Kingdom of the Netherlands

Kingdom of the Netherlands

The Netherlands (Dutch: Nederland), in long form the Kingdom of the Netherlands (Koninkrijk der Nederlanden), sometimes called Holland by metonymy, is a transcontinental country whose metropolitan territory is located in Western Europe (or, according to some interpretations, Northern Europe). Bordering Belgium to the south and Germany to the east, the Netherlands also has a border with France on the island of St. Martin (Caribbean). The Netherlands is a constitutional monarchy with a population of 17.8 million in 2023.

The city of Amsterdam is the capital of the kingdom (more precisely the constitutional capital), although the governmental institutions – executive, legislative and judicial – sit in The Hague, on the coast of the North Sea. King William Alexander has been head of state since April 30, 2013. The Netherlands is administered in four autonomous territories: Aruba, Curaçao, Saint-Martin and the European territory, itself divided into twelve provinces, to which are added three other municipalities with special status, located in the overseas part (Bonaire, Saba and Sint Eustatius). Geographically, the country has unique characteristics, possessing one of the lowest average altitudes in the world (which explains its name): about a quarter of the territory in Europe is located below sea level. 18.41% of the total area of the Netherlands is covered by water.

Kingdom of the Netherlands
Koninkrijk der Nederlanden
Coat of arms of the Netherlands
Coat of Arms of the Netherlands
Motto Je maintiendrai (I will maintain)
Anthem in Dutch: Wilhelmus van Nassouwe (“William of Nassau”)
National day April 27
Commemorated event Birthday of the reigning king
The Kingdom of the Netherlands in Europe (the European Union in light green)
The Kingdom of the Netherlands in Europe (the European Union in light green)
Position of the Netherlands on the global
Position of the Netherlands on the global
Form of the State Constitutional monarchy
King Willem-Alexander
Prime minister Mark Rutte
President of the First Chamber Jan Anthonie Bruijn
President of the Second Chamber Vera Bergkamp
Parliament States General
Upper House
Lower House
First Chamber
Second Chamber
Official languages Dutch
Capital Amsterdam
52° 22′ 22″ N, 4° 53′ 37″ E
Largest city Amsterdam
Total area 41,530 km2 (ranked 135th)
Water area 18,41 %
Time zone
  • UTC +1 (CET);
  • Daylight saving time: UTC+2 (CDT);
  • UTC-4 (Caribbean Netherlands).
Previous entity United Kingdom of the Netherlands
United Provinces 1581-1795
Batavian Republic 1795-1806
Kingdom of Holland 1806-1810
United Netherlands 1813-1815
United Kingdom of the Netherlands 1815-1839
Kingdom of the Netherlands Since 1839
Demonym Dutchman, Dutchess
Total population (2023) 17,815,508 (ranked 70th)
Density 429 hab./km2
Nominal GDP (2022) $1,013.595 billion – 0.49% (17th)
GDP (PPP) (2022) $1,201.755 billion + 9.43%
Nominal GDP per capita (2022) $57,835,725 – 0.78% (12th)
GDP (PPP) per capita (2022) $68,575,150 + 9.11% (16th)
Unemployment rate (2022) 4% of pop. active
– 5.34%
Government gross debt (2022)

€503.005 billion (+ 2.98%)

55.307% of GDP (- 2.53%)

HDI (2021) 0.941 (very high; 10th)
  • Euro (European Netherlands);
  • US dollar (Caribbean Netherlands);
  • Aruban guilder (Aruba);
  • Netherlands Antillean guilder (Curaçao and Sint Maarten).
ISO 3166-1 code NLD, NL
Internet domain .nl
Calling code +31
International organizations
  • UN: 1945
  • NATO: 1949
  • EOC: 1949
  • EU: 1957
  • WTO
  • BAD
  • AIIB
  • EIF

The territories today united as the Netherlands are, in their history, relatively independent of any centralized royal power, before the sixteenth century, although included in the Holy Roman Empire. While Charles V asserted national unity in 1549, his son, Philip II, saw the revolt of the inhabitants of the Netherlands against his authority during the Eighty Years’ War. The Republic was then founded on its defeat. The new state experienced a “golden age”, when it constituted a colonial Empire, whose remains are the Caribbean territories preserved today, bringing its cultural and artistic influence to a global level.

Weakened by the Napoleonic Wars and the capture of its naval fleet, the country became the Kingdom of Holland in 1806 and did not return to a republican regime when the French left in 1815. It is one of the first states in the world to have an elected parliamentary system that is not overturned. From 1848, the Netherlands was governed as a parliamentary democracy under the influence of Johan Thorbecke, during the reign of William II. With a long tradition of social tolerance, they are generally seen as a progressive and innovative country, abolishing the death penalty in 1870, legalizing women’s right to vote in 1917, and decriminalizing, relatively early, abortion, prostitution, euthanasia, as well as certain drugs. In 1868, the French poet Charles Baudelaire described the Netherlands as a place “where everything is beautiful, rich, quiet, honest”, before adding: “singular country, superior to others”.

Remaining neutral during the First World War and engaged in the camp of the Allies during the Second World War, the Netherlands signed, in 1945, with Belgium and Luxembourg, the economic treaty of the customs union of the Benelux, negotiated during the conflict by the governments in exile of the three countries in London. Subsequently, in its contemporary history, the country became one of the founding members of the UN, EU, NATO, OECD and WTO. He is currently a permanent guest of the G20. The construction of the Delta Plan, a system for protecting land from the sea, one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World, was completed in 1997, after 47 years of work. In 2001, the country became the first in the world to legalize same-sex marriage, while the following year, the euro was adopted as its currency, replacing the guilder.

Appearing in the 2010s among the most democratic and least corrupt states in the world, the Netherlands is one of the most developed countries according to the annual United Nations HDI report and one of the first regarding children’s happiness according to UNICEF. The country is also among the leaders in the world in terms of press freedom according to RSF and work-life balance according to the OECD. According to Oxfam International, however, it is one of the most notable tax havens in the world. In 2022, the Netherlands is ranked 5th for the Global Innovation Index.


At the height of the Burgundian state at the end of the medieval period, the northern part of the ducal possessions, in what is now Belgian and Dutch territory, was called “States of par-deçà” or “Netherlands” to distinguish them from the “States of beyond” (Burgundy proper and Franche-Comté). This is the origin of the term of the historical region of the Netherlands, a term that will be given over the centuries and in different forms and to several countries in this territory.

The name of the country alludes to its low altitude and consequently its permanent fight against the waters. However, for the name “Holland”, the meaning of the name is “hollow country”. A common synecdoche sometimes practiced by the Dutch themselves refers to the Netherlands as Holland, as well as the Dutch by the Dutch and sometimes the Dutch language by Dutch. Holland stricto sensu is only one of the regions of the Netherlands divided into two provinces (North Holland and South Holland), home to the country’s major cities (Amsterdam, The Hague, Rotterdam), and Dutch a category of dialects spoken in these provinces.

Since January 1, 2020, the official name is “Netherlands” and not “Holland”.

Geography of the Netherlands

Location and borders

  • Location: Western Europe (or, in a much more restricted sense, Northern Europe). The Netherlands is bounded to the north and west by the North Sea, to the south by Belgium and to the east by Germany.
  • Surface:
    • Total: 41,526 km2
    • Land: 33,883 km2
    • Water: 7,643 km2
  • Maritime territory:
    • Exclusive fishing zone: 200 nautical miles (370 km)
    • Territorial waters: 12 nautical miles (22 km)
  • Territory: Mainly coastal or reclaimed from the sea (polders), hilly in the Southwest.
  • Highlights:
    • Negative: Zuidplaspolder (Nieuwerkerk aan den IJssel) (-6.76 m)
    • Positive: Vaalserberg (321 m) or Mount Scenery (887 m, in the Netherlands Antilles)
  • Natural resources: Natural gas, agriculture.

