The Netherlands Fun Facts and History

January 25, 2024

Paul Kay

Have you been to the Netherlands? Is it on your list of vacation destinations? We have some fun facts about this wonderful country.

If you think of the Netherlands, you might think of the Dutch or perhaps you’d think of a windmill or dyke. The picture of the windmill above is from around 1740 and Dutch history goes back quite a few years before that.

The history of the Netherlands can be traced back to the prehistoric times when the area was inhabited by various Germanic tribes. The area that is now the Netherlands was part of the greater region of the Low Countries and was inhabited by various Germanic tribes, such as the Batavi, the Frisians, and the Gauls.

In the 1st century BC, the region was conquered by the Roman Empire, and it became part of the province of Germania Inferior. The Romans established military posts, roads, and infrastructure throughout the region and had a significant impact on the culture and society of the Dutch tribes.

The Romans were a large part of history and like many other European countries, the Roman Empire included The Netherlands.  

Gaius Julius Caesar was a Roman general and statesman

Julius Caesar found the Netherlands in 57 BC.  Caesar described two Celtic tribes living in southern Netherlands and he called them the Menapii and the Eburones.   Other tribes known to the area included the Nervii, Frisii and Batavi tribes.   The Roman Empire hold on the region changed when the Franks invaded the country during the 4th century and ruled until the 8th century when Charlemagne ruled from the 8th to the 9th century.

Equestrian statue of Charlemagne

After Charlemagne (742-814) ruled over the Netherlands as part of his vast Frankish Empire, the region saw significant political, economic, and cultural developments. In the 9th and 10th centuries, the Netherlands was divided into several smaller feudal states, and in the 11th century, the region became part of the Holy Roman Empire. This period saw the emergence of major cities, such as Utrecht, and the development of trade and commerce, which laid the foundation for the Netherlands’ later prosperity.

In the late Middle Ages, the Low Countries (including the Netherlands) became a center of trade and commerce, as the cities and towns grew and prospered. The region was also a hub of cultural and intellectual activity, as the cities became centers of learning and artistic expression.  During this period, the Low Countries (which included present-day Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg) were united under the Burgundian Empire. 

The Burgundian Empire was a powerful state in Europe during the Middle Ages, which existed from 1384 to 1477. It was established by the Duke of Burgundy, who inherited several territories in the Low Countries (present-day Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg), as well as large portions of France and Germany.

Robert I Duke of Burgundy

The first Duke of Burgundy was Robert I (1361-1404), who ruled the Duchy of Burgundy from 1363 until his death in 1404. Robert was a powerful and influential figure in his time, and he expanded the territory of the Duchy of Burgundy through a series of military conquests and political alliances. He was also a patron of the arts and a major figure in the cultural and intellectual life of his era.

Under Robert’s rule, the Duchy of Burgundy became one of the most powerful and prosperous states in Europe. The Dukes of Burgundy continued to play a major role in European politics and culture for several centuries, and the legacy of Robert I and the Burgundian dukes had a lasting impact on the history of the region and the world. The Burgundian Empire became one of the leading economic, cultural, and political powers in Europe. The Dukes patronized the arts, especially the illuminated manuscripts, and their courts became centers of culture and learning. The Burgundian territories also became a hub of international trade, as the Dukes established commercial links with Italy, the Ottoman Empire, and other parts of the world.

In the late 15th century, the Burgundian territories were divided and incorporated into the Habsburg Empire. Nevertheless, the legacy of the Burgundian Empire continues to be felt in the culture and history of the Low Countries, especially in the region of Flanders.

Then the Spanish conquered and ruled until the mid-1500’s when the people revolted largely for civil and religious freedoms.   After almost a hundred years of colonization, Spain granted independence to the Dutch people in 1648.

Dutch East India Company Plaque

The Dutch were highly experienced sailors and were known as capable business and tradesmen.  The Portuguese were also explorers and excellent sailors, and they dominated the spice trade through the majority of the 15th century.  The spice trade and general trade with Asia had grown during this period and competitors were entering the market including England and the Netherlands.  The Dutch were at war with Spain at the time and the government decided to create the Dutch East India Company in an attempt to control a larger share of the spice market.   Dutch East India Company’s primary competitor was the English East India Company and they combined forced briefly for a few years and then separated again.  The Dutch East India company continued until the 1800’s when it disappeared.  

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the Netherlands remained neutral during the World War I, but suffered from food shortages and economic depression. During World War II, the country was occupied by Nazi Germany from 1940 to 1945. After the war, the Netherlands became one of the founding members of the European Union and has since transformed into a modern, highly developed country with a strong economy and progressive social policies.

