Many citizens of the world don’t know the difference between Holland and the Netherlands. Some think they’re interchangeable terms, while others may only be partially correct in their understanding. Meanwhile, the Dutch government refers to itself only as the Netherlands.
So where does the term ‘Holland’ come from? Together, we’ll explore all you need to know about the difference between Holland and the Netherlands and how you can navigate traveling through northwestern Europe without confusing the two.
But in order to do so properly, we first have to take a brief trip back through time. Without further ado, here is the difference between Holland and the Netherlands.
A Short History of Holland and the Netherlands
Between 1588 and 1795, the area representing the Netherlands today was known as the Republic of Seven United Netherlands. It came to be when a part of the Netherlands separated from Spanish rule after the Eighty Years’ War or the Dutch War of Independence.
The Eighty Years’ War was a revolt against King Philip II of Spain by the Seventeen Provinces of the modern-day Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, and the French region of Hauts-de-France.
The Seven United Netherlands consisted of The Duchy of Guelders, the County of Holland, the County of Zeeland, The Lordship of Utrecht, The Lordship of Overijssel, The Lordship of Frisia, and The Lordship of Groningen and Ommelanden. The areas of the Seven United Netherlands each had their own independent governments and functioned separately at that time.
The Seven United Netherlands controlled world trade, had a large colonial empire, and had the largest fleet of ships used in commerce and trade. During this time, the County of Holland was one of the wealthiest nations.
In 1795, the area was conquered by French troops and became known as the Batavian Republic. In 1806, Napoleon appointed his brother Louis as king, and the country became a kingdom.
After Napoleon Bonaparte’s defeat in 1815, William VI came into power as the Sovereign Prince. William VI arrived in Scheveningen in 1813, and two years later, in 1815, the Kingdom of the Netherlands was born. The kingdom consisted of the Batavian Republic, the Austrian Netherlands, and the Prince-Bishopric of Liège.
When the Kingdom of Netherlands came into existence, it included Belgium in its territories. During this time, the area known as Holland made the most significant contributions to the country’s economy and wealth. In time, Holland became the name used to discern the entire country, due in part to its power and influence.
Then, in 1830, Belgium seceded from the Netherlands, and the map of the Kingdom of the Netherlands was redrawn, creating the country as we know it today.
Today, the Netherlands is made up of twelve provinces: Groningen, Friesland, Drenthe, Overijssel, Flevoland, Gelderland, Utrecht, Noord-Holland (North Holland), Zuid-Holland (South Holland), Zeeland, North Brabant, and Limburg.
The present-day King of the Netherlands is King Willem-Alexander, formally known as His Majesty King Willem-Alexander. King Willem-Alexander is married to Queen Máxima, and they share Crown Princess Amalia, Princess Alexia, and Princess Ariane. King Willem-Alexander succeeded to the throne on April 30, 2013.
See Related: Fun & Best Things to do in Volendam, Netherlands
Holland vs Netherlands: An Overview
As detailed above, the Netherlands consists of twelve different provinces within the country’s borders. The two provinces in the Netherlands that make up Holland — North Holland (Noord-Holland) and South Holland (Zuid-Holland) — are the most popular for international travel.
A common misunderstanding about Holland and the Netherlands is the location of Holland within the Netherlands. Many people believe them to be separate countries and others believe them to be the same exact thing, both of which we now know are not the case.
Holland is a region and former province in the Netherlands, now comprised of North Holland and South Holland, known as Noord-Holland and Zuid-Holland, respectively. From the 10th to the 16th century, Holland was one unified entity. And by the 17th century, it was the dominant part of what was then the Dutch Republic.
Nowadays, if you were to say you were traveling to Holland, by default, you would also be traveling to the Netherlands because Holland is two provinces among the twelve provinces of the Netherlands. The two provinces of Holland are where most of the population of the Netherlands lives.
North Holland (Noord-Holland)
North Holland’s largest city, and the largest city in the Netherlands, is the Dutch capital, Amsterdam. Amsterdam is revered by citizens of the world for its artistic heritage, iconic narrow houses, the famous Museum District, thrilling canals, friendly locals, and many tasty delicacies.
Amsterdam is the most popular city in North Holland (and the Netherlands), with over 20 million tourists visiting in 2019. You can stay in this city for days, weeks, or even months and still find so many sights and sounds to experience.