Coal resources were not very important, and were concentrated in the Limburg region, whose mines had been exploited since the Middle Ages. It was after the Napoleonic period that the mines of Limburg began to be actively exploited, in conjunction with the Industrial Revolution. In 1931, these mines produced 14 million tons of coal, extracted by nearly 3,800 miners. The last mine was closed in 1973 after a gradual decline in production.

Climate, landscapes and hydrography

Wooded moors in the Veluwe, in summer
Wooded moors in the Veluwe, in summer

Dunes, small vegetation and dense forest in North Brabant
Dunes, small vegetation and dense forest in North Brabant

Early and largely urbanized compared to the European average, the country nevertheless preserves in its center a vast wooded area designated as its green heart. This region is generally associated with Waterland (“Land of Water” in Dutch), a territory located north of Amsterdam, composed mainly of lakes and canals. The climate of the European Netherlands is temperate oceanic, i.e. with an often cool summer and a marked winter. The islands in the Caribbean are mostly tropical (Sint Eustatius, Sint Maarten), although Saba and Curacao are drier.

A quarter of the Dutch European territory is below sea level and even reaches more than 6.76 meters in negative, a record in Europe. However, according to scientists, very low-altitude land (below 10 meters) could be very quickly affected by rising seas. The IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate) also considers the Rhine Delta to be one of the most vulnerable in the world. For this reason, the Netherlands began to adopt a sustainable development approach in the 1980s. The soils in the Netherlands are very fertile, and therefore very important in the country’s economy. The center of the country alternates forests and sandy areas, the east consists of heathland, while Limburg, in the south, has a landscape composed of limestone hills. The tourist landscape of the tulip fields is visible mainly in the vicinity of Amsterdam and The Hague (Westland), with international visitors usually going to Lisse.

The fight against water is still present: the appearance of the Dutch coastline is considerably modified over time due to natural disasters and human intervention, in particular through the appearance of border lakes. A notable loss of land occurred with the storm of 1134, which created the archipelago that became the province of Zeeland (“land of the sea”) in the southwest. During several memorable floods, including that of Saint Lucia, the North Sea invaded the central part of the country absorbing Lake Flevo to form the Zuiderzee.

In 1421, the flooding of the Sainte-Élisabeth caused the dikes to give way in several places. The latter are then no longer properly maintained, because the country is then in civil war (rivalries between Hooks and Cod). This flood replaces the newly drained polder with a real inland sea. The land then submerged is still under water today. The famous De Biesbosch National Park is one of them. The parts that are reclaimed from the waters are the island of Dordrecht, the island of Hoeksche Waard and a point in northwestern North Brabant. The country had to face again in the sixteenth century two great floods that caused the death of tens of thousands of people: on Saint-Félix in 1530 and on All Saints’ Day 40 years later.

On the night of January 31 to February 1, 1953, many in the provinces of Zeeland, South Holland and North Brabant cannot withstand the combination of high tides and a storm from the northwest. On the islands and on the mainland, large areas of the country are completely flooded and a thousand people killed. To prevent such disasters from happening again, an ambitious project was conceived and implemented: the Delta Plan, built between 1950 and 1997, consisting of dams, locks,, and barriers to counter sudden rises in water in the south-west of the Netherlands, to protect large areas of land from the sea.

This project reinforces the Houtribdijk and the Afsluitdijk, established in the North Sea, following the great floods suffered by the country in 1916, as part of the work of the Zuiderzee. Approximately 30 kilometers long each and inaugurated in the 1930s, the area of the freshwater lake they created reaches more than 110,000 hectares. The Netherlands Water Board continuously monitors the country’s many rivers. As early as the twelfth century, such a company was set up in the country to coordinate the efforts of the different territories in the fight against waters.

With a very large budget, this agency divides the Netherlands into 24 districts and aims to prevent new disasters (in coordination with the Rijkswaterstaat, which manages the national infrastructure), and, if necessary, to manage the populations concerned. In particular, the 24 regional offices ordered the raising of certain roads in the countryside so that they contain water in the event of a perforation of a dike, so that the authorities have enough time to evacuate the inhabitants. However, the latter invest an average of one billion euros each year in the maintenance of water control systems and the new safety standards on which the are built – the strictest in the world – greatly reduce the risk of new disasters occurring. Water agencies operate under the principle of functional democracy, with their members elected in the areas over which they have authority.

On June 24, 2015, a court in The Hague requires the state to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 25% by 2020, compared to 1990 levels. The judge ruled in favor of a group of citizens, considering that the gases released were harmful to public health, and that the State must take the necessary measures to protect the population. This judgment is a world first, but the State indicates that it will appeal, while reassessing its projection of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 16% by 2020. In 2018, the Estates General passed a law obliging the government to implement a 95% reduction in emissions compared to 1990 levels by 2050. Petrol and diesel cars will also be banned by 2030.

June 2019 is the hottest month ever recorded in the Netherlands.

The Netherlands, which historically benefited from regular rains, has suffered repeated droughts, especially since 2018. They declare themselves in “water shortage” during the summer of 2022.


The overshoot day (the date of the year from which humanity is supposed to have consumed all the resources that the planet is able to regenerate in one year) of the Netherlands is May 4th. The Netherlands is one of the countries whose consumption exceeds the capacity of the world.

The number of flying insects in the Netherlands has fallen by 75% since the 1990s.

The Netherlands is threatened with extinction due to rising sea levels, although their past experience allows them to be among the best equipped to combat the phenomenon.

European Natura 2000 Network

The Natura 2000 network brings together natural or semi-natural sites in the European Union with a high heritage value, in terms of the exceptional fauna and flora they contain.

In December 2018, the Netherlands had 196 sites including:

  • 77 Special Protection Areas (SPAs) for birds covering an area of 13,397 km2;
  • 139 Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) (including pSCIs, SCIs) for habitats and species covering an area of 15,213 km2.

The total area is 20,605 km2, which represents 13.3% of the land and sea surface of the territory of the Netherlands.


The Port of Rotterdam is the largest port in Europe
The Port of Rotterdam is the largest port in Europe

Ideally located in Europe, the Netherlands has an important transport infrastructure. The port of Rotterdam is the largest in Europe and one of the largest in the world. Other important ports in the country are the Port of Amsterdam, the Port of Ems and the Port of Vlissingen-Oost. The hinterland of these ports is composed of an extensive network of rivers, canals and other waterways. The coastline, therefore, plays an important role in the Dutch economy. The rivers Rhine, Meuse and Scheldt, coming from neighboring countries and ending in the North Sea, have for centuries, and still do, make the Netherlands a hub for European inland transport.

A KLM Boeing 747-400
A KLM Boeing 747-400

Amsterdam Airport Schiphol is the largest airport in the Netherlands and the third largest in Europe in terms of passenger numbers, welcoming more than 60 million people each year. Since 2006, Eindhoven Airport has been the largest regional airport in the Netherlands, ahead of Rotterdam-The Hague Airport. The latter, however, is the official airport for diplomatic receptions. KLM Royal Dutch Airlines is the national airline; Founded in 1919, it is the oldest airline in the world still in operation. Its blue planes, nicknamed the “blue birds“, are nowadays part of the Dutch national identity.

Cycling is a very common mode of transport in the Netherlands. On a daily basis, in 2011, it was the main mode of transport most used (31%) after the car (49%), but was the majority in cities. The country’s highways are heavily used and toll-free. The total length of the roads is approximately 116,500 kilometers.

A provincial railway station near Utrecht
A provincial railway station near Utrecht

The rail network reaches a total length of 2,808 kilometers and is one of the busiest in Europe. The private national carrier, the Nederlandse Spoorwegen (NS), provides rail connections across the country. Urban and regional buses are also widely used by these carriers. As part of a European high-speed rail travel plan, the Netherlands opened HSL-Zuid in 2009, linking Amsterdam to the Belgian border. It is the country’s only HSL in operation, which trains from Thalys, High-Speed Alliance and Eurostar use to France, Belgium, Germany and the United Kingdom. A new high-speed line linking Amsterdam to the German border, the HSL-Oost, is planned, aimed at supporting the activity of the Betuwe line.

