Dug out during the 17th-century Golden Age, the Herengracht (Gentlemen's Canal) takes its name from the wealthy landowners who built properties here. Some buildings lean forward and have hoists in the gables: given the narrowness of the interior staircases, people used these hoists to haul large goods to upper floors.
Just north of the Herengracht, near its intersection with the Brouwersgracht, you'll find the Herenmarkt, a small square that's home to the historic 17th-century West-Indisch Huis, the former headquarters of the Dutch West India Company.
The Herengracht is at its grandest along the Golden Bend in the Southern Canal Ring.
The Herengracht and Keizersgracht might be grander, but locals love to hang out on the Prinsengracht, the liveliest of Amsterdam's inner canals. In summertime you could spend a whole weekend just enjoying its warm-weather charms – exploring the shops and kicking back on its cafe terraces – as boats glide by and houseboats bob against the quays in the breeze. During the chillier months, it's a winter wonderland where (conditions permitting) you might see skaters take to the iced-over canal.
Amsterdam's coolest neighbourhood-within-a-neighbourhood (or two – it straddles the Western Canal Ring and the Jordaan), the Haarlemmerbuurt (www.haarlemmerbuurt-amsterdam.nl) is exploding with restaurants, food shops, designer workshops and boutiques. Its website (in Dutch, but easy to navigate) has an interactive map of Haarlemmerstraat and its western extension, Haarlemmerdijk, and details of one-off events.