Night view of Amsterdams canals

21 of The Most Amazing Things to Do in Amsterdam (Hand-Picked + Authentic Travel Experiences)

by Elysia Brenner - updated January 22, 2020

As one of the top 10 most popular cities to visit in Europe, Amsterdam’s top tourist sites are…rather well trodden. Begging the question from the discerning traveler: which things to do in Amsterdam are actually worth your time? And what else are you missing that you shouldn’t be?

Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered with a list of the greatest hits you won’t want to miss in your quest to get the most out of Amsterdam.

1. Get a stroopwafel at one of the daily street markets

Try a Stroopwafel
Get a Taste of the famous Stroopwafel

These soft and gooey caramel-/honey-filled waffle cookies aren’t the only uniquely Dutch sweet treat you’ll find in this town, but they are by far the most popular.

The best of the best are the oversized versions sold out of food trucks at Amsterdam’s daily markets.

The Albert Cuypmarkt in De Pijp neighborhood and Waterloopleinmarkt next to the Stopera city hall/opera house are the most famous, and thus heavily touristed.

But you’ll also find stroopwafels at the city’s more locals-oriented eastern and western street markets: the Dappermarkt in Oost (East), just around the corner from the lively bar-and-restaurant filled Javastraat, and the Ten Katemarkt in the even livelier Kinkerbuurt in West, within spitting distance of the upscale Foodhallen food court. 

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2. Explore the canals

Cruise Amsterdam's canals
Discover the city by the Cruise-in Amsterdam famous canals

Whatever the weather, this is a can’t-miss. If it’s sunny, find someone to take you out in an open-top boat, hire Rederij de Paping, or rent your own boat for up to 8 people.

Raining? One of the Hop-on-Hop-Off tourist canal cruises will do. Frozen is best of all. Get your hands on a pair of skates and join the locals.

For the adventurous there’s Stand-Up Paddleboarding, and there are also paddle boats for the tireless.

For food lovers, the pizza boat remains popular for obvious reasons, but those looking for a little more boozy luxury should try G’s Brunch Boat on weekends. 

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3. Sip Craft Beer

Enjoy a Sip of Craft Beer in Amsterdam
Enjoy a Sip of Craft Beer in Amsterdam

Forget Heineken. (Please, forget Heineken.)

Amsterdam is heaven for craft beer lovers. The biggest brands even have their own tasting rooms, some of the best bars in town.

Old favorites Brouwerij ‘t IJ (known for being under a windmill), De Prael (in the Red-Light District), and others even offer regular tours in English that are all about the beer, without the flashy gimmickry of the Heineken Experience.

Also, don’t miss Oedipus’s colorfully quirky drinking den in an upcoming industrial area of Amsterdam Noord.

Power them down with burgers (including some damn good veggie burgers) from The Beef Chief, on site. Burgers lovers also won’t want to miss the two locations of Brouwerij Troost, where you’ll find some of Amsterdam’s best.

Burgers aside, in Amsterdam beer goes best with bitterballen: little lava pockets of meat gravy that are deep fried and dipped in mustard. Though no proper Dutchie would turn their nose up at some cheese cubes either, of course. (Look out for any from De Reypenaer, Beemster, or Old Amsterdam.)

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4. Walk through art history

Take a walk through the Art History of Amsterdam
Take a walk through the paradise for art lovers, Amsterdam.

Amsterdam is a paradise for art lovers.

The especially ambitious can spend an entire weekend walking through the history of Dutch art, from medieval times through today.

Just visit the city’s super-sized art museums in this order: 

Start with the Rijksmuseum. The museums oldest artworks date back to the 1100s, but the real stars here are the paintings of the Golden Age Masters on the second floor, where you’ll find the museum’s crown jewel: Rembrandt’s “The Night Watch.”

Next up: The Hermitage, an Amsterdam outpost of the St. Petersburg art juggernaut, the only stop on this tour not on Museumplein.

The two extensive exhibition halls switch up their content regularly, but you’ll often find Golden Age and 18th-century art as well.

