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Country Profile: The Netherlands

For centuries, The Netherlands has been defined by its relationship with the North Sea. With much of the country at or below sea level, a vast series of locks and canals regulates the tides, protecting villages, farmland and cities from flooding. These centuries-old efforts toward keeping the sea at bay through regulation and land reclamation today lend the country its rural charm and urban grace.

The Netherlands was once the wealthiest nation on earth. Its economy was bolstered during the 17th century by the end of the Eighty Years’ War, by an influx of skilled workers and by the spice trade of the Dutch East India Company, the world’s first multinational corporation. But the Dutch Golden Age might never have blossomed were it not for the early triumphs in taming the tidal floodwaters of the North Sea; before canals were dredged, frequent deluges made farming the land, and feeding the people, impossible.

Before and after the Golden Age, windmills helped to reclaim land for farming, pumping water into adjacent canals and creating countless patches of arable land (polders) that today comprise 17% of the total land mass. Controlling water remains one of The Netherlands’ most important priorities, evident from the nation’s most impressive barrier–the Delta Works, a series of about a dozen massive dams and levees whose main purpose has been to shorten the coastline and thus manage the tides.

A walking tour of The Netherlands brings the victory over the sea into sharp focus. A variety of ecosystems thrives here, from the pine and oak woodlands of De Hoge Veluwe to the unspoiled dunes of Kennermerduinen National Park on the North Sea Coast to the priceless cultural and historic sites of Amsterdam.

Read more about The Netherlands

Country Highlights
  • Marvel at blooming gardens of tulips, hyacinths and other countless flowers at Keukenhof Tulip Show.
  • Sample the bounty of The Netherlands during a lunch of organic fare at the Amelisweerd Estate.
  • Browse Europe’s largest sculpture garden at the Kröller-Müller Museum.
  • Explore the stately windmills of Kinderdijk, torn from the pages of a storybook.
  • Sample the rich cheeses, savory pancakes and smooth beers of The Netherlands.
  • Tullips

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Country Facts

About The Netherlands:

One of Europe’s “Low Countries,” one-quarter of The Netherlands is below sea level. Only half of the nation exceeds an elevation of three feet. Its flat terrain and endless sightlines make it ideal for a walking vacation. Much of the landscape, about 17%, has been reclaimed from the sea over the centuries, creating a unique soil that has helped the Dutch rank among the highest in the world for the value of their agricultural exports, second only to the United States.

The country is a constitutional monarchy headed by the House of Orange, which was founded in 1544. Its parliamentary democracy is ruled by a prime minister. The Dutch capital is Amsterdam, but The Hague hosts the government and parliament.

Dutch is The Netherlands’s official language. While knowledge of the local language is not necessary, you may want to learn some fun and useful phrases to use during your walking tour. The effort seldom goes unappreciated and by trying some greetings and salutations with a smile, your interactions are likely to grow into rewarding exchanges. See BBC Languages for helpful hints.

Life in The Netherlands

The country’s official name is The Netherlands. The name “Holland” actually refers to two provinces in the south and north of the country. Notwithstanding, the Dutch are fine with visitors using either name.

Shopping and banking hours: Shops and stores are generally open Monday to Saturday between 9:00 a.m. and 5:30 p.m., with one later night (usually Thursday) until 9:00 p.m. Each city has its own rules for Sunday shopping, so check locally. Supermarkets and shopping malls are generally open daily until 10:00 p.m., or until 5:30 p.m. on Sundays. Banks are open from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., Monday to Friday.

Meal times: Breakfast is served at hotels from 7:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. In restaurants and cafés, lunch is served from 12:00 p.m. to 2:00 p.m. and dinner is usually served from 6:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.

Tipping: In restaurants and cafés, a 15 percent service charge is always included in the bill (indicated as inclusief BTW en service, meaning “service and value-added tax included”). However, an additional 10 percent or rounding up to the nearest euro is appreciated. For taxi drivers, 10 percent is also appropriate. For luggage assistance, one euro per bag is typical. And in public restrooms, there is usually a change plate on which to leave .50 euros for the attendant.

Dutch public holidays:
To assist in travel planning, it may be helpful to be aware of Holland public holidays, festivals, or calendars of events. For a list of public holidays, visit this site.

Given The Netherlands’s status as a major exporter of farm produce, many dishes feature cheese, meat, and local seafood. Traditional Dutch specialties include hutspot, a spicy vegetable stew that includes red cabbage or sauerkraut, pea soup with dark rye bread, fried croquettes, meat or sausage, and, of course, raw herring with onion. There are many versions of Dutch pankoeken, or pancakes, some with complex fillings, and other miniature versions topped with powdered sugar. Tostis, grilled cheese sandwiches, are a popular late-night snack.

Dining out is popular in The Netherlands, and there is a broad choice of restaurants in all large cities and towns—from fine cuisine to simple pizza. Ethnic restaurants abound, reflecting not only the tastes of Suriname and Indonesia, where Dutch colonies were maintained in earlier days, but also tastes from America (bagels, pizza) and from other European countries.

Dutch beer is, of course, well known internationally. Wine is also produced in The Netherlands, along its southernmost border with Belgium. And finally, jenever, also a national drink (from the word for juniper), is a colorless distilled spirit drunk ice cold in one gulp.

