The Netherlands is a constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, located mainly in North-West Europe and with parts in the Caribbean. It is a parliamentary democratic constitutional monarchy. Mainland Netherlands borders the North Sea to the north and west, Belgium to the south, and Germany to the east, and shares maritime borders with Belgium, Germany and the United Kingdom. The capital is Amsterdam and the seat of government is The Hague. The Netherlands in its entirety is often referred to as Holland, although North and South Holland are actually only two of its twelve provinces (see terminology of "the Netherlands"). The word Dutch is used to refer to the people, the language, and anything pertaining to the Netherlands. This lexical difference between the noun and the adjective is an attribute of the English language that does not exist in the Dutch language. The adjective 'Dutch' is derived from the Diets language that was spoken in the area, which is now called Middle Dutch. The Netherlands is a geographically low-lying country, with about 25% of its area and 21% of its population located below sea level, with 50% of its land lying less than one metre above sea level. Significant land area has been gained through land reclamation and preserved through an elaborate system of polders and dikes. The BES islands, or Caribbean Netherlands, became part of the Netherlands proper after the dissolution of the Netherlands Antilles on 10 October 2010.
The size is only 80 Square Kilometres, but it is the heart of Holland. Its name is derived from Amstellerdam, indicative of the city's origin: a dam in the river Amstel. Settled as a small fishing village in the late 12th century, Amsterdam became one of the most important ports in the world during the Dutch Golden Age, a result of its innovative developments in trade. During that time, the city was the leading centre for finance and diamonds. The city is the financial and cultural capital of the Netherlands.
The Hague is the seat of the Dutch parliament, government and Royal Court (but the city is not the capital of the Netherlands which is a role set aside in the Dutch constitution for Amsterdam). Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands lives and works in The Hague. All foreign embassies and government ministries are located in the city, as well as the Hoge Raad der Nederlanden (Supreme Court), the Raad van State (Council of State) and many lobbying organisations. The Hague is also the de facto judicial capital of the United Nations, being the location of its primary judicial institutions.
The greater Rotterdam area is often known as 'Rotterdam-Rijnmond'/'Rijnmond region' (Rijnmond literally translates into "Rhine's mouth", referring to Rotterdam's location at the end of the Rhine-delta and its economic position as Europe's main port), yet other versions can be suggested for greater Rotterdam. The port of Rotterdam is the largest in Europe. From 1962 to 2004 it was the world's busiest port until surpassed by Shanghai. Rotterdam is on the banks of the river Nieuwe Maas ('New Meuse'), one of the channels in the delta formed by the Rhine and Meuse rivers. The name Rotterdam derives from a dam in the Rotte River.
Utrecht's ancient city-centre features many buildings and structures from the early Middle Ages. It has been the religious centre of the Netherlands since the eighth century. Currently it is the sea of the Archbishop of Utrecht, the most important Dutch Roman Catholic leader. Utrecht is host to Utrecht University, the largest university of the Netherlands, as well as several other institutes for higher education. Due to its central position within the country it is an important transportation hub (rail and road) in the Netherlands.
Volendam is a popular tourist attraction in the Netherlands, well-known for its old fishing boats and the traditional clothing still worn by some residents. The women's costume of Volendam, with its high, pointed bonnet, is one of the most recognizable of the Dutch traditional costumes, and is often featured on tourist postcards and posters (although there are believed to be fewer than 50 women now wearing the costume as part of their daily lives, most of them elderly). Volendam also has features a small museum about its history and clothing style, and visitors can have their pictures taken in traditional Dutch costumes.