Tradition and innovation intertwine here: artistic masterpieces, centuries-old windmills, tulip fields and romantic candlelit cafés coexist with visionary architecture, cutting-edge design and phenomenal nightlife.
Art & Architecture
In a country that gave birth to celebrated Dutch Masters like Rembrandt, Vermeer, Van Gogh and Piet Mondrian, the art legacy is huge. World-renowned art museums in Amsterdam, Den Haag, Rotterdam, Haarlem and Leiden drip with iconic masterpieces, alongside a respectable portfolio of contemporary works. The Dutch influence on construction spans more than a millennia, from Romanesque and Gothic medieval magnum opuses to Dutch Renaissance palaces and romantic Golden Age gabled houses. Trailblazing contemporary architecture – green and innovative – is a perfect reflection of a country perfectly in tune with its environment (and the need to protect it).
With fabulously pancake-flat, scenic landscapes beckoning along every last dyke, canal, river and coastal shore, two-wheeling in the Netherlands is one of Dutch life's greatest pleasures (headwinds notwithstanding). While the bike-loving Dutch practically live on their well-worn, beloved fietsen (bicycles) – many, infamously only with back-pedal coaster brakes – cycling for visitors is a wonderful means of exploring and getting around. Bike-rental outlets are ubiquitous, and the country is criss-crossed with some 32,000km of cycling paths, including the Dutch 'motorways' of cycling, the long-distance LF routes. Grab some wheels and go!
When the Dutch say café they mean a pub, and there are thousands – with glorious summertime terraces peppering flower-strewn canals, looking out to sea, hidden down ancient lanes, standing on every town's Grote Markt (market square). In a country that values socialising and conversation more than drinking, cafés are places for go-slow contemplation and camaraderie, over dusk-time borrel (drinks) with bar snacks or a fabulous meal any time of day. The ultimate café kick: revelling in that deliciously snug, Dutch state of gezelligheid (conviviality, cosiness) in a timeless bruin café (brown cafe), named for the nicotine stains of centuries past.
Geography plays a key role in the Netherlands' iconic landscapes. More than a quarter of the pancake-flat country is below sea level, and 20% has been reclaimed from the sea, making regimental rows of polders (areas of drained land) omnipresent. Uninterrupted North Sea winds have powered windmills since the 13th century, pumping water over the dykes, milling flour and more. Some two-thirds of the surface is devoted to agriculture, including beautiful rainbow fields of crocuses, daffodils, hyacinths and tulips that burst into flower each year between March and May. The kaleidoscope of colour is nothing short of psychedelic.