Dutch Culture

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The Netherlands is famous for its achievements in the arts and has brought forth many famous artists: Rembrandt, Van Gogh, Mondriaan, Appel (painters) and Berlage, Koolhaas and Rietveld (architects), to name a few. There are hundreds of outstanding museums, exhibitions and festivals to visit and promising artists from all over the world still come to the Netherlands to work or study.

It is hard to say anything general about Dutch culture – or what the Dutch are like. The best thing is probably to come and find out. Some remarks often made by foreign visitors are: the Dutch in general are very modest in showing their appreciation for anything or anybody, including themselves. They are often considered very open and direct in their social interaction and can therefore seem blunt. Their views, like their policies, are often looked upon as being very progressive. This doesn’t mean they don’t appreciate their traditions such as the celebration of the Queen’s birthday and the feast of Saint Nicholas.


Dutch society is home to over 190 different nationalities living in its many cities and villages. For decades, the country’s historical ties with other parts of the world have brought people of non-Dutch origin to settle in Holland, which makes the Dutch generally open-minded, freedom loving and tolerant towards foreigners. This cultural diversity has made Holland a place where knowledge, ideas and cultures from all over the world come together. Although Dutch is the national language, the majority of the population also speaks English and very often another foreign language, such as German or French.


The Netherlands is a ’self-service country’. The Dutch try to manage most things themselves, which makes them very independent and organized. Another distinctive characteristic of the Dutch is their openness and direct manner of acting and speaking. You will notice that you can say exactly what is on your mind, as the Dutch are not easily offended. Dutch society is organized in a non-hierarchical way. For example, teachers tend to be very accessible and true interlocutors for their students. You will be on familiar terms with everybody in almost no time.


The Netherlands has two official languages: Dutch and Frisian. Frisian is spoken by approximately 440,000 people in the northern province of Friesland. Most Dutch people have a good command of English and another language like Spanish or German. Due to immigration many residents are also fluent in Turkish or Moroccan languages.

English is necessary to succeed in most higher education establishments (including the universities). Some schools and university programmes even use English as their main and only language – Dutch is not used at all. Dutch is also spoken in parts of Belgium, Suriname and the Dutch Antilles.

Dutch cuisine

The Dutch do not have a tradition of fine cooking, and hot meals are generally limited to one a day, traditionally in the evening. A typical breakfast consists of sliced bread with cheese, sliced cold meat and/or jam. Most people have sandwiches for lunch with the addition of perhaps soup, a salad or fruit. For the evening meal, potatoes and vegetables are accompanied by a serving of meat or fish. This traditional diet is also quite economical. In recent years, however, Dutch tastes have become more international and refined. You will find a large variety of products (pasta dishes, rice, curry) in the regular supermarkets, and many restaurants offer a wide range of international dishes.


Holland has a huge religious diversity: you will find churches, mosques, synagogues and Hindu, Buddhist and Sikh places of worship. Christianity has the longest tradition, with the first Christian missionaries arriving about 1600 years ago. A sizeable part of the population describes itself as non-religious, however, and Dutch churches lost much of their influence during the second half of the twentieth century. You will have plenty of opportunities to practice your own religion if you wish. Ask the student affairs office at your host institution to help you locate places of worship.

The table below shows you which religions are most common in the Netherlands.

In the past people’s religion or political beliefs determined their choice of in school, trade union, political party and even which in leisure association to join. This ‘pillaring’ in Dutch society has reduced in recent years. Church and state are separate in the Netherlands.

Population 18 years and older, by religion (2007)
Catholic 28%
Protestant 19%
Muslim 5%
Other 4%
None 44%