After sampling Amsterdam's highlights, explore the watery delights of the surrounding countryside.
The quiet streets of quaint Haarlem have changed little since medieval times. This charming town has a stunning main square, almshouses and the Teylers Museum of National History.
By car: follow the N200 west; journey time approx 25 mins. By train: direct trains every 10 minutes from Amsterdam Central Station; journey time approx 15 mins.
Climb the 465 steps to the top of Dom Tower for fantastic views. Visit the centuries-old canals and wharfs which have footpaths leading to the cellars of the canalside buildings. Today, most of the cellars have been converted into trendy cafés.
By car: follow the A2 south; journey time approx 45 mins. By train: direct trains every 15 minutes from Amsterdam Central Station; journey time approx 30 mins.
The Floriade, the world's leading showcase for horticulture, runs from 6 April to 20 October. An area of 160 acres has been transformed into a green paradise with more than 300 displays. The Floriade is held only once every 10 years, so don't miss this one.
By car: follow the N200 west and follow signs; journey time approx 30 mins. By train: direct trains every 10 minutes from Central Station to Schiphol airport, then change to bus link (Zuidtangent) to the Floriade; journey time approx 25 mins.
With its pretty canals criss-crossing the centre, Alkmaar is a typical provincial small Dutch town. On Friday mornings from mid-April to mid-September it hosts a cheese market, where more than 30,000kg of cheese are sold in two hours.
By car: follow the N200 west, followed by the A9 north; journey time approx 45 mins. By train: every 15 minutes from Central Station; journey time approx 35 mins.
This once-powerful whaling and fishing port is a stunning reminder of the past. Enjoy a tour on one of the traditional Dutch flat-bottomed boats and visit the open-air folk museum.
By car: follow the N235 north, followed by the A7 north, then N302 east, journey time approx 1 hour. By train: direct trains every half hour from Central Station; journey time 1 hour.
Lelystad is the capital of the reclaimed province of Flevoland. Contemporary architecture dominates the centre while the outskirts are home to Holland's first factory outlet centre.
By car: follow the A6 east, journey time approx 50 mins. By train: direct trains every 30 mins from Central Station; journey time approx 40 mins.
Amsterdam's Grand Hotel has superior rooms from €295 (£177) through Sofitel UK (020-8283 4570; www.sofitel.com). KLM (0870 5074074; www.klmuk. com) flies to Amsterdam from Stansted from £76 return. Europcar (0870 607 5000; www. europcar.co.uk) offers weekend car hire from £119.29.