13 stunning UNESCO World Heritage sites in the Netherlands

13 stunning UNESCO World Heritage sites in the Netherlands

You might not expect it, but the Netherlands has a rich history and a number of beautiful UNESCO World Heritage sites. There are 13 in total: 12 cultural monuments and one natural monument - let's take a look at the beautiful attractions that are definitely worth adding to your bucket list!

What is a UNESCO World Heritage site?

A UNESCO World Heritage site is a landmark or area that has been acknowledged for having cultural, historical, scientific or another form of significance by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO).

The idea of cultural and natural conservation was originally initiated by the US who, in 1965, called for a “World Heritage Trust” in order to preserve “the world's superb natural and scenic areas and historic sites for the present and the future of the entire world citizenry.” Eventually, UNESCO adopted an international treaty called the “Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage,” which, as of 2020, has been ratified by 193 state parties. Only 4 UN member states have not ratified the treaty: Liechtenstein, Nauru, Somalia and Tuvalu.

What makes a World Heritage site?

According to the UNESCO website, to be included on the World Heritage List, sites must demonstrate outstanding universal value as well as meet at least one out of the 10 selection criteria. 

Some examples of the 10 criteria set out by UNESCO include stipulating that the monument represents "a masterpiece of human creative genius" or "major stages of earth's history", or exhibits "an important interchange of human values".

The 13 wonders of the Dutch world

If you are visiting the Netherlands - or indeed if you live in the Netherlands! - and want to check out some of the most beautiful, intricate and advanced feats of Dutch engineering, sculpture and architecture, as well as experience the stunning natural wonder that is the Wadden Sea, then take a good look at this list and make sure to tick at least one of these sights off!

1. Royal Eise Eisinga Planetarium (Koninklijk Eise Eisinga Planetarium)

Located within the historic centre of Franeker, in the Dutch province of Friesland, is the oldest continuously operating planetarium in the world. As an accurately working model of our solar system, the planetarium gives an up-to-date and realistic image of the positions of the sun, moon, Earth, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. This site is one of the newest additions to UNESCO's list, being granted World Heritage Status as recently as 2023.

  • Date constructed: 1774 - 1781
  • Location: Franeker in Friesland

Image credit: INTREEGUE Photography / eisinga-planetarium.png

2. New Dutch Water Line (Nieuwe Hollandse Waterlinie)

The New Dutch Water Line is a series of defences designed to protect and fortify towns and cities located in low-lying areas of the Netherlands and is made up of 96 forts and 100 military locks, dikes and canals, and runs 220 kilometres through four provinces. It protected the western regions of the Netherlands from enemies by flooding large areas of land, but the forts were carefully designed so they would only flood around 30 centimetres, meaning the water was too shallow for boats to pass through.

This site is one of the newest additions to UNESCO's list, as the New Dutch Water Line was only granted World Heritage Status in 2021. It is, however, an extension of the Defense Line of Amsterdam (Stelling van Amsterdam) - a 135-kilometre ring of fortifications around Amsterdam - which received World Heritage Status back in 1996.

  • Date constructed: 1880 - 1920
  • Location: The provinces of North Holland, South Holland, Utrecht and North Brabant

Image credit: INTREEGUE Photography via Nieuwe Hollandse Waterlinie (New Dutch Water Line)

3. Canal belt in Amsterdam (Grachtengordel)

This is one UNESCO heritage site you’ve almost certainly seen if you’ve visited the Netherlands, and you have definitely seen it if you’ve been to Amsterdam! The famous canals are as much a symbol of the city as the flag of Amsterdam, the coffee shops or the GVB trams. In 2010, the 17th-century canal ring area, which includes Prinsengracht, Keizersgracht, Herengracht and Jordaan, was listed as a UNESCO Heritage Site.

  • Date constructed: 17th century
  • Location: Amsterdam

Image credit: 4kclips via Grachtengordel canal belt Amsterdam

4. Van Nelle Factory (Van Nellefabriek)

The Van Nelle Factory is a huge factory on the Schie in Rotterdam. It was commissioned by the co-owner of the Van Nelle Company, on behalf of the owners. Designed by the architect Leendert van der Vlugt alongside J.G. Wiebenga, a civil engineer, in the early 1900s, it is considered a prime example of the International Style based on constructivist architecture and, on its completion, was described as “the most beautiful spectacle of the modern age” and “a poem in steel and glass”.

The factory was originally used for processing coffee, tea and tobacco and then for producing chewing gum, cigarettes, instant pudding and rice. It now houses office spaces, meeting rooms and conference rooms.