At the top of our list is Rijksmuseum, the largest and most visited art museum in the Netherlands. Its collection includes 15th-century paintings by Flemish and Dutch artists, including Rembrandt and Vermeer. The museum offers fabulous dining at a Michelin-starred restaurant, outdoor gardens, and many impressive art exhibits to wander through.
Anne Frank House is the biographical museum dedicated to Anne Frank, the Jewish wartime diarist from WWII. Easily the most visited museum in the North Holland province, Anne Frank House draws crowds by the thousands to experience the place where she hid with her family.
Other attractions worth seeing in Amsterdam and around include the Van Gogh Museum and any of the many nearby cheese markets. Many tourists find the best way to explore the city and experience the culture is through a walking tour by a local. If you’re eager to explore the city’s elaborate canal system, a canal cruise by day or night is a memorable experience.
If you prefer to experience a day or two outside of the city of Amsterdam, there is much of the Dutch countryside to be explored. Explore the fishing village of Volendam and the iconic windmills of Zaanse Schans. You can embark on a guided day tour of Volendam, Edam, and Zaanse Schans from Amsterdam, as the cities are all close in proximity.
Another popular city to stay in North Holland is Haarlem, less than 30 minutes from Amsterdam by train. Explore the Saint Bavo Church and 16th-century homes as you immerse yourself in the medieval city.
Experiencing Haarlem by boat cruise is ideal and will introduce you to the main features of the city, including the town hall, Teylers Museum, Haarlem Central Station, and much more. There’s so much art and architecture to experience in Haarlem.
You can’t miss the delicious Dutch food when you’re in Haarlem, and experiencing food as a local is the best way to do it. For a quaint place to stay in Haarlem, try the Van der Valk Hotel.
Alkmaar is home to many impressive popular cheese markets in North Holland and is the Netherlands’ capital of cheese. Taste the most delicious cheese in the city with a local as your tour guide. Outside the city limits, Alkmaar has many tulip fields to witness as well.
A springtime bike tour is the best way to experience the beautiful, colorful bulbs and to see much of the countryside. For a comfortable stay near the city center in Alkmaar, travelers love The Fallon Hotel. For a quieter stay in Alkmaar, try the Golden Tulip Hotel on the outskirts of the city.
Volendam is located on Markermeer Lake, northeast of Amsterdam. The quaint town is known for its colorful wooden houses and its boat harbor, featuring many old boats and food vendors. The Volendam Museum presents guests with a look at traditional Dutch costumes and information on historical interiors from around the country.
The Palingsound Museum in Volendam takes visitors on a 100-year history lesson on the local music scene and how it’s shaped the Netherlands. For a 4-star hotel stay in the rural city of Volendam, check out Van der Valk Hotel. The hotel property sits on a small lake, has an indoor pool for guests, and is 15 minutes from the center of Amsterdam.
Zaandam is located on the river Zaan and is north of Amsterdam in North Holland. Zaandam is home to Zaanse Schans, a popular neighborhood with a rich Dutch history, including historic windmills and green wooden houses that are unique to the twelve provinces.
Experiencing Zaanse Schans is best done via a guided tour, where you’ll explore a local clog factory and cheese factory and experience many spectacular views of the Zaan River and numerous windmills. For easy access to the train station and an authentic Dutch experience, book a stay at the Inntel Hotels Amsterdam Zaandam.
Catch the train at nearby Zaandam Station to bustling Amsterdam and arrive in 12 minutes. Hoorn is a town in the Dutch province of North Holland and sits on Lake IJsselmeer, north of Amsterdam. Hoorn’s popular attractions include the Museum of the 20th Century, with artifacts, technologies, and exhibits from 1900 to 1980.
Experience Hoorn by boat to witness 16th-century warehouses and 17th-century boat replicas as you cruise the harbor. If you’re traveling with your partner, Heavens Hotel in Hoorn is a popular choice for couples in the Netherlands.
See Related: Fun & Best Things to do in Utrecht, Netherlands
South Holland (Zuid-Holland)
If you’re visiting South Holland specifically, there are quite a few attractions that will keep you entertained and enthralled by the magic of this mighty province in the wonderful country of the Netherlands.