Then it’s time to head back to Museumplein for the (rightfully) famous Van Gogh Museum, where you walk through an annotated timeline of Van Gogh’s 19th-century life and artistic evolution.

End with the Stedelijk Museum, the city’s center of modern art.

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5. Demystify the Red-Light District

Demystify the Red-Light District
Visit and get ready to party at the Amsterdam’s most infamous neighbourhood.

The reason to visit Amsterdam’s most infamous neighbourhood is not to gawp through the windows at the women legally practicing the world’s oldest profession, but to gawp at everything else that is there.

Part of the old medieval city, with swan-strewn canals and cobblestoned squares, it’s one of the most picturesque parts of town – simply called “De Wallen” by locals, after the names of the area’s two main thoroughfares: the Oudezijds Voorburgwal and Achterburgwal.

Here you’ll find a mix of raucous bars, upscale restaurants, and artist ateliers.

Note that most coffeeshops (for cannabis) and smartshops (for other soft drugs) are now located in other parts of town.

Though the famous Bulldog is holding strong, plying both to purely tourist crowds.

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6. Go hipster at NDSM

Go hipster at NDSM
Enjoy the Live music performances & other cultural events in an industrial setting with an eatery.

Standing for “Nederlandsche Dok en Scheepsbouw Maatschappij” (“Dutch Dock and Shipbuilding Company”), NDSM indeed used to be the center of Amsterdam’s boat-building industry.

That ship has long sailed (forgive the pun), and now this is one of Amsterdam’s most prized entertainment districts.

The local speciality is waterside bars and festivals. Dance festivals, theater festivals, you name it.

Outside of the festival days, start at beach bar/indoor restaurant Pllek, home to regular outdoor film nights, and historical next-door neighbor Noorderlicht. Or, for an even more out-of-the-box experience, the “conceptual parties” of Sexyland, near the ferry, can include music, magic mushrooms, or other unexpected surprises.

This is also the location of the (semi-)monthly IJhallen, billed as “the biggest flea market in Europe.” Best of all, the 20-minute ferry ride to get there from Centraal Station is free.

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7. Discover the Amsterdam School

Discover the Amsterdam School Het Schip
Get amazed by the architectural style of Amsterdam School Het Schip.

This isn’t a particular building, but a distinctive style of architecture that was used for a number of the city’s landmark structures constructed between 1910 and 1930.

It’s defined by complicated brickwork, often giving the buildings unusual curves, plus artistic glass and ironwork.

Get the full introduction with a tour of the historical Het Schip community housing project, then gawk at Het Scheepvaarthuis (now the high-end Hotel Amrâth), and find more treasures in the Amsterdam Zuid district (including the Olympic Stadium). 

In the city center, blockbuster movie theater Pathé Tuschinski mixes the Amsterdam School with the other biggest architectural styles of the day: Art Deco, Art Nouveau, and De Stijl.

Daily tours reveal all the details, including the heartbreaking story of the man who founded the movie palace and gave it his name, and the role the building played during the Nazi occupation.

Modern architecture lovers, meanwhile, should head to the Eastern Docklands.

There, architecture tours will introduce you to landmark buildings like “The Whale,” the quirky bridges of Javaeiland and environs, and Borneo-eiland’s Scheepstimmermanstraat, where architects were given free reign on a series of houses, the star attraction of which was built around a tree.

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8. Take a long bike ride

Take a long bike ride in Amsterdam
Take a long bike ride in Amsterdam

If you want to experiment with biking, we recommend giving the dangerously dense inner-city traffic a miss and heading out of town instead.

Best done with a guide, who will give you a much-needed safety briefing, make sure you don’t get lost, and help you get the most out of your ride.

The most popular option is offered by Mike’s Bikes (the yellow bikes you’ll see around town), but Sandeman’s New Amsterdam Tours also offers a decent option.

Either way, expect windmill sightings, waterworks, and cheese tastings.

If you arrive between late March and early May, this is prime tulip time. Join the packs of bikers heading to the coast and south to bike through the fields in full bloom.

