Water in Holland - How water is both our friend and our enemy - Holland.com

The Dutch have a unique bond with water. Water is our best friend and our worst enemy. Water creates great benefits, such as: a wide variety of water sports and events, unique landscapes and economical prosperity. The downside of water is that we always have to stay alert and protect ourselves against floods.

  • One quarter of Holland is below sea level
  • Holland’s lowest point is nearly 7 meters below NAP
  • Discover water sports, museums and attractions

Water in Holland

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. At 6.76 meters under sea level, Nieuwerkerk aan den IJssel is the lowest point in the Netherlands.

Water Sports & Events

The Netherlands is perfectly suited for a water sport holiday. The most prominent water provinces are Friesland (the Frisian Lakes and Wadden Islands) and Zeeland. Here you can go fishing, (para)sailing, boating, kite and wind surfing, rowing, swimming, diving, water skiing and even mudwalking (wadlopen).

Popular water events are the World Harbour Days in Rotterdam, HISWA in Amsterdam, skûtsjesilen championships in Friesland and North Sea Regatta in Scheveningen. The biggest nautical spectacle in the world, Sail, only takes place once every five years and will next be held in 2020.

Museums & Attractions

All but one of the Dutch UNESCO sites are water related. From the first polder of the Netherlands, the Wadden islands, and the water defenses around Amsterdam to the former island of Schokland, D.F. Wouda Steam Pumping Station, the mills at Kinderdijk and the canals of Amsterdam.

Next to these UNESCO sites there are several interesting museums and attractions. The Delta Works and Neeltje Jans, the Maritime Museum Rotterdam, VOC ship De Batavia, Giethoorn (the Venice of the Netherlands) and a few national parks.

Storm Barriers  

Throughout the centuries, the Dutch have fought a battle against the water. Mills were used to control the water level and dykes were built to keep the Dutch feet dry. Today there are many advanced storm barriers, such as the Afsluitdijk and Europort Barrier, that control the water and protect the Dutch from floods.

The best known storm barriers are the Delta Works, which are also called the eighth wonder of the world. These barriers protect the land around the Rhine-Meuse-Scheldt delta. The Delta Works were developed after a tremendous disaster; the floods of 1953. 20 hours of north-westerly storm was too much for the dikes of Zeeland to handle. Nearly two thousand people died and more than 150,000 hectares of land was flooded. With the construction of the Delta Works the, chances of another flood like in 1953 have been reduced to once every 4000 years.


During the Golden Age (a prosperous period in Dutch history in 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.

Over time, the Netherlands have become an important player in container transshipment and transport over water. The Rotterdam harbor has become one of the largest in the world. The fishing industry also grew out to become an important sector. More importantly, the Dutch are internationally appreciated as experts in the field of water management. Last but not least, the water sector is involved with innovations in sustainable use of water and architectonical alternatives for urban development on water.

Did you find this interesting? Discover more