The Netherlands is a relatively small but charming country located in the lowland river delta in northwestern Europe. Its famous flat landscape, much of which has been torn out of the sea, is dotted with windmills, fields of tulip blossoms and picturesque villages. With more than 16 million people living in an area twice the size of the American state of New Jersey, it is a modern, densely populated European country. Yet even the largest cities retain a relaxed small-town atmosphere, and many of them are full of historical heritage.
The country is commonly called Holland, but this name actually refers to only two of the twelve provinces and is unpopular with the majority of the population.
After the Eighty Years’ War, which led to the country’s de facto independence from Spain in 1581 (recognised by Spain on oath in 1648), the Netherlands became a great naval power and one of the most powerful nations in the world at a time known as the Dutch Golden Age. Because of its maritime history, this small nation has a rich cultural heritage that can be seen in many cities across the country. This period was also a cultural highlight, producing famous painters such as Rembrandt and Vermeer. Their works and many others fill the leading Dutch museums, which attract hundreds of thousands of visitors every year.
Over the centuries, the Netherlands has gained a reputation for tolerance and progress : The country was the first in the world to legalise same-sex marriage, and the Dutch generally have an open attitude towards cannabis and prostitution. The Netherlands, being a founding member of the EU and NATO as well as host to the International Court of Justice in The Hague, is a central player in international cooperation.
Thanks to its international airport Schiphol and an extensive network of motorways and high-speed international railway lines, you can easily reach the Netherlands from all over the world. Its small size, welcoming attitude and curiosities make it a unique and easy-to-explore destination and an ideal complement to any trip to Europe.
Tourist information in Netherlands
You can recognise the Netherlands tourist offices by their blue logo containing the 3 letters VVV. These letters mean: Vereniging voor Vreemdelingenverkeer. You will find VVV offices in the main cities and tourist locations, some of which are run by volunteers. The staff generally speak English and, especially in areas frequently visited by international travellers, there is also printed information in English. The main aim is to inform and advise visitors about the main tourist attractions in the community and the region, help with hotel reservations and provide information about museums, opening hours, etc. The VVV also provides information about the local community and its surroundings. It is often possible to buy tickets for events or gift vouchers. Informative brochures and simple maps are available free of charge. More elaborate maps, books and souvenirs can be purchased.
Geography of Netherlands
In terms of population, the Netherlands has one of the most densely inhabited countries in the world. No matter where you go, you are never far from civilisation. Cities can be overcrowded, especially in the Randstad, where traffic congestion is a serious problem.
Most of the country is flat and lies at or below sea level, making it an ideal place to cycle. This hilly nature (perhaps combined with its distinct culture) has earned it a reputation as almost ‘foreign’ and has made it a popular holiday destination for the Dutch. The rural landscape of the Netherlands is characterised by highly industrialised agriculture and extensive meadows. It is only thanks to this industrialisation that the Netherlands can be one of the largest exporters of food products in the world, despite its high population density.
Cycling is also an excellent way to discover picturesque rural landscapes, villages and windmills. While the main cities and attractions are easy to find and explore, the rural beauty can be a little harder to find at first in the sprawling development of the country. Visitors who wish to explore the Dutch provinces can benefit from the excellent system of VVV tourist offices. They can also provide you with countless cycling and walking routes that are specially designed to take you directly to the most beautiful places in each region.
The geography of the Netherlands is also known to be dominated by water. The country is criss-crossed by rivers, canals and dykes, and the beach is never far away. The west coast has extensive sandy beaches and dunes that attract many Dutch and German visitors. Since the 17th century, about 20% of all land has been reclaimed from the sea, lakes, marshes and swamps. The Friesian lakes determine a large part of the geography of the northwest.
Demographics of Netherlands
Based on an estimated population of 16,785,403 by April 30, 2013, the Netherlands has the 10th largest population in Europe which is the 63rd most populous country in the world. Between 1900 and 1950, the country’s population almost doubled, from 5.1 million to 10 million. From 1950 to 2000, the population continued to grow, reaching 15.9 million, although this represents a slower rate of growth. In 2013, the estimated growth rate was 0.44%.
The fertility rate in the Netherlands is 1.78 children per woman (2013 est ), which is high compared to many other European countries, but lower than the 2.1 children per woman needed for natural population replacement. In the Netherlands life expectancy is very high: 83.21 years for females and 78.93 years for males.
