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NextGen Trips Europe - Netherlands Travel & Tourism Guide
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The Netherlands is a country that is part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. It is a parliamentary democratic constitutional monarchy. The Netherlands is located in Northwestern Europe, and bordered by the North Sea to the north and west, Belgium to the south, and Germany to the east. The capital is Amsterdam and the seat of government is The Hague.
The Netherlands is often called Holland, which is formally incorrect as North and South Holland are merely two of its twelve provinces. The word Dutch is used to refer to the people, the language, and anything appertaining to the Netherlands.
Being one of the first parliamentary democracies, the Netherlands was a modern country from its very foundation. Among other affiliations the country is a founding member of the European Union (EU), NATO, OECD, WTO, and has signed the Kyoto protocol. With Belgium and Luxembourg it forms the Benelux economic union. The country is host to five international courts: the Permanent Court of Arbitration, the International Court of Justice, the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, the International Criminal Court and the Special Tribunal for Lebanon. The former four are situated in The Hague as is the EU's criminal intelligence agency Europol. This has led to the city being dubbed "the world's legal capital."
The Netherlands is a geographically low-lying country, with about 27% of its area and 60% of its population located below sea level. Significant areas have been gained through land reclamation and preserved through an elaborate system of polders and dikes. Much of the Netherlands is formed by the estuary of three important European rivers, which together with their distributaries form the Rhine-Meuse-Scheldt delta. Most of the country is very flat, with the exception of foothills of the Ardennes in the far south–east and several low-hill ranges in the central parts created by ice-age glaciers.
The Netherlands is a densely populated country. It is known for its traditional windmills, tulips, cheese, clogs, delftware and gouda pottery, for its bicycles, and in addition, traditional values and civil virtues such as its social tolerance. The country has more recently become known for its liberal policies toward drugs, prostitution, homosexuality, and euthanasia. It also has one of the most free market capitalist economies in the world, ranking 12th of 157 countries on one index.
Amsterdam (Amsterdam Hotels & Amsterdam Resort Reservation Service)
Amsterdam, the Netherlands' capital, is one of the world's best hangouts, a place where you can immerse yourself in history, in art, in the head of a beer or a self-rolled smokestack. The city is a canny blend of old and new: radical squatter art installations hang off 17th-century eaves, BMWs give way to bicycles and triple-strength monk-made beer is served in steel and glass 'grand cafés'. Amsterdam combines a huge case of big city exuberance with small-town manageability; it doesn't take much more than chaining your bike to a bridge to feel like you've got a handle on the place.
Amsterdam is a cosmopolitan cauldron which has been enticing migrants and nonconformists for decades. It's a thriving city, and one of the hardest for travellers to leave, going on the number of expats trying to bike around like locals. Amsterdam seems to thrive on its funky mix, and there's very little of the tourist-fatigue which can take the happy edge off other LOB (lots of backpacks) cities. Perhaps this is because Amsterdam's quintessential Dutchness shines through: the 17th- and 18th-century architecture, the fleets of bicycles, the tree-lined canals and scattered parks all contribute to the mood of the city. As do the pavement-logs - Dutchies love their pooches and this is one of the squish 'n' squirm capitals of the world.
The Randstad (The Randstad Hotels & The Randstad Resort Reservation Service)
The Randstad translates as 'Urban Agglomeration'. It's the Netherlands' most densely populated region, spreading in a circle from Amsterdam, incorporating the Hague, Rotterdam and Utrecht, and smaller towns like Haarlem, Leiden and Delft. The area's most spectacular sight are the bulb fields which explode into colour between March and May. Even from the window of a train they're intoxicating, but a back-roads bicycle trip is the best way to enjoy the sights and smells. The Keukenhof, south of Haarlem, is the world's largest garden. It attracts a staggering 800,000 people during its eight-week season each year, but its beauty is something of an enigma. Nature's talents are combined with Dutch precision to create a garden where millions of tulips and daffodils bloom every year, perfectly in place and exactly on time.
Other Randstad attractions include the stately mansions, palatial embassies and prestigious art galleries of The Hague, the country's seat of government; the distinctive blue-and-white pottery of Delft; the experimental postwar architecture of Rotterdam; and the vibrant and attractive city of Haarlem.
Hoge Veluwe (Hoge Veluwe Hotels & Hoge Veluwe Resort Reservation Service)
The Hoge Veluwe is the country's largest national park and home to the wonderful Kröller-Müller Museum. The park itself covers 5500 hectares and is a strange mix of forests and woods, shifting sands and heath moors that provide a sense of isolation (if not actual isolation) found nowhere else on the Dutch mainland. Red deer, wild boar and mouflon (a Mediterranean sheep) roam here. The Kröller-Müller Museum has 278 works by Van Gogh, as well as smaller collections of Picasso and Mondriaan. Out the back is Europe's largest sculpture garden with works by Rodin, Moore, Giacometti and many more.
Hoge Veluwe is accessible by bus from Arnhem, which is one hour's train ride east of Amsterdam. White bicycles are available free of charge once you're inside the park.
Maastricht (Maastricht Hotels & Maastricht Resort Reservation Service)
The Netherland's oldest city, Maastricht sits at the bottom end of the thin finger of land which juts down between Belgium and Germany. Its history stretches back to 50 BC when the Romans set up camp on the bank of the River Meuse. Fortification walls still partly surround the city, and you can explore a 10km labyrinth of tunnels on the city's western outskirts. Today this lively city has a reputation even in its own country of being a little foreign. You can pay for a beer in Belgian francs or German marks; you can sample the distinct tastes of neighbouring cuisines; and in February you can party with the rest of the revellers in the Netherlands' largest carnival festival.
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