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Amsterdam is truly a biker’s city, although pedaling along the labyrinthine streets can get a little chaotic. Stick to walking and you won’t be disappointed. The gentle canals make a perfect backdrop for exploring the Jordaan and Rembrandtplein square. Pop into the Red Light District if you must—if only so you can say you’ve been there. The Anne Frank House is one of the most moving experiences a traveller can have, and the Van Gogh Museum boasts a sensational collection of works.
In a quirky Dutch-ism, Amsterdam may be the official capital of the Netherlands, but it’s The Hague (Den Haag) where the government sits (along with several international courts, for which the city’s best known). Cosmopolitan and cultured, The Hague is Holland’s third-largest town, with just under 500,000 people. Conveniently, the beach resort of Scheveningen is part of The Hague, and en route lies the family-friendly Madurodam, a fascinating 1/25 miniature display of a fictitious Dutch city.
Touching Belgium on its west and just a few miles from Germany to the east, Maastricht is the capital of Holland’s southernmost region, Limburg. A town rich in history and culture, Maastricht boasts two wonderful town squares: Vrijthof, with Sint-Servaas Church, Sint-Jan's Cathedral and many bars, cafes and restaurants; and Markt, home to the town hall and, on Wednesday and Friday mornings, a fantastic vendor market. The city’s Vestigingswerken, or old town fortifications, are another big draw.
Holland's most modern city began as a fishing village in the 13th century. It was developing into an industrial and trading power when German bombers destroyed the city centre and harbour in 1940. However, Rotterdam's unique architecture now brings many visitors to cycle around this urbane, cosmopolitan city. Old Dutch-style houses can still be found in historic Delfshaven, from where the pilgrims set sail in 1620. Cultural offerings ranging from the summer carnival to classical music can compete with those of Amsterdam.
This ancient and historic city houses many buildings going back to the early Middle Ages. Until it was overtaken by Amsterdam in the Dutch Golden age, Utrecht was the most important city in the Netherlands. It was and still is the See of the Archbishop of Utrecht, the most important Catholic leader in the Netherlands. The University of Utrecht is the largest in the Netherlands. One of the unique features of the city is the wharf system in its inner canals. Before the city was fully canalised, parts of the Rhine River flowed through the city center. Most prominent of the historic buildings is the Gothic Cathedral of Saint Martin, the construction of which lasted for almost 200 year, beginning in 1254.
A sizable city in its own right, Arnhem is best known today as the site of one of the most famous battles of World War II. Given city rights in 1233, it has long been at the centre of conflicts because of its strategic location on the banks of the Rhine River. The Battle of Arnhem, part of Operation Market Garden, was fought in September 1944. Advancing Allied forces, in large part due to a series of mistakes, failed to secure a key bridge and suffered defeat, delaying the Allied advance into Germany until the following spring. The 1977 film "A Bridge Too Far" was based on the events here.
At over 2000 years old, Nijmegen has had a pretty full life. Its transition from Roman military camp to modern municipality has not been without growing pains, but today Nijmegen is thriving, largely because of its lively student population and its status as a hub for political activism. Try to visit during the internationally popular Nijmeegse Vierdaagse four-day walking festival and the epic Zomerfeesten summer party. They happen at the same time, because why not?
Vermeer’s birthplace and a true gem, Delft sits between The Hague and Rotterdam in the country’s southwest. The city’s name comes from the Dutch word for digging, fitting since canals are a highlight here. Others include the 13th-century Old Church, the 15th-century New Church and the Prinsenhof, once home to William of Orange and now a museum. Delft has long been a center for fine ceramics, and traditional hand painting methods can still be witnessed at Koninklijke Porceleyne Fles.