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Amsterdam's fairy-tale looks and progressive spirit have long cast a spell on travelers. Hedonists stumble into town for the pot-wafting coffee shops and Red Light District naughtiness, but the real soul of the city lies in its candlelit cafes, bustling street markets and quirky museums set along rings of glinting canals.
Dam Square, where the Royal Palace rises, has marked the city center since medieval times; 17th-century pubs, secret gardens and antiquarian bookshops hide in the surrounding lanes. Miles of masterpieces await in the Old South, home to the Van Gogh Museum, Rembrandt-filled Rijksmuseum and modern Stedelijk Museum.
The Anne Frank House draws visitors to the Western Canals, along with one-of-a-kind little specialty shops. Historic mansions and DJ-spinning clubs pepper the ritzy Southern Canals. The bohemian De Pijp district holds the Albert Cuypmarkt, Amsterdam’s largest street bazaar, and hip cafes galore. Cozy taverns and sing-along bars spill out of the cheery Jordaan. Avant-garde Noord features a tumbledown shipyard turned arts community. The equally edgy Eastern Docklands converts warehouses into designer bars.