  • Date constructed: 1925 - 1931
  • Location: Rotterdam


5. Windmills at Kinderdijk

The windmills at Kinderdijk are a group of 19 windmills that were built to keep excess water out of the polders (low-lying tracks of land that have been separated from water: flood plains or marshes). It is the largest concentration of old-style windmills in the Netherlands and has been designated a World Heritage Site since 1997.

  • Date constructed: 1738 - 1740
  • Location: Alblasserwaard (near Rotterdam)

6. Rietveld Schröder House (Rietveld Schröderhuis)

The Rietveld Schröder House is a house built in 1924 by architect Gerrit Rietveld for Mrs Truus Schröder-Schräder, a socialite and pharmacist. The house is one of the best-known examples of De Stijl architecture and possibly the only true representation of the style.

  • Date constructed: 1924
  • Location: Utrecht


7. Lower Germanic Limes (Neder-Germaanse Limes)

The 2.000-year-old ruins of the Lower Germanic Limes mark the borders of the former Roman Empire. The 400-kilometre-long border runs along the Rhine river, from Cologne, through Nijmegen and Utrecht, to Katwijk, and was designed to protect the Roman Empire against northern Germanic tribes way back in the 1st century.

  • Established: 1st century
  • Location: The provinces of Gelderland, Utrecht, and Zuid Holland

8. Wouda Pumping Station (Ir.D.F Woudagemaal)

The Wouda Pumping Station is the largest operational steam-powered pumping station in the world. It was opened in 1920 by Queen Wilhelmina and was built to pump excess water out of Friesland.

  • Date constructed: 1920
  • Location: Tacozijl, De Fryske Marren


9. Schokland and surroundings

Schokland is a former island in the Dutch Zuiderzee, which has now been reclaimed and joined to Kampen on the mainland. Schokland used to be a beautiful settlement in the Middle Ages but was under continuous threat from flooding. Most people retreated to more stable nearby land and the area was devastated by a major flood in 1825.

Archaeological finds have shown that people have been living on Schokland for more than 12.000 years. Today, Schokland is a popular archaeological site and museum and, in 1995, it was the first site in the Netherlands to be designated a UNESCO World Heritage site.

  • Date constructed: First settlement > 12.000 years ago
  • Location: Noordoostpolder (near Emmeloord)

10. Beemster Polder (Droogmakerij de Beemster)

The Beemster is the first polder in the Netherlands to be reclaimed. It was reclaimed from a lake through the use of windmills and was dried from 1609 to 1612. The area is laid out according to Classical and Renaissance grid planning.

The tight grid system of fields, canals, roads, dykes and settlements has been preserved largely intact and, because of this, as well as its historical significance, it was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1999.

  • Date constructed: 1612
  • Location: Beemster (near Alkmaar)

11. Historic Area of Willemstad, Inner City and Harbour

Willemstad is the capital city of Curaçao, an island in the Caribbean Sea that is a constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. It used to be the capital of the Netherlands Antilles until its dissolution in 2010.

The city is beautiful, with unique architecture and four historic quarters that make up its city centre. It is also the home of the Curaçao synagogue, the oldest synagogue in the Americas. Due to its beauty, unique architecture and large natural harbour called the Schottegat, it was designated a World Heritage Site in 1997.

  • Established: 1634
  • Location: Curaçao, Caribbean


12. The Wadden Sea (Waddenzee)

The only natural site on this list, the Wadden Sea is an intertidal zone that stretches from Den Helder in the Netherlands, past the river estuaries in the north of Germany to its northern border at Skallingen in Denmark. The shallow water has a high level of biological diversity and is an important ecosystem, especially for breeding and migrating birds.

Numerous dykes and causeways have been built to control the flooding in the area, making it the most human-altered habitat on the planet.

  • Location: The North Sea by the Netherlands, Germany and Denmark

13. Colonies of benevolence (Koloniën van Weldadigheid)

Last but not least, these 200-year-old settlements in Drenthe were established in the early 19th century in an attempt to combat poverty among the Dutch population. Families who settled there were provided with a piece of land to farm and some cattle, and all children were forced to go to school and receive a proper education. The initiative was revolutionary, and while they weren’t particularly successful, the colonies are widely regarded as the beginning of the Dutch welfare state.

  • Established: 1818
  • Location: Freseriksoord, Wilhelminaoord and Veenhuizen (in Drenthe)

Dutch monuments and attractions worth visiting

So, there you have it, the 13 UNESCO World Heritage sites in the Netherlands. Which ones do you like the best and which ones will you be visiting the next time you are in the Netherlands?

William Nehra


William Nehra

William studied a masters in Classics at the University of Amsterdam. He is a big fan of Ancient History and football, particularly his beloved Watford FC.

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