Provinces of the Netherlands
The Netherlands is divided into provinces, each with its own government led by the Governor (Commissaris van de Koningin - Comissioner by the Queen) and its provincial assemblies elected in a direct vote every four years. This administrative division is not a result of a political decision, but a consequence of the provinces long history. Each of them formed itself through the centuries as a separate entity, almost as separate country.
For a visitor Dutch provinces will disclose their own local patriotism, local customs, own history, own monuments and their own attractions. Landscape may be flat throughout the whole country, at the end we are in the "low countries", but the visitor will quickly observe that the Netherlands not by accident bears in its name several "low countries". Because more than in any country of Europe the richness of the Netherlands is in its diversity.
The province of North Holland is a part of the Dutch mainland with the islands of Texel and Noorderhaaks, of the Frisian archipelago. Landscape of North Holland is flat, green, with patches of blue water often torn by the wind from the North Sea. Amsterdam is the biggest town of the North Holland province, but its capital is Haarlem. Several old towns as Hoorn, Edam, Alkmaar, Naarden and traditional villages as Monnickendam, Marken, Volendam, and Zaanse Schaans are worthy a visit.
The province of Friesland is a part of the Dutch mainland and includes additionally the West Frisian Islands (Waddeneilanden). Leeuwarden is a capital of the province. Friesland is a region where people speak Frisian language and where old traditions of life were preserved. Beautifully preserved nature has been cut by the human activity with canals. In a frosty winter when the canals freeze, a scene of 200km long national skating race leading through eleven Frisian small towns.
The province is a part of the Dutch mainland and a few small islands in the Frisian archipelago (Rottumerplaat, Rottumeroog, Zuiderstrand, and Simonszand) with the big city as its capital – Groningen. A contrast between the modern and the tradition is more visible in Groningen province, than anywhere else. Several natural parks and areas for water sports.
Drenthe is an agricultural province, which in the Middle ages has been a free republic of farmers. Today it has also impressive forests with several of them protected as natural parks. The capital of the province is Assen. A region where fifty-two mysterious Neolithic monuments called ´hunebedden´ (dolmens) can be visited all over the province. They are older than Stonehenge and the Egyptian pyramids.
Overijssel is a mainland province to the south of Drenthe. The provincial capital is Zwolle. Very rich in the Middle Ages, today Overijssel has interesting historical monuments to see. Many of them in the old city of Kampen located on the Ijssel river, which gave the name to the province (Overijssel translates to "on the other bank of Ijssel"). A small village of Giethorn is a quintessence of the Dutch rural life. Established in 1230, built at the side of the lake Giethoorn can be visited by boat and is a one of several tourist attractions in Overijssel.
A new province created in 1988, on the land obtained by the Dutch from the areas previously covered by water. Consists of three polders: Noord-Oost Polder is connected to the mainland; East and South Flevoland is still an island on the IJsselmeer; capital - Lelystad. Flevoland is a very flat, agricultural region of the Netherlands.
With an old city of Utrecht as its capital, the central mainland province of the Netherlands. Densly populated, since thousands of years vibrant with commercial activity, the province of Utrecht has many interesting historical monuments, old castles and several nature reserve parks, which attract the visitor.
The province of Soth Holland was created in 1840 by the division of the province of Holland. It includes a mainland part and the islands of Goeree-Overflakkee, Voorne-Putten, Beijerland-Hoekse Waard, Ijsselmonde. Provincial capital - The Hague (Dutch: Den Haag) is also a seat of the Dutch parliament and government an an important center of the Dutch political life since the Middle Ages. Several interesting old cities as Delft, Leiden, Gouda, and good sea resorts with sandy beaches with Scheveningen the most known.
The east central mainland province, south of Overijssel, the province of Gelderland is the least populated and the biggest of the Dutch regions. Gelderland has several a big national parks as well as some industrial areas. Its capital Arnhem is known for the WWII battle with the Nazi Germany. An interesting modern art museum - The Kröller-Müller Museum, built in the forest near Oterloo, draws thousands of cycling visitors every year.
Zeeland takes its name from the see (in English: See land) and nowhere in the Netherlands, the water is so present. Zeeland includes a mainland part and the islands of Schouwen Duiveland, Tholen, Noord-Beveland and Sint Philipsland and has centuries of tradition of the fight with the sea. Its capital - Middelburg is one of the several small cities, which witnessed many wars throughout the centuries but today has most of its important monuments rebuilt.
South central mainland province of North Brabant is a busy with activity, crowded with traffic and businesses, but also interesting for a visitor province. Its capital - ’s-Hertogenbosch (or shorter Den Bosch) is an old town with an interesting center and several historical monuments. Another big city of Eindhoven is an important industrial center with factories of Philips (electronics) and DAF (trucks). Several smaller towns are worthy a visit, because of their interesting old architecture.
Limburg is a southeast mainland province bordering Germany and Belgium. Its capital Maastricht is a nice city, known recently for the European Treaty signed there. Limburg is one of the most interesting regions to visit. It has a varied landscape, with woods, big river – Maas, beautiful natural parks, very special in the Netherlands region of hills – Heuvelland, and several interesting small towns, castles, good museums not to mention wineries.
Overseas territories of the Netherlands
Tropical islands Aruba and Netherlands Antilles are overseas dependencies (Dutch: landen en gebiedsdelen overzee) of the Netherlands, nominally the same as that of the provinces. Today, an attractive destination of people escaping to the sun from Europe and from the United States.