The Kingdom of the Netherlands is only a tiny European country, plus the Dutch Caribbean islands. Still, it holds a relatively high number of World Heritage sites: 13 as of September 19, 2023, with the addition of the Eise Eisinga Planetarium in Franeker, Friesland.
You’ll find twelve of these gems in Europe (The Netherlands). The one remaining is in the vibrant city of Willemstad, on the sunny Caribbean island of Curaçao, part of the Dutch Caribbean.
Each Unesco Netherlands site holds a special status, recognizing its significant cultural or natural value.
The Netherlands is great for you as a visitor because it is small. That makes it easy to visit many of these places all on one trip.
13 Unesco Netherlands Listings
Even while it is almost impossible to pinpoint the Netherlands on a map, there are still quite a few listed Unesco sites here.
Why is that?
This is due to five specific reasons:
1. Cultural History: The country has a rich cultural history, from its power as a maritime republic in the 17th century (the Dutch Golden Age) to its role in forming international law and civil rights.
2. Unique Architecture: The country is known for its unique architectural styles, from the Amsterdam Canal Ring to the Rietveld Schröder House in Utrecht.
3. Water Management: The Netherlands is known for its water management. Much of the country lies below sea level, making water control essential. The historical network of 19 windmills at Kinderdijk-Elshout is a great example of this, as are many of the other Unesco sites in this country.
4. Preservation Efforts: The Dutch take value in preserving their culture, which has led to conservation and recognition on a global scale.
5. Diverse Ecosystems: Despite being a small country, the Netherlands is home to diverse ecosystems, like the Wadden Sea. One of the most extensive intertidal wetlands, reaching from the Netherlands to as far up north as Danmark.
Visit The Unesco Netherlands Sites
So, why should you visit these sites? Each offers a unique insight into this country’s history and natural beauty.
See beautiful places like Amsterdam’s canals, the Kinderdijk windmills, or the Wadden Sea, a unique natural area in the North.
Many sites have something to do with water management. Reflecting the Dutch’s long-standing relationship (a better word is their fight) with water. And how they gained expertise on the topic recognized worldwide today.
Most of these differ from your average tourist spots, giving you a unique insight into the country, its people, and its culture.
Table of Contents
1. Schokland and Surroundings (since 1995)
Schokland was the first Unesco World Heritage listing in the Netherlands. It is important as a cultural heritage because it symbolizes the fight against the sea by the Dutch.
It’s just the weirdest feeling to stand in a harbor with the wooden quay panels intact in the middle of grassland where cows are grazing. While just 170 years ago, people fought against the sea in this exact spot.
Once an island in the “Zuiderzee” (South Sea), it thrived in the middle ages. They can trace back human habitation for more than 10,000 years.
In 1859, authorities evacuated the island because of its high poverty levels and the associated dangers of living there. In 1942 the island reappeared in the landscape once they drained the sea, but now it’s in the middle of farmland.
Today you can visit the visitor center, museum, and parts of the old village at Schokland.
You need about an hour or two to visit Schokland.
What is great about it is that it is next to one of the most beautiful areas for tulip-watching in April. It’s also close to Giethoorn and National Park “The Weerribben.” You can easily combine these things on a day trip from Amsterdam, but a (rental) car is needed.
2. Dutch Water Defence Lines (since 1996 and extended in 2021)
The survival of Amsterdam could be hinging on an inventive hydraulic engineering technology defense system. That was at least the intention of Water Defence Lines back in the day.
They would flood the surrounding countryside by about half a meter, Forming a ring spanning a total length of 135 kilometers / 80 miles.
It would be too shallow for ships but too deep for soldiers on foot, and guards would patiently be waiting at the strategically placed forts along the way.
While the concept was ingenious, it never saw use in actual combat. Developers completed the project in 1920 simultaneously when tanks and aircraft were introduced and changed the concept of warfare. It made the water-based defense obsolete.
Since then, 42 forts have survived. Fort Muiden and especially Fort Pampus are the easiest to visit. Both have direct ferry connections from the east of Amsterdam. It’s also great to combine with the star-shaped defense city of Naarden and Amsterdam Castle (Muiderslot) not that far away.
3. Mill Network in Kinderdijk – Elshout (since 1997)
The Mill Network at Kinderdijk is one of the best-known Dutch tourist sites. Kinderdijk consists of a group of 19 monumental windmills that still operate today.
It’s listed because these windmills tell how the Dutch managed the water by smartly using windmills to keep land below sea level dry and suitable for agriculture.
I love Kinderdijk. It embodies the Netherlands to me. It’s also a wonderful place and so easy to reach from Rotterdam. It’s well worth the effort to take a look and walk around. When you do, make sure to visit a windmill because, most often, when you visit a windmill, it’s a grain mill. It’s rare to see one used for water management.
