The northern sectors of the Grachtengordel canal ring center around Amsterdam's beloved Jordaan (pronounced Yore-dahn). Although this cozy, scenic, and singular neighborhood's working-class roots have long sprouted branches of gentrification, it remains an area rich in picturesque canals and historic courtyards—a wanderer's paradise.

While this once-poor district has had one of the city's most colorful histories, today the Jordaan (the name probably derives from the French for garden, jardin) has moved steadily upmarket. Its 1895 population of 80,000, which made it one of the densest in Europe, has declined to a mere 14,000, and the whole area has been greatly gentrified. But in many ways, the Jordaan will always remain the Jordaan, even though its narrow alleys and leafy canals are now lined with quirky specialty shops, excellent restaurants, galleries, and designer boutiques, especially along the streets of Tweede Anjeliersdwarstraat, Tuinstraat, and Egelanteirsstraat. Directly south of the Jordaan, marking the midpoint of the Grachtengordel, is the bustling Leidseplein, Amsterdam's vortex for the performing arts, with street performers, music venues, theaters, and jazz bars.

The Leidseplein is the tourist center of the city and, like Rembrandtplein, is surrounded by cheap eateries and bars, their terraces packed with visitors and shoppers set for the Leidsestraat. Cafés like Reijnders (Leidseplein 6), Eijlders (Korte Leidsedwarsstraat 47), and the Art Deco American Hotel (keep an eye out for the statue of the woodcutter in the trees nearby) are more authentic, less tacky respites.

If you walk down the alleyway to the right of the white Stadsschouwberg theater (Leidseplein 26), past the Melkweg and Sugar Factory (nighttime music/theater/happening venues) and over the Leidsegracht, you have reached the southern perimeter of the Jordaan. Built to house canal-belt construction workers in the 17th century, the city's smellier industries such as tanning and brewing were also banished here. Living conditions were overcrowded and squalid, and the inhabitants gained a reputation for rebelliousness and community spirit. Elandsgracht was one of several canals hereabouts that were filled in for sanitary reasons in the 19th century. Today, fancy shops have moved in, including, at the other end of the street, De Looier Indoor Antiques Market (Elandsgracht 109). North of the Rozengracht, the Jordaan becomes even more scenic. Once home to the lumpenproletariat, the neighborhood is now a gentrified paradise.