12 World Heritage Sites in the Netherlands: the best monuments of Holland

There are now 12 World Heritage Sites in the Netherlands. That’s right, a couple have been recently added. Here are the grand monuments in order of their ‘World-Heritage-site-birthday’.

In other words, I’ll start with the one that has been a World Heritage Site the longest. Have I said World Heritage Site enough? Alright, let’s begin…

1. Schokland

World Heritage Site in the Netherlands since 1995

As an archaeological monument and former island, Schokland and its surroundings possess a mysterious past. This World Heritage Site (gosh that really is a mouthful) lies within the centre of Noordoostpolder and is steeped in cultural history. It’s home to a sweet old church, a lighthouse keeper’s house, and the Schokland Museum. According to Statistics Netherlands, there are just five people living there (!?).

photo-the-schokland-museum-in-the-netherlands
The Schokland museum. Image: FaceMePLS/Flickr

Why is Schokland a World Heritage Site?

Due to the rising sea level, residents of Schokland had retreated to the three most elevated parts of the land by the 19th-century — until a major flood in 1825. Archaeologists found a wealth of (largely undamaged) treasures buried in the ground. There is evidence of human habitation going back more than 10,000 years (that’s prehistoric yo!) and they’ve dug up all sorts of things, from earthenware, tools, and man-made mounds, to the remains of houses and churches — and even entire graves! (eeek!)

2. The Defence Line of Amsterdam

World Heritage Site in the Netherlands since 1996

AKA the Stelling van Amsterdam. This is a ring of 46 forts, stretching more than 135 kilometres around the city. Built between 1883 and 1920, the line of defence was erected to protect the national stronghold.

More history, please!

As well as the fortifications, the ring consists of an intricate system of dikes, sluices, canals, and inundation polders. In the Middle Ages, the Dutch created a defence system based on these inundations, which basically refers to its flooding areas. This means if people were to attack, the lower parts of the country could be flooded to make the area impassible. Genius thinking to make use of what you’ve got, Dutchies!

photo-stelling-van-amsterdam
Stelling van Amsterdam. Image: Fort bij Abcoude/Wikimedia Commons.

3. Willemstad, Inner City and Harbour, Curaçao

World Heritage Site in the Netherlands since 1997

Willemstad is a town on the Caribbean Island of Curaçao. (Yes, you read that right: if you didn’t already know, some municipalities of the Netherlands are located in the Caribbean Sea!) Willemstad, a cute and colourful port town is where the Dutch established a trading settlement.

What makes it a World Heritage site?

The site has become a symbol of a growing multicultural community within the Netherlands.

Colourful-historic-city-centre-of-Willemstad-Curacao-a-World-Heritage-Site-in-the-Netherlands
Colourful buildings in the historic city centre of Willemstad. Image: SimonDannhauer/Depositphotos

4. The Windmills at Kinderdijk

World Heritage Site in the Netherlands since 1997

In South Holland, the Windmills of Kinderdijk-Elshout is a charming Dutch mill network and famous man-made landscape built between 1738 and 1740. The area is constructed in a similar way to the Defence Line of Amsterdam, with polders, embankments and dikes. It has 19 drainage mills, three pumping stations, two discharge sluices and two Water Board Assembly Houses which work for the drainage of the land. The windmills essentially keep water out of the polder.

The technology of handling water

Okay, maybe not the most exciting sub-header you’ve ever seen, but this is a vital part of the history of the Netherlands. The Dutch made a huge contribution to this type of technology, and these historic windmills can be seen as a way of paying homage to that (as well as just being a pretty sight).

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Windmills at Kinderdijk. Image: Tarod/Wikimedia Commons

5. The D.F. Wouda Steam Pumping Station

World Heritage Site in the Netherlands since 1998

Another celebration of technology! Damn, they weren’t kidding when they said the Netherlands was the land of water. This World Heritage Site is a steam-powered pumping station, meaning it pumps excess water out of Friesland. It is the largest station of its kind that’s still in use, which is pretty impressive considering it opened in 1920. It now runs on heavy fuel oil and has the capacity to pump up to 4,000 cubic meters of water per minute!

Visiting Wouda Steam Pumping Station

The Woudagemaal is located in a busy seaside town called Lemmer. There’s a visitor entrance that provides you with all the history of the site, an interactive museum experience which the kids will love, and regular tours.

6. The Beemster Polder

World Heritage Site in the Netherlands since 1999

Since the 17th century the Beemster Polder, a beautiful green expanse in North Holland, has been incredibly well-preserved. The entire place used to be mostly water — a lake, in fact! Now, thanks to ingenious and intricate planning, it’s an agricultural landscape made up of fields, roads, canals, dikes, and settlements. Middenbeemster, a little town in the countryside with horses, moats, a drawbridge, and a central market square, is sure to be a lovely outing in the summer.

