The Netherlands, on the coast of the North Sea is part of the great plain of north and western Europe which consists of the Netherlands itself and six islands in the Caribbean Sea: Aruba and the Netherlands Antilles. It is bordered by the North Sea to the north and west, Belgium to the south, and Germany to the east, the dimensions of the Netherlands is 41,528 square kilometres, little more than half the size of Scotland.
The Netherlands is also sometimes called Holland. About half of the country’s area is below sea level; making the famous Dutch dikes a requisite for the use of much of the land.
The country is divided into two main provinces by three large rivers, the Rhine and its main distributaries Waal, as well as the Meuse (Maas). Thanks to their location, these two provinces are still very important for the economy.
These rivers function as a natural barrier between earlier fiefdoms, and hence created traditionally a cultural divide, as is evident in some phonetic traits that are recognisable north and south of these “Large Rivers” (de Grote Rivieren).
The Netherlands has 20 national parks and hundreds of other nature reserves. Significant areas have been gained through land reclamation and preserved through elaborate systems of dikes.
The government of the Netherlands is a constitutional monarchy, located in Western Europe. The bicameral Parliament consists of a Senate and a House of Representatives. General elections normally take place every four years.
The government is composed of the King (Queen Beatrix since 1980), the Ministers and their state secretaries (junior ministers). However, the King does not have any political responsibilities and is not accountable to Parliament. The Cabinet is accountable to Parliament and appointed by royal decree.
The country is host to five international courts: the Permanent Court of Arbitration, the International Court of Justice and The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, the International Criminal Court and the Special Tribunal for Lebanon.
The Netherlands has the 16th largest economy in the world, and ranks 10th in GDP (nominal) per capita. The Netherlands is largely a hub for distribution rather than a manufacturing country.
The industrial sector mainly focuses on food processing, chemicals, petroleum refining and electrical equipment and machinery (for example Philips). The agricultural sector is highly mechanised and employs only 2% of the labour force. In the north of the Netherlands, near Slochteren, one of the largest natural gas fields in the world is situated.
The official language is Dutch, which is spoken by a majority of the inhabitants, the exception being some groups of immigrants. Another official language is West Frisian, which is spoken in the northern province of Friesland.
Several dialects of Low Saxon are spoken in much of the north and east, like the Twentse language in the Twente region, and are recognised by the Netherlands as regional languages according to the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages, as well as the Meuse-Rhenish Franconian varieties in the southeaster province of Limburg, here called Limburgish language.
There is a tradition of learning foreign languages in the Netherlands: about 70% of the total population has good knowledge of English, 55– 59% of German and 19% of French. Some Dutch secondary schools also teach Latin and Ancient Greek.
The Netherlands has a fairly temperate climate, very similar to England; temperatures are variable and rain occurs throughout the year. Summers are generally warm with changeable periods, but excessively hot weather is rare. Winters can be fairly cold with the possibility of some snow. Additionally, the Netherlands is one of the countries that may suffer most from climatic change.
The Netherlands is a popular holiday destination. Over ten million tourists visited the Netherlands, from Europe and from farther a field. Foreign tourists spend about eight billion euros a year in the Netherlands more than the annual earnings from the export of plants and flowers. Amsterdam is the most popular destination for foreign tourists.
The museums, such as the Rijksmuseum and the Vincent van Gogh Museum, the ring of canals with their elegant town houses, the atmosphere of freedom and creativity many foreigners want to see them with their own eyes.
But the Netherlands is also famous for its flowers: the tulips on the bulb fields of North and South Holland, or their traditional windmills, cheese, clogs (wooden shoes), Gouda pottery, for its bicycles and their traditional values and civil virtues such as its classic social tolerance that attract hundreds of thousands of visitors every year, particularly in April and May.
The Netherlands has a long coastline, with many interesting towns and villages and areas of natural beauty. The beaches and dunes are ideal for many forms of active recreation such as cycling, walking, sailing, and swimming.