Wind and water are the architects
Windmills, tulips and Delft Blue: these are a few of our favorite things and they’re seen as quintessentially Dutch by the rest of the world. While these things are rightfully iconic, there’s so much more to Dutch heritage. Art, architecture, and even urban planning are an expression of the Dutch creative spirit. Past and present: our heritage continues to influence our modern culture.
Our ongoing battle against the elements is a key theme. Water and wind have played a major role in the creation and growth of our country. From the Delta Works to Amsterdam’s canals and from the reclamation of the Zuiderzee to the charming Kinderdijk windmills: the Netherlands is a country of wind and water.
Windmills and water works
Throughout history, the Dutch have utilized the elements to shape our country. As early as the 12th century, we used windmills to harness the power of water, such as those at Kinderdijk and De Beemster which are on the UNESCO World Heritage list. Mills produced flour and other goods, while their pumps controlled the water levels.
Did you know that large areas in the Netherlands are actually below sea level? In Dutch, NAP stands for Normaal Amsterdams Peil (normal Amsterdam level), which measures the average elevation of land and water relative to sea level. If land is below NAP, it means that large areas of land would be underwater unless we use locks, dikes, dams, etc. to keep the water at bay.
A large part of the Netherlands is below sea level.
That is precisely why we are so skilled at water management. In fact, it was our mastery of our water infrastructure that allowed us to become a powerful trading nation.
With the construction of the Water Lines (also UNESCO World Heritage Sites) and the impressive Delta and Zuiderzee Works, the Netherlands firmly established itself as a world leader in water management. It should come as no surprise that our current monarch, King Willem-Alexander, studied water management.
Take a pick from our diverse heritage
Cheese and other trades
The wealth of this period is still reflected in the stately mansions built along Amsterdam’s Canals and in cities like Haarlem, Leiden, and Dordrecht. You can also see it in the paintings by Dutch masters such as Rembrandt and Vermeer and the wonderful inventions of scientists such as Christiaan Huygens.
It should be noted that this era is also defined by colonialism and slavery, which is why there is increasing reluctance to refer to it as the Dutch Golden Age. Fortunately, these topics are discussed openly nowadays and many museums dedicate entire sections to these dark pages of our history.
The Alkmaar Cheese Market. Then and now.
Traders and Tulips
Nowadays, the Netherlands is the largest producer and exporter of tulips. You can find amazingly beautiful and colorful bulb fields in several places in our country. The most famous 'bulb region' is located behind the North Sea dunes between the cities of Leiden and Den Helder.
Every spring, millions of these iconic flowers color our land and confirm our reputation as the flower shop of the world.
Read all about the bulb region
The bulb region in pictures
Art for the eyes and ears
The Netherlands is well-known for its many talented artists – past and present. Artists such as Rembrandt van Rijn, Vincent van Gogh, and Johannes Vermeer are considered all-time greats in the art of painting, and Gerrit Rietveld and Marcel Wanders enjoy global fame for their designs. Who hasn’t heard of the Rietveld Chair?
The development of our painting culture came about during the Dutch Era when rich people began to appreciate paintings as a way to show off their wealth. This led to more than 1,500 works by world-famous painters in less than a century. Thanks to this explosion of talent and creativity, museums like the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam and the Utrecht Centraal Museum are now able to house extensive exhibitions on various themes.
Contemporary art also flourishes in the Netherlands: our country is brimming with art galleries, often in striking locations. Examples include the experimental platform De Huidenclub, located in an old tannery in Rotterdam, and culture house Het HEM, which is housed in a former bullet factory in Zaandam. Visit the award-winning Street Museum in Amsterdam for the ultimate graffiti and street art.
Each mural has a link to its location, to the city, the present, the future or the past.
Music has been one of the Netherlands' major cultural exports for years. The Amsterdam Dance Event (ADE) alone attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors, and with major stars such as our very own Martin Garrix, Armin van Buuren and Hardwell, there is no shortage of talented DJs.