Amsterdam's world-class museums draw millions of visitors each year. The art collections take pride of place – you can't walk a kilometre without bumping into a Van Gogh, Rembrandt or Mondrian masterpiece.
Golden Age Canals
The gabled houses along Amsterdam's remarkably preserved canals look much as they did during the 17th century, and boats travel the same waterways as they did 400 years ago.
Amsterdam's nightlife is legendary. Jazz venues abound and you could easily see a live act every night of the week. The dance-music scene thrives, with big-name DJs spinning at clubs around town. Amsterdam's classical venues put on a full slate of shows. Famously hedonistic diversions include the Red Light District's carnival of vice.
Haarlem & North Holland
Picturesque Towns & Villages
Haarlem evokes the Middle Ages and the Golden Age as you stroll its compact centre, and you half expect to see an old merchant's ship sail into Hoorn's harbour. Smaller and cuter still are places such as Edam and Marken, whose traditions let you observe living history.
Birds & Seals
The largest of the Waddenzee islands, Texel is ringed by wide beaches and national-park-protected dunes. Bird life abounds here; out on the water you'll find colonies of seals.
You can kite-surf, hike, sail a boat and more in the region's waters. On land, cycling across the dykes and virescent countryside makes for great days exploring.
Utrecht feels like Amsterdam without the crowds; its unique two-level canals inset with cavern-bars and hidden restaurants give the city a very special character all of its own.
For sweeping views climb Utrecht’s icon, the soaring Domtoren, and play 'I Spy Amsterdam' on clear days. But to really understand the city's historic soul, you’ll have to go underground, delving into the city’s subterranean archaeology with a smart-torch audio-gun at Dom Under.
The province is dotted with fortifications and pretty castle-towns that make great day trips. Kasteel de Haar is the most spectacular and Doorn’s chateau has lots of history, but Amerongen and Wijk bij Duurstede are lower-key delights.
Rotterdam & South Holland
Rotterdam's urban renaissance not only includes striking new additions to its skyline but a surge of street art, red-hot restaurant and bar openings, and an ultra-busy festival program.
Bulbfields fan out around the beautiful city of Leiden and burst into a spectacular display of colour in spring. Keukenhof Gardens puts on dazzling annual displays; the little town of Lisse is home to a tulip museum.
Cycling is as good here as anywhere in the country, whether you're pedalling by Kinderdijk's Unesco-listed windmills, Den Haag's stately palaces and nearby beach Scheveningen, Zeeland's sandy seashore or the medieval buildings gracing Delft's canals.
Off the north coast of the Netherlands, the Waddenzee's rich environment is a Unesco World Heritage site and teems with sea- and bird life, best appreciated afloat or during a foray on foot onto the mudflats. Even when ferries from the mainland arrive jam-packed, there'll always be an expanse of empty gold-sand beach with your name on it.
Harlingen is a fascinating historic port town. Leeuwarden has superb museums covering the province's history and natural history, while Hindeloopen is a gem of an old fishing village.
Boats & Bikes
The Frisian Islands offer endless opportunities for outdoor fun. You can island-hop by boat while exploring by bike, rent a boat yourself to explore the waters, or join the sporty crowd for a race around the region's 11 towns and cities afloat a stand-up paddle board.
Understanding the Past
Some of the oldest finds in the Netherlands are in its far northeast corner: hunebedden (old burial sites) date back 5000 years. The preserved fortress town of Bourtange is a 16th-century time capsule while Groningen still has echoes of the Golden Age. Much more recent and far more terrible, Kamp Westerbork was used by the Nazis for deporting Jews and others.
Protected zones preserve ancient landscapes that are left to evolve naturally. Explore old farms, forests and heaths on a welter of biking and hiking trails.
The ancient university town of Groningen has 20,000 students who ensure there's never a dull moment on its streets or in its cafés, cutting-edge bars and pulsating live-music venues.
One of the greatest pleasures of the Central Netherlands is wandering the backstreets of its towns and making your own discoveries. Old brick buildings unchanged since Deventer was a Hanseatic trading city delight with carved stone details. Nearby Zwolle offers similar rewards, as does compact little Kampen.
Land & Water
Water courses throughout the centre of the Netherlands. Near the canal-laced rural idyll of Giethoorn, you can follow canals and channels dug over the centuries by peat harvesters and farmers in fascinating Weerribben-Wieden National Park.
In and around Nijmegen and Arnhem, monuments and museums recall the fierce battles of WWII and their horrific aftermath.
The land beneath Maastricht is a honeycomb of tunnels and underground forts dating back through centuries of wars and occupiers to Roman times. Above ground, almost every era since is represented by a landmark or building in the city's compact and beautiful centre.
Hieronymus Bosch was a sharp observer of human frailties and his intricate paintings, which are recreated in his namesake city Den Bosch, still ring true today. Maastricht is home to the world's largest annual sales fair of historic art, and artistic treasures fill its museums.
Café culture brings a special buzz to the lively bar-filled streets of Breda and Maastricht, while near Tilburg, beer pilgrims from across the globe converge on Koeningshoeven’s monastery-brewery to sample La Trappe’s full range of Trappist ales.