How big is the Netherlands? Answered for humans!

The Netherlands has a total area of 16,040 square miles, which Dutch people express as 41,543 square kilometers. But because most people don’t have an intuitive sense of how big that is, it’s not the most useful metric. So, let me explain how big the Netherlands is in human terms. Spoiler alert: not very big.

The Netherlands’ size compared to other countries

A good place to start is by comparing the area of the Netherlands to that of other countries.

Although the Netherlands is small, it’s actually not even in the top 10 of Europe’s smallest countries. It ranks 14th, behind Vatican City, Monaco, San Marino, Liechtenstein, Malta, Andorra, Luxembourg, Montenegro, Slovenia, North Macedonia, Albania, Belgium, and Moldova. And if you want to be generous and also include Cyprus, Armenia, and Kosovo in the list of European countries, then the Netherlands ranks 17th.

Of course, the Netherlands is located right next to Belgium, so that’s a constant reminder to Dutch people that they’re not living in the smallest country. Belgium has a total area 74 percent that of the Netherlands, and the Dutch-speaking part of Belgium is only 33 percent the size of the Netherlands. Besides that, the Netherlands is part of the Benelux Union, named after Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg. Luxembourg is only 6 percent the size of the Netherlands.

Interestingly, the Netherlands is almost exactly the same size as Switzerland. Which country is bigger actually depends entirely on whether or not a few tiny overseas territories in the Dutch Caribbean are included. Denmark is 103 percent the size of the Netherlands and Estonia 108 percent.

Outside of Europe, the Netherlands can best be compared to Taiwan and Bhutan, which are 86 percent and 92 percent the size of the Netherlands respectively. And on the larger end, the Dominican Republic and Costa Rica are closest in size, 116 and 122 percent respectively.

The Netherlands’ size compared to US states

If we compare the Netherlands to US states, we find that only nine states are smaller. These are: Rhode Island (10 percent the size of the Netherlands), Delaware (16 percent), Connecticut (35 percent), New Jersey (54 percent), New Hampshire (58 percent), Vermont (60 percent), Massachusetts (66 percent), Hawaii (68 percent), and Maryland (77 percent).

All other US states are bigger than the Netherlands. If you want to know how much bigger, you can look it up in this table. (The article continues below the table, and gets even better.)

StateCompared to the Netherlands
 West Virginia1.5 times bigger
 South Carolina2 times bigger
 Maine2.2 times bigger
 Indiana2.3 times bigger
 Kentucky2.5 times bigger
 Tennessee2.6 times bigger
 Virginia2.7 times bigger
 Ohio2.8 times bigger
 Pennsylvania2.9 times bigger
 Mississippi3 times bigger
 Louisiana3.3 times bigger
 Alabama3.3 times bigger
 Arkansas3.3 times bigger
 North Carolina3.4 times bigger
 New York3.4 times bigger
 Iowa3.5 times bigger
 Illinois3.6 times bigger
 Georgia3.7 times bigger
 Wisconsin4.1 times bigger
 Florida4.1 times bigger
 Missouri4.3 times bigger
 Oklahoma4.4 times bigger
 North Dakota4.4 times bigger
 Washington4.4 times bigger
 South Dakota4.8 times bigger
 Nebraska4.8 times bigger
 Kansas5.1 times bigger
 Idaho5.2 times bigger
 Utah5.3 times bigger
 Minnesota5.4 times bigger
 Michigan6 times bigger
 Wyoming6.1 times bigger
 Oregon6.1 times bigger
 Colorado6.5 times bigger
 Nevada6.9 times bigger
 Arizona7.1 times bigger
 New Mexico7.6 times bigger
 Montana9.2 times bigger
 California10.2 times bigger
 Texas16.7 times bigger
 Alaska41.5 times bigger

The entire US is 237 times bigger than the Netherlands. And if you prefer a visual comparison between the Netherlands and individual states at the same scale, then look at the following picture. It shows the Netherlands in between the two states that are closest in size.

Measuring the Netherlands’ size in travel time

Of course, it’s interesting to compare the Netherlands to other countries and US states. But the most important question is how the Netherlands’ relatively small size is actually noticeable in everyday life.

In practical terms, it means that any location in the entire country is within driving distance of every other location. The distance between Amsterdam and the Hague, for example, is only 40 miles (64 km). Without traffic, that’s a 45-minute drive. And even if there’s heavy traffic, you can still get from one of these cities to the other in under an hour by train.

Some provincial capitals are further away, but still very close by American standards. The furthest ones are Middelburg in the southwest, Maastricht in the southeast, and Groningen in the northeast. Distances from Amsterdam to these “distant” cities range from 106 miles (171 km) to 135 miles (217 km). Without traffic, you can drive to any of them in 2 hours and 20 minutes.

Maastricht and Groningen are also the provincial capitals that are furthest away from each other. The road between them is 209 miles (336 km) long, so the drive is over 3 hours, even without traffic. In many other countries, that’s not even considered a long drive, but in the Netherlands, it’s extremely rare to drive for over 3 hours and not end up in a different country.

The route from Maastricht (south) to Groningen (north)

Did civil engineering projects make the Netherlands bigger or smaller?

Significant parts of the Netherlands are below sea level, 26 percent of the land in total. Over time, the Dutch have literally increased the amount of dry land by building dikes and other clever constructions. In fact, there’s an entire province, Flevoland, which didn’t exist a century ago. So, it’s completely accurate to say that civil engineering projects have made the Netherlands bigger.

At the same time, however, some of these projects have significantly improved travel times within the Netherlands. So, the country actually feels smaller because of them.

One great example of this is the “Afsluitdijk” (closure dike). The big lake next to Amsterdam used to be an inland sea called the “Zuiderzee.” But in the 1920s and ‘30s, the “Afsluitdijk” was built to cut it off from the sea and turn it into a lake. That’s what made it possible to reclaim enough land to establish an entirely new province. But because the “Afsluitdijk” is also a road, it connected the previously disconnected northeast of the country to the northwest, making travel much easier and faster.

Similarly, construction projects to protect the islands and peninsulas in the southwest of the Netherlands against the sea also connected them to each other. These construction projects are collectively referred to as the Delta Works.

Apart from that, the Netherlands has no mountains. And because it’s densely populated, good infrastructure is prioritized everywhere. So, every part of the country is easily accessible, which contributes to it feeling small.

Cultural consequences of the Netherlands being small

Although harder to measure, I would say that there are also two main cultural consequences of the Netherlands being a small country. I briefly want to mention those as well because I think it’s important to be aware of them.

The first one is that even though every Dutch person will readily admit that the Netherlands is a small country, this is what they’re used to and they have adjusted their expectations accordingly. So, for example, while someone in a bigger country might say that they live close to their parents because it’s only a three-hour drive, someone in the Netherlands in the same situation will experience that as living very far away.

The second consequence is that it has made the Dutch more internationally oriented. If driving for a few hours in any direction gets you into a different country, with a different culture, and a different language (the Dutch-speaking part of Belgium excepted), then you quickly realize how much you’ll miss out on if you don’t learn a second language and take an interest in other countries. And in that sense, living in a smaller country has actually given the Dutch a broader worldview.