Quick: What comes to mind when you think of Amsterdam? We’ll hazard a guess that it’s marijuana and prostitution, both of which are legalized in some capacity here. And perhaps, related to that: hordes of backpackers, stag and hen (bachelor/bachelorette) parties, frat groups. (Poor Amsterdam.)

It may be the city’s famous liberalness that attracts the lion’s share of its annual visitors, but that’s just one teeny facet of what makes the Netherlands’ capital so special. Take, for instance, those gorgeous manmade canals, born of necessity when it was decided, some 700 years ago, that a trading city should be built on soggy marshland. The resulting labyrinthine urban landscape—all cobblestone streets and watery channels, crossed by quaint bridges and backed by soaring row houses—looks straight out of a fairy tale to the visitor, a sprawling, picturesque museum brought to crashing life by bicycling locals merely getting about their daily business.

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