The Hague is South Holland’s capital and the third largest city in the Netherlands, after Amsterdam and Rotterdam (also in South Holland). It’s located on the North Sea coast of the western Netherlands in Zuid-Holland and is the workplace of King Willem Alexander in the 16th-century Noordeinde Palace. The Hague is the administrative center of the Netherlands and is home to the Dutch government seat.
The Hague is considered by many to be the greenest city in the Netherlands. The coastal town offers many tours and exciting sights to see, including beautiful beaches, public parks, and plenty of opportunities to experience Dutch culture, food, and art.
Take a local-guided food tour to experience bakeries, pubs, and cafes that are locally owned and popular favorites for residents. Enjoy a custom walking tour to experience the sights and landmarks that are most interesting to you.
Take a ride on the Ferris wheel at the famous Pier in Scheveningen, or climb the iconic lighthouse. The Mauritshuis Museum in The Hague is home to The Girl with a Pearl Earring. For a convenient stay in The Hague near the city center, try the Park Centraal Den Haag.
In Rotterdam, you’ll find an amazing Market Hall, where you can shop for local produce and food from over 100 food stalls, eight restaurants, and 15 shops. Market Hall is located in the largest glass-window cable structure in Europe, making it a must-see attraction for visitors.
If you’re feeling adventurous, see Rotterdam by bike on this highly-rated cycling tour. The Port of Rotterdam is Europe’s largest seaport, while Rotterdam city is home to over 180 nationalities. It’s quite the melting pot in the Netherlands!
You can’t miss the Erasmusbrug Bridge, one of the city’s most notable landmarks. Nicknamed “The Swan,” this stunning city icon links north and south Rotterdam across the New Meuse River. Experience the city by boat on a guided tour of the harbor. Explore the unique cube houses in residential neighborhoods and Rotterdam’s breathtaking skyscrapers.
Visitors will want to witness the Church of St. Lawrence in Rotterdam, the last remaining building of medieval times in the city. The church was built between 1449 and 1525 and has withstood the test of time and several wars, and has stood as a relic for many generations.
Don’t miss a stop at the Maritime Museum to learn about the history of shipping, see historic port models, and discover the impact the harbor city has had on the twelve provinces and the world. For a restful stay in the heart of Rotterdam, try the citizenM Rotterdam hotel. It offers shared living areas and subway access for guests.
Lisseis rich in Dutch history and is located in Zuid-Holland. Lisse is well known for its beautiful flower fields and millions of bulbs that are exported around the world. Keukenhof Gardens is a breathtaking spring garden located in Lisse that draws in millions of visitors each spring.
Nearly 7 million bulbs are planted in the garden each year, creating a visually stunning landscape of tulips in red, yellow, pink, and white.
Kasteel Keukenhof in Lisse is a grand, 17th-century restored mansion welcoming guests to explore the property and enjoy the many hiking trails. Lisse is filled with biking and walking paths for locals and tourists to get around easily and experience the beauty of the city.
For a hotel stay in Lisse, try this bed and breakfast. If you prefer a homey apartment, this Fleurdelis property in Lisse is highly rated and offers a continental breakfast and convenient bike rentals on-site.
Leiden is located in South Holland and is home to Leiden University, the oldest university in the twelve provinces of the Netherlands. On the campus of Leiden University is Leiden Botanical Garden, where the tulip was introduced to western Europe in 1590.
Leiden is home to nine operating windmills that can be seen by cruise boat. For a 4-star stay in Leiden, book a room at the Golden Tulip Leiden Centre near the heart of Leiden. Delft in South Holland is a canal-ringed city and is known for its famous Delft blue and white hand-painted pottery and ceramics. Delft is a walking city that is best explored on foot, especially with a local guide.
The famous tower of the New Church in Delft is the second tallest church tower in the twelve provinces of the Netherlands. The church is located across from the city hall in Delft and visitors can climb the tower and enjoy spectacular views of The Hague and Rotterdam in the distance.
Since 1815, Dutch monarchs from the Kingdom of the Netherlands have been buried at the New Church. The Old Church, which began as a wooden church in 1050, is 75 meters tall and has beautiful stained-glass windows and a gothic tower. It houses the graves of important Dutch people, including the painter Johannes Vermeer.