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9. Picnic in a park

Enjoy and relax with your family picnic in the park
Relax and enjoy the beautiful scenery of Vondelpark.

Amsterdam is dotted with parks large and small, which get packed on sunny days.

Nowhere is that more true than the famous Vondelpark and Westerpark. But there are many, usually less crowded, alternatives.

For the adventurous there’s Stand-Up Paddleboarding, and there are also paddle boats for the tireless.

Try Oosterpark in the east, Rembrandtpark in the west, giant Noorderpark in the north, or the even more massive Amsterdamse Bos (“Amsterdam Forest”) in the south.

In between and around are dozens of smaller to sizeable spots of greenery where you can pull up a blanket and your own selection of tasty treats.

Amsterdam parks can also be centers of nightlife (Westerpark and Oosterpark). And, depending on the park, you can even engage in after-dark hanky panky (Vondelpark) or daylight-hours BBQing (often in designated zones). 

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10. Eat Indonesian food

Try and Eat Indonesian food in Amsterdam
Taste one of the Traditional Indonesian snack: Pancake

The Dutch have their own kitchen, but the winter-friendly “stamppot” fare, a mix of mashed potatoes, veggies, and meat topped with gravy – doesn’t excite too many international tastebuds.

What does: Indonesian food.

Once the Netherlands’ most important colony, the two countries’ troubled relationship inspired both the Fair Trade movement and a rash of Indonesian restaurants back in Amsterdam. 

The Dutch way to do it, called a rijsttafel (“rice table”), apes the imperial way of eating in the archipelago. Basically, it’s a shared feast that lets you sample a whole range of dishes. And rice.

Looking for additional exotic flavors?

You’ll also find a selection of comfort-food cafés serving dishes from Surinam, the Netherlands’ other most important former colony, as well as a surprising variety of Ethiopian restaurants around town. 

Or keep it local at one of the Dutch-style (and, increasingly, American-style) pancake restaurants.

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11. Explore Amsterdam’s underrated Jewish/WWII history hotspots

Explore Amsterdam’s underrated Jewish/WWII history
Visit and Educate yourself with History of the old Jewish quarter of Amsterdam

This is a city with a Jewish history so deep that local sports fans proudly call themselves “Jews.”

If it’s your first time in Amsterdam, your guide book will probably send you straight to the Anne Frank House, where you will likely spend more time waiting in line than actually exploring the tiny empty alcove where she and her family hid (buy your tickets online in advance to save a few hours).

However, Amsterdam’s most interesting odes to the city’s Jewish history – and – and the role local citizens played in World War II can actually be found elsewhere.

Head to the Plantagebuurt, the eastern central neighbourhood surrounding the Artis zoo.

Here you’ll find a range of headliners, from the city’s eternal flame (in the Hollandsche Schouwburg) to the Protuguese Synagogue, constructed in the 17th century by the city’s Sephardic immigrants.

But the two best museums here are the Jewish Historical Museum, a complex of four former synagogues tracking the history of Amsterdam’s Jewish population from the 17th century through WWII up to today, and the Verzetsmuseum (Resistance Museum), chronicalling the stories of the local people who undermined the activities of the Nazi occupiers. 

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12. Learn about what makes Gouda good

Experience the flavour of the historical cheese of Amsterdam
See what the fuss is about the flavour of the historical cheese of Amsterdam

De Reypenaer is arguably the Netherlands’ most historical cheese still being sold today.

The cheese is aged to advanced complexity using tricks of temperature control in their warehouse in the town of Woerden.

Each wheel is turned and rubbed once a week to make sure they evenly absorb the micro-flora coating the wooden shelves, cultivated over their century-plus of use in this traditional aging process. 

See what the fuss is about in their tasting room in Amsterdam.

You can walk in any time (during business hours) for free bites of all their main flavors – and you’re almost guaranteed to walk out with a few newly purchased wedges of your own.

Or get the full experience at one of their daily tastings, where six varieties are paired with wines or soft drinks plus plenty of fun cheese facts you never knew you always wanted to know.

