30 interesting facts about the Netherlands
Is the Netherlands truly the land of clogs, tulips and windmills? Why shouldn't you call it Holland, anyway? Test your Dutch knowledge with these top 30 facts.
How well you know the Dutch? Here are 30 top facts about the Netherlands to prepare you for visiting or living in this fascinating country. Test yourself on how many of these 30 Dutch facts you know or discover something new about the Netherlands.
- Not all Dutch people are from Holland or from Europe: Holland is an area in the Netherlands that today is made up of the provinces of North Holland (Noord-Holland) and South Holland (Zuid-Holland). Historically Holland was the area that contributed the most to the Dutch kingdom's economy and wealth, thus becoming a common name to indicate the entire country, although incorrectly. In addition, due to a history of colonialism, three Caribbean islands are still part of the Netherlands: Bonaire, Sint Eustatius and Saba. Their citizens are Dutch and can vote in EU elections.
- The Wilhelmus is the oldest national anthem in the world: Both the words and music date from the 16th century, and in it the Dutch king speaks of his German blood and describes his loyalty to the Spanish crown.
- The Netherlands is the healthiest country in the world for diet: The Netherlands ranked first in the world, above France and Switzerland, for having the most plentiful, nutritious, healthy and affordable food among 125 countries in an Oxfam report.
- King Willem-Alexander was the first Dutch king in 123 years: He coronation in April 2013 came after his mother, Queen Beatrix, abdicated at the age of 75, ending a female reign that spanned three generations since 1890. King Willem-Alexander serves as the current head of state.
- The Dutch were the first in the world to legalise gay marriage: same-sex marriage has been legal in the Netherlands since 2001.
- Dutch men are the tallest in the world: with a height of 182.5cm, while Dutch women rank as the second tallest in the world with a height of 1.69cm. Although Europeans and Americans towered over the average Dutch in the mid-18th century, Dutch males have grown some 20cm over the last 200 years compared to just 6cm that Americans grew. Researchers say it is not only due to Dutch DNA but also environmental factors such as low social inequality, universal healthcare and nutrition, specifically their heavy consumption of dairy products.
- Gin was invented by the Dutch and introduced to the Brits: Gin (jenever) was invented in the 16th century, and reportedly became popular in Great Britain after William of Orange (King William III) occupied the English, Scottish and Irish thrones with his wife Mary. A popular story for the term 'Dutch courage' allegedly derives from when gin was used by Brits and the Dutch during the Thirty Years' War.
- The Netherlands has the highest English-proficiency in the world: narrowly beating Denmark and Sweden, according to the English Proficiency Index (EPI). Some nine in 10 Dutch people speak English as a second language. According to the latest EU langage report (2012), 94 percent of Dutch people could speak two languages, well above the EU average of 54 percent. Considering more than half of the population also speak German, many must speak at least three languages. The Netherlands is one of the top countries where residents are more likely to learn a language at school, around 91 percent, and via conversation.
- There are over 1,000 windmills still standing from 1850: traditionally used for a variety of purposes, from irrigation to grinding grain, only a few still operate commercially. The Kinderdijk area is a UNESCO World Heritage site home to 19 traditional windmills.
- The Netherlands produces around 6 million souvenir clogs each year: the exact origin of wooden footwear is unknown – and not thought to be Dutch – although the oldest surviving clog in Europe was found in Nieuwendijk, Amsterdam, dating almost 800 years and resembling Dutch clogs today. Clogs are rarely worn although they are ingrained in Dutch culture, for example, there are many clog-related idiomatic expressions. Traditionally, klompen were used as protective footwear for labour workers as they're sturdy, waterproof and easy to clean, and in rural Netherlands they are still somtimes seen in the fields.
- An entire province is made from land reclaimed from the sea: Flevoland became a province in 1986 and is largely made of land reclaimed from the Zuiderzee in the 20th century.