Administrative geography

Self-Governing Territories

The Kingdom of the Netherlands was formed, after the dissolution of the Federation of the Netherlands Antilles on October 10, 2010, of four autonomous territories: the Netherlands, Aruba, Curaçao and Sint Maarten.


The twelve provinces of the European Netherlands
Province Capital Area Population (2023) Density
North Brabant Bois-le-Duc 4,905 km2 2 626 368 535
Drenthe Assen 2,633 km2 502 120 191
Flevoland Lelystad 1,412 km2 444 850 315
Frieze Leeuwarden 3,336 km2 659 612 198
Groningen Groningen 2,324 km2 596 163 256.5
Gelderland Arnhem 4,964 km2 2 133 751 430
South Holland The Hague 2,700 km2 3 804 737 1 409
North Holland Haarlem 2,665 km2 2 956 223 1 109
Limburg Maastricht 2,147 km2 1 128 334 520
Overijssel Zwolle 3,319 km2 1 184 551 357
Utrecht Utrecht 1,485 km2 1 387 657 904
Zeeland Middelburg 1,782 km2 391 142 219.5

Cities on the European continent

Density in the Netherlands (2007)
Density in the Netherlands (2007)
Rank City Province Population (2023)
1 Amsterdam North Holland 921 468
2 Rotterdam South Holland 664 071
3 The Hague South Holland 562 416
4 Utrecht Utrecht 367 951
5 Eindhoven North Brabant 243 710
6 Groningen Groningen 238 179
7 Tilburg North Brabant 227 701
8 Almere Flevoland 222 919
9 Breda North Brabant 186 475
10 Nimwegen Gelderland 182 465

Overseas territories

The Kingdom of the Netherlands comprises three island territories in the West Indies: Aruba, Curaçao and Sint Maarten. The Netherlands Antilles announced in the 2000s that it wanted to reform its status. A local referendum in the West Indies approves the change, which is enshrined and ratified in the kingdom’s constitution. The West Indies began their reform on July 1, 2007: Sint Maarten and Curaçao have obtained the status of recognized collectivities, before becoming in October 2010 autonomous territories within the kingdom, such as Aruba.

The other islands of the Netherlands Antilles, Bonaire, Saba and Sint Eustatius (Caribbean Netherlands) become municipalities of the Netherlands with special status. The administration of these three islands is shared between the National Office of the Caribbean Netherlands (in Dutch, Rijksdienst Caribisch Nederland) and the local administration. These three islands, unlike Aruba, Curaçao and Sint Maarten, have the right to vote in Dutch parliamentary elections, the autonomous states having their own parliament and government. A governor, appointed on the proposal of the island prime minister, represents the monarch.

The Netherlands History

Prehistory and Antiquity

The present-day Netherlands was inhabited during the last ice age. Subsequently, as they evolved, several peoples inhabited the territory of the present-day Netherlands and Belgium. In addition to the Belgae and Frisians, the Franks and the Saxons, the Batavians, who settled there, were subsequently assimilated by the Salian Franks.

Julius Caesar conquers the Netherlands around the year 58 BC, making it the northern frontier of the Roman Empire. In the Gallic Wars, however, Julius Caesar makes no mention of the Batavians. The first reference to the Batavians dates back to the year 12 BC; the Romans built the first cities and introduced writing to the region. The north of the Netherlands, which is outside the Roman Empire and where the Frisians live, is also heavily influenced by its powerful southern neighbor.

Invasions of the Germanic peoples

The Roman border of the Rhine can no longer be maintained from about 250 AD. The so-called barbarian peoples gradually infiltrated until 406, the year in which a significant number of Germans managed to invade Batavia, Belgium and Gaul. The Roman civilization then gave way to the Germanic peoples who merged with the inhabitants to form three peoples: the Frisians along the coast, the only indigenous people who could maintain themselves, the Saxons in the East and the Franks in the South. During the Merovingian period, Clovis established the first Frankish kingdom, which extended to the Rhine. After his death, the Netherlands was included in Austrasia.

It was during this period that the peoples occupying the Netherlands began to be Christianized, so Saint Eloi and Saint-Lambert converted the populations of the South while the Saxons and North Frisians resisted the Christianization, initiated by Saint Willibrord, and which could not be continued by Saint Boniface, the latter having been assassinated in 754 in Dokkum. The end of the Frisian kingdom occurred in 734 on the banks of the Boarn, when the Frisians were defeated by the Franks, who occupied the western part up to the Lauwers. The Franks attacked the east of Lauwers in 785 when Charlemagne defeated Widukind.

Holy Roman Empire

In 843, by the Treaty of Verdun, the Frankish Empire was divided into three: West Francia (France), Middle Francia (Lotharingia) (from central Italy to Friesland) and East Francia (commonly known as Germania, the nucleus of the future Holy Roman Empire). The territory of the present-day Netherlands was then part of Lotharingia, with the exception of the left bank of the Scheldt (present-day Zeelandic Flanders). This quickly disappeared: the contemporary Dutch lands were annexed by the German Empire (treaties of Meerssen and Ribemont). Most of the Netherlands was occupied by the Viking Jute Rorik of Dorestad around 840 to 880. Viking supremacy was destroyed in 920 when King Henry I of Germany liberated Utrecht. The Netherlands was then reintegrated into the Holy Roman Empire between the tenth and eleventh centuries.

Much of the western Netherlands was barely inhabited between the end of the Roman period and around 1100. Around 1000, Flemish and Utrecht farmers began to buy the marshy land, drain it and cultivate it. This process occurs quickly and the uninhabited territory is occupied within a few generations. Independent farms that are not part of villages are built, which is then unique in Europe. Before this period, the language and culture of most of the people living in the present-day region of Holland was Frisian, today more culturally present in the region of West Frisia.

With the conquest of these new lands progressing, the region becomes the region of Holland in the twelfth century. Cities flourished, particularly in the County of Flanders and the Duchy of Brabant. The Holy Roman Empire could not maintain political unity: in addition to the growing independence of cities, local laws transformed counties and duchies into private kingdoms. The various feudal states are in an almost continuous state of war.

Burgundians then the Spanish, the Netherlands under the Habsburgs

Winter landscape with skaters and bird trap by Pieter Brueghel the Elder, 1565
Winter landscape with skaters and bird trap by Pieter Brueghel the Elder, 1565

The provinces currently forming the Netherlands were gradually brought together, by marriage, purchase or conquest by the Dukes of Burgundy, who also controlled, to the south, Antwerp, the world’s leading stock exchange. This set of Seventeen Provinces passed by inheritance to Charles V, descended from both the Dukes of Burgundy and the Habsburgs. Mary of Burgundy, the daughter of Charles the Bold, married Emperor Maximilian I. Friesland, the region of Utrecht, the region of Groningen and Ommelanden, Drenthe and Gelderland were gradually attached to the Habsburg domain after decades of conflictual relations with the Duke of Gelderland. During the reign of Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor and King of Spain, the region was one of the 17 provinces of the Spanish Netherlands, which also included Belgium, present-day Nord-Pas-de-Calais and part of Picardy.

During the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, Erasmus, a theologian from Rotterdam, published various humanist works; this new movement of thought, which put man at the center of concerns, was quickly followed throughout Europe thanks to the printing press, which was free in the country.

United Provinces

This is Frederik de Wit’s world map, published in 1662 by the largest geographical publishing house of the time, symbolizes the economic, scientific, cultural and artistic preponderance of the country, which rose to the rank of great power and dominated cartography itself.

Frederik de Wit's world map, published in 1662
Frederik de Wit’s world map, published in 1662

A ship of the Dutch East India Company arriving in Cape Town in 1762. The prince's flag is still used as a sailor ensign
A ship of the Dutch East India Company arriving in Cape Town in 1762. The prince’s flag is still used as a sailor ensign

In January 1579, the independence of the United Provinces was enshrined in the Union of Utrecht. The republic thus created consisted of a set of seven provinces—plus their dependencies—each with a parliament and a governor. These provinces are independent of each other and can levy taxes as well as armies separately. The young republic of the United Provinces was not recognized until 1596 by France and in 1648 by Spain. In the south of the United Provinces, the countries of the Generalitat (current provinces of Zeeland and North Brabant), under the control of the central government, then formed a strategic space between the Spanish Netherlands to the south, the Belgica Regia (which would become the Austrian Netherlands, the future Belgium) and the Protestant and Calvinist Netherlands to the north led by the power of Amsterdam.

