The Netherlands & Utrecht

We would love to welcome you in Utrecht, The Netherlands, during one of our Summer School editions. The Utrecht Summer School is based in the centre of the Netherlands, in the vibrant city of Utrecht. Learn more about Utrecht and its important role in the founding of the Netherlands

The Netherlands and province of Utrecht

The birth of The Netherlands as we know it today started in 1579 when the ‘Unie van Utrecht’ (Union of Utrecht) was signed. The Union, a cooperation agreement between different states and cities, is generally seen as the beginning of the Netherlands. Many wars were fought, often with a religious motive. International trade became important, especially in what is known as the Golden Age (1600-1700), which was a period of great wealth and notable achievements in arts and sciences.

The Netherlands (also known as Holland) has its name for a reason: the country is extremely flat and about a quarter of the country is below sea level. Water can be found everywhere, in the form of lakes, rivers, canals and the sea. The parts of the Netherlands below sea level would be flooded if there were no dikes, dunes and other fortifications. The city of Utrecht and most of the province of Utrecht– you might find this reassuring to know – are above sea level!

Dutch landscape - Rembrandt

With 17.5 million inhabitants and a population density of 507 people per km2, the Netherlands is, after Malta, the most densely populated country of the European Union. The Netherlands is a constitutional monarchy with two houses of parliament. International trade is the main engine of economic growth. In fact, The Netherlands is the 16th largest economy in the world and one of the ten leading exporting nations. The country’s most important trading partners are its neighbours Germany, Belgium, the UK and France.

The Dutch policies on some social issues are considered to be very liberal, for instance on abortion, drugs and marriages between two men or two women. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs provides detailed information on these and other policies and various government issues on its website:

Meet the Dutch

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 The Netherlands, which makes the Dutch generally open-minded, freedom loving and tolerant towards foreigners. This cultural diversity has made it 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.

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. The Netherlands is a ’self-service country’. The Dutch try to manage most things themselves, which makes them independent and organized. 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 progressive. Dutch society is organized in a non-hierarchical way. For example, teachers tend to be very accessible and true interlocutors for their students. This doesn’t mean they don’t appreciate their traditions such as the celebration of the King’s birthday and the feast of Saint Nicholas.


Utrecht is the Netherlands' fourth largest and most centrally located city. Utrecht is incomparable to any other place. Where else can you have a beer or a delicious meal right beside the canal? What other city has such a striking and easily recognisable landmark as the Dom Tower, which is more than 600 years old? A city with a friendly shopping heart, friendly street cafés, as well as a bubbling night life, with busy pubs and cafés, simple eateries, but also stylish restaurants and contemporary congress and meeting centres.

Utrechts' Dom Tower

Utrecht’s canals and wharves form a true attraction. No other city on the planet has as many pedestrian quayside paths. They were put there centuries ago to provide access to the cellars under buildings along the canals. Currently restaurants and boutiques occupy many of these cellars. The wharves themselves are always busy and along the water one can find many good places to eat.

With regard to museums, this city has more than its fair share to offer. Utrecht is especially proud of its unique Museum Quarter. In the Museum Quarter there are seven large museums, each one's collections closely linked with the city's past and present. Or join one of the cultural events! An example is the internationally known Holland Festival of Old Music, the Wharf Area Theatre Festival (with acts both on and off the wharves), the Festival of Modern Dance, the Spring Dance Festival and the Dutch Film Festival.

Discover Utrecht & The Netherlands

Need inspiration? On this page you can find some amazing highlights in Utrecht & The Netherlands.