The most exciting city in the northern Netherlands, Groningen comes as something of a surprise in the midst of its namesake province’s quiet, rural surroundings. It’s a hip, rather cosmopolitan place for the most part, with a thriving student life that imbues the city with vim and gusto. Competitively priced restaurants dish up exotic curries and fresh falafel alongside the standard Dutch staples, and the arts scene is particularly vibrant, especially during the academic year. Virtually destroyed during the Allied liberation in 1945, the city focuses on two enormous squares and is now a jumble of styles, from traditional canal-side townhouses to bright Art Deco tilework along the upper facades of the shopping streets – an eclecticism that culminates in the innovative Groninger Museum sitting on its own island near the station. Finally, one of the nice things about Groningen is that the centre is almost car-free, the result of huge investment in traffic-calming measures and a network of cycle paths and bus lanes. Today two-thirds of residents travel regularly by bike, the highest percentage in the country.