Almost everyone in the world has heard of the Netherlands. Although not everyone can pinpoint Holland accurately on an atlas or map, most foreigners are at least familiar with Dutch cheese, Dutch tulips and of course, the highly successful Dutch football team.

Despite being such a small nation, the Netherlands has managed to place itself quite firmly on the map. Even as far back as the seventeenth century, the old Dutch masters such as Rembrandt, Vermeer, Frans Hals and Jan Steen were enjoying worldwide recognition. The ingenious Dutch put themselves on the map in a more literal sense too, with their famous and ongoing struggle to reclaim precious land from the invading waters. And, without its iconic dykes and windmills, contemporary Holland would have looked quite different.


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There is a famous saying in Holland - "God created the earth, but the Dutch created the Netherlands". The Netherlands is threatened not only by the sea, but
 the vast estuaries of several large European rivers, including the Rhine, Maas and Waal, which all empty out via Holland into the North Sea. Without its extensive network of dykes, more than 27% of the Netherlands would actually lie under water, including large swathes of the economically important Randstad. Compelled to act after a number of devastating floods, the Netherlands has continually battled to tame the water - a struggle that is still evident in the very design of the modern landscape. Since the Middle Ages the Dutch have been constructing dykes, windmills and expansive drainage systems, known as ‘polders’, along the coastline and waterways. The most recent success stories of Dutch water management can be seen in the reclaimed Flevoland, the Noordoostpolder, the Delta Works and the spectacular ‘Afsluitdijk’, a huge dam constructed in 1932 that spans more than 30 kilometres from North Holland to Friesland and has transformed the rough waters of the Zuiderzee into a placid lake that is now the Ijsselmeer. These amazing feats of modern engineering have led to an increase in demand for Dutch expertise in water level management and flood prevention, around the globe.





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The Netherlands is often referred to as Holland, which is not strictly correct. Holland specifically relates to only two of twelve provinces in the Netherlands, each with its own regional dialect and customs. In Friesland, a province in the north of the country, the official language of Frisian is taught in addition to Dutch in schools, whilst in Limburg to the south, the local dialect has a distinctly German and French influence.

The Kingdom of the Netherlands also incorporates a number of Caribbean islands that carry the special status of being a municipality of the Netherlands.




The Netherlands is both a constitutional monarchy and a parliamentary democracy. This means that, like the UK, the Netherlands has a democratically elected government and a royal Head of State. King Willem-Alexander is currently the formal Head of State, who along with ministers and members of parliament, form the Dutch government. In reality, though, the royal family exerts very limited political influence and the King is regarded as purely a ceremonial figure by most.

The majority of the Dutch population do, however, hold the royal family in extremely high regard, a fact that is very much in evidence during the Queen’s annual birthday celebrations. On ‘King's Day’ the Dutch pour out into the streets in extraordinarily large numbers, dressed in the vivid orange of the royal household to show their affection for the King and his family, and to simply enjoy the biggest party of the year!
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The Dutch landscape is extremely varied, combining vibrant cities and breathtaking natural scenery with a rich cultural heritage. Due to the compact nature of the country, these are all within easy geographical reach for the fortunate tourist. For endless shopping you should visit the bustling town centres of Amsterdam, Utrecht and Groningen. These historic cities also attract a growing number of art and culture enthusiasts from both home and abroad, drawn to the fantastic selection of museums and art galleries that include the Rijks Museum, The Van Gogh Museum and the Groninger Museum. The stunning Hoge Veluwe National Park, is renowned not only for the wild deer and boar that roam freely among the unspoilt heath lands and dense forests, but also for the Kröller-Müller Museum which houses a world famous collection of modern art.

If you want to admire the famous Dutch countryside and picturesque villages, then head off to the beautiful province of North Holland. In the Zaanse Schans you will see typical Dutch houses and can observe how they make Dutch cheese and Dutch clogs using age-old methods. Volendam and Marken, two charming Dutch fishing villages, provide an excellent opportunity to glimpse a way of life that has survived, almost unchanged, for centuries. Villagers still go about their daily business dressed in traditional costumes, giving visitors the sensation that they are stepping back in time. Here, you can relax in one of the delightful cafes and watch the fishing boats haul in the daily catch of eel, ready for smoking the old fashioned way. Or you can pop into one of the quaint sweetshops for a bag of Dutch liquorice and a taste of a forgotten era.




With over 16 million inhabitants, the Netherlands is one of the most densely populated countries in the world. In addition to natural population growth, many foreigners settled in the Netherlands, creating a rich and culturally diverse community. Although the Dutch are rapidly turning away from religion, there are many who still actively practice a faith. Although the majority are Christian, there is a colourful minority of Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, and Jews too.

The Netherlands also boasts a disproportionately large number of international celebrities and not just the world-famous artists such as Rembrandt and Vincent van Gogh. Almost everyone has heard of the big name Dutch sports stars, including footballers Johan Cruyff, Marco van Basten and Wesley Sneijder.

The Dutch, like the British, are also known for their incessant grumbling about the unpredictable weather. Despite this, studies consistently show that they are one of the happiest populations on the planet. That's not surprising when you consider the exceptionally high standard of living enjoyed by the Dutch. Work-life balance is also taken very seriously in the Netherlands, with the Dutch benefiting from more paid annual leave than the rest of the world. And when the Dutch go on holiday, they prefer to bring a little bit of home with them! In the summer you can witness the mass exodus of Dutch holidaymakers heading for sunnier climes, with their trusty caravans in tow. They flock in droves to the campsites of France, Italy and Spain and in winter are welcome and familiar guests on the ski slopes of Austria and Switzerland.
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The Netherlands has a very international outlook and takes an assertive role in both NATO and the European Union. It is a leading exporter of machinery, fuel, chemicals, flowers, fruit and vegetables and it is this global reach that has helped fuel a sustained Dutch emigration. The first wave of migration occurred in the Golden Age, an era when the Netherlands discovered new colonies and set up trading posts in the United States, South Africa, Indonesia and Suriname. The second wave took place following the destruction of the Second World War, when many Dutch left a war ravaged homeland to begin a new life in Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Although they integrated successfully into their adopted countries, the Dutch settlers still retained many of their native Dutch customs. Today, with the advent of the internet, that is significantly easier. From every corner of the globe, the far-flung Dutch are able not only to keep up with the latest Dutch news, but can also order Dutch food items on-line. Dutch emigrants can still enjoy all of their favourites such as ‘hagelslag’, the ubiquitous chocolate sprinkles that they shower religiously on their bread every morning, ‘stroopwafels’ or delicious syrup waffles and ‘ontbijtkoek’ or gingerbread, for a genuine taste of home.


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