Most of the population living in the Netherlands is ethnically Dutch. The country’s population was estimated to be made up of approximately 80.9% Dutch, 2.4% Indonesians, 2.4% Germans, 2.2% Turks, 2.0% Surinamese, 1.9% Moroccans, 0.8% West Indians and Arubans and 7.4% others. Approximately 150,000 to 200,000 people living in the Netherlands are expatriates, mainly concentrated in and around Amsterdam and The Hague, and now account for almost 10% of the population of these cities.
With an average height of 1.81 metres for men and 1.67 metres for women, the Dutch are the tallest people in the world. People in the south are on average about 2 cm smaller than those in the north.
Dutch people or descendants of Dutch people can also be found in migrant communities around the world, including Canada, Australia, South Africa and the United States. More than 5 million Americans declare full or partial Dutch descent, according to the 2006 US census. In South Africa, there are nearly 3 million Africans of Dutch descent. Statistics from Eurostat estimate that 1.8 million people born abroad were living in the Netherlands in 2010, which represents 11.1% of the total population.
The Netherlands is the 24th most densely populated country in the world, with 408.53 inhabitants per square kilometre (1,058/m²) or, counting only the land area (33,883 km2, 13,082 m2), 500.89 inhabitants per square kilometre (1,297/m²). If only the area of provincial land is counted (33,718 km2), the first half of 2014 saw 500 inhabitants per square kilometre (1,295/m²). The Randstad is the country’s largest metropolitan area. It is located in the west of the country and comprises the four largest cities: Amsterdam in the province of North Netherlands, Rotterdam and The Hague in the province of South Netherlands, and Utrecht in the department of Utrecht. The Randstad has 7 million inhabitants and is the 6th largest metropolitan area in Europe. According to the Dutch Central Bureau of Statistics, 28% of the Dutch population had a disposable income of more than 40,000 euros in 2015.
Religion in Netherlands
Historically, the Netherlands was a predominantly Christian society. With the beginning of the Protestant Reformation, the Dutch population was divided into two thirds Protestants (mainly Reformed) and one third Catholics. This situation began to change gradually in the twentieth century, as religious affiliation continued to decline sharply. There was a strong religious divide between the Catholic south and the Reformed north, the remains of which can still be seen. Nowadays, from a religious point of view, The Netherlands is one of the most secular nations in the world. About 39% of the population is affiliated to a religion and in 2010 less than 5.6% attended religious services regularly (once or several times a month). Despite a general decline in religiosity, a compensating trend is the religious revival of the Protestant Bible belt and the growth of Muslim and Hindu communities.
In the Netherlands, religion is generally regarded as a personal matter and should not be propagated in public. The Dutch constitution guarantees freedom of education, which means that all schools that adhere to general quality criteria receive equal funding from the government. These include schools run by religious groups (especially Roman Catholics and various Protestants) on the basis of religious principles. Three political parties in the Dutch Parliament (CDA, Christian Union and SGP) are based on the Christian faith. Several Christian religious festivals are national holidays (Christmas, Easter, Pentecost and Ascension).
Christianity is currently the largest religion in the Netherlands, accounting for about a third of the population. Roman Catholicism is the largest Christian denomination, with about four million registered members (23.7% of the population). The provinces of North Brabant and Limburg have always been strongly influenced by Roman Catholicism, and the inhabitants of these provinces still largely regard the Catholic Church as the basis of their cultural identity. Protestantism in the Netherlands consists of a number of churches of different traditions. Although Christianity has become a minority in the Netherlands as a whole, there is a biblical belt in the Netherlands stretching from Zeeland to the northern parts of the province of Overijssel, where the Protestant (mainly Reformed) faith remains strong and even has majorities in the local councils. The Dutch royal family was historically reformed.
Islam is the second religion of the state. There were approximately 825,000 Muslims in the Netherlands in 2012 (5% of the population). The number of Muslims increased from the 1960s onwards due to the large number of migrant workers. These included migrants from former Dutch colonies, such as Suriname and Indonesia, but mainly migrant workers from Turkey and Morocco. In the 1990s, Muslim refugees arrived from countries such as Bosnia and Herzegovina, Iran, Iraq, Somalia and Afghanistan.
Other religions account for about 6% of the Dutch population. Hinduism is a minority religion in the Netherlands, with about 215,000 followers (just over 1% of the population). Most are Indo-Surinamese.
