Famous for its canals, clogs, tulips and windmills, the Netherlands is just over an hour's flight from Ireland.
So here are 10 reasons to visit one of our nearest European neighbours:
Stepping out of the shadow of neighbouring Amsterdam, the port city of Rotterdam is no longer overlooked as a city break option. Most of the city's main attractions are based around the impressive harbour, with the Euromast offering amazing panoramic views of the city and out to sea. The Spido Harbour Tour and the Shipyard De Delft are two more of the city's attractions, while the 800-metre long Erasmus Bridge has become the icon of the city, especially when lit up at night. The city has also become a cultural capital with amazing architecture and interesting museums, including Boijmans van Beuningen and Kunsthal Rotterdam, where you'll find anything from old masters to daring contemporary work. Many old warehouses have been transformed into galleries and restaurants, while the shopping in the city centre is also first class.
Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam
A short stroll out of the madness of the city's old town takes you out to the museum quarter. The Van Gogh museum is primarily dedicated to the work and life of the country's most famous son, telling the story of Vincent's life through his work and influences. It's a sad tale of a troubled man who left the world before his genius was discovered and appreciated. The museum is home to some of Van Gogh's most famous works, including The Sunflowers, and several self-portraits.
Summer excursions to the Netherlands allow you to escape the city and enjoy one of the seaside resorts scattered along the North Sea coast. Vlissingen is a lively seaside and tourist resort and its main attractions are the boulevard and pretty beaches. Het Arsenaal is a family friendly theme park, while Vlissingen also offers all sorts of watersport activities and vibrant nightlife.
Be a giant for a day by visiting Madurodam, a miniature version of the Netherlands enclosed in a park with buildings, markets, canals, windmills, Schiphol Airport, the Port of Rotterdam and Dam Square replicated to the smallest detail. The Hague is the political and royal centre of the Netherlands as it is home to Dutch parliament and the residence of the Queen. The city is a hub of culture, with excellent exhibits of medieval, renaissance and baroque architecture throughout. The city is also home to the Royal Picture Gallery Mauritshuis and the Gemeentemuseum, which both boast stunning art collections. The Hague is a great walking city, with six historic squares all located within a 10-minute walk through the town centre.
The pretty town of Delft is home to the renowned painter of the Girl with a Pearl Earring, Johannes Vermeer. The Vermeer Centre Exhibition recounts the life of Vermeer, his mentors, his city and the hidden love messages in his work. You can also learn how the 17th century painter became the master of the so-called 'Dutch light'. The city is also is famous for Royal Delft, the last remaining factory that makes the famous blue earthenware. The factory offers a workshop that allows you to paint your own tiles or plates. The Old Church of Delft is the Netherlands' answer to the Leaning Tower of Pisa, dating back to 1050. History lovers will certainly be interested to learn of the William of Orange connection in Delft – the original William, an ancestor of King Billy, was a champion of freedom of religion and tolerance and was assassinated at the city's museum of Het Prinsenhof (The Prince's Court).
Located in the south of the Netherlands, within walking distance of Belgium, Maastricht is probably best known for a European Union treaty. Not the sort of thing that tourist boards can do much with, but the Meuse valley city would make an ideal city break destination as it claims to be the oldest city in the Netherlands and is full of interesting buildings and excellent museums. The White Village of Thorn, the Caves and Fort of St Peter and the Casemates of Maastricht, a network of underground passageways or mine galleries, are the main attractions to visit. Maastricht is also filled with breathtaking churches, including the Basilica of St Servatius, located on the famous Vrijthof Square, which is a Romanesque basilica with crypts and treasures. Pilgrims have travelled to Maastricht to visit the tomb of Saint Servatius for centuries.
Anne Frank House, Amsterdam
Many of the city's tourist brochures claim that the must-see attractions in Amsterdam are the Heineken Experience, the Ice Bar and Madame Tussauds. That list would nearly make you change your mind about visiting one of the most vibrant and interesting cities in Europe. Anne Frank House tells the very moving story of the young girl and her family who were hiding out in Nazi-occupied Amsterdam. The queues are long but they are well worth the wait to get a real sense of history amidst the hustle and bustle of the modern city. Enjoy the calmness and tranquillity in the area as you stroll the canals and appreciate the rows of pretty, narrow houses – it's hard to believe that the museum is only a stone's throw from the hectic old town centre.
The university city of Utrecht is one of the oldest in the Netherlands, dating back to Roman times in 47AD, and is also one of the liveliest with a very youthful population residing there. The Dom Tower dominates the city, while the canals offer a great way to discover the town centre as the many almshouses, squares and parks add to its character. The magnificent Kasteel de Haar is located just outside the city centre and is the largest castle in the Netherlands. The Rhijnauwen Fort and the city's Light Art Route (Trajectum Lumen) are two of other main attractions.
The oldest town in Holland enjoys a great blend of historic and contemporary features as the futuristic quayside blends harmoniously with the ancient buildings, which maintain the city's old world charm. The Museum Het Valkhof exhibits an impressive collection of Roman archaeological artefacts, while the National Liberation Museum 1944-1945 details the country's occupation and liberation. Nijmegen also acts as a gateway to nature, with walking and cycling activities available at Ooijpolder and Duffelt.
Discover the Netherlands at your leisure by enjoying a driving holiday throughout the low country, where you can explore the Dutch coast or get up close and personal with some of the iconic Dutch symbols including colourful bulb fields, windmills, cheese, paintings or the several World Heritage sites. Unique towns and villages are dotted throughout the provinces and are best visited by car. There are many family activities available, with zoos, amusement parks and theme parks located around the country. Alternatively, boat rentals are also proving very popular as you explore the Netherlands' many inland waterways.
Getting to the Netherlands: Aer Lingus flies daily from Dublin and Cork to Amsterdam, with one-way fares starting from €39.99. For more information, visit: www.aerlingus.com.
For more information on the Netherlands, visit: www.holland.com.
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