The case of the United Provinces at the end of the sixteenth century is quite particular, since it is the young stadtholder William of Orange who will lead a real revolution from Brussels during the execution of the leaders of the nobility against the Spanish power, also called the revolt of the Gueux. This resulted in a war known as the Eighty Years’ War from 1568 to 1648, leading the Dutch to independence from the Spanish crown. From then on, the Netherlands entered the period of the “Gouden Eeuw”, a golden age characterized by the economic and cultural prosperity of the Dutch Republic and by early urbanization coupled with a sustained demographic boom in Holland and Zeeland.

The explorers of the country founded many colonies now known by other names, such as Indonesia, South Africa, Suriname, Taiwan, Tasmania and New Zealand. With its Dutch East India Company and Dutch West India Company using the Rixdale as their international currency, the Dutch Armada is one of the most powerful in the world. However, the country sometimes had to cede territory to the other powers: New Netherland (future American states of New York and New Jersey, lost following the signing of the Treaty of Westminster) and New Holland of Australia were integrated into the British Empire, Brazilian New Holland was returned to the Portuguese, and New Holland in Acadia was given to the French after the signing of the Nijmegen Treaties with King Louis XIV.

The metropolis benefited greatly from the colonies, mainly from the economic aspect: the city of Amsterdam reached a standard of living much higher than that of Paris, many individuals expelled from other European countries for religious reasons settled in the country, which bore the image of a rich and tolerant state. The Dutch army also tested, during various conflicts, a new technique of warfare: during the Third Anglo-Dutch War, the authorities flooded farmland around Amsterdam to prevent the advance of enemy troops and not have to fight head-on with an army with a higher power. Farmers received monetary compensation during their accommodation in the capital.

Batavian Republic and Kingdom of Holland under French trusteeship

Transformed initially into a republic by the Batavian revolution (led by the “patriots”), from 1795 to 1806, and then into the Kingdom of Holland, from 1806 to 1810, the country was subsequently integrated into the French Empire, under Napoleon. The latter organizes in January 1795, the capture of the Dutch fleet at the Helder, in order to destabilize the republican power and finally place his brother at the head of the kingdom created in 1806.

United Kingdom of the Netherlands

William of Orange-Nassau
William of Orange-Nassau

In 1815, Luxembourg was elevated to the rank of Grand Duchy. William VI of Orange, son of stadtholder William V of the United Provinces, becomes William I, King of the Netherlands and Grand Duke of Luxembourg. William received Luxembourg in a personal capacity, as compensation for the loss of his German territories (Nassau and Fulda). A new country was founded at the Congress of Vienna in 1815, under the name of “United Kingdom of the Netherlands”.

It brought together the current Benelux territories as well as the Dutch colonies, the most important of which was the Dutch East Indies, present-day Indonesia. Its first king was William of Orange-Nassau, one of the victors of the Battle of Waterloo. The kingdom has two capitals: Amsterdam and Brussels. In 1830, Belgium rose up. Populated mainly by Catholics, it did not tolerate the reign of the Protestant William I, but also his policy of imposing the Dutch language as the only official language.

The Belgian Revolution led to the creation of the new Kingdom of Belgium (region of the Southern Netherlands), which also included Luxembourg. The Convention of Zonhoven in 1833 officially ended the conflict. The Grand Duchy remained part of Belgium until 1839, when its eastern half was established as an independent state, the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, a member of the German Confederation. This new state and the Kingdom of the Netherlands, however, remained until 1890 in personal union, i.e. sharing the same sovereign. The treaty on the delimitation of borders with Belgium dates from 1843.

Kingdom of the Netherlands

Photochrome of Dam Square in Amsterdam, late nineteenth century
Photochrome of Dam Square in Amsterdam, late nineteenth century

Created by Order in Council on April 19, 1839, the Kingdom of the Netherlands prospers economically. It was gradually democratized, under the impetus of a rewriting of its Constitution in 1848, led by Johan Rudolf Thorbecke. However, at the end of the nineteenth century, he experienced what would later be called the “school war”, a political conflict between public and private schools. The Netherlands did not abolish slavery in its colonies until 1863. In 1879 pastor Abraham Kuyper founded the first Dutch political party, the Anti-Revolutionary Party. Being neutral during the First World War, the country welcomed Belgian refugees persecuted by the Imperial German General Government of Belgium. However, in 1915, the latter installed an electric fence on the border between the two countries, making any passage impossible. In 1917, all men over the age of 18 won the right to vote, followed by women in 1919.

World War II

Amsterdammer on an American Jeep during the liberation of the city, May 8, 1945
Amsterdammer on an American Jeep during the liberation of the city, May 8, 1945

The Netherlands is invaded by Germany in May 1940 without a prior declaration of war. This invasion resulted in the Battle of the Netherlands, in which the Dutch army was defeated, and the city of Rotterdam was virtually razed to the ground. The battle ended in the capitulation of the Dutch forces, and the government had to go into exile in London. Pieter Gerbrandy, opposed to German rule and sharing the opinion of the British, was provisionally appointed Prime Minister by Queen Wilhelmina to replace Dirk Jan de Geer, who had advocated the negotiation of a separate peace.

The country developed several networks of resistance against the German occupier and thousands of citizens demonstrated across the country for various reasons, such as the February 1941 strike in Amsterdam to denounce the deportations of Dutch Jews to Germany. Although the Allied movements to liberate the country (notably Operation Market Garden) began as early as 1944, the Netherlands was not completely free until May 1945, after the population experienced a famine winter that killed nearly 20,000 people. However, Operation Manna was launched from April 29 to May 8, 1945, to parachute food.

Dutch soldiers from the colonies or refugees in Great Britain also participated in the landing and the Battle of Normandy, before heading to the Netherlands at the end of 1944 to participate in the liberation of their country and Belgium alongside foreign forces and resistance networks. Taking advantage of the conflict, Sukarno proclaimed the independence of Indonesia in 1945, with the support of Japan, which decreed the independence of the territory after invading it in 1941. A four-year conflict ensued, at the end of which the Netherlands was led to recognize Indonesian independence, triggering the decline of Dutch trading power. At the end of the Second World War, the Benelux economic cooperation agreements with Belgium and Luxembourg were formally adopted.

Since 1945

Emerging from the world conflict ruined, the Netherlands proposed the Bakker-Schut plan to the Allied forces as war reparations, but the project of annexing part of Germany was rejected. The United States then made the kingdom benefit from the Marshall Plan. In 1948, the Netherlands approved the principle of autonomy for the Netherlands Antilles, proclaimed in 1954 (Autonomous Federal State of the Netherlands Antilles). In 1962, Dutch New Guinea, kept for a time under Dutch rule, joined Indonesia and became its province of West New Guinea; This comes after an Indonesian landing attempt to secure its annexation and avoid independence for the province, followed by a temporary passage under the aegis of the temporary executive authority of the United Nations.

In 1975, Dutch Guiana, now Suriname, gained independence from the kingdom. The island of Aruba broke away from the Netherlands Antilles in 1986 to form its own entity of the Kingdom. In 2002, the euro replaced the Dutch guilder, and in 2005, the country rejected the draft European Constitutional Treaty in a referendum. In 2009, the royal family was the target of an attack on National Day, killing seven people. On October 10, 2010, the Netherlands Antilles were dissolved, making Curaçao and Sint Maarten self-governing states like Aruba before them. Bonaire, Saba and Sint Eustatius, then also part of the Netherlands Antilles, became part of the European country as municipalities of a special character under the name of Caribbean Netherlands or BES Islands.