Nightlife in Delft is pretty lively; travelers can experience pubs and terraces for a drink and a good time in the old city center area. For a hotel with great room service and family rooms, try the Hotel Arsenaal in Delft.
See Related: Amsterdam Day Trip to Zaanse Schans, Volendam and Marken
The Netherlands’ Other 10 Provinces
The remaining ten provinces in the Netherlands: Flevoland, Drenthe, Groningen, Friesland, Limburg, North Brabant, Gelderland, Overijssel, Utrecht, and Zeeland all offer a wide array of culture, food, and adventure in their own right.
In addition to the two most popular provinces in the Netherlands, these ten also contain spectacular sights, culture, art, and history from one of the most unique countries in the world. You simply must know where to look!
The youngest province in the Netherlands, Flevoland is home to the most tulip farms in the country. The province is also home to Walibi Holland, an amusement and theme park located in Biddinghuizen.
In addition, the National Aviation Museum (Aviodrome) is located in Lelystad, and visitors can discover more than 100 aircraft, get their Aviodrome pilot license, experience aviation in their 4D movie theater, and more.
Drenthe is in the northeastern part of the Netherlands and has been populated for over 15,000 years. Its capital is Assen, and the land is primarily used for agriculture, with many forests, bogs, and beautiful landscaping.
In the capital city of Assen, travelers can find entertainment in the form of Grand Prix car racing, museums, and the Assen Dance Festival. Drents Museum has prehistorical artifacts, exhibits, and visual art that represent the 18th century in the Netherlands.
Visit one of the oldest and largest city parks in the twelve provinces, called Asserbos. The park has a duck pond, bike paths, and a petting zoo. For a convenient stay near Assen’s shopping district, try the City Hotel de Jonge.
Emmen is another city in Drenthe that is home to a popular zoo called Wild Lands Adventure Zoo. The zoo offers up-close exhibits with animals like elephants, monkeys, penguins, and many more. Emmen also features a large shopping mall, public parks, and impressive cathedrals. For a colorful, memorable stay in Emmen, book a room at the Hotel ten Cate Emmen.
See Related: Best Museums in the Hague, Netherlands
Groningen was once one of the most influential and dominating city-states during the Middle Ages. As the most northeastern province in the Netherlands, Groningen today is used primarily for agriculture. Popular attractions in the area include the Groninger Museum, a colorful building with fascinating exhibitions and an intriguing art collection by local and international artists.
Prinsentuin Garden is located within Groningen’s city center and features stunning foliage, flowers, and a beautiful renaissance-style garden to wander through. City Hotel Groningen is close to the museum, restaurants, and cafes.
Friesland is in northern Netherlands and is home to a few attractions, including the Fries Museum in Leeuwarden, the tidal flats and wetlands of the Wadden Sea, and Wrakkenmuseum.
Friesland is known for its water sports, ice skating, and the renowned AquaZoo in Leeuwarden, with seals, sea lions, polar bears, and penguins to see up close. Leeuwarden is a popular city to visit, and most of the province’s attractions are located here. Enjoy a stay at Oranje Hotel Leeuwarden for spacious rooms in the historical center of the city.
See Related: Historical Landmarks in the Netherlands
Limburg is in the southern region of the Netherlands and is home to the famous city of Maastricht. This city is known for its medieval-era architecture and exciting culture. Enjoy a tour of the city by a local and get insider information on the history of the impressive monuments, churches, town hall, and more.
If you’re in the mood for local brews, a beer-tasting tour is a great way to experience the city as the locals do. Stay in the historic center of Maastricht at the Bastion Hotel.
North Brabant (Noord-Brabant) borders South Holland and Gelderland and is responsible for 20% of the nation’s industrial production. North Brabant attracts visitors because of its famous city, Eindhoven, which is also the birthplace of Philips Electronics.
Eindhoven is not just a technology and design hub; the city offers interesting distillery tours and experiences for visitors. Explore the city center and notable landmarks like the Brainport Eindhoven on a walking tour. For a luxurious stay in the city center, Pullman Eindhoven Cocagne checks every box.
Gelderland is home to the oldest remaining windmill in the Netherlands, known as the Zeddam Mill. It’s the only remaining working medieval tower mill in the Netherlands and is one of the oldest brick mills in all of Western Europe. Outside of Zeddam, Gelderland’s most popular city is Apeldoorn.
