In a country that’s described as overly bureaucratic, it’s not surprising that the Netherlands controls some things you wouldn’t expect them to.
From who can share houses, to where you can lock a burglar, and whether you can take an acorn from a forest tree — let’s jump right into the world of strange Dutch laws!
1. Locking a burglar in your toilet? Illegaal!
Picture this: a robber breaks into your house while you’re at home. In a burst of adrenaline and quick thinking, you trap them in the bathroom. 🪠
Hoera, success! Well, nee.
By locking up that burglar and depriving them of the privilege of stealing your stuff, you’re simultaneously depriving the burglar of their liberty — and that’s against the law.
2. Want a divorce? Your in-laws are forever after
Let’s hope that pesky mother-in-law isn’t the reason for your marriage breaking down.
The bad news is: in the Netherlands, they’re still your family — even once the ink on your divorce papers has dried.
3. It’s illegal not to have lights and a bell on your bike (but helmets are optional)
In a lot of countries, this is the other way around, due to obvious safety reasons. And, of course, if you’re out with a small child, they usually have to wear some form of protection.
Not in the Netherlands, though. In fact, a missing bell or light can land you a €40 fine here.
But as long as you have lights for visibility and a bell to attract attention, you’re good to go.
Is it safe or just stupid? The debate on whether we should all wear helmets continues for now. Luckily, the Netherlands does have great bike lanes, which definitely makes it a heck lot safer. 🤷♀️
4. Bikes have right of way: they rule over cars AND pedestrians
Say you were walking along a bike path and a bike hits you. In most cases in the Netherlands, the bike rider is not necessarily liable in this case.
That is because, unless indicated otherwise, bikes have right of way. So even if it wasn’t your fault, it was your fault. 🤷♀️
The same goes for a car hitting a bike — that’s a big no-no too.
Please, people, watch out for bikes, and cars, you watch out for them too. They rule us all. 🚲
5. Emergency sirens need to be tested every month
You may have all heard that weird and loud sound going off at 12 PM the first Monday of every month. No, we’re not under attack.
Instead, the Dutch government requires these emergency drills at least once a month to test the alarms. 🚨
While this is not technically a law, it does mean that we have to listen to it every first Monday of the month, FOREVER.
6. Taking a souvenir from the forest? Think again
Not only are many nature reserves not open before sunrise and after sunset, but all products of a forest belong to the municipality.
That means taking moss, mushrooms, or even a fallen acorn is strictly prohibited. 🌱
7. You cannot legally marry in the Netherlands unless one of you has residency
Unlike in Las Vegas, you can’t come to the Netherlands from abroad to get married. 🚫💒
If you’re wanting to get hitched on the canals of Amsterdam and neither of you is a registered resident, forget it.
In order to get married, the Netherlands requires at least one of the partners either be Dutch or to legally live in the Netherlands.
8. House sharing is technically not allowed
Three or more young singles are technically not allowed to live together, not without the required permit, at least.
9. It’s illegal to go into a coffeeshop if you’re under 18
It’s not illegal for individuals under 18 years old to go into a regular coffee shop or ‘café’. Coffeeshops in the Netherlands, however, are special.
As you probably know, Dutch coffee shops sell weed, so if you’re underage, you aren’t allowed in.
Sorry, no drugs for those under 18! Seems fair enough though, as you also can’t drink till you’re 18 either.
10. Trees must be reinforced to prevent them from sinking by canals
Since much of the Netherlands is built on water, canal houses, as well as trees and other structures, must be reinforced, so they don’t sink. So, it’s not just the houses, but the trees too!
While this sounds like a strange law, we think it’s great that trees are just as protected as canal-side houses! 🌳
11. Keep off the grass — by law
A walk in the park or a picnic on the grass? Not in Oldenzaal, and many other Dutch towns.
Walking, sitting, or just generally hanging out beyond the designated paths in parks, public gardens, green areas, and lawns are technically not allowed — unless you get a permit from the municipality, of course.
12. Tenants have incredible protection when renting
A law that’s good for tenants and not so good for landlords, tenants have an incredible amount of protection. In fact, the landlord can’t kick you out unless a court rules that they can.
Pretty bizarre if you aren’t paying the rent and trashing the place. Great if you don’t want to be made homeless by your landlord for literally no reason.
While some are good, others are just bizarre. But after all, the Netherlands seems to be functioning quite well — so these 12 weird laws that the Netherlands has must be doing their job!
What other Dutch laws do you find weird or cool? Tell us in the comments below!
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in March 2019, but was fully updated in December 2023 for your reading pleasure.