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This is the Netherlands

Windmills, tulips, cheese and wooden shoes. But also bicycles, dykes and countless festivals. The Netherlands boasts a diverse cultural life. An introduction to this small country below sea level.

The Netherlands, a land of water

The Netherlands and water: an ancient and endless battle. Almost a third of the country lies below sea level. That means that without the dykes the country would simply disappear under water. The Dutch have developed an ingenious system of polders and waterworks to keep the sea at bay. That is one of the main reasons why Dutch engineers are much sought after for their expertise in handling flood disasters or building dams.

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    Endless bike paths

    The Netherlands is a bike country. With more than 37,000 kilometres of bike paths and an average of 1.3 bikes per inhabitant, cycling is the country's number one activity (and complaining about the weather). The Dutch bike a total of 15 billion kilometres and a Dutch person completes 250 to 300 bike rides a year. It's also very common to see more than one person on a bike. Either hitching a ride on the back of the bike or in a child's seat attached to the steering wheel.

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    Flat as a pancake

    Mountains are a foreign concept in the Netherlands. The country is as flat as pancake. The only exception is the southern province of Limburg where a gently rolling landscape stretches towards the German and Belgian border. The lack of mountains makes the Netherlands very suitable for agriculture. Vast farmlands and endless fields dominate the landscape.

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      Colourful bulb fields

      One of the most important reasons that people from around the world flock to the Netherlands are the flower fields. Every year this region transforms into a magnificent geometric striped pattern of pink, yellow, white and purple. Especially the area between the cities of Leiden and Haarlem boasts fields full of tulips thanks to the fertile dune soil. And then there is the world famous flower exhibit De Keukenhof near Lisse: a must for flower lovers.

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        Danita Delimont / Getty Images

        Festival heaven

        With over a thousand festivals a year, the Netherlands is the most festival-friendly country in the world. Half of the festivals are music festivals with dance reigning supreme. But there is much more to explore: theatre festivals such as De Parade and travelling food-truck festivals such as Trek draw thousands of visitors every year.

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          The wonders of the Wadden

          The Waddeneilanden, a handful North Sea islands, lie in the far north. This natural area is truly unique in the world. The region is ruled by the tides: at low tide the sea between the islands and the mainland almost falls dry, making it possible to walk across the bottom of the sea. The Dutch Waddeneilanden are composed of five islands: Texel, Terschelling, Vlieland, Ameland and Schiermonnikoog. Each island has its own character and for the Dutch the Wadden region is a perfect weekend getaway.

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            Ancient fortress towns

            Halfway through the sixteenth century the Netherlands rebelled against the Spanish occupation. It quickly became clear that the fortified city walls weren't enough to keep the occupying forces at bay so the Dutch resorted to another weapon: water! All around the Netherlands you will find various fortress towns and villages, often recognizable by their lovely star-shaped layout. Bourtange in the northern province of Groningen is one of the smallest fortress villages.

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