The UNESCO World Heritage sites in the Netherlands

The UNESCO World Heritage sites in the Netherlands

After spending the last couple of weeks exploring Dutch culture through folklore, I thought it was time to mix it up a bit and explore a different aspect of Dutch culture. So, today we will look at the UNESCO World Heritage sites that are located in the Netherlands. There are 10 in total: 9 cultural monuments and 1 natural and we will discover and examine each of them today.

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 meeting at least one out of the ten selection criteria.

Up until 2004, there were originally 6 criteria for cultural heritage and 4 for natural heritage. However, in 2005, these lists were combined so now any site that is nominated must demonstrate one of the ten criteria, regardless of wether it’s a natural site or cultural site.

The ten selection criteria

  • (i) to represent a masterpiece of human creative genius 
  • (ii) to exhibit an important interchange of human values, over a span of time or within a cultural area of the world, on developments in architecture or technology, monumental arts, town-planning or landscape design
  • (iii) to bear a unique or at least exceptional testimony to a cultural tradition or to a civilisation which is living or which has disappeared
  • (iv) to be an outstanding example of a type of building, architectural or technological ensemble or landscape which illustrates (a) significant stage(s) in human history
  • (v) to be an outstanding example of a traditional human settlement, land-use, or sea-use which is representative of a culture (or cultures), or human interaction with the environment especially when it has become vulnerable under the impact of irreversible change
  • (vi) to be directly or tangibly associated with events or living traditions, with ideas, or with beliefs, with artistic and literary works of outstanding universal significance
  • (vii) to contain superlative natural phenomena or areas of exceptional natural beauty and aesthetic importance
  • (viii) to be outstanding examples representing major stages of earth's history, including the record of life, significant on-going geological processes in the development of landforms, or significant geomorphic or physiographic features
  • (ix) to be outstanding examples representing significant on-going ecological and biological processes in the evolution and development of terrestrial, freshwater, coastal and marine ecosystems and communities of plants and animals
  • (x) to contain the most important and significant natural habitats for in-situ conservation of biological diversity, including those containing threatened species of outstanding universal value from the point of view of science or conservation

Before 2005, when the lists were combined into one list of 10, the first six stipulations were considered the criteria for cultural heritage and the ultimate four were the criteria for natural heritage.

The ten wonders of the Dutch world

If you are visiting 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 experiencing the stunning natural wonder that is the Wadden Sea, then take a good look at this list and make sure you incorporate at least one of these into your visit.

If you live here in the Netherlands, then it goes without saying that you should take the time to visit these monuments, as they represent important aspects of Dutch culture. I mean, can you really say you lived here if you haven’t visited the Wouda Pumping Station? Or the Mill Network at Kinderdijk? I didn’t think so.

Stelling van Amsterdam (Defence Line of Amsterdam)

The Defence Line of Amsterdam is a 135 km ring of fortifications around Amsterdam, meant to protect the city from invaders. The ring of 42 forts circle the city around 10-15 km from the centre and could be easily flooded to stop enemy invaders from advancing. The forts were carefully designed so they would only flood around 30 cm, too shallow for boats to pass through.

  • Date constructed: 1880-1920
  • UNESCO criteria: (ii) (iv) (v)
  • Location: Noord Holland, Utrecht

The Canal ring area of Amsterdam

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 Amsterdam 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
  • UNESCO criteria: (i) (ii) (iv)
  • Location: Amsterdam

Van Nellefabriek (Van Nelle Factory)

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. It was 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 the International Style based on constructivist architecture and, on its completion, it was described as “the most beautiful spectacle of the modern age” and “a poem in steel and glass.”


The factory was used 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
  • UNESCO criteria: (ii) (iv)
  • Location: Rotterdam

The windmills at Kinderdijk

The windmills at Kinderdijk are a group of 19 windmills that were built to keep excess water from 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
  • UNESCO criteria: (i) (ii) (iv)
  • Location: Alblasserwaard, South Holland

Rietveld Schröderhuis (Rietveld Schröder House)

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
  • UNESCO criteria: (i) (ii)
  • Location: Utrecht

Ir.D.F Woudagemaal (Wouda Pumping Station)

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


I mentioned this colossal pumping station in my article about places to visit once quarantine is over. Well, guess what? Quarantine is over and we can go outside and visit beautiful places once again! So, what are you waiting for? Go see it!

  • Date constructed: 1920
  • UNESCO criteria: (i) (ii) (iv)
  • Location: Tacozijl, De Fryske Marren

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 leaving on Schokland for more 12.000 years. Today Schokland is a popular archaeological site and museum. 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
  • UNESCO criteria: (iii) (v)
  • Location: Noordoostpolder

Droogmakerij de Beemster (Beemster Polder)

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 have 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
  • UNESCO criteria: (i) (ii) (iv)
  • Location: Beemster, Noord Holland

Historic Area of Willemstad, Inner City and Harbour

Willemstad is the capital city of Curaçao. Curaçao is an island in the Caribbean Sea and 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, the unique architecture and its large natural harbour called the Schottegat, it was designated a World Heritage Site in 1997.


  • Established: 1634
  • UNESCO criteria: (ii) (iv) (v)
  • Location: Curaçao, Caribbean

The Wadden Sea

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 habitats on the planet.

  • UNESCO criteria: (viii) (ix) (x)
  • Location: The North Sea by the Netherlands, Germany and Denmark

The prospective heritage sites in the Netherlands

So, there you have it, the ten 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? I have to say that if I could go to any of them it would probably be Willemstad, which is probably cheating since it's not actually in the Netherlands but I think we can all agree we would rather be in the Caribbean right now. 

Next week we will take a look at the prospective UNESCO Heritage sites. These are sites that have been recommended for World Heritage status but are yet to be confirmed and believe me, some of these are even more amazing than the sites we have looked at today.

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.

Read more



Leave a comment