Most known for its shopping, culture, and architecture, Apeldoorn is home to the Het Loo Palace, built by William III in the 1800s, and is complete with stunning gardens to explore. Wander through the markets on the weekend or stop in the CODA Museum for a dose of modern visual art, contemporary costumes, jewelry, and more. For a relaxing stay near the palace, try the Bastion Hotel Apeldoorn Het Loo.
See Related: Best Things to do in Alkmaar, Netherlands
Overijssel is located in the eastern region of the Netherlands and is known for its many outdoor activities. The largest popular city in Overijssel is Enschede, which travelers choose as a destination in the Netherlands for Volkspark, one of the oldest public parks in the country.
The park features beautiful English landscaping and much to explore. Catch a football game by the local team, FC Twente, at Grolsch Veste stadium. For a quaint stay in a bungalow off the beaten path, try the Op ‘t Oorbeck.
Utrecht is a province with its capital city, Utrecht, being the fourth-largest city in the Netherlands. Visitors will be stunned at the Da Haar Castle, the largest castle in the Netherlands.
Stop in at the National Railway Museum for a rich history lesson on Dutch trains and transportation. For a convenient stay near the city center, visitors love the Crowne Plaza Utrecht.
Zeeland is the Netherlands’ most southwestern province, bordering Belgium, and consists of many islands. Zeeland is home to sandy beaches, harbors, dunes, quaint villages, and interesting Dutch history. Middelburg is the capital city of Zeeland and is home to many historic windmills.
Along with South Holland, Zeeland is the location of Delta Works, the dams used as coastal defense from inclement weather.
Zeeland’s most popular village is the laid-back coastal town of Renesse, which houses tourists in the summer at various beach hotels like the Badhotel Renesse.
See Related: Best Things to do in Brussels, Belgium
Where does the confusion between Holland and the Netherlands come from?
Dutch history points the finger at Dutch sailors. They sailed during the Golden Age in Europe (during the 17th century) and likely mentioned South Holland or North Holland as their homeland when they met other tradesmen.
A Dutch sailor may not have realized that explaining his origins in this context it would imply that Holland was his home country, rather than one of his nation’s provinces.
Now that we know the difference between the two, let’s take a look at what else you need to know about traveling to Holland and the Netherlands.
Holland and the Netherlands: Safety
Province to province, the Netherlands is considered a very safe country for travel. Amsterdam, the largest city in the Netherlands, is the financial and cultural center of the country and is host to millions of international tourists each year.
With so many tourists visiting the city, Amsterdam is one of the safest cities you can visit. The most significant safety threat in the city comes from cyclists. If tourists aren’t vigilant and paying attention when exploring on foot, they can get struck by a cyclist while crossing the street. Pickpocketing can happen in crowded areas, particularly near busy attractions.
Rotterdam in South Holland is home to the largest port in Europe and is also very low risk for any crime or danger. Pickpockets are present here as well, so use basic caution to avoid losing anything valuable, particularly on public transportation and around tourist attractions.
See Related: Tips for Riding a Bike in Amsterdam
Holland and the Netherlands: Transportation
Most Dutch people in major cities get around on bicycles. For travelers who are hesitant to jump on a bike without knowing their way around or the rules of the road, traveling by train or bus is ideal.
Public transportation is very accessible and affordable in the Netherlands. Because the country is small, the longest trip you can take in the country will take less than three hours by car, bus, or train.
The train system in the Netherlands is highly functional and easy for travelers to navigate. The NS trains have regular stops on local routes in major cities and offer longer journeys between cities. For example, you can easily travel from Amsterdam (Noord-Holland) to Rotterdam (Zuid-Holland) in around 45 minutes by train. A bus trip would take around an hour, and the journey by car would take around 55 minutes.
There are other trains in the Netherlands that operate international trips for travelers who are bouncing around between countries. Train fares are affordable and often include discounts for those taking day trips. Make sure to buy a ticket before boarding the train; if you are caught traveling without a ticket, you’ll be fined immediately.
Many travelers opt to rent bicycles and join the locals in their daily method of travel. We highly recommend biking in the Netherlands (particularly Amsterdam) if you get the chance; it’s a fantastic way to see the city and live like the locals. Make sure you know where you’re going, and the rules of the bike paths before you venture out.
