Don't underrate the petite province of Utrecht. Its famous namesake city – with its throngs of students, tree-lined canals and medieval quarter – deserves the limelight. No set piece, it has a plethora of hip, fun bars and cafes. Those with calmer tastes can visit more than a dozen museums big and small. Or wander the back streets and revel in reminders of the 17th century.
And this is no mere city-state. By bike you can explore evocative castles such as the splendid Kasteel de Haar on Utrecht's doorstep. To the east stretches the Randstad's largest park, the Utrechtse Heuvelrug, studded with more magnificent estates. Amersfoort, birthplace of abstract artist Piet Mondrian, is a major city in its own right, the centre radiating plenty of medieval character.