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13. Explore a free hallway of art & history

Explore a free hallway of art & history of Amsterdam
Learn about the story of each collections of the famous Amsterdam Museum.

The Amsterdam Museum, the collection that tells the story of the city, has one separate hallway on its grounds that you can walk through for free. (Only open during museum hours.)

Inside is a colorful mosaic of carpets, representing the diversity of nationalities living in Amsterdam.

On top of that carpet are the life-size statues of David and Goliath, once a central feature of a labyrinth that existed on the Prinsengracht during the Golden Age.

The walls hold a mix of group portraits – de rigueur in the 17th-19th centuries (Rembrandt’s “The Night Watch” in the Rijksmuseum is the most famous example) – plus modern paintings and photographs spoofing these with scenes of today. 

Outside the hallway on one side you’ll find the entrance to the Begijnhof: picturesque medieval courtyards that still provide low-income housing for single women, with a prominent church and another hidden (Catholic) church, both still in operation. 

Walk out the hallway on the other side and you’ll find yourself in the complex of courtyards inside the former orphanage that is now home to the Amsterdam Museum.

In one is a collection of gable stones, the illustrated carved plaques that used to label houses before Napoleon started assigning house numbers.

Just around the corner, another courtyard hosts a café with a terrace that overlooks a free outdoor exhibition about the building’s orphanage history.

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14. Enter Virtual Reality

Enter Virtual Reality in Amsterdam Gamehouse
Bring your friends and play at the Europe’s best VR arcades.

Tech-friendly Amsterdam also hosts some of Europe’s best VR arcades.

Right in the heart of the city center, on the Red-Light District-adjacent Warmoesstraat, sits the VR Gamehouse. There you can play your way through 30 different games or experiences on your own or with others.

This location has only soft drinks on site, but there are plenty of bars and restaurants surrounding it for your pre- and post-game fuel.

Just a 15-minute walk from the main ferry drop-off in Noord, right across from Centraal Station, you’ll find the VR Arcade, billed as “Europe’s biggest free-roam VR experience.”

Bring a team of friends to tackle a virtual zombie apocalypse or defend the Earth from an alien invasion. Or try their newest game, The Heist, a VR escape room. In between, try your hand at more mini-VR games.

Ready for a break from Amsterdam?

Take a 1.5-hour train ride to Eindhoven, the tech center of the Netherlands.

There, the Enversed VR Center claims to be Europe’s largest virtual reality center, offering a little bit of everything.

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15. Swing off the edge of a building

Have fun in Europe’s highest swing
Swing off the edge of a building

If you stand at the back of Centraal Station and look across the body of water known as the IJ you can already see it: a tall, block building wearing a sort of crown, with a giant swing waving out over the side 100 meters in the air. The two people on it ants at this distance. 

A short, free ferry ride will take you there to try it for yourself.

At €14.50, the entry ticket to the Lookout platform on the top of the A’dam Tower isn’t the cheapest, and the swing costs €5 extra, but the experience includes a zippy elevator ride, a staged photo, an interactive exhibit about the city, and arguably the best 360° views of the city.

There’s also a rooftop café, plus a full restaurant (Madam) and bar (Panorama) one floor down.

If you make a dinner reservation at Madam, you can even access The Lookout for free until 10 pm. 

One floor below that, on the 19th floor, is luxury dining in the form of rotating restaurant Moon.

If you’d rather “burgers and chill” (with pool tables), The Butcher Social Club on the ground floor is your answer. And you can keep the party going all night long in club Shelter in the basement.

If you’ve come this far, you might want to get a Lookout combi-ticket that includes the This is Holland “5D flight experience” next door, as well.

Adrenaline junkies looking to go a step further will find their fix at NDSM, where you can jump off of the Faralda Crane Hotel at the end of a bungee cord every Saturday between late April and mid-October.

