What's the Difference Between Holland and the Netherlands?

If you watched the women’s World Cup this past weekend, or happen to have been thinking about gouda cheese or tulips or Northern European geography, the Netherlands is probably on your radar right now. But while the World Cup called it the Netherlands, then why is the government’s travel website…Holland.com? Why do people seem to use the terms interchangeably? Is there a difference between the two? Let’s get into it.

First things first: the country itself is called the Netherlands, and it’s part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. The Kingdom of the Netherlands was founded in 1579 as a union of various provinces and cities that resisted Spanish rule. One of those provinces—and in fact, the most dominant one—was Holland.

Now, the Netherlands is divided up into 12 provinces, two of which include North (Noord) Holland and South (Zuid) Holland. The most famous cities in the Netherlands—Amsterdam, Rotterdam, and The Hague—are all in the Hollands, which may be why people still get the two terms confused. People who live in the Hollands are called Hollanders, and people who live in the Netherlands (including the Hollands) are all called Dutch. Also: they speak Dutch, not Netherlandese or anything like that.

The Kingdom of the Netherlands also includes the islands Aruba, Curaçao and Sint Maartin, all of which can be found in the Caribbean. (Sint Maartin is actually the southern half of the small island of Saint Martin—the northern half is French.) These three islands are self-governing countries within the Kingdom. The Caribbean islands Bonaire, Sint Eustatius, and Saba, on the other hand, are not self-governing like their neighbors, and are instead just considered cities within the Netherlands itself. Their inhabitants are considered Dutch citizens and vote in Dutch elections, just like any Hollander would.

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What's the Difference Between Great Britain, England, and the United Kingdom?

Whip out your maps, folks. Let’s start with pure geography: Great Britain (also known as Britain) is an island in between the North Sea and the English Channel. Ireland is an island to the west of Britain. Both Great Britain and Ireland are a part of the British Isles, a group of over 6,000 islands off the northwestern coast of Europe.

Things get complicated when we start talking politics. The island of Great Britain is made up of the countries of England, Wales, and Scotland. The island of Ireland is made up of Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Two islands: three countries on one, two on the other. Got it? Let's move on.

The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, or the United Kingdom for short, is a sovereign state made up of the countries of England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland (so: all countries on the island of Great Britain, plus Northern Ireland from the island of Ireland). All of the countries in the United Kingdom are run by Parliament and are bound to the crown, though the Parliament delegates some decision-making to the Scottish Parliament, the Assemblies of Wales, Northern Ireland, and London, or to local authorities for “devolved matters” such as education and housing. 

The Republic of Ireland, however, operates as a separate sovereign state and has its own relationships with the European Union, the United Nations, and other international organizations. It gained independence from what was once the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland (now the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland) in 1922. 

Here’s a handy map from Encyclopedia Britannica to help illustrate all of this: 


So, in sort: Great Britain (or Britain) is an island; England is a country on the island of Great Britain; and the United Kingdom is a sovereign state made up of the countries of Great Britain—England, Wales, and Scotland—and Northern Ireland. 

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