kinderdijk. Netherlands (Photo: Norbert Reimer via Flickr)

Modern, sleek and designed to a high degree of perfection, the Netherlands may be diminutive in size, but the people are huge in ambition. The Dutch are pioneers of architecture, urban and rural planning, and the evidence is everywhere. The land is mostly flat, making it a joy to explore by bicycle, with special cycle paths covering the entire country. They are masters of water management, using an elaborate system of dykes and canals built over the last 700 years to reclaim a whopping 17% of the whole country from the sea or lakes. Amsterdam, too, is a city designed around the water, epitomising the country’s ingenuity and open-minded approach to life. There is reverence for the past, encapsulated in the old buildings and great art collections, alongside an embrace of the present in everything from design to the legalisation of cannabis. But beyond that, cities like Rotterdam are changing the face of architecture, while the northern islands are gateways to the country’s agrarian past.