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

5 Best UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Netherlands

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 taking 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.  

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 defense line. An example is Muiderslot, a medieval castle incorporated into the defense 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. 

Rietveld Schröder House
white geometric house

Experienced by me of Dream Plan Experience

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.

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, harbor 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 neighborhood, 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

As a holidaymaker…

Most people travel to Netherlands and stop at 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. 

canals with bridges
windmill and bridges


  • Anda

    I always wanted to visit the Netherlands, but I had no idea it has so many UNESCO sites. I knew about the Canal Ring of Amsterdam and about the Mill Network at Kinderdijk-Elshout, but not about the other places. Honestly, the Rietveld Schröder House doesn’t seem very impressive to me, but I never liked modern architecture.

  • Ina

    The Netherlands are beautiful. We visited Kinderdijk in 2019 and just loved it. The little museum at the beginning explained the water system and windmills with hands on activity for kids. I want to visit the water defense line next.

  • JoJo Hall

    I love visiting UNESCO heritage sites and you can bet that when I visit the Netherlands, I’m going to be visiting these sites! Thank you for the wonderful information.

  • Jessica

    I love visiting UNESCO world heritage sites. These all look beautiful. I also love the idea of seeing windmills in the Netherlands… such a Netherlands experience 🙂 thank you for sharing!

  • barry

    I’m so used to thinking of UNESCO sites as being the massive famous ones around the world … and forget that there are many virtually on my doorstep. This is such an interesting post – I never knew the Canal Ring in Amsterdam was UNESCO listed and I’ve passed over it so many times. Similarly I knew nothing about the Water Defense system for repelling invaders – ingenious. Where I grew up in the UK has loads of windmills – actually often built by Dutch immigrants in centuries gone by, so happy to see a group of them listed in the Netherlands too.

  • Melissa Butler

    I am a huge fan of visiting UNESCO sites and the Netherlands. Some of these I did know but some of them I didn’t like the Water Defense Line and city of Curacao. Kinderdijk is somewhere I really want to go too and it is so interesting knowing the history behind them before I get to go. I also didn’t know that it was a UNESCO site which is good to know too.

  • Indrani

    During my short visit to Amsterdam I could do only one among these 5 sites, the Canal Ring Tour. I really wish I can make it there again, especially for the windmills. I like how UNESCO has included modern buildings too in the prestigious list.

  • Trisha Velarmino

    Amazing! The rationale for building these sites was truly strategic and visionary. With these UNESCO sites, all the more I admire and respect the architecture and engineering ethics of the Dutch. Thanks for compiling this information.

  • Subhashish Roy

    I love visiting UNESCO sites and it was nice to know these located in Netherlands. Have been to Amsterdam twice before and the canal ring made me feel nostalgic. Would really love to visit the Dutch Water Defense lines and few others in our next trip when we move out of Amsterdam.

  • Puloma Banerjee

    I’m so enthused with these unique world heritage sites in Netherlands.I love to see the canal ring photos in Instagram but would definitely love to visit it someday.

  • Emma Earthwanderer

    There are some really cool UNESCO heritage sites here worth visiting. Of course, top of the list for me to visit is the Canal Ring, then I’d want to check out the castle surrounded by water defense lines. I definitely love the colourful old houses, I can see why they’re often photographed.

  • Jan

    Amazing UNESCO sites in Netherlands! I would love to do that boat tour through Canal ring and see all the 1500 bridges. The Dutch Water Defense Line looks truly impressive and so is the Rietveld Schröder House – a true example of architectural feat! I have not been to Netherlands yet, but these five sites have inspired me to add this to my list. 🙂

  • Natascha

    I always have a look at the UNESCO sites before I visit a place. In the Netherlands I visited only the canals in Amsterdam. The Rietveld Schröder House has been on my list of places to go for a long time. Good to read that you would rate it among the 5 best UNESCO sites in Netherlands.

    • Emma

      The Water Defence Line looks so epic, what a great place to expire. I’ve wanted to visit Netherlands for a long time but still haven’t been. I definitely have a couple more things for my list now. The windmills of Kinderdijk might be one of the top things I’d like to see – you can’t get too much more Dutch than that many windmills after all

      • The.Holidaymaker

        Hopefully you’ll be able to sneak a visit to Netherlands soon, it’s a fantastic country to visit. Be sure to get to some of the smaller towns for that quintessential Dutch experience.

  • Raksha

    This is amazing. I did not know that the canals were UNESCO sites in Netherlands. I did take a boat ride along the canal ring when I visited Amsterdam the last time. Also, I loved Kinderdijk as it was so beautiful. Other than these two I have not seen the other UNESCO sites.

  • Linda (LD Holland)

    We definitely need to plan to get back to the Netherlands. And plan to see all of the UNESCO sites. I was surprised that we had seen two – Amsterdam Canals and Willemstad in Curacao. But I love the variety in the ones we have not yet visited. We will definitely head out beyond Amsterdam.

  • Jen Rogers

    This is fantastic Renee! It truly makes me want to visit Netherlands to see not only those you beautifully featured here but all 12 sites! Love it!

  • Kerry

    I never knew that the Canal Ring was a UNESCO site but now I know, it makes total sense.

    Willemstad looks really pretty, I’d love to explore this area. The Netherlands is such a wonderful country and I’m definitely going to travel more of it.

  • Melinda

    I love visiting UNESCO sites, so this post is a fabulous guide. I have only been to the Amsterdam canal ring and Willemsted so far. Really love the cleverness behind the Dutch Water Defense lines and would love to see that!

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