Traditional Dutch windmills at Zaanse Schans in the evening

More than half of the Netherlands is below sea level.  The Dutch have been pumping out water for more than 1,000 years, when farmers built the first dikes.  Windmills have been around since the 14th century to use the power of the wind to drive back the water.

Floods and recovery from them have been part of Dutch life for centuries.  In 1953, an unprecedented flood hit the Netherlands with waves over 15 feet.  Over 1,800 people died and over 72,000 had to be evacuated.  Livestock and other farm animal deaths were in the thousands.  In 1958, the Delta Act created the North Sea Protection Works which is now considered one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World.  Their Dutch mastery of a complex problem is now considered a level of expertise that many countries are counting on to reduce their flooding problems.  Even Venice has used the Dutch to help avoid the rising flood waters that make it so famous.

The Netherlands is over 16,000 square miles in area with over 17 million people.  This places it as 131st in size and 30th in population of countries worldwide.  The GDP ranking, however, puts in 13th place on a per capita GDP basis worldwide.  

Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, Netherlands

I worked in Amsterdam briefly and gave a speech at a conference there.  I can’t say that I know the Netherlands since all I did was work and visit Amsterdam.  We’ve explored the Amsterdam canals and visited many of the museums including the Rijksmuseum where so many of the famous paintings are on display.  

Keukenhof Gardens in Lisse the Netherlands

Tulips are grown year-round, but we’ve never traveled to Keukenhof near Lisse which is where the largest public garden in the world exists.  There are more than 70 acres of garden and more than 700 varieties of tulips.  The best time to see them are in April and May but tulips are a major export, and you can see tulips all year.  

Did you know that most of the world’s tulips come from the Netherlands? The tulip industry in the Netherlands is the largest exporter of tulips in the world, producing millions of tulips each year for both domestic and international markets. The country has a long history with the flower, dating back to the 16th century, and the tulip has become a symbol of Dutch culture and history. The Netherlands is renowned for its high-quality tulips and innovative tulip breeding programs, and the tulip is an important part of the Dutch economy, with tulip-related tourism also playing a significant role. The tulip industry in the Netherlands is based mainly in the province of North Holland and employs thousands of people, including tulip growers, traders, and florists.

Anne Frank House Amsterdam Netherlands

The Anne Frank Museum is in Amsterdam and is definitely worth a visit.  

Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. Amsterdam

The Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam is also quite famous with almost 1.5 million visitors each year.

We’ve never visited the Kinderdijk windmills which are a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  The lead photo in this post is of a Kinderdijk windmill. The 19 Kinderdijk windmills were built between 1722 and 1761 and are the largest surviving concentration of windmills in the Netherlands.   These windmills were built to drain the fields and they are very impressive with their 92-foot sails.  This area is open to the public from April to October,

We’ve also not seen the famous dikes that we’ve heard so much about.  They are in the Zeeland area which was below sea level for many years.  Since the advent of the dikes, you can now see numerous islands and peninsulas of this section of the Netherlands. 

Castle de Haar located in Utrecht Netherlands

There are plenty of castles to visit as well.  There are hundreds of castles in the Netherlands, most of which have survived.  Many of the castles are private but so many others are open to the public and welcome visitors throughout the year. The Kasteel De Haar is the largest castle in the country which sits on a 250-acre park.  If you think that castles are only in England, you will be happy to see so many in the Netherlands.

A couple of times we’ve had to stay overnight in Amsterdam because of the plane schedule.  We stayed at the Hyatt Amsterdam Schiphol Airport which has a convenient shuttle that takes you to and from the airport.  If you’ve stayed at your share of Hyatt Places, you’ll appreciate the consistency each time you visit. They may differ a bit, but they are very similar in general. The Hyatt Amsterdam Schiphol Airport property is the model for a new and much more diverse Hyatt Place. The rooms are quite different, and the lobby area is much larger with a very large dining area.  This simply didn’t look like a Hyatt Place.

Hyatt Place Amsterdam Airport Netherlands 

We were greeted by the Assistant General Manager (Armando) and he explained that this concept is catching on and they are building more in Europe.

They have a very nice buffet breakfast – much more expansive than what you see in a normal USA Hyatt Place.  The restaurant is also open for a full dinner service. The bar is behind the front desk so the same folks that greet you might be serving you a Heineken later. Some of the restaurant offerings can be sent to the bar area as well so you can dine there instead of the restaurant.  

Child in tulip flower field with windmill in Holland. Little Dutch girl in traditional national costume, dress and hat, with flower basket

There are so many reasons to visit the Netherlands.  What are you waiting for?

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