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16. Get morbid

Try a morbid experience in Amsterdam
Get morbid with plenty of ghost stories

Amsterdam might not be a famed center of ghosts like some cities (though there are plenty of ghost stories, if you know where to look for them), but the town does have a sort of fascination with abomination.

How else do you explain the existence of not one but two torture museums?

On the drier side, the Torture Museum let’s you inspect several rooms’ worth of torture devices with explanations.

The Amsterdam Dungeon is the more engaging option, the local outpost of the international chain of darkly theatrical interactive tours that combine horror and history.

For more shock and horror, you can continue on around the corner to Ripley’s Believe It or Not.

For a less commercial dose of the creepy, head out to the eastern edge of town to peruse the Tot Zover funeral museum.

Or, even better, to the Zuidoost (“South-East”) neighborhood for Museum Vrolik – a name that sounds like “happy” in Dutch, but is actually known for its impressive collection of medical oddities in jars.

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17. Visit the Ruigoord hippie commune

Art Fair Ruigoord Amsterdam
Try some intense dance experiences in Art Fair Ruigoord

Technically its own village at the western-most edge of the Amsterdam municipality, the Ruigoord is Amsterdam’s answer to Copenhagen’s Christiania.

It began its life in the medieval era as an island harbor village.

This part of the IJ was drained in the 1880s, and the village was eventually abandoned – until squatters moved in in 1972, eventually obtaining the legal right to stay. 

Today you’ll find a vibrant artistic community with regular events, from opera and jazz nights to family-friendly festivals to intense dance experiences.

In warm weather, there are acres of outdoor terrein to explore. On colder nights, guests get cozy in the 19th-century church, which has been converted into a bar.

Most of Amsterdam’s best nightlife venues are well outside the city center (if Ruigoord wins for farthest). But they make up for the bit of commute with a number of all-night parties at hotspots like Radion, Shelter, and De School.

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18. Taste the local liqueurs

Have a taste of local Liqueurs of Amsterdam
Have a taste of local Liqueurs of Amsterdam and have a peek behind the scenes.

Ever heard of jenever (or, as it’s spelled further south, genever)?

It’s the precursor to gin, and was the juniper-based tipple of choice until Dutch-turned-English King William (of William and Mary fame) implemented a mix of import restrictions and reduced barriers to home distillation, leading the resourceful Londoners to invent a cheaper gin variety.

Occasionally distilled with things like turpentine or sulphuric acid. Ick.

OK, that was then and this is now – but if you’re a gin lover who has found your way to Amsterdam, you will want to try the alcohol that inspired your favorite drink.

It comes in three main varieties: the strongly flavored korenwijn, an old jenever made with traditional methods, and a more modern young jenever, the most gin-like of the bunch.

Gin not your thing? (Or even if it is.)

Try Amsterdam’s other traditional liqueurs, which like jenever were once sold as “medicine” under the noses of religious leaders.

These pungently sweet and/or herbal concoctions are sold under names like Bruidstranen (“Bride’s tears,” which apparently taste like Goldschlager), Papegaaiensoep (“Parrot Soup,” a mix of nutty flavors), and the aptly named Hemel op Aarde (“Heaven on Earth,” which blends almonds, cherries, and chocolate).

You’ll find both types of liqueurs at charming but no-nonsense (no drunken antics) Wynand Fockink (yes, they get the joke).

Or on the idyllically green, waterside terraces of ‘t Nieuwe Diep.

Or plucked-right-from the past at Café Hoppe, where the restroom is only for men, and there’s still sand on the floor (once there to catch spits of chew).

But our favorite is the cozy and gezellig (read: drunk and friendly) Ooievaar in the old sailor’s district that lies between Centraal Station and Chinatown. 

While Wynand Fockink and ‘t Nieuwe Diep make their own booze, and sell it at their on-site stores, De Hoppe and Ooievaar sell A.v. Wees.

This is the brand you’ll also find in many of the city’s liquor stores – plus A.v. Wees has their own higher-end and more spacious tasting room in the canal belt.

You can also peek behind the scenes with regular tours of both Wynand Fockink’s and A.v. Wees’s Amsterdam distilleries.

