Surface area: 41,528 km² (18.41% water)
Total population: over 16.5 million
Population density: 488 people per km2
Capital city: Amsterdam (inhabitants: 747,000 in 2010)
Government: The Hague
Official languages: Dutch, Frisian (only spoken in Friesland)
Type of government: Constitutional monarchy - parliamentary democracy
Religion: 27% Roman Catholic, 17% Protestant, 6% Muslim, 1% Hindu, 1% Buddhist
Currency: Euro
National holidays: Queen’s Day (30 April) Liberation Day (5 May)
Highest point: 323 m (Vaalserberg, Limburg)
Lowest point: 6.7 m (Nieuwerkerk aan den IJssel, Zuid-Holland)
Average temperature in July: 17.4 °C
Average temperature in January: 2.8 °C
People: With over 16.5 million people and a population density of 488 people per km2, the Netherlands is the most densely populated country of the European Union and one of the mostly densely populated countries in the world. The total size of the Netherlands is 41,500 km2. