There are endless benefits to the fact that the Netherlands is such a small country, and one of my favorites is the fact that I'm rarely more than two hours from the nearest international border. This means that, whenever my passport starts to burn a hole in my pocket, I can hop on a train or bus to countless international destinations for a day or weekend trip. Here are some of my favorites to recommend to visitors.
Brussels holds an incredible allure for travelers, who are enchanted by its quaint, cobblestone streets and reputation for superb food and drinks: waffles, chocolate, beer, French fries, and more. At only two hours from Amsterdam, I often travel via Brussels Airport -- but not before I stop for some chow in the city and a tour of its historic center, a compact district that lends itself to an afternoon's stroll.
This favorite tourist destination in Germany is famed for its impressive Dom (Cathedral), its plethora of museums and its twelve Romanesque churches - a consummate center for arts and architecture. It's also celebrated for its Fastnacht or Karneval (Carnival, a pre-Lent festival), one of the most over-the-top in Northern Europe. Marvel at the city's classic architecture on the banks of the Rhine, and enjoy a restaurant scene that's a cosmopolitan mix of traditional (from Flammkuchen to Schnitzel) and exotic (like the continent's only Burmese restaurant).
With star attractions like the Rubenshuis (Rubens House), the Plantin Moretus Museum, and the resplendent Onze Lieve Vrowekathedraal (Cathedral of Our Lady) -- not to mention its enviable reputation in the fashion world as hometown of the "Antwerp Six" -- it's a wonder that more tourists to Amsterdam don't take a day or two to experience this memorable Flemish city, which countless visitors dub both prettier and cleaner than the more famous Brussels.
With a lovely Altstadt (Old Town) and a fantastic arts scene -- its art academy has bred stars like Paul Klee and Joseph Beuys -- Düsseldorf has plenty to see and do. Foodies can choose from restaurants that vary from Rhenish comfort food to Japanese casual eats, as well as delicious locally brewed beers and its world-famous mustard.
As of late 2009, the international train operator Thalys has whittled travel time between Amsterdam and Paris down to little more than three hours. For travelers who want to visit the Netherlands but are tempted by the proximity of wonderful Paris, a weekend trip is an excellent solution. You certainly won't cover the whole city (not even on multiple Paris trips!), but a weekend is plenty time for a whistle-stop tour of some of the city's main attractions, or an in-depth study of a specific district like the bohemian Marais. Or save Paris for another time and focus on one of France's lesser-visited cities - the north is plenty close to the Netherlands.