Head of State

Willem-Alexander, King of the Netherlands since 2013
Willem-Alexander, King of the Netherlands since 2013

The Constitution (Grondwet) currently in force was adopted in 1815 and revised several times since: it states that the Netherlands is a monarchy. The royal family is of the Protestant Reformed faith. Both men and women can accede to the throne. After Kings William I (1815-1840), William II (1840-1849) and William III (1849-1890), the regent Emma and queens Wilhelmina (1898-1948), Juliana (1948-1980) and Beatrix (1980-2013), it is since April 30, 2013 that King Willem-Alexander is the Dutch head of state. After him, the next ruler should be Princess Catharina-Amalia, the eldest daughter of King Willem-Alexander and Princess of Orange.

The monarch is the guarantor of the unity of the country. Constitutionally, the king has a role in the legislative process: the royal signature with that of at least one minister is essential to validate any law. The King is also President of the Council of State (Raad van State), the body that advises the government on every law and supreme court in matters of administrative law. Since Queen Wilhelmina, monarchs have been careful not to appear to show any particular favor towards a political opinion.

In the past, royal power intervened in the choice of ministers and the President of the Council. Currently, it is the role of the President of the Second Chamber of the States General to appoint an “informant” (studying training opportunities) and then a trainer, usually the leader of the winning party in the elections, and the latter leads negotiations with the political parties. When the negotiations are over, the government appointed by the king is the formation built by the prime minister, the monarch validating only the names submitted to him. When a government loses the confidence of Parliament, the Prime Minister must submit his resignation to the Sovereign. The government may also apply to Parliament for the removal of the monarch if it deems him unfit to hold office.

Executive power

Mark Rutte, Prime Minister of the Netherlands since 2010
Mark Rutte, Prime Minister of the Netherlands since 2010

Executive power is exercised by the government, which is criminally responsible for the actions taken by the country. It is composed of ministers and secretaries of state, the former sitting only in the Council of Ministers. The government is chaired by the Prime Minister of the Netherlands, assisted by one or more Deputy Prime Ministers. Since 1945, 15 people have succeeded each other at the head of the government, Willem Drees, Ruud Lubbers, Wim Kok and Jan Peter Balkenende being the most notable.

The current Prime Minister, the liberal Mark Rutte, has been in office since October 14, 2010. He leads a majority government in the lower house between the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD), the Christian Democratic Appeal (CDA), the Democrats 66 (D’66) and the Christian Union (CU), the Rutte III cabinet. His Deputy Prime Ministers, Hugo de Jonge, Kajsa Ollongren and Carola Schouten, come from the parties with which he makes an alliance. Although the prime minister is the country’s first representative abroad, he is sometimes accompanied by the king.

As the Second Chamber of the States General is elected by almost full proportional representation, the Netherlands is still ruled by a coalition government, although this is not a constitutional obligation. However, for a long time, the electorate no longer grants an absolute majority to a party to allow it to govern alone. The government needs the support of the Second House, but may be a minority in the Senate. The Prime Minister has his office in the Torentje, a building adjacent to the Binnenhof, the seat of Parliament, in the city center of The Hague. All ministries are also located in the city. The government of the Netherlands, therefore, does not sit in the capital, Amsterdam.

Legislative power

Binnenhof: the Parliament of the Netherlands and the Prime Minister's Office (The Hague)
Binnenhof: the Parliament of the Netherlands and the Prime Minister’s Office (The Hague)

The States-General (Dutch: Staten-Generaal) is the parliament of the Netherlands.

They comprise two chambers: the most important, the Second Chamber, also known as the House of Representatives, is the lower house of the States General. She is elected for four years. It comprises 150 members elected by direct universal suffrage by multi-member proportional representation. It has more important prerogatives than the First Chamber. It is in the Second Chamber that government coalitions are formed and fall. Ministers are also politically accountable to the Commission. A minister or government cannot sustain itself without the support of a majority in the Second Chamber, which has three main functions: control of the government, a co-legislator role (with the government and the First Chamber) and representation of the population.

The First Chamber of the States General, or the Senate, is the upper house of the States General. She is elected for four years. It comprises 75 members elected by indirect universal suffrage by the twelve provinces of the kingdom and the three island territories in the West Indies. The dissolution of the Second Chamber entails the dissolution of the First Chamber. The First Chamber has means of executive control in common with the Second Chamber. The role of the upper house in passing the law is limited compared to that of the lower house. Bills are transmitted to it after approval by the latter. It cannot amend the text but only approve or reject it.

Decentralized authorities

The Kingdom of the Netherlands is composed of twelve provinces and six island territories in the West Indies. Each province is governed by a King’s Commissioner appointed by the Sovereign—on the recommendation of the provincial legislature—and by a provincial deputation, elected by the same legislative body (the Provincial States), elected by the people. Compared to the provinces of Canada or the states of the United States, the Dutch provinces do not have very broad powers, although each of them has its own local parliament; these are administrative powers that liaise between the State and the municipalities.

Most of the legal, political and financial powers are exercised by the central government, not by the provincial governments. Municipalities, for their part, are governed by an elected council and a burgomaster appointed by decree by the sovereign, taking into account the majority in the municipal council and the opinion of its commissioner in the said province. A mayor is thus chosen on his ability to lead a city with its specific attributes.

The Netherlands also has another administrative layer unique to its history: the Netherlands Water Board is a government agency that provides funding for infrastructure projects voted in 24 elected district councils. The purpose of these councils is to protect the land from water-related problems.

Three Caribbean islands (Aruba, Curaçao and Sint Maarten) are autonomous states. Three other Caribbean islands (Bonaire, Sint Eustatius and Saba) are special municipalities in the Netherlands.

The three autonomous overseas states (Aruba, Curaçao and Sint Maarten) have their own prime minister, a local parliament and an island government, dealing with less sovereign issues than the government of the Netherlands, which is responsible for the islands’ diplomacy and defense issues.

Foreign policy

The Netherlands is a founding member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the European Union (EU) and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). They belong to the Benelux Union and are subject to the Benelux Court of Justice and the European Court of Human Rights. Until 1940, the Netherlands followed a policy of neutrality, but at the end of the Second World War, it committed itself to the construction of the European Union and the maintenance of peace throughout the world. Moreover, with the independence of many of the country’s colonies, the country still has great influence in developing regions thanks to the increased presence of its nationals. The Netherlands contributes 1.65% to the annual budget of the United Nations.

The country has a long history of involvement in development assistance and the defense of human rights. In 2014, the country’s funds for humanitarian missions amounted to 0.64% of its GDP. The Netherlands is frequently invited to Group of Twenty summits, without being part of it, although the country’s economic power is among the top 20 in the world.

European and international institutions

The ICJ, the PCA and the Hague Academy of International Law are all housed in the Peace Palace
The ICJ, the PCA and the Hague Academy of International Law are all housed in the Peace Palace

The Hague became during the twentieth century the world capital of law.
It houses the headquarters of many international organizations of a legal nature:

  • the International Court of Justice (ICJ), the International Criminal Court (ICC), the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA);
  • the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW);
  • Europol, an organization for cooperation between the police forces of the countries of the European Union;
  • Eurojust, an organization for cooperation between the judicial authorities of the countries of the European Union.


  • the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY): dissolved on December 31, 2017.


The Dutch Armed Forces are composed of:

  • the Koninklijke Landmacht (Army);
  • the Koninklijke Luchtmacht (aerial hunting);
  • the Koninklijke Marine (navy).

The armed forces as a whole employed approximately 51,000 people in 2009. It is a voluntary force, with military service suspended, but not abolished. The Dutch army is also composed of a gendarmerie force, the Royal Marechaussee. The Netherlands spent around 1.17% of its GDP in 2014 on defense maintenance, i.e. an allocation of €7,602,033,000. The country has U.S. nuclear missiles as part of NATO’s partition plan.

According to Article 97 of the Constitution, their role is to “defend the Kingdom of the Netherlands and defend its interests in the world” and to “protect and promote the primacy of international law”. The country is currently engaged in MINUSMA and the international coalition in Iraq and Syria.



