The charm of Amsterdam is its canals and the distinctive homes that cast their reflections on the mostly smooth waters. The canals are easy to explore but the homes, or “grachtenpand” as the Dutch call them, are mostly private, so exploring their unique characteristics is limited to gazing at facades.
Even from a canal-side perspective, though, you can learn a bit about the homes and why their design is unique to this part of the world. For instance, you will note that the facades are quite narrow. This, and most of the distinct features of canal houses, is driven by a long history of flooding: an unfortunate characteristic of the low-lying Netherlands that the city has been fighting for more than 1,000 years. A narrow building means less frontage to protect when water overflows the banks. Consequently, over time, homes became narrow and deep to compensate.
Next you will notice that a few steps up to the front door is the norm. That gives an extra measure of protection when the water rises, protecting the first floor and above from damage. This would be especially important for the stately homes where the all-important parlor floor contained valuables and elaborate decorations to impress guests as they arrived.