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The world's most magical canal cities

Here are eight cities that provide charming riverfront views and gondola rides
/ Source: Independent Traveler

Everyone swoons over Venice's celebrated canals and bridges — but did you know that there are dozens of other canal cities across the globe that are known as the "Venice of" their respective locations? (Think "the Venice of the North," "the Venice of the East," even "the Venice of Mali.") Sure, there's only one real Venice, but these other watery cities offer plenty of charms of their own, from riverfront palaces to classical Chinese pagodas — and even gondola rides! Read on to learn about eight of our favorite canal cities around the globe.

Delft, Netherlands

Fun Fact: The 17th-century painter Johannes Vermeer lived in this serenely beautiful Dutch city, and his well-known "View of Delft" captures its picturesque buildings and canals.

What to Do: Delft is perfect for strolling. Wander along the canals and cobblestone streets to see sights like the Nieuwe Kerk (New Church, dating to 1510) and the Oostpoort, the only remaining gate from the city's ancient walls.

Suzhou, China

Fun Fact: Suzhou's historic district, filled with narrow canals, historic pagodas and exquisite gardens, is protected by the government of China; no skyscrapers may be built here.

What to Do: Evening boat tours are one of the most romantic ways to experience Suzhou's canals and bridges. By day, wander through the city's many classical gardens, which are collectively recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Fort Lauderdale, Florida

Fun Fact: Fort Lauderdale is located on the Intracoastal Waterway, a 3,000-mile network of bays, inlets, sounds and canals that runs along the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts of the United States.

What to Do: You don't need to go all the way to Italy to take a traditional gondola ride — you can also do it right here in Fort Lauderdale (see GondolaMan.com for details). You can also zip around this sunny city by water taxi or take a sightseeing boat tour.

Birmingham, England

Fun Fact: Birmingham has more miles of canals than Venice.

What to Do: Birmingham's historic canals — once vital to the city's commerce during the Industrial Revolution of the 19th century — are now primarily a tourist attraction. You can walk along the towpaths, eat lunch at a waterfront restaurant, browse the shops along the canals or take a sightseeing cruise.

BIRMINGHAM, UNITED KINGDOM - SEPTEMBER 4: Prime Minister David Cameron runs along the Worcester and Birmingham Canal on the morning of October 4, 2010 in Birmingham, United Kingdom. Cameron is in Birmingham for the Conservative Party's annual conference.WPA Pool / Getty Images Europe

Alappuzha, India

Fun Fact: Alappuzha (traditionally known as Alleppey) is the gateway to the backwater region of Kerala, on India's southwestern coast. "Snake boat" races are held here every summer, featuring long, narrow boats propelled by as many as 100 local rowers.

What to Do: Take a boat tour or stay in a traditional houseboat and explore the region's rivers, lagoons and canals. These tranquil waters are lined with palms and offer a glimpse into local industries like shrimp farming and coir making (coir fibers are harvested from coconuts and used to produce rope, floor mats and other products).

Gold Coast, Australia

Fun Fact: Gold Coast is best known for its spectacular beaches, but the city also has some 250 miles of canals — lined with thousands of waterfront homes.

What to Do: Thrill seekers can go jetboating through Gold Coast's waterways at speeds up to 50 miles per hour (see JetboatExtreme.com.au). Too fast for your blood? Try a kayaking excursion or take a dinner cruise.

Mopti, Mali

Fun Fact: The fourth-largest city in the Western African nation of Mali, Mopti is situated on three islands linked by dikes.

What to Do: Spend some time observing the goings-on at Mopti's lively port, where locals build boats and unload cargo that's freshly arrived from elsewhere in Mali. Then arrange for a boat tour along the Niger or Bani Rivers.

St. Petersburg, Russia

Fun Fact: On scheduled nights between April and November, St. Petersburg's historic bridges over the River Neva are raised to allow ships to pass under them — a fascinating scene to watch, especially during "White Nights" in late June, when the sky never goes fully dark.

What to Do: You can ride public ferries up and down the Neva to see its magnificent palaces and monuments, but you'll get a more intimate look at the city by taking a canal tour to explore St. Petersburg's narrower waterways and beautiful bridges.