Friesland, Netherlands © Gouwenaar
Known for its tulips, windmills and bicycles, the Netherlands stretches out over a predominantly flat landscape. Sleepy rural towns and sophisticated cities lie within its expansive vistas, broken here and there by dikes, walls, canals and castles. The country is also home to one of Europe's most densely populated regions, which is located in an urban hub called Randstad. The area radiates in a circle from Amsterdam and includes The Hague, Utrecht, and Rotterdam, as well as the smaller towns of Delft, Haarlem and Leiden. Visitors will find vibrant art scenes, cultural activities, seasonal festivals and excellent pubs and restaurants in these destinations.
Historically speaking, the country's global influence stretches back centuries. That is, the Dutch East India Company established trading links with the East and West Indies in the 1600s, bringing a wealth of merchandise and cultural influences back to Europe. The Netherlands' Golden Age reached its zenith in the artworks of its master painters, namely, Frans Hals, Rembrandt van Rijn, and Johannes Vermeer. Today, their paintings hang from the walls of the country's many world-class museums and galleries.
Tourists generally visit the Netherlands to experience its capital city, Amsterdam, though nature lovers may enjoy the south's undulating landscapes of heath moors and shifting sands. They're best explored within the Hoge Veluwe National Park. The historical city of Maastricht is tucked between the Belgian and German borders, and is definitely worth seeing.
Regarding global conflicts, the Netherlands has largely taken a neutral stance since the collapse of Napoleon's empire in 1814. That said, it suffered severely in World War II, when the Nazis invaded. Its neutral position and tradition of tolerance and liberalism would make it the logical location for the International Court of Justice, which is situated in The Hague.
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