Calleja accompanied by the Koninklijk Concertgebouworkest, directed by Antonio Pappano.

Lyrics: Ode to the Canals of Amsterdam

A somewhat inadequate English-language translation of the song:

[Refrain] To the canals of Amsterdam
I have pledged my whole heart
Amsterdam fills my thoughts
As our country’s most beautiful city

All those Amsterdam people
All lights late in the evening on the square
Nobody can wish for anything better
Than to be an Amsterdammer

A house stands at a canal in old Amsterdam
Where as a boy of eight I visited my grandmother
Now I see an unfamiliar man in the front room
And that lovely attic has also been turned into an office

Only the trees dream, high above the traffic
And over the water sails a boat, just like back then

The song was written by Pieter Goemans, who said he was inspired to do so while crossing a bridge over the Leidsegracht where it intersects Prinsengracht. That was in 1949.

Prinsengracht, Amsterdam

Prinsengracht, where it crosses Leidsegracht. This is the spot that inspired “Amsterdam’s anthem”


After Goemans died, in 2000, his ashes were scattered at the intersection of Prinsengracht and Leidsegracht. A sign commemorating his song was also installed at the bridge.

sign marks the spot along the canals that inspired the song Aan de Amsterdamse Grachten

A sign marks the spot that inspired Pieter Goemans to write his famous song, “Aan de Amsterdamse Grachten.”

Many singers have covered Goeman’s famous song, but older Amsterdammers particularly like the version performed by Dutch folk singer Tante Leen. Listen to her while watching photos of old Amsterdam:

Pen name

By the way, Goemans wrote the song under the pen name Peter Shott.

The story goes that his father was an ambassador, who thought that his son’s involvement with what he considered the somewhat ‘shady’ world of entertainment might reflect poorly on his carefully-built reputation. Shott was the maiden name of Goemans’ mother.

The missing verse

For some reason most of the artists who have performed the song have left out one of its verses:

I have traveled a lot and at an early age have seen the world
And afterwards I never got tired of traveling.
But somewhere a deep longing remained in me
For Holland’s coast and the city at Amstel and IJ
Where tall trees are enthroned high above the traffic
And over the water sails a boat, just like back then

Prinsengrachtconcert 2016

The 2016 edition of the Prinsengrachtconcert takes place on August 20, from 9:00 pm to 11:00 pm (21:00 – 23:00).

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This post was last updated: Mar. 22, 2016