- Almost 80 percent of the world's flower bulbs come from the Netherlands: the majority of which are tulips, making it the world's leading tulip exporter. In 2017 the tulip industry is expected to hit 2 million blooms for the first time, grown alongside millions of other blooms, all primarily for export (around 90 percent). Thousands of people flock to see the beautiful fields as they grow; Haarlem is home to many commercial fields as well as a Flower Parade and Keukenhof park, which display hundreds of flower varieties. All new tulips varities are recorded by the Koninklijke Algemeene Vereeniging voor Bloembollencultuur (KAVB), which lists more than 8,000 types.
- Tulips aren't native to the Netherlands: The tulip was imported from Turkey in the 16th century yet has played a vital role in Dutch culture. In the 1630s 'Tulip Mania' gripped the country, where prices rose until bulbs cost as much as houses and attracted many farmers to switch; when the industry suddenly collapsed, it left many in poverty. Yet it wasn't until the last winter of World War II when the starving Dutch discovered tulip bulbs as a food source. Now, every third Saturday in January, the Dutch celebrate National Tulip Day – the official start of the tulip season – with free flower picking and flower festivals.
- The Netherlands is the lowest country in Europe: it is literally a low country, as it's sometimes called, with 26 percent of the Netherlands sitting below sea level and some 60 percent of the population living 5m below sea level. It's highest point is Vaalserberg which is just 322 metres above sea level and the lowest point is Zuidplaspolder which is seven metres below sea level. Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport, where most visitors land, is three metres below sea level.
- The Netherlands has the highest population density in Europe: Not counting countries just a few kilometres long (such as Monaco), the Netherlands is the most densely populated country with around 17 million people in 41,500 square kilometres. The World Bank estimates the Netherlands' population density at around 500 people per square kilometre.
- The Dutch government plans to ban the sales of petrol and diesel-powered cars in 2025: To promote green energy, the motion has been passed by the lower house but still needs to be ratified by the senate. The government’s goal is to have only electric cars driving on Dutch streets in future.
- The Netherlands is the world’s second biggest beer exporter: Dutch brewers exported 1.6 billion euros of beer in 2014 – one-third going to US markets – and was the world’s biggest exporter of beer until 2010, when it was overtaken by Mexico.
- Drugs aren't as easily available as you might think: While cannabis has been decriminalised, possession, cultivation and selling it to foreigners is illegal, even in coffee shops, as of 2012. However, this law is not enforced in either Amsterdam or Rotterdam. The police tend to ignore public possession of less than five grammes (30g in private) or cultivation of under five plants as this is considered personal use.
- The Netherlands is home to more bikes than people: There are around 18 million bikes in the country, including the clever (if not so elegant) bakfiets which combine a bike and a wheelbarrow. Ideal for taking the kids to school, bakfiets are even occasionally used for moving house. Dutch cycle an average distance of 2.9km per day and use bicycles for more than a quarter of all trips, compared to just 2 perecent in the UK.
- Cycling in the Netherlands is the safest in the world: A study from Rutgers University reported the Netherlands has the lowest rates of serious injuries per million kilometres cycled. This is thanks to 35,000km of excellent cycle lanes and that bikes get the same respect as cars – and not just on the roads. Groningen station has a whopping 10,000 bike spaces. Bikes must also have lights and cycling while drunk is illegal. But bike theft is also high with over 100,000 thefts reported each year, and an estimated 300,000 unreported thefts.
- Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport offers more direct flights than any airport in the world – in 2016, Schiphol operated 4,633 flights per week in 2016, according to a report by Dutch economic institute SEO on behalf of the Airport Council International. Schiphol is 100 percent government-owned and handles around 60 million passengers per year.
- More than 60 percent of the Netherlands is agriculture and horticulture: the country is one of the world's biggest exporters, despite it's small size, competing again China, the US and Germany. In 2016 the Netherlands was the world’s second largest exporter of agriculture goods, after the US, reaching a record EUR 94 billion. It is also one of the world's largest exporter of seeds, live trees, plants, bulbs, roots and cut flowers.
