A canal cruise is a must when visiting Amsterdam. The city’s 17th-century grachtengordel, or canal ring, built more than 400 years ago is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the things Amsterdam is most famous for. I’ve done many canal cruises over the years, but none with such a unique perspective or that stood out more than the Black Heritage Amsterdam Tour. It’s no wonder that Conde Nast named it one of the top 5 tours of Amsterdam.

Black Heritage Amsterdam

The Black Heritage Amsterdam Tour is the first tour of its kind in the Netherlands and takes visitors along Amsterdam’s ‘canal belt’, revealing the hidden histories of the city and the contributions of the African Diaspora to Dutch society from the 16th century to the present seen from historical buildings, canal house museums, city landmarks, and fine art.


The tour is the vision of founder and tour guide Jennifer Tosch. A desire to learn more about her Surinamese parents who grew up in Amsterdam, lead Jennifer to the Summer School on Black Europe, an intensive study program that focuses on the impact of historical and colonial legacies on the African diaspora in Europe.
Jennifer Tosch, Black Heritage Amsterdam Tours founder and tour guide, reveals the hidden history of the city.

While participating in this program Jennifer discovered the role Africans have played in Amsterdam’s history, as well as the rarely acknowledged role the Dutch played in the slave trade and developed the tour as a way to tell the story.

The tour starts at the World War II monument in Dam Square, which is the historical center of Amsterdam.


The tour starts at the World War II monument in Dam Square, which is the historical center of Amsterdam. We take a short walk from Dam Square to Singelgracht, one of the oldest streets in Amsterdam, looking every bit the tourist as we constantly look up and take note of the African images and symbolism that is literally carved into the architecture.
The hidden history of Amsterdam can be seen from historical buildings, canal houses, city landmarks, and fine art.
One of the images I found most interesting was the Vergulde Gaper. These images of Moors displayed with an open mouth with a pill resting on his tongue were placed on the front of buildings to indicate that the building was a pharmacy.
The Vergulde Gaper has a pill resting on his tongue, and was placed on the front of buildings to indicate that the building was a pharmacy.

The apothecary would travel to markets, taking his assistant, often dressed as a Moor – symbolizing the exotic origin of the medicines – who would pretend to be ill. After taking a pill, the assistant would feel better and perform a dance. In later times when apothecaries stopped traveling and opened shops, the Vergulde Gaper served as a sort of billboard for the pharmacy.

The hidden history of people of African descent seen on the Black Amsterdam Heritage Tour includes the first Ethiopian baptized into Christianity in the Bible. He was also 2nd in command to the queen of Ethiopia.

For the canal cruise portion of the tour, guests board a classic canal boat which takes us past the stately mansions that line Amsterdam’s storied canals, many of which were used as storage facilities to house the goods the seafaring Dutch brought back from the Far East. We passed a house with a commemorative plaque out front noting that it was a former sugar factory. We also passed a number of houses owned by families and businesses whose wealth, according to public records, was a result of their participation in the slave trade.

Black Heritage Amsterdam Tours last between 2 – 3 hours and Jennifer, who is extremely passionate about the subject, provides you with a wealth of information. 
For information on Black Heritage Tours visit the website.

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Named one of the top tours of Amsterdam by Conde Nast, the Black Heritage Amsterdam Tour offers a unique perspective on the history of the city.

Updated 2019