Economy of Netherlands
With its developed economy, the Dutch have been playing a special role in the European economy for many centuries. Since the 16th century, shipping, fishing, agriculture, trade and banking have been the main sectors of the Dutch economy. The Netherlands has a high degree of economic freedom. The Netherlands is one of the best-performing countries in the Global Enabling Trade Report (ranked 3rd in 2014).
In 2013, the Netherlands’ main trading partners were Belgium, Germany, the United Kingdom, the United States, France, Italy, China and Russia. It is among the world’s Top 10 exporters. Food is the largest industrial sector. Other important industries are chemicals, metallurgy, machinery, electrical products, trade, services and tourism.
The Netherlands is the 17th largest economy in the world and ranks 10th in terms of (nominal) GDP per capita. Between 1997 and 2000, annual economic growth (GDP) averaged almost 4%, well above the European average. In the period between 2001 and 2005, the growth has slowed significantly with the global economic decline, however, it increased to 4.1 % in the third quarter of 2007. By May 2013, inflation stood at 2.8% per year. In April 2013, unemployment stood at 8.2 percent (or 6.7 per cent according to the ILO definition) of the labor force. In July 2016, this rate was reduced to 6.0 percent. Economic growth in 2015 and 2016 (forecast) is about 2%.
In the third and fourth quarters of 2011, the Dutch economy contracted by 0.4% and 0.7% respectively due to the European debt crisis, while the eurozone economy contracted by 0.3% in the fourth quarter. Although the Netherlands ranks 7th in terms of GDP per capita, it ranks 1st in terms of child well-being, according to UNICEF. On the Index of Economic Freedom, the Netherlands ranks 13th out of 157 countries surveyed with the highest degree of free-market capitalization.
Amsterdam is the financial and economic capital of the Netherlands. AEX (Amsterdam Stock Exchange), which is part of Euronext, is the world’s oldest and one of the largest stock exchanges in Europe. It is located near Dam Square in the center of the city. As a founding member of the euro, the Netherlands replaced its old currency, the ‘guilder’, on 1 January 1999 (for accounting reasons), along with 15 other countries that have adopted the euro. Euro notes and coins followed on 1 January 2002, with one euro being equivalent to 2.20371 Dutch guilders.
The geographical location of the Netherlands provides an excellent opportunity to access the markets of the UK and Germany, with Rotterdam being the largest port in Europe. The Netherlands managed to solve the problem of public finances and stagnant employment growth long before their European counterparts. With over 4.2 million international visitors, Amsterdam is the 5th most visited tourist destination in Europe. Since EU enlargement, a large number of migrant workers from Central and Eastern Europe have come to the Netherlands.
BrabantStad, an association between the municipalities of Breda, Eindhoven, Helmond, ‘s-Hertogenbosch and Tilburg and the province of North Brabant, is economically very important. This makes BrabantStad the fastest-growing economic area of the Netherlands. The region is located in the Eindhoven-Leuven-Aachen triangle (ELAT). The partnership aims to form an urban network and explicitly promote North Brabant as a leading knowledge region in Europe. With a total of 1.5 million inhabitants and 20% of the industrial production of the Netherlands, BrabantStad is one of the largest metropolitan regions in the Netherlands and is economically important. One-third of the money spent on research and development in the Netherlands is spent in Eindhoven. A quarter of the region’s jobs are in the field of technology and ICT.
Of all European patent applications in the field of physics and electronics, around 8% come from North Brabant. In the wider region, BrabantStad is part of the Eindhoven-Louvain-Aachen triangle (ELAT). This economic cooperation agreement between three cities in three countries has created one of the most innovative regions in the EU (measured by money invested in technology and the knowledge economy).
The Netherlands remains one of the leading European countries in attracting foreign direct investment and is among the top five investors in the United States. The economy slowed down in 2005, but rebounded in 2006 at its fastest pace in six years thanks to rising exports and strong investment. In 2007, the pace of employment growth reached its highest level in a decade. According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report, the Netherlands is the fifth most competitive economy in the world.
Apart from coal and gas, the country has no mineral resources. The Groningen gas field, one of the largest natural gas fields in the world, is located near Slochteren. The exploitation of this field has generated revenues of €159 billion since the mid-1970s. The field is operated by the state-owned company Gasunie and production is jointly operated by the government, Royal Dutch Shell and Exxon Mobil through NAM (Nederlandse Aardolie Maatschappij).