The Netherlands (a.k.a. Holland)
Planning a trip to Amsterdam and the Netherlands
Call it The Netherlands or Holland (see the box below for which is right), this pancake-flat country is the nation the Dutch built—quite literally, reclaiming huge swathes of it from the sea using their ingenious dike system, drained by its famous canals powered by its even more famous windmills so they could grow their famous tulips and afford to build famous cities like Amsterdam and Haarlem and decorate them with works by famous homegrown artists like Rembrandt, Vermeer, Fran Hals, and Van Gogh. Not so famous anymore: the wearing of wooden clogs.
The best of the Netherlands
What's in a name?
The Netherlands by any other name would be, well, wrong.
As far as the locals are concerned, their country is Nederland (which means "Low Countries"), which makes them Nederlanders. All the other names are rooted in the misunderstandings of English-speakers.
Americans call the people and their language "Dutch" because the Brits couldn't keep the Nederlanders straight from their neighbors, the Germans (Deutsch).
Americans also often refer Do the nation by what is actually a name shared by two of its regions, North Holland and South Holland (this would be like calling the entire United States of America "Carolina" or "Virginia").
★★★ Amsterdam: Visit Northern Europe's most elegant 17th century city of canals. Tour the top sights and experiences—from the sublime Rembrandts in the Rijksmuseum to the more earthy indulgences of the Red Light District, the sobering story of the Anne Frank House to the decidedly-not-sobering menu items at those infamous smoking cafes—and get a rundown on the best hotels and restaurants, a trip-planning FAQ, and a quartet of excellent sidetrips.
★★ Haarlem: Haarlem makes perhaps the finest day trip from Amsterdam, offering a much more laid-back and less hectic version of a tidy Dutch city. It also has some great museums, including one devoted to hometown hero Frans Hals...
★ Windmills: Zaanse Schans & Kinderdijk: As the countryside north of Amsterdam became industrialized over the first half of the 20th century, people realized that a way of life and mode of architecture was disappearing rapidly. In the late 1950s, dozens of local farms, houses, and windmills dating from that ever-popular 17th century were broken down, carted off, and reassembled into a kind of archetypal "traditional" village called Zaanse Schans...
Flattest... Country... Ever
The Netherlands' mean elevation is 37 feet above sea level, and it is flat. Much of the country is below ocean levels and once lay under the North Sea.
So how do you raise the land from under the water? Ring the coast with an ingenious series of dikes (mounds of earth) and use windmills to pump the water into drainage rivers (in case of leak, little Dutch boy with finger must be purchased separately).
The result: low lying swamps were drained and made into useful land, and a full 1/5 of the country was literally raised from under the sea, giving rise to the old Dutch expression: "God created the world, but the Dutch created Holland."
★ Tulips: Keukenhof, Aalsmeer, & Bloembollenstreek: Between Haarlem and Leiden stretches a 19-mile strip of land known as the Bloembollenstreek, Amsterdam's bulb belt, home of the tulip. These lowlands along the North Sea are carpeted with mile upon mile of fields of gladioli, hyacinths, lilies, narcissi, daffodils, crocuses, irises, dahlias, and the mighty tulip...
★★★ Hoge Veluwe Park & Kröller-Müller Museum: Set in the middle of Hoge Veluwe National Park—a 13,750-acre national park of heath, woods, and sand dunes where the primary form of transportation is by (free) bike—is the Kröller Müller Museum, one of the Netherlands' top modern art museums (from Van Gogh to contemporary) and home to Europe's largest outdoor sculpture garden...
Delft - The city of Vermeer and blue-and-white ceramics is a gem of Renaissance and Gothic buildings...
The Hague - Holland's elegant government center is well-balanced between the old and the ultra-modern, its cityscape a mix of mansions, parks, government buildings, and palaces...