Aquaduct Veluwemeer, aerial view from the drone. A sailboat sails through the aqueduct on the lake above the highway.
© Elena Frolova via Shutterstock

Water in the Netherlands

Befriending an old enemy

Delta Works

Living below sea level

Maeslantkering one of the 13 Delta Works

Who would choose to live below sea level, where heavy rains could turn into a deadly flood? Answer: the Dutch. We have been living below sea level quite comfortably for centuries now and have learned to take advantage of the wonderful world of water. That’s why we want to show you all the fantastic ways water contributes to the Netherlands. And vice versa. Because the Netherlands is a country of water.

The biggest and best examples are the Delta Works, located in the southwest of our country. In 1953, the Dutch province of Zeeland was devastated by the largest North Sea flood disaster in our history. The government decided that something had to change, which resulted in the largest flood protection system the world had ever seen. It consists of five storm surge barriers, two sluice gates and six dams spread across several coastal provinces.

Did you know?

The Delta Works cost about 6.35 billion euros in total.

Visit the storm surge barrier

At more than 9 kilometres in length, the Eastern Scheldt Storm Surge Barrier is the most remarkable and well-known barrier and connects the island of Schouwen-Duiveland to North-Beveland. During impending high tides, the flood barrier can close off the entire Eastern Scheldt. One particularly brilliant aspect of the structure is that you can drive or cycle over it. Be aware that it often gets really windy, so if you decide to jump on your bike and use a bit of pedal power to get a closer look, you might get more of a workout than you expected. Nonetheless, this amazing feat of engineering is definitely worth it.

Aerial photo of delta works Oosterscheldekering Zeeland

All of the Delta Works are unique in their own right but trying to visit them all during your travels or holiday might be a bit of a challenge. If you want to know all the details, visit Deltapark Neeltje Jans - a theme park located on a small island in the Eastern Scheldt Storm Surge Barrier. Not only is it fun and beautiful, but it also offers you the opportunity to learn everything about the North Sea flood disaster and the engineering and operation of the Delta Works.

Philipsdam Zeeland part of the Delta Works


Water as a trading partner

Canal in Amsterdam

Our obsession with water is not only visible along our country’s coast. Large cities such as Utrecht, Amsterdam and Rotterdam have been laid out to get the maximum benefit from the water and learn from it. Each in its own way. It’s not for nothing that Amsterdam’s canal ring has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and that the port of Rotterdam is considered the gateway for European import and export.

Let’s dive a bit deeper. Not only are the Amsterdam canals a treat for the eyes, but they also used to play a crucial role in our trading strategy. During the 16th century, the idea emerged to turn Amsterdam into an important port city. To be able to import and export merchandise swiftly, a structured maze of canals was required. This resulted in arguably the most beautiful stretch of water in an urban environment.

165 canals in Amsterdam

Modern junction

Amsterdam ceased to be a port city years ago, unlike Rotterdam. Indeed, this bustling city along the river Meuse boasts the largest port in Europe and is one of the top 10 largest ports in the world. Needless to say, it is an important and modern junction for international shipping. This is also reflected in the city's architecture. Rotterdam has a beautiful, yet no-nonsense side. There is a ‘roll up your sleeves and get to work’ mentality that is reflected in everything from its hospitality industry to its skyscrapers and the port.

Dordrecht New harbor and Grote Kerk sitting at the water's edge

South of Rotterdam is the beautiful, historic city of Dordrecht with its marvellous inland ports and rich history. Located in an area abounding with water and rivers such as the Merwede, the Noord and the Old Meuse, it was traditionally an important trading town with a lively trade in timber, grain and wine. That history, wealth and culture can still be seen everywhere in this charming town. True water aficionados will love visiting National Park De Biesbosch with its lovely, authentic nature.

Kayaking in the Biesbosch

Low & high tide

Low tide or high tide Brouwersdam? This is low tide.
Low tide or high tide Brouwersdam? This is high tide.

The water level of the sea rises and falls twice a day due to the attractive force of the moon and the sun. At high tide the water is high, while at low tide it is low. At these moments you can literally walk on the seabed in some places.

Enjoying the water

It’s mouth-watering

Wadden sea evening sailing trip sunset

From north to south and east to west, point to a spot on a map of the Netherlands and there is a good chance that water plays some kind of role there. Anyone wanting to enjoy the water will be able to find an activity in every single province.