7. Rietveld Schröder House

World Heritage Site in the Netherlands since 2000

Rietveld Schröderhuis, located in Utrecht, is an outstanding piece of architecture designed in 1924 by Gerrit Reitveld. It was built at the request of Truus Schröder-Schräder, whose husband had recently died. Schröder played an important role in the design process because she knew she wanted it to be simple, spacious, and free. She actually asked for it to be designed without walls, so it didn’t constrain her or hide the truth of her emotional life with her three children. She wanted fluidity and a connection between the inside and outside to mirror their new commitment to openness.

Mrs. Schröder lived in the house until her death in 1985. The house was restored by Bertus Mulder and is now a museum where you can find out more about her life and the Dutch artistic movement De Stijl, of which the Rietveld Schröder House is an embodiment.

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It even has a speaking tube that lets you talk to visitors at the door without going downstairs! Image: Basvb/Wikimedia Commons

8. Wadden Sea

World Heritage Site in the Netherlands since 2009

The Wadden Sea is an intertidal zone (the area that is above water at low tide and underwater at high tide) in the North Sea. Why is a ‘seashore’ on this list? Well, it may be a relatively shallow body of water, with tidal flats and wetlands, but it is one of the largest unbroken systems of intertidal sand and mudflats in the world — and is ridiculously biologically diverse. As well as all the plants and fishies, it’s home to the harbour seal, grey seal, and harbour porpoise!

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The beautiful Waddenzee. Image: Ollicze/Wikimedia Commons

The Dutch part of the Wadden Sea (or the Waddenzee) belongs to the provinces of North Holland, Friesland, and Groningen. It has tidal channels, sandy shoals, sea-grass meadows, mussel beds, sandbars, mudflats, salt marshes, estuaries, beaches, and dunes.

9. The Canals of Amsterdam

World Heritage Site in the Netherlands since 2010

This refers to the historical Canal Ring built in the 17th century. The four main canals are Herengracht, Prinsengracht, Keizersgracht, and the Singel. The surrounding areas form the Amsterdam Canal District (Grachtengordel). These canal belts eventually lead into the Amstel river.

“Venice of the North”

Why not experience this historic, cultural, and romantic part of the city by booking a boat? From fancy culinary cruises to wading the waters DIY style with a paddleboard, there are plenty of ways to enjoy this World Heritage Site.

photo-keizergracht-in-amsterdam-at-night
A gorgeous view of the Keizersgracht at dusk. Image: Massimo Catarinella/Wikimedia Commons.

10. Van Nelle Factory

World Heritage Site in the Netherlands since 2014

Located on the Schie in Rotterdam is the former Van Nelle Factory (Van Nellefabriek). The architecture of these buildings clearly depicts a Russian Constructivist influence.

“A poem in steel and glass”

Le Corbusier, one of the pioneers of modern architecture, said the building was “the most beautiful spectacle of the modern age” in 1932. Before that, Howard Robertson declared it “a poem in steel and glass” in 1930. In 2015, the Van Nelle Factory topped the list of The 25 Most Beautiful Factories in the World. 

11. Colonies of Benevolence

World Heritage Site in the Netherlands since 2021

The Netherlands has recently gained some new World Heritage Sites. Coming in at number 11 are the transnational Colonies of Benevolence. There are three settlements in the Netherlands: Frederiksoord, Wilhelminaoord, and Veenhuizen in Drenthe, and Wortel in Belgium — just south of the Dutch border.

READ MORE | Colonies of Benevolence in the Netherlands added as a World Heritage Site (finally!)

The colonies were set up in 1818 as a project to combat poverty among the population. Poverty-stricken families, beggars, and homeless people from the cities could go and work in the Colonies. They were given their own homes and a section of land so that they could learn to support themselves, and their children were sent to school.

12. The New Dutch Waterline

World Heritage Site in the Netherlands since 2021

Remember the Defense Line of Amsterdam that we mentioned earlier? Yup, the New Dutch Waterline is an extension of that. It’s the largest national monument and defence network in the Netherlands.

Dating back to 1815, this historic line of defence includes embankments, locks, canals and bunkers. They come together to form an ingenious system designed to protect the Netherlands from enemy troops during wartime. The system was designed to quickly flood large areas of land if enemy troops were approaching. The line is 220 kilometres long, and runs like a green ribbon through four provinces.

Which one of the World Heritage Sites in the Netherlands is your favourite? Tell us in the comments below!

Feature image: Tarod/Wikimedia Commons

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in December 2018 and was updated for your reading pleasure in July 2021. 

Abbie Neale
Abbie, a writer from the UK, fell in love with the Netherlands when she was three years old. When she’s not spending her free time painting canals or playing the guitar, she’ll be off travelling somewhere (and probably getting lost).

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What do you think?

2 COMMENTS

  1. Learn for once an for all…. Holland AIN’T THE NETHERLANDS !!!

    1 Schokland = FLEVOLAND ( NOT Hollland)
    3 Willemstad = CURAÇAO ( NOT Holland
    5 Lemmer = FRYSLÂN ( NOT Holland)
    7 Utrecht = UTRECHT ( NOT Holland)
    11 Frederiksoord= DRENTHE ( NOT Holland)

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