The landscape around Amsterdam in the Noord-Holland (North Holland) province affords a taste of the cultural and natural variety of the Netherlands. There are the dikes that brought this improbable country into being, the polder (the Dutch word for land reclaimed from water) landscape, windmills, wooden shoes, tidy farms, tiny yacht-filled harbors overlooking IJsselmeer Lake, flower fields reaching to the broad Dutch horizon, and sandy beaches looking out to the North Sea.

In the west is the venerable and graceful city of Haarlem; in the east are remnants of strategic fortifications that protected medieval crossing points. In other places, you can climb tall towers and view museums that recreate the local life of yesteryear, ride a steam train, eat fish by the harbor, and see giant locks and tiny canals.

Everything in Noord-Holland is an easy day trip from Amsterdam, but there's so much to see that you need to make several trips to do the region justice.