POTW: Amsterdam’s Magere Brug, the Skinny Bridge

The most famous bridge in Amsterdam is lovely, but the “Skinny Bridge” is not really all that skinny anymore.

There’s a reason Amsterdam is called the “Venice of the North.” Riddled with canals and the Amstel River as it is, it has more bridges than any other city in the world… yes, far more than Venice. All this water criss-crossing the city wherever you look calls for hundreds—thousands—of bridges. Some accounts put the number as low as 1250, others at twice that. Apparently, Venice rings up a measly 400. Perhaps Venice should be called the “Amsterdam of the South.”

Arguably the most famous of those hundreds of Amsterdam bridges is the Magere Brug, which translates as the Skinny Bridge.

The Skinny Bridge--Magere Brug--in Amsterdam

The delicate drawbridge called the Skinny Bridge
is the most famous bridge in Amsterdam.

“Throughout the city there are as many canals and drawbridges as bracelets on a Gypsy’s bronzed arms.”
~Felix Marti-Ibanez, Spanish author

The pretty and delicate-looking white wood structure is a double-swipe “bascule” bridge, which means it uses a counterweight system to make opening and closing its two drawbridge “leaves” easy. That’s a good thing because it opens and closes a lot—on average every 20 minutes throughout the day. A common and perfectly legitimate excuse for being late for an appointment in Amsterdam is “The bridge was open!”

Those of us from the true Nomad Women generation might remember the bridge from the 1971 James Bond film Diamonds Are Forever. Ah, for the days of the only real James Bond—and we all know that was the one and only Sean Connery. Seldom mentioned in stories of the bridge is its unhappier memory. It was used as an accumulation point for Dutch Jews about to be shipped east during the Nazi occupation of World War II.

The Skinny Bridge’s first incarnation was built over the River Amstel in 1691. It was apparently so narrow two pedestrians could barely pass each other when crossing the span, creating its popular nickname. If you take one of the famous rondvaart canal boat tours—and you really should—the tour guide will likely tell you a charming but apocryphal story of its name. It goes something like this….

A Delightful Story

Once upon a time, there were two sisters whose family name was Mager. They loved each other very much and insisted on meeting each morning for that much beloved Dutch custom of koffie en koekjes. But getting to each other for this coffee-and-cookies tradition was difficult because they lived on opposite sides of the River Amstel. And so they built a bridge to connect with each other more easily… Poof! The Magere Brug came into being.

The truth is more prosaic, as it so often is. With commerce burgeoning during the 17th-century Golden Age, there was always a need for more means of getting around, running hither and yon, doing business, moving things, making money.

The Skinny Bridge has been rebuilt a few times over its life, first in 1871, when the decrepit little old thing was also widened to allow for more traffic. Fifty years later, the city tried to replace it with a steel and stone construction, but the outcry from the tradition-loving Dutch was loud and long. The new-fangled design was scrapped. The last reconstruction was in 1969, still keeping to the original design. Since 2003, the Skinny Bridge has been closed to all traffic except pedestrians and bicycles.

The bridge is high enough for the low-profile rondvaart boats to pass under it, and it’s pleasant to stand in the center of the span and watch them float past below, especially in the evening when both the bridge and the boats are illuminated.

A Bonus Photo – The Skinny Bridge at Night

The Skinny Bridge in Amsterdam, lit up at night

Amsterdam’s Skinny Bridge is illuminated at night by some 1200 white lights.
Photo copyright Nico Aguilera. CC License

You can find the Magere Brug/Skinny Bridge between the Keizsersgracht and the Prinsengracht, where the Kerkstraat meets the river on the east side and connects it to the Nieuwe Kerkstraat on the west. Take trams 9 or 14 or metro line 54 to Waterlooplein, then walk toward the Amstel. If you need to ask directions, you’ll find that virtually everyone you meet in Amsterdam speaks English.

13 replies
  1. Anda
    Anda says:

    Nice story of the Skinny Bridge. I’ve never been in Amsterdam but I’d very much like to visit it. From all I’ve read this is a very picturesque city with a lot of interesting sites to see.

    • Donna
      Donna says:

      In Amsterdam, really all you have to do is start walking. You will have interesting and beautiful things in your face at every step and turn!

  2. Henrique
    Henrique says:

    Hi, I like to watch your pictures and read the stories; thanks for that. I need to reply to this one. It is not amusing to lock up your little kids bike; it is a shame that we need to do that in our country (I am from the Netherlands, live in a city called Tilburg, in the south). If you do not lock it up, it will be stolen!

    • Donna
      Donna says:

      Thanks for your comment, Henrique. I agree that it is sad that bikes need to be locked–or even double or triple locked there. Since in Amsterdam there are more bikes than people, I can never understand why about 100,000 bikes are still stolen every year. If there is more than one bike for every person, who is stealing them and why? I almost had a bike stolen in Amsterdam years ago. I heard him breaking the lock in time and ran out of the apartment screaming like a crazy woman and he ran away. It’s a pity. By the way, I have been in Tilburg It is a lovely town.

  3. Raquel
    Raquel says:

    Love the story of the sisters! I will have to look this up. I am finally going back to Amsterdam and I have not been in over 30 years. I am excited to see how it has changed since I visited in high school back in the 80’s. Love your blog!
    Raquel recently posted…Green Chili and Chicken SoupMy Profile

    • Donna
      Donna says:

      Thanks Raquel. When will you be in Amsterdam? I will be there from about May 25th to June 7th. I lived there almost a year in 1971. I was also there last fall, for my first visit in at least 25 years. I even managed to find 3 old friends there from 43 years ago and saw them all. It was wonderful! It was like going home. I can’t wait to be back there soon.

  4. Lawrence Block
    Lawrence Block says:

    As it happens, New York City has “over 2000 bridges and tunnels,” and there aren’t all that many tunnels. We’ll be in Amsterdam st the mid-point of our cruise, somewhere around the 12th of August. It’s a beautiful city to walk in, but a perilous one; uneven sidewalk pavement can cause a nasty fall—as I can attest to from personal experience two years ago.

    • Donna
      Donna says:

      Thanks for that info, Larry. Hmmm, where do you suppose all those bridges are? Does that include El trains. maybe? I hope you and Lynn have a great time in Amsterdam. Just a note: narrow and steep Amsterdam staircases can also cause a nasty fall–as I can attest to from personal experience 40+ years ago. Let’s both not try that again, OK? I want to keep you guys around for awhile yet.

  5. Shane Long
    Shane Long says:

    The former Skinny Bridge is now a popular tourist spot for walkers, cyclists, and car drivers alike. It’s a beautiful and sturdy bridge that still looks amazing today.


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