Koninginnedag (2011), National Day, Amsterdam
Koninginnedag (2011), National Day, Amsterdam

At the first of January 2016, the Netherlands had a population of 16 979 120, up from 16 305 526 in 2005. The population is constantly increasing, modestly (0.4% per year on average), and this is mainly thanks to immigration (Netherlands Antilles, Turkey, Morocco). With more than four hundred inhabitants per square kilometer, the Netherlands is one of the most densely populated countries in Europe. The country’s population is expected to continue to grow until at least 2070, if immigration levels continue at current levels.

Besides that, the Netherlands has one of the lowest crime rates in the world. In 2016, the state plans to close nine prisons by 2020 due to a lack of cell occupants.


In the autonomous state of the Netherlands (one of the four autonomous states of the kingdom), Dutch is the official language used by public services and the majority of inhabitants to communicate with each other. However, it is not the Constitution that defines the official language of the Netherlands, but the Algemene wet bestuursrecht. In the province of Friesland, Frisian is recognized as a second official language for regional use. Towards the end of the twentieth century, Limburg was recognized by the state as a regional political and legal language and Low Saxon Dutch was recognized as a regional language on October 10, 2018, but these two languages are not recognized as official.

In the three islands in the West Indies that make up the autonomous state of the Netherlands, in addition to Dutch, Papiamento and English are recognized as official languages for regional use. Other provincial dialects close to the common language and foreign languages are also used. According to various studies, the Dutch are among the people who fluently speak the most foreign languages, including English, German and French. Most residents are fluent in English.


According to Dutch statistics based on a study carried out in 2005, 42% of Dutch people (whether or not fully practicing their religion) declared themselves to have no religion, 29% Catholics, 19% Protestants, 5% Muslims and 5% of another religion.

The Muslim community officially includes about 4.9% of the Dutch (mostly of Turkish and Moroccan origin), compared to 9.5% of the Protestant Church in the Netherlands. The Dutch Jewish community now numbers only 30,000, although it was significant before the Holocaust.


Allard Pierson Special Collections Library and Archaeological Museum of the University of Amsterdam
Allard Pierson Special Collections Library and Archaeological Museum of the University of Amsterdam

Interior of the student campus in Wageningen
Interior of the student campus in Wageningen

The education system in the Netherlands is freer than that of its large European neighbors, such as France or the United Kingdom. It is also particularly efficient, sometimes qualified as the best in Europe with those of the Scandinavian countries. Foreign languages play an important role in education, hence the good command of foreign languages in the country. The education system is divided into two entities: a six-year primary school and then a choice between three types of colleges, more or less long in duration, varying in the subjects taught and opening up to different types of university education.

The country has a high density of renowned universities: among the hundred best universities in the world, there are seven Dutch universities: Leiden University, Wageningen University, Erasmus University Rotterdam, Delft University of Technology, University of Amsterdam and the University of Groningen often founded in the nineteenth century.


Various Dutch newspapers in one kiosk
Various Dutch newspapers in one kiosk

The most widely read Dutch dailies are De Telegraaf, Algemeen Dagblad, De Volkskrant, NRC Handelsblad, and Trouw. Het Parool is less widely read, but has an important historical past: it was created during World War II as an opposition newspaper. The free newspapers Spits and Metro distributed in train and metro stations are also widely read.

In the television sector, there are four public channels, and the main companies providing commercial television are RTL Nederland and SBS6, which together manage seven stations in total. Other commercial broadcasters that target specific audiences include Nickelodeon, Comedy Central and Kindernet.

In the field of radio, there are also a large number of stations. The public broadcaster NPO, the same company as for the television sector, consists of seven channels. Radio Netherlands International (RNW) is an international channel for Dutch nationals living in other countries. Radio 538, Sky Radio, and Qmusic are the major players in the commercial market.

In the Netherlands, a high degree of freedom of the press prevails without controls on publications in the press or broadcasts of radio, television and the Internet. The law provides that anyone guilty of insult, discrimination, incitement to hatred will be charged if a complaint is filed, but any form of satire is allowed and cannot be punished. The Media Act provides for media pluralism in the public broadcasting system. The competent authority may also set age limits for access to certain media.


Orange Army supports Dutch football team
Orange Army supports Dutch football team

Speed skater Elma de Vries at the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games
Speed skater Elma de Vries at the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver

In the Netherlands, football is the most popular sport. The Dutch national football team won the 1988 European Football Championship and finished second in the 1974, 1978 and 2010 World Cups. Coming third in the 2014 edition, the Dutch team is very famous in the world and considered the best team to have ever won the tournament. Having developed “total football” in the 1970s, it has many former players reputed to have been among the best of their generation: Johan Cruyff, Dennis Bergkamp, Patrick Kluivert, Edwin van der Sar, Marco van Basten, Ruud Gullit, Wesley Sneijder or Arjen Robben are frequently mentioned. The current team is coached by Frank de Boer.

The Oranjes play their home games at the Johan Cruyff Arena, the largest stadium in the country. Other popular sports played competitively are skating, swimming and field hockey. Cycling is rooted in Dutch culture and is practiced by all social strata regularly, due to the lack of relief in the country, and the importance given to ecology in society.

From the second half of the nineteenth century, clubs and sports federations were formed. An important figure in the history of Dutch sport is Pim Mulier, who highlights, at the end of the nineteenth century, a large number of sports hitherto little known in the Netherlands and professionalized. He was also the initiator of the Tour of the Eleven Cities, an event that attracts thousands of foreign tourists each year, 200 km of natural ice skating along the eleven major Frisian cities. Since then, the sport has grown enormously. The Netherlands first participated in the Olympic Games in 1900. Since then, more than 300 Olympic medals have been won by the Dutch, including about 100 gold.

The Nederlandse Sport Federatie (NSF) is the sports umbrella organization of Dutch sports associations and the country’s official representative to the International Olympic Committee. Amsterdam hosted the 1928 Summer Olympics, and in 1980 the Paralympic Games were held in Arnhem. More recently, the Netherlands co-hosted the 2000 European Football Championship with Belgium. In addition, the country is considering a bid to host the 2028 Summer Olympics in Amsterdam, 100 years after the 1928 Games were held.


Date French name Local name Remarks
January 1 New Year’s Day Nieuwjaarsdag Holiday.
March / April Good Friday Goede Vrijdag  
March / April Easter Pasen Easter Monday is a public holiday.
April 27th (unless it is a Sunday, in which case the holiday is brought forward to April 26th) King’s Day Koningsdag A national holiday, the date is set according to the birthday of the reigning monarch. Since 2013, it is Willem-Alexander (born on April 27th) who is King of the Netherlands. The Dutch take to the streets to see concerts, shows, and animations organized each year by the municipalities to celebrate the event.
May 4th Day of the Dead Dodenherdenking Day of War Dead. This day is not a non-working day, there are simply two minutes of silence every year in memory of the dead for the Fatherland.
May 5 Liberation Day Bevrijdingsdag Commemoration of the German capitulation during the Second World War, after the occupation of the Netherlands. This day is a non-working day every five years.
40 days after Easter Ascension Hemelvaartsdag Holiday.
7 weeks after Easter Pentecost Pinksteren Whit Monday is a public holiday.
December 5 St. Nicholas Sinterklaas, Sint-Nicolaas Sinterklaas is not a public holiday, but it is celebrated the night before (Pakjesavond); This holiday is widely celebrated. Traditionally, in the Netherlands, gifts are not given to children at Christmas, but on St. Nicholas’ Day.
25 and December 26 Christmas Kerstmis Christmas, a religious holiday, is a public holiday. We most often have a family dinner with a Christmas tree in the house.
A mill decorated for the national holiday
A mill decorated for the national holiday
Traditional Easter bonfires
Traditional Easter bonfires
Autumn Carnival (Prinsenbeek)
Autumn Carnival (Prinsenbeek)
St. Nicholas arrives on his boat (with a cargo hold loaded with gifts for the children), here in Schiedam
St. Nicholas arrives on his boat (with a cargo hold loaded with gifts for the children), here in Schiedam

Economy of the Netherlands

In addition to international trade, the Dutch economy is based on the large Dutch groups, most of which are former public monopolies (Damen Group, KPN, ING Group, Nederlandse Spoorwegen, TNT Express or PostNL).


