41,528 sq km (16,034 sq miles).
16.9 million (2014).
406.4 per sq km.
Head of state:
King Willem-Alexander since 2013.
Head of government:
Prime Minister Mark Rutte since 2010.
230 volts AC, 50Hz. European-style plugs with two round pins are standard.
As flat as a local pannenkoek, the Netherlands is a land of colourful tulip fields and canals, sophisticated cities and some of the most striking coastline in Northern Europe. It punches well above its weight culturally, laying claim to the likes of Van Gogh, Rembrandt and Mondrian, amongst others.
At the head of the state sits the country’s constitutional monarchy, whose palaces dominate many of the larger cities, including The Hague and the capital city, Amsterdam. The latter, renowned for its step-gabled houses, ubiquitous bikes, seedy red light district and hazy coffeeshops, is bisected by a UNESCO-listed network of waterways, many of which are spanned by beautiful, latticed bridges.
To the south lies Rotterdam, an industrial port city that has benefitted from a complete makeover in recent years, acquiring a slew of excellent museums and an unlikely affinity for hip-hop in the process.
The butt of many a northern joke, the southern city of Maastricht lies in the much-maligned Limbourg region. Despite the teasing, this is a city of delicate beauty, dotted with churches, bisected by a mighty river and home to what is almost certainly the best bookshop in the world, Selexyz Dominicanen.
Back towards the coast, the Netherlands becomes more stereotypically Dutch, with vast colourful fields of tulips dotted with windmills and dairy farms producing the wheels of cheese for which the country is so famous. The low-lying Dutch countryside is scattered with a network of charming towns and villages such as Edam, Haarlem and Leiden, which have changed little over the centuries.
Best of all though, are the sandy, North Sea beaches of Zeeland, which stretch for an almost unbroken 650km (403-miles). With more sunshine than any other part of the Netherlands, Zeeland is the Dutch riposte to the Caribbean – and with better cycling trails and museums, if not the hot weather, to boot.
Last updated: 19 October 2015
The travel advice summary below is provided by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the UK. ‘We’ refers to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. For their full travel advice, visit www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice.
Take care particularly in central Amsterdam and especially in and around Central Station. Pick-pocketing and bag snatching are common. Thieves often operate in gangs on the trains to and from Schiphol airport and Central Station as well as on the trams. One thief will attempt to distract you (often by asking for directions or by banging on your window) while another picks your pocket or steals your bag. Be alert and don’t lose sight of your luggage or your belongings. Sleeping passengers make particularly easy targets.
Opportunist thieves are widespread and can enter restaurants with the excuse of selling you something or looking for someone. Bags have been stolen from between people’s feet whilst they were distracted. Keep your valuables safely with you at all times and don’t leave bags or jackets hanging on the back of a chair.
If you are the victim of a theft contact the nearest police station and get a police report. Amsterdam Police have warned of criminals using false police identities and tricking tourists into handing over cash and credit cards on the pretext of investigations into counterfeit money and false credit cards. Be very cautious about any such approaches.
Genuine plain clothes police will rarely carry out this type of inspection. Always ask for identity, check it thoroughly and don’t let yourself be intimidated. Dutch police don’t have shiny badges, which the fake police sometimes present as ID. Call 0900-8844 to get in touch with the nearest police station if you are not entirely happy.
Avoid confrontation with anyone offering you drugs of any sort and stay away from quiet or dark alleys – particularly late at night. Even if you are tempted to buy, you risk arrest for doing so.
Young women and those not in groups should be aware of the possibility of drinks being spiked. Don’t leave your drink unattended. If you believe you have been the victim of a spiked drink, seek medical help immediately and, if possible, inform the police. If you are in a group, make sure you leave together.
You must have a valid full UK driving licence, insurance, vehicle documents and identification to drive in the Netherlands. If you are driving a vehicle that does not belong to you then written permission from the registered owner may also be required. You are not allowed to drive on a provisional license.
In 2013 there were 570 road deaths in Netherlands (source: Department for Transport). This equates to 3.4 road deaths per 100,000 of population and compares to the UK average of 2.8 road deaths per 100,000 of population in 2013.
Traffic offences can carry heavy, on-the-spot fines. If you are fined, always ask for a receipt. Using a mobile phone while driving is illegal. Drivers are encouraged to use ‘hands free’ equipment.
The Dutch drive on the right and give priority to the right, unless otherwise indicated. Be particularly careful when using roundabouts: on some you have the right of way when on them but on others right of way must be given to vehicles entering.
Watch out for trams; they have priority over other traffic and are well known to exercise that right. If a tram or a bus stops in the middle of the road to allow passengers on and off, you must stop.
Speed cameras, speed traps and unmarked vehicles are widely used. Be vigilant on motorways where the maximum speed can vary. Overhead illuminated lane indicators – when in use – are mandatory.
You must use dipped lights after dark and in misty conditions. If safety belts are fitted, they must be used. You must carry a warning triangle and, in the event of a breakdown, place it 30m behind your vehicle. Children under 1.35m in height must be carried in a proper child seat in the rear of the car.
Pedestrians should be extremely careful when crossing roads, especially on zebra crossings. Look out for cycles and mopeds, which enjoy right of way over motor vehicles and often ignore road traffic rules and red lights. Crossing the road without a green signal to do so can be interpreted by local law as Jaywalking, even if it is safe to do. Dutch police have been known to hand out fines in such instances.
See the European Commission,AA and RAC guides to driving in the Netherlands.
Deaths occur each year due to drowning in the canals of Amsterdam. The majority of these happen as a result of celebrations that include heavy drinking and/or smoking cannabis. Take particular care when travelling beside canals.