When looking at a map of the Netherlands, you immediately notice the Frisian Wadden Islands in the north. Texel and Terschelling are more touristy, whereas Vlieland and Schiermonnikoog are quieter and somewhat more rugged. To really experience the islands, you should set out on a walk along the mud flats. It’s a muddy must-see that, courtesy of the changing tides, essentially lets you walk along the bottom of the Wadden Sea. Wear appropriate shoes or boots and enjoy the sea like never before. Don't fancy walking? Take the boat and let it ‘run aground’...

11 of walking along the mud flats from Den Helder to Texel

Stand-up paddleboarding across the lake

Paddleboarding has become a really popular activity. Get up on the board and paddle across a lake, river or, better yet, a canal. There are a lot of small businesses in Haarlem and Den Bosch where you can hire a stand-up paddleboard (SUP for short) for a couple of hours and see the canals in a completely different and active way, unlike a traditional canal boat tour. This a wonderfully refreshing experience, especially during nice weather.

Couple supping on the Lauwersmeer

Another sporty way to enjoy the water is by heading out on a canoe. You can do this in many different places but absolute must-sees are the aforementioned National Park De Biesbosch near Dordrecht and National Park Weerribben-Wieden in the province of Overijssel. The latter is one of Europe's largest wetland areas and has a delightful maze of small rivers. These areas consider themselves to be the ultimate canoeing paradise and who could blame them?

Canoeing past windmills and reed beds in National Park Weerribben-Wieden.


Arisen from the water

The land creators

While quite diverse, the Netherlands is not a very large country. Imagine the circumstances just a century ago... Despite a growing population, we were a significantly smaller country back then. Thanks to our extensive knowledge of water and soil and how they relate to one another, we managed to create a completely new province during the latter half of the 20th century. The province of Flevoland arose from the area once known as the Zuiderzee.

Flevoland is lauded for its contemporary architecture and abundance of water activities. Almere, the largest city in the new province, boasts a coastline of about 42 kilometres. Water sports enthusiasts will be in heaven at Atlantis Beach and Surf Beach Almere Harbour.

Hiking along the Oostvaardersplassen
Kiteboarding on the Batavia surf beach

Aerial view Afsluitdijk

You can also learn a lot in Flevoland about the creation of the province and the two new lakes: IJsselmeer Lake and Markermeer Lake. Last but by no means least there is the Afsluitdijk, a 32-kilometre dike that combats flooding and forms a connection between the provinces of Friesland and North Holland. It is an extraordinary work of engineering, which also boasts the brilliant art project ‘Gates of Light’ by Daan Roosegaarde at night.

Those interested in learning all about the former Zuiderzee should definitely pay a visit to the Zuiderzeemuseum in Enkhuizen. In fact, the whole region surrounding IJsselmeer Lake is worth a visit. This area truly has something for everyone, whether you seek small beaches or the ‘water museum’ that is Batavialand.

32 kilometres of Afsluitdijk

Experience the ultimate land of water


Proud of the water

Humble and smart

The Amsterdam canals, the Wadden Islands or the Delta Works: each and every one of these is a Dutch icon that represents our connection with water in a profound way. But there are numerous other places where water has played a huge role or still does so today.

The Netherlands wages a continuous battle against the water. We nearly always win, mostly because history has taught us to be humble and smart. The North Sea Flood disaster of 1953 raised awareness in the Netherlands of the impact of (too) high water levels. If you wish to learn more about this, you may want to spend an afternoon at the Watersnoodmuseum in Ouwerkerk in the province of Zeeland.

In the Wolderwijd off the coast of Zeewolde lies a peninsula in the shape of a tulip

Woudagemaal Lemmer

The Woudagemaal in the Frisian town of Lemmer is the largest functioning steam pumping station in the world and is still used to prevent flooding when water levels get too high. This monumental giant is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is absolutely worth a visit when you are in Friesland.

The windmills of Kinderdijk attract a lot of tourists every year. That’s hardly surprising because the windmills, water and iconic polder landscape are quintessentially Dutch. Hire a boat and enjoy the magnificent views and (of course) the 19 world-famous windmills. It might not be the trendiest day out, but the classics remain the classics for a reason!

Did you know?

The Wouda Pumping Station can drain a lake in 48 hours.