The map is set in a historic Italian city built alongside canals. The Terrorists' targets are two important tourist attractions.
Canals is based on real-world environments and the idea for the map Canals originally came to Iikka Keränen after visiting Venice. Originally, the map was called de_venice but despite the shared name, it was not related to the earlier cancelled Venice map by Ido Magal. The aesthetics were intentionally given a clean and uncluttered look despite the real-world influence to enhance player visibility.
Behind the scenes
All prop models and textures related to map are stored in folders called either de_venice or de_tvstation. Additionally, graffiti textures bear the prefix "venice" in their names.
Existence of the map was hinted in the game files 5 months before its official release. The first reference was added in the June 15, 2016 update where ambient sounds were referred to in the Inferno sound manifest. Later, in the October 10, 2016 update, a reference to the map name de_canals was added to the mapautocompile.txt file.