Is Holland a country?

There are some questions that just seem to repeat themselves: why is the sky blue? what is the meaning of life? and where the hell do the Dutch come from?! 

After living in the Netherlands for more than eight years – yikes that is nearly a decade – I’m here to answer all the questions you might have about this tiny and somehow mysterious country, like “where is Amsterdam?”.

The English language doesn’t do a lot to provide clarity on the Netherlands. Enter Gabby, here to save the day to clarify all of your Dutch related questions. I’ve compiled a list of the most common questions people ask about the Netherlands, so all the answers to your questions are in one handy place.

where is amsterdam

Long long ago, before I ever considered moving to the Netherlands, before I even knew where the hell it was or where it was, I remember seeing a Friends episode where Chandler asks Joey where the Dutch come from. I was probably ten years old or so at the time, and I remember thinking that I could totally understand why Joey had no clue about where the Dutch came from!

So, let’s get down to it.

Where do Dutch people come from?

Ah, the eternal question. Why do we make this so hard on ourselves, English speakers?!

Dutch people come from the Netherlands. Plain and simple. It isn’t more complicated than that. The Dutch have always come from the Netherlands and always will come from the Netherlands.

So, why do we call them Dutch? And not Netherlanders?


In Dutch (which is what we also call the language of the Netherlands), they actually call themselves nederlanders which means Netherlanders. But we can’t just make things simple.

We have to be rebellious and call them the Dutch.

According to Dictionary.com, the noun Dutch comes from the Old-English word dutch  which meant people or nation. Back in the day – waaaaay back, the English separated the Netherlands and Germany into the High Dutch and the Low Dutch. Maybe not surprisingly, the Low Dutch were those in the Netherlands, where there are literally no hills.

In fact, the word Nederland means “low land” in Dutch. So actually if we all still spoke Old English, then we would be directly translating Nederland or Nederlanders into Old English.

But obviously we don’t speak Old English, so that’s why we’re all so confused about who the Dutch are.

What countries make up the Netherlands?

Yes, the name is misleading because it ends in an “s”. But, the Netherlands is just one country. As mentioned, it literally means low lands, which might lead some to think that it refers to a collection of countries. But in fact, the Netherlands is just one country. And the Dutch live there 😉

Ok so, where is the Netherlands?

The Netherlands is located smack dab in the middle of Northern Europe. The Netherlands is NOT a Scandinavian country. The Netherlands is NOT Norway. I have honestly had to answer this question many times.

Not that I’m necessarily judging, because I didn’t have the best sense of geography until I started traveling extensively. But if you’ve read this blog post you can’t ask this anymore, k?

The Netherlands is located right above Belgium, west of Germany, and east of the UK. A handy map is below.

Europe map
See? The Netherlands is located above Belgium. It is shorted with “Neth”

JFYI, if you are still unsure, Scandinavian countries include: Denmark, Sweden and Norway.

What language do they speak in the Netherlands?

Dutch. Or, as the Dutch call it nederlands. 

So, where is Holland then? Is Holland a country?

I often see questions about Holland vs. the Netherlands. That sounds like the World Cup showdown of the century. However, that would mean the same team playing against itself…

What is the difference between the Netherlands and Holland?


Good question!

The name “Holland” is often used synonymously with the “Netherlands”.

Why?

Because there are two provinces in the Netherlands that have the name Holland in them: Noord Holland and Zuid Holland – or North Holland and South Holland.

North Holland is the province where you find Amsterdam. South Holland is the province where you’ll find the Hague and Rotterdam.

So, in that case, the language of Holland is also Dutch 😉

Where is Amsterdam? Is Amsterdam a country?

Amsterdam canal cruise

Maybe you’re also asking, what country is Amsterdam in?

Amsterdam is often mistaken as a country. I think people mistake Amsterdam as a country because people often hear that weed is legal in Amsterdam. Of course, weed is also legal in the great state of California, so we don’t all need to travel to Amsterdam anymore to smoke legally 😉

I digress…

Anyway, the city of Amsterdam is famous for the legalization of marijuana and prostitution.

Amsterdam, as you may have guessed at this point, is in the Netherlands.

Marijuana and prostitution are legal across the entire country of the Netherlands, not just in Amsterdam. Amsterdam has become the infamous city of sin because it has been associated with marijuana and prostitution, but in fact, most areas of Amsterdam are really low key, and are nothing like the tourist areas that most people see.

what to do in Amsterdam

The legends of Amsterdam loom larger than anything you’ll hear about the Netherlands. It pretty crazy that the reputation of the city precedes the country’s reputation. If you want to get a clearer picture of the laws in the Netherlands regarding marijuana and prostitution, check out this article.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked if Amsterdam is a country, or if it is in Germany. I think the country of the Netherlands needs to do a bit of external PR to change the perception of Amsterdam and let the country speak louder than the city.

