The Netherlands literally means 'the low lands' and almost half the country lies below sea level; it's only saved by a series of clever dykes. Founded on strict Calvinist principles the country has developed liberal attitudes to most things, making it an interesting place to visit. The people are similarly complicated, at once pragmatic and private, yet friendly and open-minded.
The capital Amsterdam is full of narrow, gabled houses, art museums, concert halls and theatres. Of particular note is the Riijksmueum, home to a large collection of old masters. Visit Anne Frank's house or take a canal tour for a different perspective on life here. In the evening explore the bars, coffee shops, restaurants and red light district.
Away from the capital, Utrecht has many of Amsterdam's attractions without the crowds and Rotterdam is starting to rival the capital as designers and architects descend on the port and a raft of new openings improve the café and nightlife scene here.
Elsewhere, take advantage of the flat countryside to cycle around the Randstad region and see spectacular fields of tulips bloom in spring. The province of Zeeland, protected by a system of dykes, is home to a number of harbour towns offering excellent seafood.