What’s not to like about the Netherlands? It’s got world-class cities, a cultural centre, as well as being the most liberal society in Europe. It’s also home to some of the world’s top ranked universities. Grab a bike, pull on your clogs and come and see what all the fuss is about.
About the Netherlands
The Netherlands – translated as the low countries – was named because so much of it is below sea level (the highest point is 321 metres above sea level). It is a small, densely packed, flat country right in the middle of Europe, bordered by Belgium and Germany. With a population of just under 17 million, it is one of the densely populated countries for its size in western Europe. The Netherlands is a constitutional monarchy.
So what comes to mind when you think about the Netherlands? Bikes, tulips, clogs, windmills, Amsterdam, canals, brown cafes? Well there’s a lot more to the Netherlands that you might think. For example did you know that as well as some of the most cultured and best-known cities (Amsterdam, Rotterdam Utrecht, Maastricht), the Netherlands has some amazing parks, wonderful countryside (after all, that famous Dutch cheese has to come from somewhere) and dramatic coastlines? What’s also little known is that the Netherlands has some of the world’s top-ranked universities, including Utrecht, Maastricht and Rotterdam – all ranked in the top 100 best universities in the world!
As well as being one of the best educated, the Dutch are also one of the most liberal societies in Europe. They have legalised prostitution (those famous red windows in Amsterdam) as well as cannabis – yet crime in the Netherlands is low. The Dutch are a famously accepting nation and welcoming to all races, cultures and faiths. They truly believe in egalitarianism and that everyone has a right to their opinion and to be heard. They also have an advanced social programme so there is practically no poverty in the country, but this has led to higher tax rates and a high cost of living.
Traditional Dutch food is pretty simple, relying on lots of bread, meat and potatoes, but they also eat a lot of fish (and quite a lot of it raw!). They have some great street food – try some poffertjes (small pancakes made with buckwheat flour),or some bitterballen (deep fried meaty snacks), stroopwafels (chewy cookies) and of course the hollands nieuwe haring (raw herring fish). There is also a lot of Indonesian food around and Dutch-Indonesian fusion dishes are popular – the best known being the rijsttafel (Rice table) which is an elaborate meal consisting of lots of small dishes.
Another huge advantage is that most of the Dutch speak fluent English – as well as German and French. In fact, the Dutch are amongst the best linguists in the world (possibly because the Dutch language itself is so complicated). So although you won’t need to speak Dutch fluently to get around and about while you are there – it might be fun to try and give it a go. Even if you can’t speak Dutch, you will be able to try out your French and German.
The largest city is the capital Amsterdam and well worth a visit. Aside from the beautiful canals, famous red-light district and incredible flower markets, it’s also the place where Anne Frank lived (and wrote her famous diary). Other places worth visiting include The Hague, which is the home of the government, as well as Rotterdam, which has the largest port in the world. If you get time, you should also check out the Hoge Veluwe National Park as well as the beautiful down of Delft with its distinctive blue and white pottery.
While no one really goes to the Netherlands for the weather – it has warm summers and fairly cold and wet winters (so pack a rain coat!) but don’t let that put you off – there really is a lot more to the Netherlands than you might think. It’s also easy and cheap to get to by boat, train or plane. Welkom bij de Nederlands (welcome to the Netherlands)
At a glance facts
- official language: the main spoken languages are Dutch and Frisian, although many people also speak fluent English
- Population – 17,084,459 (2018)
- International dialling code: 31
- Timezone: GMT + 1
Europe, member of the EU