The Netherlands is a monarchy in northwestern Europe bordering Germany in the east and south to Belgium. In the north and west, the country faces the North Sea. As of 2012, the Netherlands has 16.8 million inhabitants and is one of the most densely populated countries in the world.

The Netherlands is part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands (Kingdom of the Netherlands). Besides the Netherlands, the Kingdom consists of the Caribbean islands of Aruba, Curaçao and Sint Maarten, which were formerly part of the Netherlands Antilles.

The capital of the Netherlands is Amsterdam. However, the government, parliament, the Supreme Court and the embassies are located in The Hague.

The name Netherlands refers to the country’s low-lying location. Dutch national anthem is Wilhelmus van Nassouwe or most often called Het Wilhelmus.

Geography and environment

The Netherlands is very flat and low lying. Far south of the country, on the border with Germany and Belgium, one finds the highest point of the Netherlands, Vaalserberg, which is 322.7 meters above sea level. A large part of the country’s total area of 41,500 square kilometers is below sea ​​level, which creates major challenges with regard to floods and floods. Dams, sand dunes and an extensive delta system, Deltawerken, along the coast protect the land from the sea.

The climate in the Netherlands is characterized by the country’s coastal location and small elevation differences. Due to the limited extent of the country, the climate is quite uniform with small variations between the different parts of the country. The average temperature varies from about 2 (in January – February) to 17 (in July – August) degrees throughout the year.

There is little left of the country’s original vegetation, and many animal species have disappeared in recent times. In some areas there are pine, birch and oak forests. The coast is characterized by sand dunes. Rabbits, hare, foxes and some martyrs are common, and in the West Frisian Islands there is a large stock of seals. More than 460 bird species have been observed in the Netherlands.

The Renaissance city of Naarden in the Netherlands

The Renaissance city of Naarden in the Netherlands is a typical example of how defense concerns have dictated the shape of the city, with defense facilities and the street network regulated in square or rectangular patterns.

People and society

While population growth has been strong for periods, growth has slowed down from the 1970s. A large proportion of the population lives in the western part of the country, where the country’s four largest cities are: Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague and Utrecht.

Historically, the Netherlands has been viewed as a relatively open country when it comes to immigration. Today, about 20 percent of the country’s inhabitants have immigrant backgrounds. The largest immigration groups come from former Dutch colonies such as Indonesia, Surinam and the Netherlands Antilles, from Turkey and Morocco and from other EU countries. More recently, immigration policy has become more restrictive, and is characterized by a stronger focus on integration.

Around 20 percent of the population is affiliated with various Protestant denominations, while 30 percent refer to themselves as Catholics and six percent as Muslims. An increasing proportion of the Dutch population consider themselves non-religious.

The official language in the Netherlands is Dutch. In the province of Friesland in the northwestern part of the country is also Frisian official language.

State and politics

The Binnenhof building complex

The Binnenhof building complex in The Hague is the seat of, among others, the Dutch National Assembly Staten-Generaal.

The Netherlands is a constitutional monarchy. On April 30, 2013 , former Queen abdicated Beatrix, leaving the throne to her son King Willem-Alexander.

The Constitution was introduced in 1814, but has been revised many times. The government is based on and is responsible to the National Assembly and is headed by a prime minister. The National Assembly (Staten Generaal) consists of two chambers – the First Chamber (Eerste Kamer) and the Second Chamber (Tweede Kamer). Bills must be passed in or by the Second Chamber, while the First Chamber can only accept or reject the decision of the Second Chamber.

The Dutch party system has historically been characterized by religious and social divides. In 1980, several parties that originated in various confessions merged to form the Christian Democratic Party CDA. In recent decades, this party has characterized Dutch politics together with the Labor Party PvdA and the Liberal-Conservative Party VVD. Mark Rutte from the VVD became prime minister in 2010, and has since 2012 led a coalition consisting of the VVD and the PvdA.

The Netherlands was one of the founders of the European Coal and Steel Community, the forerunner of the EU. The country is also a member of a number of international organizations such as the UN, NATO, OSCE, WTO, OECD, the World Bank and the Council of Europe.

Many international organizations have their seat in The Hague, such as the International Criminal Court (ICC), the International Court of Justice (ICJ), the Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and the EU’s police and judicial cooperation EUROPOL and EUROJUST. Due to the many legal organizations located in The Hague, the city is often referred to as the “world capital of law”.

Sources of acronyms: abbreviationfinder


Leo Belgicus

Leo Belgicus, the Belgian lion. 17th century map of the Netherlands and Belgium shaped like a lion.

Today’s Netherlands was originally the northern and more remote part of the Netherlands area. This area consisted of 17 provinces with the cultural and economic center in the provinces of Flanders and Brabant. During the rebellion in the period 1568–1648 (the “ Eighty Years War ”), preferably led by Flemish Calvinist officers, the northern part of the area was cut off. An independent republic was established in 1579, and masses of people from the south fled to the north. Craftsmen, intellectuals and not least wealthy merchants quickly turned the new state into a powerful trading nation. In 1815–1830 the Netherlands were reunited, but in 1831 the southern provinces were separated as their own state (Belgium). It was not until the end of the 19th century that industrial development towards today’s Netherlands started as a modern industrial state.

The Netherlands declared itself neutral in the first and second world war. In 1940, however, the country was occupied by Nazi Germany. It was released on May 5, 1945. After World War II, a comprehensive recovery program was implemented that could quickly show good results.

The former colonial country of Indonesia became independent in 1949, and in 1975 the colony of Surinam also became independent. After the Netherlands Antilles disbanded at a roundtable conference in 2008, the Kingdom of the Netherlands today consists of the Netherlands, Aruba, Curaçao and Sint Maarten.

Economy and business


Cheese is an important export item in the Netherlands. Here, gouda cheese is produced on assembly lines in Ursem.

The Dutch economy has traditionally been characterized by stability and low unemployment. Due to the central role of the Netherlands as a trading and exporting nation, the country has been characterized by the international financial crisis in recent years with large budget deficits and increased unemployment, especially among young workers.

The Netherlands has a versatile business sector with an emphasis on industry, trade and transport. The most important industrial sectors are the food industry, the mechanical and metal industries, the electrical, chemical and textile industries. In addition, agriculture and horticulture are also important for the Dutch economy.

About eleven million foreign tourists visited the Netherlands in 2011. About half visited the capital, Amsterdam, which is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Europe.

In 2002, the euro was introduced as a currency unit in the Netherlands.

Knowledge and culture

The 17th century is often regarded as an economic and cultural boom in the Netherlands. In the cultural field, this is especially true in the art of painting. Several world-renowned painters, such as Rembrandt van Rijn and Johannes Vermeer, are from this period. Vincent van Gogh is the most famous Dutch artist of recent times.

Ballet has traditionally had a central position in the Netherlands. Today, the country is considered to be one of the leading European ballet nations, thanks in large part to the Nederlands Dans Theater, which has also experienced great success abroad.

Around 35 per cent of the children in the Netherlands attend public (non-confessional) schools and about 65 per cent in private schools. The private schools are largely run by various religious communities. The public and private schools are equated. The Netherlands has 50 colleges and 13 universities. The oldest is the University of Leiden from 1575.

Vincent van Gogh

Vincent van Gogh was largely active in France, but his work shows a clear connection with Dutch tradition and uniqueness. The painting The Villain (after Millet) dates from 1889. Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam.