Driving Directions Netherlands

NETHERLANDS, also known as Holland, forms one of the Benelux or Low Countries and Belgium and Luxembourg. It is bounded in the north and west by the North Sea, in the east by Germany, and in the south by Belgium. The Netherlands is a very low-lying country, and the slightly higher ground is found only in the southern extremity where the land rises towards the foothills of the Ardennes. The Netherlands has mild winters and cool summers.

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Most of the North Sea coastline is marked by a narrow belt of enormous dunes among the largest in Europe. These are carefully managed to preserve the marram grass and encourage other vegetation’s growth, including trees, wherever possible. These stabilize the dunes, which are essential in protecting the low-lying farmland behind the coast since about 50 percent of the country is below sea level.

In the southwestern part of the coast, several rivers’ mouths create a delta region of inlets and islands. This area suffered severe flooding during the winter storms of 1953 when an exceptionally high tide overwhelmed the defenses and claimed the lives of 1,800 people. As a result of this tragedy, the Delta Plan launched a series of dikes, dams, and canals with sluices and locks to control water levels constructed to protect the area and prevent further flooding. Some islands were linked together, and freshwater lakes were created, and the whole project was completed in 1986.

About 16 percent of the Netherlands reclaimed from the sea. An ambitious reclamation project to create land from an inlet of the sea called the Zuider Zee was started earlier in the 20th century. A dike was constructed across the mouth of the inlet, which was completed in 1932. Mechanical pumps and drainage schemes then began removing the water to create about 2,250,000 square kilometers or 556,000 acres of reclaimed polder land.

In addition to the new land, a large freshwater lake has been built behind the dike called the Ijsselmeer. Beyond the dikes lies an enclosed area of sea, the Waddenzee, bounded by a long chain of islands, the West Frisian and East Frisian Islands.

The Netherlands is crossed by numerous rivers, including the Rhine and its tributaries, and there are many navigable canals and lakes. The country also has highly developed road and rail networks. The majority of the population is Dutch, but the Netherlands is a multicultural country with significant numbers of residents from other races and cultures. About 90 percent of people live in cities or urban areas, such as the capital, Amsterdam. The main part of the Netherlands, Rotterdam, is the largest in the world.

There is very little natural landscape left in the Netherlands as the countryside has been greatly altered and managed by human beings for hundreds of years. Efforts are made to conserve and restore some areas and to plant trees, usually within national parks.

Agricultural land is intensively farmed and managed, and the lack of undisturbed regions has meant that many wild animals have disappeared, except the national parks. The numerous human-made lakes, however, provide valuable habitat for many species of water-loving birds. The country suffers from pollution problems, particularly of its watercourses, caused by intensive agriculture and heavy industry, and the government has initiated several environmental protection schemes.

Agriculture plays an extremely significant part in the Dutch economy, and the land is intensively farmed and cultivated. Most farms are small, family-run businesses and are highly productive. Soils in the country are generally rich and fertile, particularly those of the reclaimed polders, although high use of fertilizers has led to pollution problems. Among the crops grown are wheat and cereals, sugar beet, potatoes, vegetables, and fruit – another land used for horticulture with bulbs and other flowers being grown for export. Animals reared include pigs, poultry, and cattle, and the Netherlands is famous for its dairy products and specialty cheeses such as Edam and Gouda.

Fishing has long been carried out from the North Sea coastal villages, and the species landed include cod, herring, plaice, and sole. There is very little forestry industry in the Netherlands. The amount of woodland cover is negligible, and that which exists is mainly within national parks or preserved for recreational purposes.

The Netherlands is poor in mineral resources, although some coal deposits in the south in Groningen province were mined until the early 1970s. For many centuries, the Dutch depended on peat for fuel and wind energy, driving numerous windmills to power machinery. As these were insufficient to provide for the rapid industrial development of the 19th and 20th centuries, the country had to import large quantities of coal and, later, petroleum and natural gas.

After the Second World War, Rotterdam developed rapidly as a world center for refining petroleum, exported. By the 1960s, extensive deposits of natural gas had been located around Groningen and have since been exploited to make the Netherlands a leading exporter of this commodity.

The country has a highly developed industrial and manufacturing base. Besides natural gas and petroleum from the extensive deposits of natural gas located around Groningen, other important commodities include textiles and a wide range of light industrial and electronic goods.

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The Netherlands may be divided into two main regions, one comprising areas below sea level, called the Low Netherlands, and the other including land above sea level called the High Netherlands. These classifications are based not only on differences in elevation but also on differences in the geological formation. The High Netherlands was formed mainly in the Pleistocene Age (which began about two million years ago and ended about ten thousand years ago) and is composed chiefly of sand and gravel. The Low Netherlands is relatively younger, having been formed in the Holocene Age (fewer than ten thousand years ago), and consists mainly of clay and peat. There are other differences, as well. The High Netherlands is undulating and even hilly in places, with farms alternating with woodland and heath. The Low Netherlands is predominantly flat and is intersected by natural and artificial waterways. Dunes and dikes protect the Low Netherlands against flooding. The country’s western and northern regions consist of about five thousand polders (plots of land reclaimed from the sea), which cover over 2,500 square kilometers (950 square miles).

The Netherlands has a western border on the North Sea, an arm of the Atlantic Ocean that separates Great Britain from northwest Europe. The Waddenzee is a shallow body of water that stretches along the northern coast of the country. It is separated from the North Sea by the West Frisian Islands and is protected as a popular nesting area for birds. There are two major inlets in the delta region on the southern coast: the Westerschelde and Oosterschelde.

The North Sea coastline of the Netherlands consists mostly of dunes. The action of wind and water created the low-lying sandy dunes of the northwestern coastline. In some areas, they are nearly 30 meters (100 feet) high. Further south, the major rivers flow into the North Sea and form the delta region. This area is characterized by islands connected by dikes or dams and waterways connected by canals.

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The Netherlands was once famous for its windmills. Though these structures once covered the countryside, now there are many fewer operational windmills than before the invention of steam engines and other, more powerful energy sources.

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