Welcome to the Netherlands! A country is known for tulips, windmills, bikes, and its laid-back café culture. This is the country that gave us the Dutch artists like Rembrandt, Vermeer, and Van Gogh, as well as, the influence on architecture as seen in the Golden Age gabled houses. Surprisingly the Netherlands only has 12 designated UNESCO World Heritage Sites.  This guide shares the 5 best UNESCO sites in the Netherlands. 

Best UNESCO Sites in the Netherlands

The landscape in the Netherlands is pretty unique. Almost the entire country is flat and is actually below sea level. This makes for the perfect conditions for agriculture and is likely why almost two-thirds of the country is farmland. To accommodate the sea, there are rows of polders (areas of drained land). This unique feature has been recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site.  

In order to be designated it means there is recognition for their natural, historic, and cultural significance, selected by representatives of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as a way to preserve and protect for future generations. Let’s learn about the 5 best sites.

Canal Ring of Amsterdam

Netherlands - a country known for tulips, windmills, bikes and its laid-back café culture. As well as its 12 UNESCO World Heritage sites.

Experienced by Emma of Emma Jane Explores

Arguably the most iconic UNESCO World Heritage Site in the Netherlands is the famous Amsterdam canal ring. This maze of waterways encircles the city and makes visiting this destination a truly unique experience. 

It has been on the UNESCO World Heritage List since 2010 and was designated for demonstrating the urban development and industry of the city throughout its growth of the city in the 17th century.  

Today, one of the best things to do in Amsterdam is take a boat tour through the canal ring where you’re able to take in the city from the water and truly appreciate the ingenuity of this stunning architectural concept.  

There are around 1500 bridges that cross the canals throughout Amsterdam and many of these are adorned with brightly coloured flower boxes and bikes. A perfect day out in the city definitely consists of a few gentle strolls around the canal banks to enjoy the scenery.  

Read more | Check out my featured article sharing the best things to do in Amsterdam

Dutch Water Defense Lines

castle with moat

Experienced by Rachel Heller of Rachel’s Ruminations

The Dutch are known as experts in water, and that isn’t a recent phenomenon. The Water Defense Line in the Netherlands is a UNESCO site comprising a series of fortifications, dikes, and other water systems meant to help defend the Netherlands, but not against flooding, as you’d expect. It was to defend it from military attacks. It’s a truly unique system, which is why it qualifies as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

While the Water Defense Line was officially established in the 19th century, it incorporates older elements, part of an earlier water defence line. An example is Muiderslot, a medieval castle incorporated into the defence of Muiden outside Amsterdam.

The idea of the Water Defense Line, essentially, is that when an army is approaching, low-lying fields, normally kept dry using things like pumps, dikes and sluices, can be flooded on command, stopping the army’s approach and forcing the fighting to a few easily-defensible spots. It was a very clever way to defend a large area of land with few soldiers.

Mill Network at Kinderdijk-Elshout

windmills on lake

Experienced by Zoe from Together In Transit

If you are looking for a beautiful UNESCO site situated in the southern Netherlands, Kinderdijk is the place to visit and learn. This beautiful location of 19 windmills has been situated here since 1740 but is officially acknowledged as a World Heritage site by UNESCO in 1997. 

It was designated as a UNESCO site due to the importance and handmade historical matter of significance for the Netherlands. As much of the Netherlands is below sea level even to this day, it was important for locals to make sure they could manage their land, through draining and hydraulic technology, as well as protect themselves from future water surges in the region.

One can visit here all year round, making it a beautiful destination in all seasons. Plus, it’s well worth your time to take a local tour by one of the 200 volunteers at Kinderdijk. This way you can truly learn the history while seeing Kinderdijk in person. 

Related reading | check out my featured article about visiting 3 charming Dutch towns in the countryside

Rietveld Schröder House

white geometric house

Experienced by me

The Rietveld Schröder House in Utrecht is considered one of the icons of the Modern Movement in architecture. Architect, Gerrit Thomas Rietveld, was commissioned by Ms. Schröder-Schräder, to build a small family home based on the 1920s De Stijl movement. This architectural style is well known for its use of seamless transitions from the outside to the inside. In addition to the use of primary colours, such as red, yellow, white, gray, black, and blue.

Built in 1924, the house is a mix of horizontal and vertical straight lines accented by colour. The upper floor introduced a revolutionary system of sliding walls, which can transform the space into a divided area of bedrooms or an open space depending on what was needed. 

Today, the Rietveld Schröderhuis is a museum. Perfect for fans of design and architecture as the house was carefully restored, and is now in excellent condition and under the regular care of the Centraal Museum of Utrecht. And, was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000.

Read more | if you are planning a visit to Utrecht, check out my featured article highlighting the top things to do

Willemstad, Curaçao

pastel colour houses with clay tile roofs

Experienced by Elena of The Carry-On Chronicles

The colourful capital city of Curacao, Willemstad was granted status as a UNESCO World Heritage site due to its historical significance, harbour entranceway, and interesting architecture. This historic port city was originally established as an important trading center back in 1634, along with the construction of Fort Amsterdam. The Punda neighbourhood, in particular, is the oldest in Willemstad. It dates back to the 17th century and previously included defensive ramparts and walls. In addition, Willemstad is also home to the oldest standing synagogue in the Americas.

One of the most remarkable attributes of Willemstad is its vibrant architecture, which clearly conveys Dutch influence, as well as influence from Africa and the Americas. Today, it’s easy to see why a visit to Willemstad is one of the most popular Curacao activities, as travellers can’t resist the charms of this fascinating Dutch Caribbean city. Some of the most highly frequented and heavily photographed spots include the iconic Queen Emma Bridge, the Penha Building, and the Scharloo neighbourhood.

UNESCO World Heritage Sites by Country

Want to read more, check out the other featured articles for designated sites by country. 

As a holidaymaker…

Most people travel to the Netherlands and stop in Amsterdam. Don’t. Explore beyond it. And, why not let the designated UNESCO sites be your guide in planning where you go. As these places are carefully selected for their historic and cultural significance, and always are worth visiting. 

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