Some travelers staying for longer periods prefer to rent a car, which can be fairly expensive for international guests. There are local and international car rental services in the Netherlands that can be accessed by travelers.
See Related: Tips to Plan an Amazing Girls Trip to Amsterdam
Holland and the Netherlands: Lodging
Lodging in Holland and the Netherlands is safe and affordable and can offer travelers a close-up, immersive look at what living in the country is all about.
Hotels in Holland and the Netherlands
From budget to luxury, the hotel options in Holland and the Netherlands run the gamut and can fit every budget. Travelers can book individual rooms, suites, or shared living spaces depending on travel preferences and the length of the trip.
Hostels in Holland and the Netherlands
If traveling on a budget, hostels are an effective way to save money on accommodation in Holland and the Netherlands. You can choose from different vibes in a hostel, whether you want a more relaxed atmosphere or want to meet new people and have a good time. Explore hostel options in Holland and the Netherlands at HostelWorld.
Airbnb in Holland and the Netherlands
Vacation rentals in the Netherlands have exploded in recent years; Airbnb hosts are able to provide safe, affordable, comfortable, and convenient lodging for travelers from all over the world.
Offering homes, cabins, chalets, condos, and everything in between, Airbnb is a great travel option for visitors who are staying longer than a few nights and want to explore their surroundings.
Holland and the Netherlands: Food
Traditional Dutch food is unique to the Netherlands and should be experienced while in the country. Aside from Gouda cheese, some of the most popular Dutch foods are desserts!
These include Poffertjes, small pancakes served with butter and sugar. For those with a sweet tooth, you can’t skip the Oliebollen, or Dutch donuts, balls of dumpling batter fried in hot oil and sprinkled with powdered sugar. The apple tart is another Dutch classic that has to be experienced in the Netherlands; it’s been a staple in the Dutch diet since the Middle Ages.
Aside from desserts, Bitterballen are balls of beef or veal that are seasoned, rolled in breadcrumbs, and deep-fried. Pickled fish is a popular dish in this European country, often eaten as a snack and served with onions.
You’ll likely see fries covered in Sate, a Dutch take on mayonnaise or ketchup that is inspired by the Asian Satay sauce. Lastly, the hearty Stamppot, a warm dish of mashed potatoes, turnips, carrots, and onion that dates back to the 15th century. Stamppot is traditionally served with smoked sausage and is a staple in Dutch diets.
See Related: Best Markets in Amsterdam to Visit
Holland and the Netherlands: Weather, Climate, and Terrain
The Netherlands is a flat country with an ideal landscape for cycling, walking, and jogging. Because of the influx of water in the Netherlands, there are many waterways, canals, lakes, and rivers in the country that help prevent flooding in the region.
Delta Works is a storm surge barrier in Zeeland and Zuid-Holland that protects the surrounding area and prevents flooding. A unique piece of Delta Works is Oosterscheldekering, a barrier and special dam that connects the Zeeland islands of Schouwen-Duiveland and Noord-Beveland.
This part of the Delta Works was built to protect the Zeeland region from the sea after the North Sea Flood in 1953. Generally, North Holland sees lower temperatures year-round when compared to South Holland. There really is no dry season in the Netherlands, with rain occurring sporadically throughout every season.
Zuid-Holland has a warmer summer, with temperatures in the 80s through June, July, and August. Noord-Holland has cooler summer temperatures averaging in the high 60s and low 70s through June, July, and August.
Holland and the Netherlands: Travel Tips
Every country has its own tips and tricks for ways to optimize your visit; here are a few travel tips that will help you have the best possible experience in the Netherlands.
- When in doubt, carry cash: If you aren’t sure if your credit or debit cards will work abroad, be proactive and carry cash in case you need it in a pinch.
- Tipping is not mandatory: Tipping in Europe is different than in the US and other countries; it’s a nice gesture, but definitely not required in the Netherlands.
- Prepare for rain: As a historically wet and flat country, rain is possible at nearly any time of day or season. Plan accordingly during your travels and ensure you have a coat or jacket to keep warm and dry.
- On a tight budget? Travel by train: Public transportation by way of train in the Netherlands is the best way to travel. Train fares are cheap and easy to navigate.
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