Just saying, if you need me, call me.

Heading to Amsterdam? Don’t miss my 2 day Amsterdam itinerary

Other quick facts about the Netherlands:

    • What is the currency in the Netherlands? The Netherlands is located in the euro zone, so the currency is the Euro.
    • What is the capital of the Netherlands? articleWell, the answer is actually in two parts. Amsterdam is considered the capital of the Netherlands, but in fact, the parliament and court are located in the Hague. So er… I’d just say we call them both the capitals 🙂 If you want to get into the nitty gritty, check out this
    • What time is it in the Netherlands? The Netherlands is located in the GMT +1 timezone – it is one hour later than in London, and nine hours later than California. I permanently see the time in two time zones – every time I look at a clock in the Netherlands or California, I just automatically know what time it is in the other place. I guess eight years of expat life will do that to you!



So, what are the Dutch famous for?

Besides decriminalized weed and prostitution, the Netherlands and the Dutch actually are famous for a lot of great things that they often don’t get enough credit for. What are the Dutch famous for? Well, let me tell you:

tulips in holland
Ah, the beautiful tulip fields of the Netherlands

Tulips: One of the best things about living in the Netherlands was the chance to see fields of tulips blooming ever spring, and being able to buy tulips at a super low cost compared to the price you pay in California for tulips. The Dutch are famous for their tulips, and also their flowers in general. The massive amounts of rain and moisture in the country create the perfect breeding ground for flowers.

Dutch cheese

Cheese: Alright, adding to the list of the best things in the Netherlands, is the cheese. Cheese is practically a food group of its own in the Netherlands. The country is famous for gouda (actually named after the Dutch town called Gouda), and has loads more amazingly tasty cheese. When you’re in the Netherlands don’t miss the chance to take a cheese tour.

Windmills: Ever see those photos of a rural canal lined with windmills? Yup, that’s in the Netherlands, too. The Netherlands is filled with traditional windmills like the ones that you’ll see at the Zaanse Schans or Kinderdijk, and also with functioning wind turbines that provide energy since the wind is pretty much constantly blowing in the Netherlands.

Water management: The Dutch have mastered water management. The most of the country is below sea level after all. Amsterdam has so many canals because the city needs to manage all of the water from the surrounding regions. Canals are all over the country, both in cities and in the farm lands. Without the dikes, the entire west of the country would be under water. If you think this sounds like a boring topic – think again, and take a moment to think about how this is a country where people literally reclaimed land from the sea. Holy shit!

House music/EDM: Yes, seriously. House music is one of the Netherlands’ biggest exports. How cool is that? The country is the birthplace of some of the most infamous house DJs like Tiesto, Martin Garrix, and Armin van Buuren. In fact, EDM is so big here that every year Amsterdam hosts Amsterdam Dance Event (ADE), a weeklong dance event where the world’s best DJ’s flock in Amsterdam for one epic week of partying.

Bikes: The Netherlands is the country where there are more bikes than people. The country is easily bike-able because it is so flat, so you’ll be able to bike wherever you go. In fact my main mode of transport used to be a bike. There’s nothing like biking through the rain on a cold night. Ah… I actually do miss it!

Speaking of which, the Netherlands is so flat there are hardly any hills there. The only hills are in the south of the country in the province of Limburg, but as far as hills go, they’d be considered speed bumps here in California. Anyway, the flatness of the country can be a bit charming, but eventually it made me crave the hills more than I’d ever expected!


Famous Dutch companies

What many people don’t know is that the Netherlands is home to some of the world’s biggest corporations. In fact, the first corporation EVER was created in the Netherlands.

You’re welcome for that bit of trivia.

Anyway, here are some world famous Dutch companies you might known have known were Dutch:

  • Shell Oil
  • Heineken
  • Philips
  • Unilever
  • Booking.com
  • G-Star
  • Scotch & Soda
  • ING
  • Ahold
  • Rabobank
  • TomTom

What is the best time to travel to Amsterdam?

The best time to visit Amsterdam is hands down in the summer time. The days are long – so, so long. The sun only sets around 10:30pm, and it stays light until at least 11pm.

It feels like you have so much time, you almost don’t know what to do with it all. It would be crazy to go to bed when it’s still light outside, after all!

