Netherlands waterland


Netherlands waterland

The Netherlands is rich in water. Foreigners are impressed by the efforts of the inhabitants of the low countries, in their battle against the water. The Netherlands is known for its expertise with regard to water management. The location on the water has also brought the Netherlands a lot of prosperity. Water is flowing through the veins of the Dutch.


The Netherlands is rich in water. Foreigners are impressed by the efforts of the inhabitants of the low countries, in their battle against the water. The Netherlands is known for its expertise with regard to water management. The location on the water has also brought the Netherlands a lot of prosperity. Water is flowing through the veins of the Dutch.


The total size of the Netherlands is 41,500 km2, of which 7,700 km2 is water. The three main rivers (the Rhine, the Meuse and the Scheldt) enter the Netherlands and branch out until they eventually reach the North Sea. A quarter of the Netherlands is under sea level. The elevation of the land is measured using Normaal Amsterdams Peil (Normal Amsterdam Level) or NAP (0 metres NAP=average sea water level). Nieuwerkerk aan den IJssel at 6.74 metres under sea level (-6.75 NAP) is the lowest point of the Netherlands. Amsterdam Airport Schiphol is the only big airport in the world that’s located below sea level (-4 NAP).

The Netherlands, water and tourism

With this much water (both fresh and salty), the Netherlands is perfectly suited for a water sport holiday. Options are sailing, boating, windsurfing, kite surfing, diving, angling etc. The most prominent water provinces are Friesland (Frisian Lakes) and Zeeland (North Sea, Lake Grevelingen, Eastern Scheldt). The infrastructure is also perfectly suited for sailing from one town to another, using scenic water routes.

From 1 May to 1 October (swimming season), the provinces measure the quality of officially designated swimming waters.


Each year, the tourist calendar is well filled with water related events, including:


Water defences around Amsterdam (World Heritage listing consisting of a 135 km line of forts and land that had been inundated in the past, to protect Amsterdam from invaders), Delta Works, Verdronken Land van Saeftinghe (Sunken land of Saeftinghe) in the Western Scheldt, Giethoorn (the Venice of the Netherlands), Netherlands Water Museum, Maritime Museum Amsterdam, Maritime Museum Rotterdam, VOC ship De Batavia, Maritime Museum of Vlissingen, Zeeland.

In Spring 2011, a new unique tourist facility will be opened for the Wadden Sea: the Waddendobber. This accommodation for four people is located on a sand bank when it’s low tide and during high tide, it floats on the rising water. Other ways to spend the night on the water vary from camping on a raft (Kagerplassen, Utrecht, Biesbosch), to a stay in a floating hotel: the Botel (in Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Maastricht and other places).

The battle against the water

Throughout the centuries, the Dutch have fought a battle against the water. Farmers controlled the water level on their land using mills. They used dykes in an attempt to keep their feet dry. In the last century, the sea level has risen by 17 cm and it is expected to rise by up to 59 cm in the coming century.

During the last flooding disaster in 1953, 8% of the Netherlands was inundated and 1838 people perished. Since that time, the Delta Committee has been working hard on building flood barriers, dams and dykes to keep the land dry. It is poignant that the motto of the province of Zeeland is ‘Luctor et emergo’ (‘I struggle and overcome’).

Barriers: Places of interest for tourists

There are huge barriers, that have become important tourist landmarks: the Nieuwe Waterweg storm surge barrier (the Eighth Wonder of the World), The Eastern Scheldt Barrier (Neeltje Jans Delta Park), Europort Barrier (Maeslantkering, Hartelkering and Rozenburg dyke reinforcement) and the North Sea Canal. Also worth mentioning is the Afsluitdijk, a 30 km long connection between the provinces of North Holland and Friesland, that separates the IJsselmeer from the Wadden Sea. The dyke now protects large parts of the Netherlands against flooding and it plays an important role in water management.

Water management remains a focal point for the Netherlands because of climate change and associated global warming and rising sea levels. The newest line of thought is to give water more room, because floodings occur when water is over controlled.

Water brings prosperity to the Netherlands

During the Golden Age (the 17th century), the Netherlands evolved into a big seafaring trade power. The famous VOC ships were sailing to and fro with merchandise, varying from spices and fabrics to slaves. The latter being a black page in Dutch history. During those times, Dutch cities such as Amsterdam, Utrecht and Rotterdam evolved into big trade centres which was helped by their location on the water. Over time, the Netherlands became an important player in container transshipment and transport over water, with the Rotterdam harbour now being the second biggest harbour in the world. Dutch infrastructure is not limited to transport over sea but also extends across the Dutch river network, into Eastern Europe. Due to the location of the Netherlands, the fishing industry is also an important sector.

Water knowledge as an export product

The Netherlands is internationally appreciated as an expert in the field of water management. All over the world, Dutch dredging companies (Royal Boskalis, Van Oord) and hydraulic engineers (water consultants DHV, Witteveen+Bos, Arcadis and Royal Haskoning are in the world’s top ten) participate in hydraulic projects; a market that has not yet reached saturation because of climate change and rising sea levels. Dutch experts also provide advice with regards to water facilities (drinking water).

The water sector is also involved with innovations in sustainable use of water. Examples are Tulip Island, a wind turbine park in the North Sea for power generation or Waterfactory in the Dierenpark Emmen Zoo, which is used to recycle water.

Living on the water

In a densely populated country such as the Netherlands, floating houses are becoming more of an serious alternative to urban development. Due to the rising sea levels and increased precipitation, there is a growing need for emergency storage and overflow areas and there already was a shortage of building locations. However, living on the water is not necessarily a new idea. Houseboats were once an affordable housing alternative, but have now become a lifestyle that provides a sense of freedom and closeness to nature. The Netherlands is now organising this on a larger scale: we’re not just building individual houses on the water, but entire suburbs. A few examples: Blauwe Hart in Leeuwarden, Waterwijk in Zierikzee and Terwijde, part of the Utrecht Vinex area called Leidsche Rijn. The Amsterdam suburb of IJburg contains complete floating housing blocks, where jetties act as pavements and squares. Almere is developing Booneiland, with houses designed by Piet Boon.

But why stop there? What about the idea to organise the 2028 Olympic Games in a floating village in the IJmeer? This is also known as the Aquarius Plan.