Explore the colorful sights of Holland
Holland is a country partly reclaimed from the waters of the North Sea, and around half of it lies at or below sea level. Land reclamation has been dominant motif of its history, resulting in a country of unique images - flat fertile landscapes punctuated by windmills and church spires, ornately gabled terraces flanking peaceful canals and mile upon mile grassy dunes, backing onto stretches of pristine sandy beach.
The capital, Amsterdam is not merely the city of garnish sin. While the scent of marijuana smoke does drift out of coffee shops and prostitutes do pose provocatively behind windows bathed in red light, there is much to enjoy beyond the city's fabulous excess. Amsterdam has long been the center of wide-ranging openness - the same culture of acceptance that tolerates cannabis use and a commercial sex trade has also turned the city into a migrant capital along with Rotterdam and Maastricht.
The second-largest city in The Netherlands and the busiest seaport city in the word, Rotterdam (pop 590,000) lacks the quaint, classic feel that characterizes much of The Netherlands. After it was bombed in 1940, experimental architects replaced the rubble with striking buildings, creating an urban, industrial conglomerate. Artsy and innovative, yet almost decrepit in its hypermodernity, the Rotterdam that arose from the ashes - filled with museums, parks, and creative architecture - is now one of the centers of cultural activity in Europe.
Haarlem's narrow cobblestone streets, rippling canals, and fields of tulips make for a great escape from the urban frenzy of Amsterdam. Most visitors come to Haarlem for its Renaissance facades, medieval architecture and incredible museums, but the city possesses more than just this antiquated charm. Haarlem also bustles with a relaxed energy that benefits its urban size. Coffee shops, bars and the most restaurants per land area of any Dutch city ensure that there is fun to be had even after the sun goes down.