4. The Historic Area of Willemstad Curaçao (since 1997)
Imagine walking in a city that looks like someone painted it with every color from a box of crayons.
Welcome to Willemstad, the heart of the island of Curaçao. Bright yellow, pink, blue, and green buildings next to the shiny blue sea.
Willemstad is unique because it is a giant walk-in museum full of old buildings telling stories from different cultures. The city consists of several distinct historic districts. The architecture is a mix of the Dutch building style combined with influences from Spanish and Portuguese colonial towns it traded with.
You can explore the cool-looking waterfront and the old Fort Amsterdam. Each part of Willemstad is like stepping into a colorful history book page – but much more fun and lively!
The island is a 12-hour flight from Amsterdam. It’s much closer if you live in the USA.
5. D.F. Wouda Steam Pumping Station (since 1998)
Have you ever heard of the D.F. Wouda Steam Pumping Station? It’s a giant steam machine in the North of the Netherlands that still works today.
In fact, it’s the world’s largest and oldest steam-pumping station that still works. Its job? Keeping the Netherlands from getting too wet.
Visiting the D.F. Wouda Steam Pumping Station is like stepping into a living, working piece of history.
You can reach the Wouda Steam Pumping Station by public transport, but having a car is more convenient. You can combine a visit with Giethoorn and Schokland (see listing one).
6. The Beemster Polder (since 1999)
Imagine this – over 400 years ago. People turned a vast lake into land in the early 17th century at the Beemster Polder.
With tools and know-how that feel ancient today, people could still drain the lakes and turn them into land. The area we now call “Beemster Polder.”
It was the first successful attempt at making land from water on a big scale. Since then, it’s been a well-known farm area.
Are you a fan of tasty Dutch cheese? Then you might have enjoyed some straight from Beemster!
It’s a significant player, right up there with Gouda. Beemster cheese is sold worldwide at better-assorted markets.
But why’s it on the UNESCO list? The Beemster Polder is a unique example of how people in the Netherlands reclaimed land from water. And remember, they did this way back hundreds of years ago.
Is it worth visiting? I’d recommend reading about it online instead of making a trip out there. There is not that much to see. It’s more the idea of how the land came to be than something specific to look at.
However, there is a visitor center in Midden-Beemster if you’re interested.
A better idea is to head to the nearby city of Alkmaar. It’s a beautiful town and fun to visit. Plus, they have a famous cheese market selling delicious Beemster cheeses.
7. The Wadden Sea and its Islands (since 2009)
The Wadden Sea truly is a unique area. It’s the sea north of the Netherlands with a string of Islands covering the entire North coast (up to Denmark). In this post, I focus on the Dutch islands only.
The five Dutch islands you can visit are:
What makes this region so unique, apart from its natural beauty, is that tides determine life here. It creates a unique habitat for more than 10,000 plants and animal species.
The tides also allow for an activity called “Wadlopen,” where you can walk, with a guide, from the mainland to an island over the sea bed, a wonderful experience that I can only highly recommend. But you need to plan, have the right gear, and be in good physical condition to complete this hike.
The best part of the Dutch islands is how easily you can reach them all. All have good public transportation connections.
The most accessible island to visit is Texel. Just hop on a train from Amsterdam to Den Helder, take a quick bus ride to the harbor, and then a 20-minute ferry ride. The others take a bit longer to reach, but all have unique reasons to visit. All of them look different.
Once on the islands, your best mode of transport is renting a bike (or an e-bike, which makes your life much easier).
8. Rietveld Schröder House (since 2000)
The Rietveld Schröder House looks like it came straight out of a geometry book. It’s a unique house designed by the creative Gerrit Thomas Rietveld in 1924.
This humble house became a symbol of the Modern Movement in architecture, earning it a spot among the world’s most iconic buildings.
Today it’s a museum visited by many tourists. Because it’s so tiny, a tour is mandatory, and these sell out quickly. Be sure to book your slot in time.
The house is easy to visit. You can reach it by bus from Utrecht Central station or take a pleasant 30-40 minute walk.
Why is it on the UNESCO list? This quirky house from the 1920s is a fantastic example of the Modern Movement in architecture, just like the Van Nelle Fabriek (another UNESCO-listed building, see below).
More inspiration: Best Things To Do In Utrecht For A Special Day Out 🚂
9. The Amsterdam Canal District (since 2010)
The canals of Amsterdam weren’t always here. Amsterdam grew fast in the 17th century. It was the Golden Age, and the city was bustling. In these turbulent times, Amsterdam was safe, and labor was always in demand. So the city grew rapidly and needed more space.
The solution? Transform the area’s swampland into a network of canals, creating new land for the city to expand.
It was also careful urban planning. The outer defense line had to stay intact, and zoning was part of the planning from the start.
The city sold plots of land for the three new main canals to its wealthy inhabitants. They built the urban palaces we admire today.