Dutch Cheese

The Netherlands is the largest cheese exporter in the world, with evidence of cheese-making dating back to 200 BC. Cheese—its production, consumption, and trading—was a central part of Dutch culture by the Middle Ages. Cheese markets emerged in the cities of Gouda, Edam, and Alkmaar, each town giving its name to the cheese they produced. Other Dutch cheeses include Frisian, Limburger, Bluefort, Maasdam, Old Amsterdam, Maasland, Leyden, and Leerdammer.

The Netherlands has a maritime climate with cool winters and mild summers. March is the driest month and July and August are the wettest and warmest. During the springtime, average temperatures range from the mid-40s to mid-50s, with some rain at any time of the day.

For up-to-date forecasts, see qwikcast.com. For historical average temperatures and rainfall, see weatherbase.com.

U.S. citizens: Passports are required and must be valid for at least three months beyond the dates of travel. Visas are not required for stays of up to 90 days. For more information, see travel.state.gov.

The Netherlands uses the euro (EUR). The current exchange rate is 1 USD = 1 EUR. Exchange rates can vary greatly month to month, so we recommend you visit oanda.com for the latest.

Many businesses in Europe will no longer accept credit cards without PIN numbers (chip and pin cards). Contact your bank or your credit-card company for details on fees and card use when travelling, and to inform them of your travel destination and dates so they do not freeze your accounts when they see charges appear from a foreign country.

We recommend having a variety of payment options readily available to help you start your trip: ATM card(s), credit card(s), some U.S. dollars to exchange, and some euros in small denominations.

No immunizations are required to enter The Netherlands. Requirements and recommendations change frequently, so always check directly with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC: cdc.gov/travel; 800-232-4636), a travel clinic, and/or your personal physician for the most current information. Plan ahead for immunizations, as some require administration several months prior to departure.

Electricity: Alternating current of 220V to 240V and 50Hz is used in The Netherlands. Plugs have either two round pins and a hole, or just two round pins. For a full listing of electrical outlets worldwide, see electricaloutlet.org. If you are bringing your own hair dryer or other electrical device, you will need a travel converter, available at most hardware, travel, or consumer electronic stores. For laptops or an electronic device with a dual voltage switch, you will only need the adapter plug, not the converter.

Phone: The Netherlands’s country code is “+31.” Cell phone coverage throughout The Netherlands is extensive, but we cannot guarantee adequate signals on all American phone models or while on walking trails or in remote areas. For more information regarding international phone use, please refer to this blog post.

Internet: Internet access is generally very good in towns and villages; however, all of the hotels used on our tours do not necessarily provide it, or they provide it at an additional cost. Details regarding Wi-Fi availability in each hotel are available in the Itinerary Overview that you’ll receive once you’ve reserved.

The Netherlands is in the Central European Time Zone, Eastern Standard Time plus 6 hours. For more information on worldwide time zones, see: worldtimezone.com.

A wealth of travel information is available at holland.com/global/tourism.htm.


The majority of international flights arrive at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport (schiphol.nl), with short connecting flights to larger cities in The Netherlands on a domestic air network. It is generally faster to travel by train within The Netherlands.

International Airports in The Netherlands

  • Amsterdam – Amsterdam Airport Schiphol
  • Eindhoven Airport
  • Groningen – Groningen Airport Eelde
  • Maastricht-Aachen Airport
  • Rotterdam The Hague Airport


Dutch Railway is the Netherland’s national train company. You may book your train travel directly with them. Or, if you plan to travel for longer periods, consider Rail Europe, a U.S.-based company that provides schedules, reservations, and ticketing for all European train networks. Their multi-day, -week or -month passes in one country or combinations of countries may be a more economical and convenient choice. For more information, go to raileurope.com or call 800.622.8600.

Other local transportation

In addition to rail and airlines, The Netherlands also has a bus network; however, rail is usually faster and more convenient.
Most major car rental agencies are available at airports and train stations. Taxis are available at all major airports, train stations, and in smaller towns, and can be reserved in advance (your hotel can usually provide assistance). Bicycles can also be rented at all train stations, city centers, and some hotels, providing access to Holland’s extensive network of bike paths (17,980 miles of them!). For more information, contact Country Walkers, or go to holland.com/global/tourism.htm.

For additional hints and guidance about travel to The Netherlands, visit the Dutch tourist board’s website.



Holland Tulips

Every April, the Dutch countryside and private and public gardens throughout The Netherlands burst with the colors of tulips. The delicate flower, believed to have been exported to northwestern Europe from Turkey in the 16th century, is virtually synonymous with the country’s windmills and flat polder lands. From fiery reds to subtle lavenders to variegated blends of cream and blue, the variety of colors and shapes and sizes is endless, thanks to centuries of cross pollination and experimentation in search of the perfectly sublime bloom.

Indeed, the tulip has long had the Dutch under its spell. And at one point, the innocent beauty seduced the nation’s merchant class toward the brink of financial disaster.

The tulip arrived in The Netherlands during the Dutch Golden Age. An embarrassment of riches flowed through the country’s mercantile class during this heady era and there was no more coveted symbol of wealth than the exotic flower. With such high demand, the value of bulbs soared. At the height of “tulip mania,” a single bulb sold for ten times the annual salary of a skilled craftsman. The clever Dutch began buying futures in tulip bulbs, betting their fortunes on the ever-increasing value of a flower.

In 1637, a number of factors brought trading to a halt–the bubonic plague, fluctuations in the market, and even some diseased bulbs that, by creating stunning new varieties, increased prices to an unsustainable level. Many investors lost everything and the Dutch were left to question their intrinsic understanding of the meaning of value in a fickle market. Today, tulip mania is seen as one of the world’s first economic bubbles, examined by scholars still.