The Difference between Holland & the Netherlands


Welcome to the Great nation of Holland: where the tulips grow, the windmills turn, the breakfast is chocolatey, the people industrious, and the sea tries to drown it all.

Except, this country isn't Holland. It's time for:

The Difference Between Holland, the Netherlands (and a whole lot more)

The correct name for this tulip growing, windmill building, hagelslag eating, container ship moving, ocean conquering nation is the Netherlands.

But confusion is understandable -- the general region been renamed a lot over a thousand including as:

  • The Dutch Republic
  • The United States of Belgium and
  • The Kingdom of Holland

But it's not just history that makes this country's name confusing because the Netherlands is divided into twelve provinces:

  • Groningen
  • Drenthe
  • Overijssel
  • Gelderland
  • Limburg
  • Brabant
  • Zeeland (Which, by the way, is the Zeeland that makes this Zeeland, new)
  • Friesland (With adorable little hearts on its flag)
  • Flevoland
  • Utrecht, and here's the confusion:
  • Noord (North) Holland and
  • Zuid (South) Holland

These provinces make calling the Netherlands 'Holland' like calling the United States 'Dakota'. Though unlike the Dakotas, which are mostly empty, save for the occasional Jackalope, the two Hollands are the most populated provinces and have some of the biggest attractions like, Amsterdam and Keukenhof.

Chances are if it's Dutch, and you've heard of it, it's in one of the Hollands.

Even the government's travel website for the country is -- officially because it sounds friendlier, but unofficially it's probably what people are actually searching for.

Confusion continues because: People who live in the Hollands are called Hollanders, but all citizens of the Netherlands are called Dutch as is their language. But in Dutch they say: Nederlands sprekende Nederlanders in Nederland which sounds like they'd rather we call them Netherlanders speaking Netherlandish. Meanwhile, next door in Germany, they're Deutsche sprechen Deutsch in Deutschland. Which sounds like they'd rather be called Dutch.

This linguistic confusion is why Americans call the Pennsylvania Dutch Dutch even though they're Germans.

To review: this country is the Netherlands, its people are Dutch, they speak Dutch. There is no country called Holland, but there are provinces of North and South Holland.

Got it? Great, because it's about to get more complicated.

The Netherlands is part of a Kingdom with the same name: The Kingdom of the Netherlands -- which is headed by the Dutch Royal Family.

The Kingdom of the Netherlands contains three more countries and to find them we must sail from the icy North Sea to the Caribbean and Aruba, Curaçao, Sint Maarten.

These are no territories, but self-governing countries within the Kingdom of the Netherlands and as such they have their own governments, and their own currencies.

Geography geek side note here:

While Aruba and Curaçao are islands, Sint Maarten is just the Southern Half of a tiny island also named Saint Martin the other half of which is occupied by France and also named Saint Martin. So despite being separated by Belgium on the European map, The Kingdom of the Netherlands and the French Republic share a border on the other side of the world on an island so nice they named it thrice.

But why does the Kingdom of the Netherlands reach to the Caribbean anyway? Because, Empire.

In the 1600s the Dutch, always looking to expand business, laid their hands on every valuable port they could. For a time, America's East Coast was 'New Netherland' with its capital city of New Amsterdam. There was New Zealand, as mentioned previously, and nearby, the king of the islands, New Holland. Though the empire is gone, these three Caribbean nations remain.

And while four countries in one kingdom, isn't unheard of, it doesn't stop there, because the country of the Netherlands, also extends its borders to the Caribbean and three more islands: Bonaire, Sint Eustatius and Saba.

These are not countries in a Kingdom, but are cities of the Country of the Netherlands and they look the part. Residents of these far-flung cities vote in elections for the Dutch government just as any Hollander would. Though, weirdly, they don't belong to any province and they don't use the Dutch currency of Euros, they use Dollars instead. It's kind of like if Hawaii wasn't a state, but technically part of the District of Columbia, all the while using the Yen.

These cities of the Country of the Netherlands and these countries in the Kingdom of the Netherlands, are together are known as the Dutch Caribbean. And their citizens are Dutch citizens. Which, because the Kingdom of the Netherlands is a member of the European Union, means these Dutch Caribbeans are also Europeans.

So in the end, there are 6 Caribbean islands, four countries, twelve provinces, two Hollands, two Netherlands and one kingdom, all Dutch.

Notes & Corrections

  • The ç in Curaçao should be pronounced with an 's' sound.
  • Frieslanders will often claim that the little hearts on their flag are actually waterlillies, but that's only because they are embarassed by the little hearts on their flag.