I suggest visiting Amsterdam in summer because it is so much easier to see and enjoy the city in the summer. One of the best things to do in Amsterdam during summer is rent your own boat and tour the canals. You’ll see dozens of Dutchies doing the same thing.

Amsterdam canal cruise

In summer you just have more daylight hours to absorb the beauty of the city. You’ll also see way more Dutch people in summer time.

The cities seem to explore with people as soon as the sun comes out after the (very) long winters there. There are terraces everywhere that are filled with people drinking wine and beer, and just generally chilling out and enjoying life.

Although it isn’t always sunny in the Netherlands, the Dutch really do know how to appreciate it when it is sunny.

Speaking of which, the Netherlands is pretty well known for its surplus of festivals. In the Netherlands you can even get a degree in festival organization. That is how massive this industry is in the Netherlands.

Every weekend you’ll find at least a handful of festivals taking place across the country, and likely 2-3 in Amsterdam alone.

If you do insist on visiting in the winter, I suggest visiting around Christmas time. While the Netherlands isn’t nearly as famous for Christmas markets as Germany is, you will find quite a few charming Christmas markets in the Netherlands to get you in the Christmas mood.


What to pack for the Netherlands

There are a few items I always insist everyone needs to bring to the Netherlands, no matter what the season.

You’ll always need an umbrella. Preferably a storm umbrella. If you don’t know what a storm umbrella is, or you think you can get away with a little H&M umbrella in the Dutch rainstorms, think again. That thing will get destroyed in seconds.

The second thing you’re gonna need is an adapter. Duh, you want to use all of your electronics, right?

Finally, I always recommend a Lonely Planet. Lonely Planet is hands down my favorite guide book and I never go on a trip without it.

So now that that’s settled, where do the Danish come from?

Just kidding, we all know that’s Denmark!

Disclosure: some of the links on this page are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase. 

11 Comments

  1. Thanks for this very simple explanation! I’ve actually wondered all of these questions, learned the answers, and then quickly forgotten them. It’s a great refresher. 🙂

  2. I can’t believe someone asked if the Netherlands is Norway! Really do wonder about people sometimes! The names can get a bit confusing, we regularly refer to both the Netherlands and Holland here in the UK. If I’m not mistaken Holland is a region in the Netherlands isn’t it?

  3. To be honest I don’t really know much about the Netherlands so this is a good way to find some fun facts about the country. 🙂 What really stood out for me was the 10:30pm sunset as it sounds like a really long day. We have shorter days here in our country (it sets at around 5-6 PM) so this will be really unique when I get to experience it.

  4. You are right, I’m generally embarrassed to ask about most European countries because I’m geographically challenged. It took me a long time to even add a ‘European’ Pinterest Board because I wasn’t always sure what to put there. Especially the Netherlands. I know zip. I have been the Amsterdam once though. Just a layover but I’d love to go back and see the windmills and tulips.

  5. Great article! I’ve been to Netherlands several times and each time brings out something entirely different. These questions may seem dumb in the beginning, but they’re all extremely real for us when we’re explaining our travels to others. I’m wishing I could go back to the cheese museum 🙂 absolutely love it there!

  6. My husbands fathers, father is Dutch but he’s never been there. I’ve been on long weekends to Amsterdam a couple of times and really enjoyed it but I’d like to go and explore more, a cheese tour would definitely be one of the things I’d want to do!

    Really interesting and informative post.

  7. Haha this is such a funny post! I can’t believe people actually ask these questions! Especially if Amsterdam is a country?! Thanks for explaining why they are Dutch rather than Netherlanders – I didn’t know the heritage. I love the Netherlands, and adore the cheese shops – it is a total reason to visit!

  8. Hahaha, “where the hell do the Dutch come from/“ . I would have thought Dutchland :p

    All jokes aside, I have never really worked out why we call the Dutch Dutch as they come from The Netherlands.. Just call me Joey. Thank you for your research and explanation, it is really interesting.

    I’m not also schooled up regarding the North and south Holland and Amsterdam. This has been a very cool and informative read.

  9. Thank you for providing clarity on all things Dutch. Very informative and your writing styles makes this post a joy to read. Very interesting that there are more bikes than people….in the U.S. there are more guns than people so it’s clear to see where priorities lie.

  10. I like your blog about my country, but I just want to set one thing straight. Even though you will not be prosecuted when using it, weed is NOT legal in The Netherlands. It’s not commonly used by locals either, apart from street criminals and old hippies.

    • Thanks for clarifying, Sanne. I’ll update that straight away in the post to ensure it is correct. I share the same experience – I know very few Dutch people who actually use weed!

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