For 2017, the country’s economic growth is 3% of GDP. In 2018, growth of 2.9% is forecast for an unemployment rate of 3.9%. The Netherlands is the 11th country in the world in terms of GDP per capita, with an average of US$52,770 per capita per year. The country is also the 17th largest economy in the world.

However, the average weekly working time per capita is only around 30 hours, for higher productivity than the European average.

Main sectors of activity

Agriculture and Agri-Food

A typical Dutch farmhouse
A typical Dutch farm

Agriculture is highly mechanized and employs barely 4% of the workforce. The Netherlands is the second largest exporter of agricultural products in the world, and the fifth when taking into account all traded products. The Dutch food distribution and production company Unilever, the fourth largest in the world in its field of activity, often deals with the transport and packaging of products exported from the Netherlands. It also owns many brands around the world: Lipton, Knorr, Ben & Jerry’s, Magnum among others.

The main activity of Dutch agriculture remains livestock farming, which occupies almost half of the farms. In terms of number of holdings, horticulture and market gardening rank second. The country experienced one of the first speculative bubbles in the world: tulip mania. Tulips, but flowers more generally, remain a symbol of the Netherlands, which is the world’s leading exporter. However, most Dutch farms breed cows, with Holstein cows also being an emblem of the country.


About eleven million tourists visit the Netherlands each year, usually to one of Holland’s two provinces (Southern or Northern), with the rest of the country being less popular. Ten billion euros are spent each year by these visitors on souvenirs and other goods. Tourism is an important source of income for the country. The most popular destinations are Amsterdam, Giethoorn, Volendam, Kinderdijk, Rotterdam and The Hague. People going to the Netherlands usually want to see canals, houses with gables in front and the famous mills, if they do not go there for business (Rotterdam, Amsterdam and The Hague have large financial districts, headquarters of many Dutch or international companies).

They are also there to taste the beers and cheeses typical of the country. The Dutch coast is visited mainly by locals, although it is not impossible to meet foreigners. In addition to Dutch, the inhabitants also speak mostly English, most understand German, and sometimes manage in French, which makes communication easy. The country also has one of the highest rates of museums per square meter in the world.

The country is also known for drug tourism. Indeed, some foreigners go to the borders, where they buy cannabis in coffee shops, something that the leaders would like to put an end to, that is to say, to limit this right to the Dutch or close coffee shops located at the borders despite the significant contribution of foreign exchange that the existence of this trade provides to the country. The city of Maastricht, located on the Belgian border, has been testing the wietpass since 2013, which only allows residents of the country to buy substances.

The Rijks Amsterdam, which has a collection of more than one million works, is the most visited museum in the country
The Rijks in Amsterdam, which has a collection of more than one million works, is the most visited museum in the country
Entrance to the Efteling amusement park (North Brabant). It is, with 5 million annual visitors, one of the first amusement parks in Europe in terms of attendance
Entrance to the Efteling amusement park (North Brabant). It is, with 5 million annual visitors, one of the leading amusement parks in Europe in terms of attendance
Clogs, symbol of the Netherlands in the same way as flowers
Hoofs, symbol of the Netherlands in the same way as flowers
The NEMO (green building) with the replica of the VOC Amsterdam docked in the foreground in the eponymous city. The Dutch Maritime Museum in the background on the right
The NEMO (green building) with the replica of the VOC Amsterdam docked in the foreground in the eponymous city. The Dutch Maritime Museum in the background on the right
The garden of Keukenhof. Very visited, it is the largest floral park in the world
The garden of Keukenhof. Very visited, it is the largest floral park in the world

Chemicals and refining

Chemicals and refining are concentrated in the port of Rotterdam, which does not have exclusive rights. It is a port of import via transit to Central Europe, and re-export after processing food. On a smaller scale, the Groningen gas field, the largest in Europe, also supplies Dutch households and exports.

Banking and insurance

Amsterdam's Zuidas is home to the headquarters of Dutch banks ING and ABN AMRO
Amsterdam’s Zuidas is home to the headquarters of Dutch banks ING and ABN AMRO

During its golden age, the Netherlands established long trade routes and opened trading posts in different countries and exports are inherited today. The major Dutch banks and their networks are top-down, supported by the Dutch business interface infrastructure.

Since 2014, the government has been experimenting with a circular economy around Randstad, with the participation of the largest Dutch banks.

New technologies

The Dutch new technology sector is represented in particular by the Eindhoven-based household appliance brand Philips and the Utrecht-based Netherlands Institute for Space Research. Other smaller companies are located in Dutch urban areas, benefiting in particular from a tax system that allows them to develop rapidly.

Tax haven

The Netherlands is regularly described as a “tax haven that does not say its name”, by facilitating the existence of letterbox companies with no real activity in the Netherlands, in particular, because of a loophole in Dutch law that allows many companies to practice tax optimization. This loophole allows a dual domiciliation of a company in the Netherlands and the United States, the United States considering that the tax must be paid in the Netherlands and vice versa. This device will be removed on January 1, 2020 with the entry into force of the European Anti-Tax Avoidance Directive.

Among the US companies cited to take advantage of the Dutch system and significantly reduce their tax levels are Netflix, Starbucks, Caterpillar, General Electric, Heinz, Nike, Tesla and Uber. According to Gabriel Zucman, hundreds of billions of dollars in profits go untaxed. The NGO Oxfam ranks the Netherlands “third worst tax haven” after Bermuda and the Cayman Islands. Several laws are currently being examined by the Estates General to strengthen financial legislation. In particular, Prime Minister Mark Rutte is seeking to close loopholes in the tax system so that all income to be taxed is taxed at the appropriate rates. From 2019, Dutch laws intend to go further than what the European Commission is proposing in terms of the fight against tax evasion.

Cultural heritage

Some symbols of Dutch culture
Some symbols of Dutch culture


Architecture holds a special place in this pragmatic country constantly threatened by water and where the engineer tends to take precedence over the architect. However, the Netherlands has indeed developed over the centuries a singular architectural culture that has had an influence in Denmark and as far as Poland, not to mention Dutch colonial architecture. Most administrations have kept their premises built in the seventeenth century, during the golden age. Almost all city centers in the country are composed of a very large majority of historic buildings. The cities of Rotterdam and Eindhoven, as well as other smaller cities bombed during the Second World War and the municipalities of Flevoland (polder stabilized in the twentieth century) no longer have hyper-historic centers. Construction in the Netherlands is mainly done with the same material, a local brick, which gives a homogeneous look to the country’s cities and countryside.

Street lighting is on as the sun has just set over Amsterdam
Street lighting is on as the sun has just set over Amsterdam
Rotterdam city centre, candidate city for the 2025 World Expo
Rotterdam city centre, candidate city for the 2025 World Expo
St. Martin's Cathedral in Utrecht at night, dominated by its 112-meter tower
St. Martin’s Cathedral in Utrecht at night, dominated by its 112-meter tower

The Renaissance is a period that had a strong influence on the appearance of Dutch cities, since the very conception of architecture was subject to change. During the Gothic period, the structure of religious buildings then tended to be simplified (despite exceptions such as the cathedral of Utrecht begun in 1254 or the cathedral of Bois-le-Duc begun in 1280), and few large constructions were then carried out. Ornamentation also tended to decrease, largely due to the almost exclusive use of brick in architecture. It was from the time of the Dukes of Burgundy (Burgundy Netherlands) that more monumental architecture emerged, but, all of brick, it generally did not boast of sculptures.

