Lady looking at Hollandse Waterlinie Fort Everdingen
© ByNomads

Dutch Water Defence Lines

The Defence Line of Amsterdam was declared a UNESCO World
Heritage Site in 1996. In 2021, it was expanded to include the New Dutch Water
Line. Together, they form the Dutch Water Defence
Lines: a UNESCO World Heritage Site that is all about history.

  • Pure history in a natural environment.
  • A UNESCO World Heritage Site.
  • Visit fortified towns, forts, strongholds and castles.

The Dutch Water Defence Lines cover quite a large area. In addition to the Amsterdam Defence Line (the 135-kilometer (83 miles) defence fortifications around Amsterdam), it consists of an 85-kilometer (53 miles) defence line with no fewer than 45 forts, 6 fortresses, and 2 castles. So there’s plenty to see!

That’s the case now at least. Because the real magic of the Dutch Water Lines is the way they helped defend the country. When war broke out, the army could use cleverly built dams and locks to flood the entire defence line.

The flooded defence line was not very deep. The water only came up to about knee height, which is precisely why it was so clever. It was too shallow for boats and other types of floating transport but too deep for horses, vehicles, and soldiers to cross with any kind of speed. The entire defence line was doubly impassable and literally turned water into an ally of the Netherlands.

The real elegance of this ingenious system was that it was almost completely invisible when not in use. If the polders weren’t flooded, it all looked like a normal natural landscape. At most, someone might have spotted a few odd-looking borders or edges, but why would you make anything of that?

The Dutch Water Defence Lines were a unique form of defence

Our country had created an invisible form of defence. It was an ingenious and unique solution, which is one of the major reasons why this New Dutch Water Line was added to the existing World Heritage Site, the Stelling van Amsterdam, or Amsterdam Defence Line.

The water defence line was flooded a number of times throughout history. The last time it was successfully put into operation was during World War I, as an espionage report from that time shows. In fact, the water line proved so intimidating that the Germans never even tried to invade the Netherlands. By World War II, though, the system had lost much of its effectiveness because the Luftwaffe could simply fly over it.

But the Dutch Water Defence Lines have more to offer than just a unique story. In look and form, they are also perfect examples of the green, open landscapes that characterize the Netherlands. And they are positively peppered with fascinating hydraulic works: water locks, dikes, bunkers, and inundation channels. You could say that the water lines are proof of our bond with the water, without having to dedicate a museum or encyclopedia to the subject.

Visiting the Water Lines

Want to check it out for yourself? Well you’re in luck because there are various options to choose from. You can explore the water lines on foot or by bicycle or opt for something really special such as a guided tour of one of the forts. Or why not visit the Waterliniemuseum in Bunnik? You can even spend the night in a fort or bunker! The Dutch Water Defence Lines offer a large number of accommodation options, ranging from basic to total luxury. Is camping more your speed? Park your RV or pitch your tent next to a fortress moat.

Our tips

There are plenty of great activities along the New Dutch Waterline, from great museums to a beer brewery in a fortress.

An oasis of tranquility at only 15 kilometers distance from Amsterdam.

There are stunning hiking routes along the New Dutch Waterline. Discover our favorites.

The biggest national monument in the Netherlands is prime cycling country. Discover the military heritage, beautiful landscapes, and the best restaurants, museums and fortified cities along the way. Join an organized tour or explore the area on your own – the New Dutch Waterline has something to offer for everyone. These are the absolute must-see routes.

The New Dutch Waterline is unique in the world, which is why it deserves a spot on the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites.