Go Dutch on weekend trips to Holland

The great thing about Holland is that it's so small. A budget flight into Amsterdam leaves you just a quick train ride away from a number of interesting small towns that are perfect for weekend trips.

Easyjet (www.easyjet.com) has direct flights to Amsterdam Schiphol from no fewer than 10 UK airports: Belfast, Bristol, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Liverpool, London Gatwick, London Luton, London Stansted, Manchester and Southend. It's rarely difficult to find fares that are around £30 each way including taxes. Even with baggage charges and credit card surcharges, you should be able to budget for a round-trip fare of around £75.

From Schiphol it's easy to get around on the fast, efficient and relatively cheap Dutch railways (www.ns.nl). The size of the country means you never have to spend too long on a train.

Start off in Utrecht, Amsterdam's respectable big brother, with its own canals and beautifully-preserved merchants' houses. This is a town for languid exploration, punctuated by visits to smart coffee-shops (there is even one in the cloisters of the massive Dom Kerk church) and the endless rows of antique shops.

The town of Haarlem is only 15 minutes from Amsterdam by train, but it has its own character, summed up by the pretty houses and shops leading off from the beautifully-preserved De Grote Markt, square. The highlight is the  Frans Hals museum, devoted to the work of the Haarlem genius whose work rivals that of Rembrandt.

Weekends aren't all about culture though. Head north to Alkmaar and investigate museums devoted to cheese and beer. Alkmaar's entire existence seems to be woven into its cheese production, with the market piled high with the stuff. If you thought Dutch cheese ended with bland Gouda and Edam, prepare to be enlightened.

Buy enough cheese, postcards and beer to make your weekend trips to Holland truly memorable, then start planning your next visit. For more ideas about attractions in the region check www.holland.com.


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