Amsterdam may get all the glory for its curved canals, gabled architecture and seemingly endless number of museums. A short hop in any direction, however, brings you both the Dutch clichés and the unexpected. Delicate Delftware and markets boasting rounds of cheese border towns with sandy beaches and innovative postmodern architecture. In between is an open countryside, dotted with picturesque windmills and springtime fields of tulips. Wherever you go, do as the Dutch do and explore it all from the seat of a bicycle.
Start in the capital, Amsterdam, and tool around by bike along its peaceful canals, a designated World Heritage Site, stopping to see Rembrandt's The Night Watch at the Rijksmuseum and tour the Anne Frank House. Head south to forward-thinking Rotterdam for the best clubs and the sharp angles of its modern architecture in the soaring Erasmusbrug. Stately The Hague (Den Haag) houses Vermeer's famous Girl with a Pearl Earring; from there, frolic in the dunes at beachside resort Scheveningen.
Eating and Drinking
Be sure to try rijsttafel (a Dutch take on Indonesian food) in The Hague. Throughout the country, sample traditional stamppot, a hearty mix of vegetables, mashed potatoes and smoked sausage or pork. A frothy beer in a brown cafe -- much like a cozy, convivial pub -- and a plate of bitterballen, fried croquettes filled with potato and meat ragu, are a must. Cakey Dutch apple pie with a huge dollop of whipped cream is an ideal afternoon indulgence.
Browse for vivid blue ceramics in picturesque Delft and pick up useful but stylish household items from one of Amsterdam's many shops specializing in modern, clever Dutch design. Cheese is a must-buy, best purchased from any Saturday town market, or go straight to the source in Gouda and Edam. Buy flowers at the Aalsmeer flower auction or tulip bulbs from Keukenhof, the world's largest flower park.
Take a breather in the northern provinces of Overijssel and Drenthe, where you can cycle for miles through verdant fields and swim in a string of clear lakes. Walk on the seabed during low tide from the far northern mainland to the West Frisian Islands (Waddeneilanden). In winter, ice skate along frozen canals throughout the country.