Holland Is Not the Same as the Netherlands—Here’s What the Name Really Means

Though the names were once used interchangeably, Holland was dropped from the official branding of the Netherlands in 2020. Here’s why they were never the same thing.

What’s the difference between Holland and the Netherlands?

The De Haar Castle is in the Dutch province of Utrecht—not Holland.

Photo by Shutterstock

If you’re like me, you probably grew up thinking Holland and the Netherlands were both names for the European country famous for Gouda cheese, tulips, and wooden clogs. So when the Dutch government axed “Holland” from its tourism campaigns and all official government communications in 2020, you might have been sent, as I was, into a geographic tailspin.

Turns out that after decades of being considered interchangeable terms, Holland and the Netherlands are two very different things. The difference between Holland and the Netherlands is that the former is a province, while the latter is the name of the entire country. According to the CIA World Factbook, the Kingdom of the Netherlands (locally referred to as the Koninkrijk der Nederlanden) was formed in 1815. Of the 12 provinces of the Netherlands, Noord Holland (North Holland) and Zuid Holland (South Holland) are just two of them. So how are people mistaking the official name of the entire country for two regions?

How Holland became synonymous with the Netherlands

Blame bad branding. The Netherlands’ largest city—Amsterdam—is located in Noord Holland. Historically, that region has been the largest contributor to the nation’s wealth, so it became common practice for the Netherlands to use the region’s name as a synonym for the entire country.

Changing the perspective

Since most of the country’s 20 million tourists stop only in Amsterdam, the Netherlands dropped the nickname officially to not only encourage travelers to explore outside of the Holland region but also make its national branding more consistent for people from around the globe.

In addition to removing all references to the name Holland from government documents, the country’s tourism board reinvented its logo. Previously an orange tulip next to the word “Holland,” the new logo features a stylized tulip within the letters “NL.”
“The new style is the result of a strategy developed to more clearly show what the Netherlands has to offer to the world,” according to a statement from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The 12 provinces of the Netherlands

There are 12 provinces in the Netherlands—and North and South Holland are just two of them.

Map by Shutterstock

Okay, so why are the people called “Dutch”?

Now that we’ve settled the difference between Holland and the Netherlands, you’re probably wondering why the people of the Netherlands are referred to as Dutch. According to Dictionary.com, the Old English word for Dutch is thiod or theod, which translates to “people” or “nation.” This term was used to refer to people from both the Netherlands and Germany (which is why Germany is Deutschland in German). The term stuck, even though the country took on the name the Netherlands—which means “low-lying land”—when it became an independent nation in the 19th century. On that note, you may see the Netherlands referred to alongside Belgium and Luxembourg as one of the Low Countries, which is a nod to its location below sea level.

So, what other spots should I visit in the Netherlands?

Medieval castle Muiderslot surrounded by a moat and super green fields, and beyond that the ocean, with a row of boats docked to the left of the castle

Muiderslot is a medieval castle that was built in the northern town of Muiden in the 13th century.


As mentioned, Amsterdam is the most popular city for tourists passing through. But it’s far from the only place to get your dose of charm in the country of the Netherlands. There is a wide range of scenery and sights beyond the provinces of North and South Holland.

North Holland includes several big cities such as Haarlem, Hoorn, and Alkmaar, all of which are home to historical architecture and unforgettable food. Alkmaar is the place to taste authentic Dutch cheese—plan to have at least one meal here. Other towns up north include Edam and Naarden, as well as the traditional villages of Monnickendam, Zaanse Schans, Marken, and Volendam. These villages are excellent places to dive into the more traditional lifestyles of Dutch people throughout the ages.

In South Holland, you’ll find Rotterdam, the Hague (which is considered the heart of the Dutch political world), Leiden, Delft, and a handful of islands, including Goeree-Overflakkee and Voorne-Putten.

In the southern stretches of the country, the province of North Brabant is a region art lovers will find particularly interesting, as this is where Vincent van Gogh spent a good portion of his life. There’s a museum covering his career—the Van Gogh Village Museum—in the city of Neunun.

Got all that? Now go put your newfound knowledge to use and book a flight this spring to see Amsterdam—or somewhere else in the Netherlands, like the historic city of Utrecht or the UNESCO-listed Wadden Sea in Friesland.

This article originally appeared online in 2020; it was most recently updated on January 13, 2024, to include current information. Erika Owens contributed to the reporting of this story.

Lyndsey Matthews is the former senior commerce editor at Afar, covering travel gear, packing advice, and points and loyalty.
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