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AMSTERDAM (Netherlands)

Standing in the middle of Dam Square, it's hard to imagine that this magnificent city, with its grand churches and rows of canal side houses is actually balancing on top of a marsh. But you'll soon discover that this is just one of many marvels that make Amsterdam and its natives so fascinating.

First granted official status in the 1300s, Amsterdam soon flourished as a city state powered by wealthy merchants and businessmen, rather than by a king or queen. This rejection of traditional hierachy means that the Netherlands really does merit its reputation as a "flat country" in more than one way. At work, everyone gets their say and the buck doesn't always stop with the boss.

Did you know


It might be tempting for go for a swim in one of Amsterdam's many canals, but as well as the questionably murky water, you'll also have contend with the huge amount of scrap metal that sits at their base. Between 12,000 and 15,000 bikes are drudged up from the bottom of Amsterdam's canal each year after residents have left them too close to the ledge or have thrown them in.