Most people around the world have heard of both the Netherlands and Holland. If you were to ask them to describe either, undoubtedly their definition would probably be the same for each, something like… a small country in northwestern Europe famous for its windmills, dykes, tulips, wooden shoes, Gouda cheese and fondness of bicycles. But in reality, Holland and The Netherlands refer to two different things.
Even as a good student in geography, I admit that I too assumed they were one and the same. And to be honest, growing up in the New York City area, I heard and learned the name Holland long before I became aware of the Netherlands. As many people know, New York was originally a Dutch settlement (New Amsterdam). There are numerous landmarks throughout New York with Dutch names as reminders. One of these is a tunnel which connects Manhattan island with Jersey City, New Jersey. Just about every traffic report I can remember as a child passenger in my parents’ car would mention the Holland Tunnel. Additionally, and coincidentally, the street directly in front of the elementary school I attended was named… Holland Avenue.
And while there are many examples of New York area businesses, streets and even towns which have the term Holland in them, there are none I am aware of that use the name Netherlands. Wait! I take that back. There is one theatre, formerly referred to as the Neil Simon Theatre, which was renamed several years ago to the Nederlander Theatre.
But like many expats and international residents who move to this little European country with a long name, I soon learned that Holland and the Netherlands are not one and the same. The short and sweet of it is that one refers to a country, the other to a region in the country.
For a slightly more thorough definition, the difference between Holland and the Netherlands can be understood this way:
The Netherlands – a small, northwestern European country bordered by Belgium on the south, Germany on the east and the North Sea on the west and north. It has a population of roughly 16.7 million people and a land mass of 13,000 square miles (about 1.5 times larger than the state of New Jersey). Approximately 20% of the land is below sea level.
Holland – the name of a region in The Netherlands which historically and financially has always been the most important to the country. While it includes just two of the twelve Dutch provinces, it is home to almost 40% of the Dutch population. Major cities in Holland include Amsterdam, Haarlem and Amstelveen (in North Holland) and Rotterdam, The Hague, Gouda and Delft (in South Holland). North Holland is the second largest province in size, while South Holland is the most populated province with 3.6 million residents. While this may seem impressive, it still means that more than 60% of the Dutch population ARE from The Netherlands, but ARE NOT from Holland.
Another interesting fact is that you don’t have to travel to Europe to visit the Kingdom of The Netherlands. You could do that while in the Caribbean. Yes, unfortunately that means there is also a difference between the terms The Netherlands and the Kingdom of The Netherlands…
Kingdom of The Netherlands – a sovereign state and constitutional monarchy. The Kingdom of The Netherlands is made up of four countries: The Netherlands, Aruba, Curacao and Sint Maarten. The head of state is Queen Beatrix.