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The Netherlands’ motto is “I shall stand fast”, appropriate for a country that has had to fight the waves to survive. Made up of 12 provinces (and Netherlands Antilles and Aruba), this flat, densely populated country is famous for its windmills, tulips, clogs and bicycles as well as its progressive society.
Amsterdam is capital, a compact city of waterways, narrow canal houses and snug cafes. Its museums are world-class and include the Rijksmuseum (glorious collection of 17th-century Dutch masters), Stedelijk Museum, Rembrandt House Museum, and Van Gogh Museum, which has the world’s largest collection of Van Gogh’s paintings and drawings.
Outside the capital, Rotterdam considers itself a working city rather than a cultural town. Despite this, it has many museums, ranging from the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen (art) to a tax museum.
The Hague is the seat of government and where Queen Beatrix lives and works.
Friesland is a province in the north, where the Frisian language is spoken. It’s possible to walk to some of the islands off the coast at low-tide.
Most flights to the Netherlands land at Schiphol Airport, near Amsterdam. Europe’s fifth-largest airport offers international connections with most leading airlines.
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The Netherlands has a maritime climate – cool summers and mild winters. Rain falls year round, with spring and autumn getting slightly more than the rest of the year. Summer is the best time to visit, even though tourist crowds might scare you away. The country’s famous tulips start blooming in May.
The summer months, when most tourists step off their flights to the Netherlands and throng the cities, are high season. Other peak times are school holidays, early April to mid-May (tulip season) and Christmas and New Year.
Winter is, in general, the low season especially the weeks between early January and March.
Domestic Netherlands flights connect Amsterdam Schiphol with Eindhoven, Groningen, Maastricht and Rotterdam airports. The major car-rental companies are represented at the airports. There is a good, efficient and affordable bus and rail network, but for getting around the Netherlands the Dutch way, take to the bicycle. There is an excellent bicycle network.
There are also ferries for “Wad hopping” or island hopping among the Dutch Wadden islands, which lie to the north of the country. It is a popular pastime during the summer months. It is possible to sail from island to island, and you can bring your bike on most ferries.
(prices quotes are from London)