Den Haag (The Hague)
The Netherlands' third-largest city, Den Haag, is a stately, regal place filled with embassies and mansions, green boulevards and parks, a refined culinary scene, a clutch of fine museums and a sybaritic cafe culture. Conversely, its seaside suburb of Scheveningen has a loud and lively kitsch and a long stretch of beach.
Centred on its busy port, Dordrecht sits at the confluence of the Oude Maas River and several tributaries and channels. Its strategic trading position (precipitating a boom in the wine trade) and status as the oldest Dutch city (having been granted a town charter in 1220), ensured Dordrecht was one of the most powerful Dutch regions until the mid- to late-16th century.
Gouda's association with cheese has made it famous – the town's namesake export is among the Netherlands' best known. The town enjoyed economic success and decline from the 16th century onwards. Its cheese brought more recent wealth, as has the country's largest candle factory, which stays busy supplying all those Dutch brown cafés.
This is the very heart of the Netherlands' tulip-growing land. In spring you may be lucky enough to fly over the impossibly brightly coloured fields as you fly into Schiphol. It's definitely worth getting a bike and touring the region from either Leiden, Haarlem or Keukenhof Gardens.
A Unesco World Heritage site, the Kinderdijk has 19 windmills strung out on both sides of canals. The place has been a focus of Dutch efforts to claim land from the water for centuries. Indeed the name Kinderdijk is said to derive from the horrible St Elizabeth's Day Flood of 1421 when a storm and flood washed a baby in a crib with a cat up onto the dyke.
Biesbosch National Park
Covering 7100 hectares, Biesbosch National Park encompasses an area on both banks of the Nieuwe Merwede River, east and south of Dordrecht. It's so big that it sprawls across a provincial border; there's a region known as the Brabantse Biesbosch, further east, while the part in this province is the Hollandse Biesbosch. In 1970 the Delta Project shut off the tides to the area.