It was really necessary to wait for the Renaissance for artistic activity to take off, and for architecture to be the object of greater ambitions. The Renaissance was not always well understood by the builders who only perceived its ornamental meaning and not strictly speaking architectural. Thus, one of the last Gothic architects, Rombaut Keldermans, began to adorn his buildings of medieval design with antique ornaments. It was during the Renaissance that Breda Castle (around 1536) and the old Town Hall of Utrecht (1547) were built. However, despite this artistic and intellectual bubbling that came with the Renaissance, in architecture, a narrow understanding of this contribution too often limited it to the inclusion of arabesques, grotesques or beautiful antique frontispieces within an architecture stayed true to itself.

Calvinist Protestantism, which spread to the Netherlands in the first half of the sixteenth century, had a notable influence on the evolution of architecture. Indeed, the churches were stripped of all ornament, the frescoes (or any painted decoration) were coated, the stained glass windows removed, and the new constructions, including profane, made disappear the exuberant decoration that had been displayed at the beginning of the Renaissance. Beauty in architecture was sought only by simplicity, sincerity of forms and the subtle play of proportions.

The homes and offices of former trading companies are decorated on the outside with sculptures and reliefs, showing the power of the original owner to his visitors. Amsterdam’s mansions are often narrow, but deep, with a shared garden at the back. The sprockets at the front were used in the past to unload goods arriving by canal, and nowadays for moving. The Dutch neo-classical style assumes houses with high windows, glued and not always straight, because sinking into the waters. Most castles and complexes with a stamp are classified as Rijksmonument (State Monument).

Monuments in the Netherlands
The castle of Erp, massif, is one of the oldest in the country
The castle of Erp, massif, is one of the oldest in the country
Huis ten Bosch, the King's residence in The Hague
Huis ten Bosch, the king’s residence in The Hague
Farmer's house in Dalfsen
Farmer’s house in Dalfsen
Coastal dwellings in the north of the country
Coastal dwellings in the north of the country
Haar Castle is now a museum
Haar Castle is now a museum
University building in Groningen
University building in Groningen
House in the village of Grootschermer
House in the village of Grootschermer


Olive trees with the Alpilles in the background, 1889, Vincent van Gogh
Olive trees with the Alpilles in the background, 1889, Vincent van Gogh

Dutch painting, called Flemish during the Baroque period, was mainly materialized in the persons of Antoon van Dyck, Jan van Eyck, Hieronymus Bosch and Peter Paul Rubens, although all having different styles.

During the Dutch Golden Age, many painters achieved historical glory: Rembrandt van Rijn, Johannes Vermeer and Frans Hals will impose themselves as the great masters of the Dutch school of the seventeenth century, Pieter de Hooch, Jan van Goyen, Adriaen van Ostade, Willem Claeszoon Heda, the father and son Van de Velde, Gerrit Berckheyde, Pieter Jansz Saenredam, Jan Steen, Jacob van Ruisdael, Meindert Hobbema will follow. Other pictorial fields are also served, by the painters of the Caravaggesque school of Utrecht for example. Later, the country will see the birth of the painter considered the greatest of all time: Vincent van Gogh.

His works have inspired generations of artists, and his drawings or paintings have been sold at record prices, mixing different styles. The Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam has most of the artist’s achievements. In the twentieth century, when many thought Dutch painting belonged to the past, the painters Karel Appel, Kees van Dongen, Willem de Kooning, Piet Mondrian or Bram van Velde, renewed the genre and offered a new view of the world. Paul Gabriël is also widely regarded in the Netherlands, as he painted on the majority of his canvases mills, polders and fields of flowers representative of the country.

Also renowned are Delft tiles and earthenware, an art of coloring porcelain with blue enameled with other colors. Most of the great pieces created by Delft craftsmen can be seen in the highest places in Europe, depicting landscapes or historical scenes.


Perhaps the four best-known Dutch writers are Harry Mulisch, Willem Frederik Hermans, Gerard Reve and Hella Haasse. The Discovery of the Sky by Harry Mulisch, if it is not the most famous novel, is by vote, recognized as the best Dutch novel of all time. The philosopher Baruch Spinoza is also considered a great thinker, influential on his contemporaries, as is the poet Hendrik Marsman.


The Sensation festival, Amsterdam, in 2007
The Sensation Festival, Amsterdam, in 2007

The Netherlands has a rich history of classical music, the Dutch language having been unifying in the arts. Although located near Scandinavia, the Dutch kingdom experienced a different fate regarding its traditional, German-influenced music, which is closer.

In the twentieth century, nederpop was the main musical current in the country even if other styles were listened to. Among many current musical genres, the Netherlands is the birthplace of electronic music known as hardcore and gabber. The country hosts several major global festivals, namely the Thunderdome, the Sensation, the Mystery Land and the Amsterdam Dance Event. Today, the main Dutch electronic music movement is the Dirty Dutch House, popularized by artists such as Afrojack, Chuckie or Glowinthedark. The country is world-renowned for its electronic music: many major artists are Dutch, and among the best-known are Angerfist, Tiësto, Hardwell, Armin van Buuren, Vicetone, Showtek, Blasterjaxx, Nicky Romero, Don Diablo, Oliver Heldens or Martin Garrix.


The most important film festival in the Netherlands is the Rotterdam International Film Festival (IFFR), but the Dutch Film Festival in Utrecht is the most followed in the country. The international festival, one of the most popular in Europe, judges only the first two feature films of an author. Another festival of international importance is the Amsterdam International Documentary Film Festival (IDFA). It is considered the most important documentary film festival in the world.

Gastronomy of the Netherlands

Dutch breakfast and lunch are meals made with slices of bread spread with cheese, slices of cold meat, or delicacies such as jam, rinse appelstroop (apple syrup spread), pindakaas (peanut butter spread), hagelslag and vlokken (chocolate vermicelli spread).

For dinner, the main course usually consists of a source of protein (meat, or fish), a starchy (potatoes, rice or pasta) and one or more greens. Stamppot, a vegetable and potato puree, accompanied by meat, is a winter specialty. The same is true of French fries, accompanied by a mayonnaise sauce, although more often consumed in summer. Many breweries serve fries, in addition to local croquettes, fricadelles with different sauces, cheese puffs and other hot appetizers. In these places, but also in the stations, there are vending machines for small hot meals.

The country produces many cheeses, such as gouda, leidse kaas (a form of komijnekaas, cumin cheese), edam or hollandse gatenkaas (including Leerdammer).

Many Dutch specialties are unknown internationally. Quite famous are the maatjes which consist of a tasting of pickled herring that is held by the tail before swallowing. Mussels and chips are a typical Dutch and Belgian dish, with most mussels sold in Belgium coming from Zeeland. Fish such as sole or haddock are also very popular. The Netherlands is also a country of beer, where it is one of seven Trappist beer factories (La Trappe), the other six being in Belgium. The different beers are Bavaria, Grolsch, Hertog Jan, Amstel, Heineken, or Dommelsch. Jenever (juniper) is a typical alcohol of the Netherlands, available in several flavors such as blackcurrant; at the Christmas markets next to the huts serving mulled wine.

The Netherlands has a long tradition of coffee, for example, the Jacobs Douwe Egberts brand is distributed in Europe. Rarely drunk black, coffee is either served with separate cream or a local recipe is applied. Tea is also appreciated by the Dutch, due to historical circumstances, and is usually eaten with the typical appelgebak (a kind of apple cake with cinnamon) usually served with whipped cream.

There are many pastries, the most emblematic of which is surely the speculoos, a small crunchy cinnamon cookie. As in Germany, cinnamon is very present in Dutch pastry. There are also many small dry cakes such as Alsatian bredele. A specialty of the Netherlands is the caramel wafer, stroopwafel, which is made all over the country and can be enjoyed hot in the markets. Poffertjes, a kind of blinis sprinkled with icing sugar, are also very popular, as are licorice drops.


The Netherlands has the following codes:

  • NED, according to the IOC country code list;
  • NL, according to the list of international number plate codes;
  • NLD, according to ISO 3166-1 (list of country codes), alpha-3 code;
  • NLD, according to the list of country codes used by NATO, alpha-3 code.

References (sources)