Why the Netherlands
Famous for its canals, clogs, tulips and windmills, and once under water for almost half of it, the Netherlands - often referred to by the much older designation Holland - is a remarkable country.
No more than the size of the US state of Maryland and with a fertile, pancake-flat landscape, The Netherlands is one of the most urbanized nations on earth with the highest population density in Europe. This means there's a huge range of places to visit packed into a relatively small area.
Most of them are easy to reach on the efficient and integrated public transport system of trains, busses and trams. No country in Europe is so kindly disposed towards the bicycle than the pancake-flat Netherlands: you’ll find bike paths in and around all towns, plus long-distance touring routes taking you deep into the countryside.
The west of the country is predominantly urban and home to a grouping of towns known collectively as the Randstad (literally “rim town”), an urban sprawl that holds all the country’s largest cities and the majority of its population. Travelling in this part of the country is easy. Highlights include easy-going Haarlem; the old university town of Leiden; Delft, with its attractive medieval buildings and diminutive, canal-girded centre; and the gritty port city of Rotterdam, festooned with prestigious modern architecture. Den Haag (The Hague), is well worth a visit, too, a laidback and relaxing city, seat of the Dutch government and home to several excellent museums.
The Netherlands' name literally means "Low Country", inspired by its low and flat geography with only about 50% of its land exceeding one metre above sea level. One-fifth of the Netherlands is made up of water. The landscape is a largely man-made affair as two-thirds of the country would be regularly flooded without protection. The lowest point in the Netherlands – at seven metres below sea level – is also Europe’s lowest point.
The Netherlands is also famous for its flowers: the bulb fields of North and South Holland, with their daffodils, hyacinths and tulips, attract hundreds of thousands of visitors every year, particularly in April and May.
"Try to learn some words of the local language and don't forget to keep smiling. The combination will open up a lot of doors. At the same time, I still am impressed by the Dutch' fluency in English – this definitely makes it very easy to communicate."
The Netherlands is an international, well-integrated place too: most people speak English and one or two other languages.
The Dutch themselves seem oversized (statistically they are among the tallest nationalities on the planet.) Gregariousness, thrift, good sense, and wry humour are all national traits, as is no-holds-barred honesty.
The Dutch concept of gezelligheid has no direct translation, but loosely speaking it means cosy, convivial or fun – and it’s the mission of Dutch folk to create a gezellig atmosphere or enjoy a gezellig time on most occasions
No wonder the Netherlands is a popular destination!