And the “Jordaan” neighborhood was set aside for the less fortunate and industry. This status has remained the same until fairly recently.
And the city was smart. They developed the following phase only after completing the previous phase with the proceeds from sold plots of land.
But these canals weren’t just about making space. They were also essential for transportation into the city.
Smaller boats would travel effortlessly right to the warehouses on the canals. This setup made Amsterdam the top trading city of its time.
Knowing this, you realize that the Amsterdam Canals are more than just a picture-perfect postcard of the Netherlands – it also tells the story of the city’s rich history, resilience, and architectural genius.
But above all, you should enjoy it. The best way to do that is to explore on foot or take a canal cruise.
10. Van Nelle Factory (since 2014)
Built in the 1920s, the Van Nelle Factory in Rotterdam is more than just a building. This factory is a landmark of 20th-century industrial architecture.
It became a cultural monument because of its specific building style called “Het Nieuwe Bouwen” (the new building) in the late ’20s. Just like the Rietveld Schröder House (see above).
The factory’s unique steel and glass design shifted the traditional image of factories. People called it an ‘ideal factory’ because its design allowed lots of natural light and offered flexible interiors that could adapt as needed.
But there’s more to this factory than its design. It also tells a story about the Netherlands’ long history of importing and processing products from tropical countries for sale in Europe, like coffee, tea, and tobacco.
11. Colonies of Benevolence (since 2021)
The Colonies of Benevolence; is not an easy name and understandably might not ring a bell. But this new UNESCO World Heritage site in the Netherlands (and Belgium) is compelling and worth visiting.
The colonies were born from a 19th-century social reform experiment to alleviate urban poverty.
The colonies were either ‘free’ or ‘unfree,’ depending on their inhabitants – families, orphans, beggars, and/or vagrants.
It was built from the concept of “enlightenment,” hoping they could teach poor people skills that would enable them to return to society as improved individuals.
The plan didn’t unfold as anticipated, and in the 1850s, new regulations came into effect, rendering these colonies redundant. But still, at their peak, they housed over 11,000 people in the Netherlands and 6,000 in Belgium, and it was the first significant attempt to eradicate poverty.
Today you can still visit the stately buildings and landscape in the Netherlands in Frederiksoord and Veenhuizen. The first is also home to a visitor center/museum I highly recommend.
12. Frontiers of the Roman Empire – The Lower German Limes (since 2021)
The Lower German Limes, a segment of the Frontiers of the Roman Empire, stretches for 400 kilometers along the Lower Rhine. Acting as the protective boundary for the Roman frontier from the late 1st century BC. This frontier witnessed the ebb and flow of the Western Roman Empire until the mid-5th century.
The wetland conditions along the Lower German Limes have exceptionally preserved timber and other organic materials. These preserved artifacts give us unique and invaluable insights into the workings of Roman military construction, shipbuilding, logistics, and supply.
Today it’s all a little bit abstract. But if stepping back in time to experience the Roman military presence sparks your interest, you should visit “Fort Vechten” near Utrecht or “Roman Castellum” in Arnhem.
Additionally, museums like DOMunder in Utrecht and the museum park Archeon in Alphen a/d Rijn showcase this part of our past. These venues make history fun and engaging, so you can learn while enjoying your visit. Of all the Unesco sites, this one might be the least interesting.
13. Eise Eisinga Planetarium (since 2023)
The Eise Eisinga Planetarium in Franeker is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s the world’s oldest functioning planetarium. This addition brings the Netherlands’ total to 13 World Heritage Sites.
A Bit About the Planetarium
Built by wool manufacturer Eise Eisinga between 1774 and 1781, this planetarium is unique. Eisinga constructed a mechanical solar system model in his living room, and it’s still accurate today!
I mean this was a wool manufacturer, with a personal interest in astronomy. That is one thing but then deciding to build this immense model of the solar system from your home’s living room ceiling that is something different. And then also build a system that is still accurate 250 years later.
Isn’t that astounding when you think about it?
And there is more why this planetarium is something special. It’s the oldest functioning planetarium in the entire world. And you can find it in a tiny home in the north of this small country.
The house has been a Dutch national monument since 1967. And was proposed for World Heritage status in 2021, UNESCO now acknowledges its technical and artistic significance by adding it to the list.
Despite its small size, the Kingdom of the Netherlands is home to 13 UNESCO World Heritage sites. These include iconic landmarks such as Amsterdam’s canals, the windmills at Kinderdijk, and the natural beauty of the Wadden Sea and its islands.
It can be an exciting spin on your Netherlands holiday to theme your trip around the sites in this country and learn a lot about its story.
Which Unesco Netherlands Site Are You Most Curious About?
I’d love to hear your thoughts: Which UNESCO World Heritage site(s) in The Netherlands have you visited? Share your thoughts in the comments below, and let’s start a conversation 💬.
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