Everyone has heard of the mighty Suez Canal in Egypt connecting the Mediterranean Sea with the Red Sea/Indian Ocean and the Panama Canal connecting the Atlantic Ocean with the Pacific Ocean. But there are more canals in the world, like the dramatic Corinth Canal in Greece and the Kiel Canal across northern Germany cutting off Denmark from Europe.

If one is planning on visiting Denmark or Germany, consider adding the Kiel Canal to one's bucket list of destinations. One can sail through it or just drive along it. It is often one of the great unsung feats of German Engineering. It is one of the more unusual attractions to visit while in Germany.


History And Background of The Kiel Canal

The precursor 43-kilometer Eiderkanal was completed in 1784 by Denmark’s King Christian VII (Schleswig and Holstein were then Danish). It was part of a 175 km waterway from Kiel to the Eider mouth at Tönning at the west coast. But it was insufficient for the growing size of the ships being only 29 meters wide at the surface and only 3 meters deep.

  • Eiderkanal: The Small Danish Precursor Canal
  • Limit: The Eiderkanal As Limited to Vessels Of Only 300 Tons

In 1887, soon after German unification, work began on the much larger canal. The foundation stone was laid by Emperor Wilhelm I on 3rd June 1887. It was completed in 1895 - 8 years after construction started and employed up to 8,900 workers. The canal was later widened between 1907 and 1914.

  • German Imperial Yacht "Hohenzollern": The First Ship To Innaugrate The Canal in 1895 With Emperor Wilhelm II On Board

Related: Can Traveling By Cargo Ship Be Free? (& Other Useful Travel Tips)

The Size Of The Kiel Canal

The Kiel Canal was originally known as the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Kanal but was changed to Nord-Ostsee Kanal (North to East Baltic Sea Canal). The Kiel Canal is 61 miles or 98 kilometers long and runs through the northern German state of Schleswig-Holstein.

  • Official Name: Nord-Ostsee Kanal (North to East Baltic Sea Canal)
  • Connects: The North Sea With The Baltic Sea
  • Location: German state of Schleswig-Holstein
  • By Passes: Storm-Prone Danish Straits
  • Savings: 250 Nautical Miles

It connected the North Sea at Brunsbüttel to the Baltic Sea at Kiel-Holtenau. It has proven to be a very successful and popular canal and one that saves around 250 nautical miles or 460 kilometers off the trip that would otherwise need to go around Denmark's Jutland Peninsula. It also bypasses the storm-prone Danish straits. It is also linked to the navigable River Eider by the short Gieselau Canal.

Since the canal was built, all the fixed bridges have had a clearance of 42 meters or 138 feet.

The maximum length for ships passing the Kiel Canal is 235.50 meters (772.6 feet), while the maximum width is 32.50 meters (106.6 feet)

Most large modern cruise ships can't pass through the canal because of the limited clearance under their bridges. Some cruise ships have been modified to get through - like the MS Norwegian Dream has special funnels and masts that can be lowered for passage.

The World's Busiest Canal

Today it is the world's busiest artificial waterway and handles around 90 ships per day or around 32,000 ships annually. That is more than both the Panama Canal (with around 38 ships per day and 14,000 annually) and the Suez Canal (with around 51.5 ships a day or 19,000 ships annually).

Although the ships going through Panama and Suez are likely to be far larger and more important cargo and oil tanker vessels. The total cargo and the importance of that cargo is likely to be much greater in those canals.

Kiel Canal:

  • Length: 61 Miles
  • Daily Ships: 90 Daily
  • Annual Ships: 32,000

Panama Canal:

  • Length: 50 Miles
  • Daily Ships: 38 Daily
  • Annual Ships: 14,000

Suez Canal:

  • Length: 120 Miles
  • Daily Ships: 51.5 Daily
  • Annual Ships: 19,000

Related: Two Days In Copenhagen: Here's What To See In This City In Only 48 Hours

Add Canals To One's Bucket List of Things To See

Today the Kiel Canal is open to call traffic (that can fit through it). In the past decades, the traffic and the amount of cargo transported through Kiel-Canal increased significantly – and is expected to continue to grow according to its official website.

If one is interested in great works of naval engineering, then there are a couple of visitor centers on the Panama Canal that one should visit. Also, the Kiel Canal is not likely to be as dramatic as the Corinth Canal and the Panama Canal.

  • Panama Canal: Has A Couple Visitor Centers
  • Corinth Canal: A Very Dramatic Sight

Those Canals have to cut through some very uneven terrain - the Corinth Canal doesn't even have locks and so just slices its way straight through the rock. The Kiel Canal is built on very flat land, northern Germany and Denmark are famously flat.

Alternatively, to see some decidedly smaller canals, visit Venice and explore the many canals that cut through that picturesque Italian city.

Next: A Travel Guide To Denmark: Tourists Should Plan Their Trip Around These 10 Things