A small country with a big profile, the Netherlands offers a beguiling blend of rural, traditional beauty and vibrant culture. Occupying a delta at the confluence of three major rivers where they empty into the North Sea, it is truly a water world: canals, coast and lakes are never far from view. Flat as a pannenkoek, it also makes an ideal destination for cycling, an integral mode of transport among the Dutch themselves, and many visitors plan their trips around the extensive infrastructure for two-wheeled travel.
Holland (as the country is alternatively referred to) is also a deeply cosmopolitan place where museums overflow with paintings from its Golden Age and a cavalcade of festivals showcase performing artists from within and beyond its borders. Added to this is an eye-opening nightlife scene in cities like Amsterdam and Rotterdam.
A tolerant people, ever open to outside influence, the Dutch place a high value on a quality they call gezelligheid: a sense of cosiness and conviviality that's immediately apparent to anyone who's ever stepped into a bruin café, the Dutch version of a pub. The object of all their scrupulous planning, it seems, is to share their enjoyment of life.