Atmospheric cities where the arts are whole-heartedly celebrated, canal barging and biking, flower markets and utterly fascinating museums make the Netherlands a place where endless discoveries are to be made and enjoyed.  

Tulips, daffodils, hyacinths and more
In springtime, the Netherlands is ablaze with spring flowers and, for just eight weeks a year (22 March-13 May 2018), Keukenhof, 45 minutes from Amsterdam, offers the most spectacular flower show on Earth, displaying more than seven million spring flowering bulbs in a kaleidoscope of colour. There are loads of other places to admire all sorts of flowers, including the Floating Flower Market in Amsterdam and the Aalsmeer Flower Auction, where millions of flowers are sold every day. 

Amsterdam
With its atmospheric tree-lined canals, cycle paths, bucolic parks and gardens, and more than 50 museums, Amsterdam offers something for everyone. Sure, there are must-visit sites, but make time to just meander on foot, by bike or on a canal boat. Bargain hunters flock to the Waterlooplein Flea Market, shoppers love browsing the boutiques in the Nine Streets district and there are loads of breweries and gin distillers — from Heineken to bespoke producers — plus cosy pubs and great cheese shops. The Red Light District may be a tourist trap, but if you’re game, you can still drop into one of its many coffee shops to smoke a little weed.

The museums 
There is an embarrassment of artistic riches to enjoy throughout the Netherlands, from the Rejksmuseum, Anne Frank House and Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam to the Mauritshuis Museum in the Hague, home to Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring and The Anatomy Lesson by Rembrandt, and the Gemeentemuseum, also in The Hague, which has the world’s largest collection of Mondrian paintings. In Rotterdam, there is a fabulous outdoor sculpture collection on the Westersingel Sculpture Route. 

Canal barging and biking
Take a canal cruise or bike and barge trip along the country’s many canals to gain a real appreciation of Dutch ingenuity when it comes to managing water, especially when you realise how much of the country is below sea level. You could visit the Kinderdijk region where the largest collection of traditional windmills is located, cruise through charming ‘Golden Age’ towns like Delft and Williamstown, with their atmospheric merchant houses reflected in canal waters, or cruise and cycle past fragrant flower fields between Haarlem and Leiden.

Rotterdam
Europe’s largest port city has morphed from its ugly industrial roots to become a hip architectural haven. Check out the Market Hall, where the ceiling features the world’s largest artwork, and the swan-like Erasmus Bridge, plus buildings by the world’s architectural elite such as Rem Koolhaas, Norman Foster and Renzo Piano, not to mention the iconic Cube Houses and even the UNESCO-listed Van Nelle factory. There is an inventive spirit of urban renewal all over Rotterdam, with hip new bars and cafes popping up all over the place, including the Fenix Food Factory in the former Red Light district.

By Sue Gough Henly

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