- Home births are still cherished in the Netherlands: around 20 percent of babies in 2013 were born in homes, one of the highest home birth rates in the developed world. This is partly due to the Dutch attitude on not medicalising birth, lower costs compared to hospital births and a good screening system of women who can safely deliver at home. Midwives or verloskundige usually assist mothers during the home delivery, and home births are covered by Dutch health insurance while hospital births without medical necessity can be refused.
- One-fifth of the Dutch population is foreign: in 2016, 22 percent of the population in the Netherlands was from abroad. The country's multicultural mix is particularly felt in Amsterdam, which is home to more than 150 nationalities. Yet foreigners who are not Dutch citizens only represent less than four percent of the population and around 3.5 million people have immigrant parents or grandparents, showing many expats quickly settle in and become Dutch.
- The Dutch eat the most liquorice in the world: Some 32 million kilos of the black sweet are consumed each year.
- Dutch artists are world famous: The country is believed to have brought oil painting to Europe, and renowned artists run from the Hieronymus Bosch (1400s) through artists like Vermeer, Rembrandt and van Gogh to modern artists and designers like MC Escher and the creator of Miffy.
- The Dutch introduced orange carrots to the world: Dutch carrot growers developed orange carrots in the 16th century through careful breeding of existing varieties. At the time, carrots were a range of colours, from pale yellow to purple.
- CDs, DVDs and Blu-Ray were invented in the Netherlands: Philips, a major Dutch company, developed CDs in 1979, in a joint project with Sony, in their headquarters in Eindhoven. They also developed cassette tapes and popularised many home electronics items in Europe, such as TVs and blenders.
- The first multinational company, stocks and stock exchange were Dutch: travelling the extensive overseas Dutch empire, the Dutch East India Company is recognised as the first truly multinational company and the first to issue stocks in 1602. It established the Amsterdam Stock Exchange the same year, which is considered the oldest 'modern' exchange in the world. Growing out of its colonial heritage, the Dutch were also the first to develop fair trade certification, launching the Max Havelaar certificate in the 1980s.
- Discovery of microbiology and virology: The first compound microscope was built in the Netherlands in 1590. In the 1670s, Antoine van Leeuwenhoek, called 'the father of microbiology' viewed and researched microbes. In 1898, Martinus Beijerinck showed that disease could be caused by an agent smaller than bacteria, which he called a virus.
Quick facts on the Netherlands
Despite the flag being red, white and blue, orange is the national colour as the monarchy is from the House of Orange. Until becoming king, Willem-Alexander was prince of Orange. On the king's birthday – 27 April – Dutch people dress in orange and celebrate their country with outdoor parties, picnics and parades.
The Netherlands was a founding member of the EU. It was involved in the negotiations that eventually developed into the EU from the earliest days. The country is relatively pro-Europe and the euro replaced the guilder in 2002.
Both Nederlands (Dutch) and Fryslân (Frisian) are official languages in the Netherlands, although English is also spoken by the majority of the population. Estimates suggest that less than 400,000 people speak Frisian, so far more Dutch people speak English. Limburgish, Dutch Low Saxon and Gronings are also recognised minority languages.
Some 83 percent of the population live in urban areas but there are few high rises. The Netherlands has a lot of medium-density housing, apartments two to six floors high, and one of the highest rates of social housing in Europe.
The Netherlands is a largely secular country: up to 40 percent of Dutch say they have no religion, compared to 30 percent who are Catholic (the largest religious group) and 20 percent who are Protestant.
The Dutch are the most physically active EU population: Fifty-two percent of the population participate in sport on a weekly basis, well above the European Union average of 38 percent. The Netherlands ranked the highest for monthly, weekly and daily recreational non-sports physical activities in 2013 in the EU at 89 percent, 83 percent and 43 percent respectively.
More than 40 percent of people in the Netherlands live in the Randstad area, a megalopolis in the central-western part of the country mostly consisting of the four largest cities of Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague and Utrecht.
Read more facts about the Netherlands in 'A brief introduction to the Netherlands'.
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