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19. Explore Amsterdam’s most underrated museums

Explore Amsterdam’s most underrated museums
Learn cool stuff without the claustrophobic crowds in Amsterdam

Amsterdam is often cited as being the city in the world with the most museums per capita, but most tourists never make it past the top 5.

Want to learn some cool stuff without the claustrophobic crowds? Then it’s time to start exploring.

On the larger end of the scale, the Tropenmuseum (Tropical Museum, once upon a less woke time called the Colonial Museum) is a big, beautiful building full of well-done displays of art and anthropology collected from all over the world.

And their special exhibitions are usually can’t-miss cultural events. Meanwhile, photo freaks will want to head for the Foam Photography Museum.

For a trip back in time, the restored Rembrandthuis gives you a peek behind the curtains as to how wealthy Amsterdam art dealers lived in the 17th century, why people slept sitting up, and more.

You won’t find Rembrandt’s paintings there, but there are a number of his etchings, regular printing and paint-mixing demonstrations, and a changing special exhibition space on the top floor.

Meanwhile, Ons Lieve Heer op Zolder (“Our Dear Lord in the Attic”) lets you stroll through the home of a wealthy 19th-century Catholic merchant who converted the top floors of his Red-Light District home into a massive hidden church.

Plus there’s a museum for just about every special interest: Electric Ladyland is a tiny hole in the ground looking at (glow-in-the-dark) minerals, with a trippy blacklight room.

The Museum of Bags and Purses offers a surprisingly engrossing look at women’s accessories over the ages.

Plus there’s the Kattenkabinet (“Cat Cabinet”), Pianola Museum, Hash Marihuana & Hemp Museum, Houseboat Museum, Tulip Museum, Pipe Museum, Eye Glasses Museum, and much, much more.

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20. Come for King’s Day (or Pride)

Come for King’s Day (or Pride) in Amsterdam
Get ready to the biggest and most colourful festivities in Amsterdam.

Amsterdam’s two biggest parties are spectacles that should be on everyone’s bucket list.

Pride, the second biggest party of the year, occurs over one week in early August, culminating in the famous canal parade along the Prinsengracht.

Expect a show, and dress however you like – today is the day to let your favorite kind of freak flag fly.

The dress code for Amsterdam’s biggest event of the year, Koningsdag (“King’s Day”), is decidedly orange, in honor of the royal house of Oranje-Nassau.

 Happening every April 27, on the king’s birthday, the entire city turns into an open street market with public and paid parties dotting key squares.

Our preferred spot to celebrate: NDSM, with both free outdoor and paid DJ-driven dance parties to choose between.

Though the Jordaan neighborhood offers the most traditional take, musically, making it a magnet for locals.

Beware out-of-date guidebooks that instead talk about a Koninginnedag (“Queen’s Day”) on April 30; this was replaced by the April 27 Koningsdag when Queen Beatrix abdicated the throne in 2013.

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21. Get out of town

Get out of town and visit Get out of town De Haar Castle in Utrecht
Escape the crowds in City and get to know the countryside.

Amsterdam is a rich city with a lot of things to see and do – and generally a lot of other visitors seeing and doing them right alongside you.

To really get to know the country, and escape the crowds, use the excellent Dutch system of trains and buses to see some other cities.

You’re within two hours of charming, museum-and-shopping-paradise Haarlem, the “smaller, cleaner version of Amsterdam” known as Utrecht, diplomat city Den Haag (“The Hague”), highrise foodie city Rotterdam, and more.

Not to mention a slew of castles, beaches, atmospheric fishing villages, and national parks.

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Amsterdam, like every city, has a whole lot to offer. If it is culture, food or simply just the mentality of the people and the aura of its places.

What are your thoughts about Amsterdam? Do you have any questions or anything cool still to add on? We love to discuss travel so go ahead and fire away, there are no wrong comments!

Related read: The Top 10 Unmissable Travel Experiences in Sydney

Also, please let us know how your trip went and what was the most exciting part about it.

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