Canal communities: Europe’s other ‘Venices’

black and white aerial photograph of Venice

Venice’s reputation for beauty is world renowned. Its ancient history, canals and architecture have been celebrated by travellers, artists and writers for centuries.

EXPLORE MORE: Discover artistic views of Venice in this gallery

Outside Italy, there are many towns and cities across Europe that also share Venice’s reputation. These canal-crossed communities can be known as Little Venice, Venices of the North or Venices of the East.

Let’s explore some of Europe’s ‘other Venices’.

Little Venice, London

A neighbourhood near Paddington station in the west of London, centred around the junction of three canals, is known as Little Venice.

A small basin is formed by the Paddington Arm of the Grand Union Canal, the Regent’s Canal and a short canal that connects to the Paddington Basin. Regency architecture, with white stucco facades, line the nearby streets, while many houseboats are permanently moored in the area.

The origins of the name are disputed – some attribute it to poet Robert Browning, some claim it was coined by Lord Byron.

Wrocław, Poland

Wrocław, the fourth largest city in Poland, is surrounded by rivers and canals. The city is built on 12 islands on the Odra river with more than 100 bridges, giving it the nickname the Polish Venice.

In 2016, Wrocław was the European Capital of Culture along with San Sebastián / Donostia.

EXPLORE MORE: Read about the European Capital of Culture initiative

Birmingham, England

Birmingham is the second-largest city in England, booming and expanding during the Industrial Revolution.

By the 1820s, the city had constructed an extensive canal system. In fact, Birmingham has more miles of canal than Venice, although in Birmingham, the canals are less prominent.

Aveiro, Portugal

Aveiro is a coastal town to the south of Porto in Portugal. It is known as the Portuguese Venice due to a network of canals which was completed in the early 1800s.

Boats known as barcos moliceiros – once used for collecting moliço seaweed – now carry visitors on trips along the canals.

EXPLORE MORE: Art Nouveau in Aveiro: a walk through the city

Giethoorn, The Netherlands

Countless towns and and cities across The Netherlands are known for their canals, with Giethoorn in Overijssel known as a village Venice of the Netherlands.

This small village of around 2,600 people is crossed by picturesque canals and 150 bridges, with some parts only accessible by boat.

Colmar, France

Colmar in the Alsace region of France is another town with an area known as Little Venice (‘Petit Venise’).

Formerly an area where butchers, tanners and fishmongers operated, it is crossed by canals from the river Lauch.

Ålesund, Norway

Ålesund is a town in the west of Norway, noted for Art Nouveau architecture. The town centre is located across a number of islands with narrow harbour inlets, and though known to some as a ‘Venice of the North’, there are no actual canals.

EXPLORE MORE: Read our exhibition ‘Art Nouveau: a universal style’

By Adrian Murphy, Europeana Foundation

This blog is part of Europeana’s Discovering Europe season featuring cultural jewels and hidden gems from across the continent.

Feature image: View of Venezia, KU Leuven, Public Domain

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