This country of tulips, windmills and bicycles stretches out
over a predominantly flat landscape of land reclaimed from the sea.
Sophisticated urban centres and sleepy rural towns are contained
within the expansive vistas broken here and there by canals, castle
walls and dikes. Europe's most densely populated region is located
within an area of the Netherlands called the Randstad. This urban
hub radiates in a circle from Amsterdam and includes The Hague,
Rotterdam and Utrecht, as well as the smaller towns of Haarlem,
Leiden and Delft. The metropolitan centres buzz with the activity
of seasonal festivals, cultural activities, vibrant art scenes and
excellent pubs and restaurants.
The cultural heritage that flavours much of Dutch life can be
traced back through time. During the 1600s the Netherlands
dominated the world both economically and culturally. The Dutch
East India Company established trading links with the East and West
Indies bringing back an abundance of merchandise and cultural
influences. The Golden Age reached its zenith in the artworks of
the Dutch Masters - Rembrandt, Frans Hals and Jan Vermeer. Today,
their paintings hang from the walls of the cities' numerous museums
Most people travelling to the Netherlands head for the unique
experience of its capital city, Amsterdam. The other parts are
largely unaffected by tourism, particularly the areas outside the
Randstad. The southern parts of the country are transformed by
undulating landscapes of shifting sands and heath moors, best
experienced within the Hoge Veluwe National Park. Further south,
tucked between the German and Belgian borders, lies the historical
city of Maastricht.
Since the collapse of Napoleon's empire in 1814, the Netherlands
has taken a neutral stance throughout most of the world's
conflicts, including the First World War in which it took no part.
In spite of this independent stance it still suffered severely in
World War II during the Nazi invasion of 1940. Its neutral
political position, combined with its tradition of liberalism and
tolerance has made the Netherlands the logical choice for the
establishment of the International Court of Justice, which is
situated in The Hague.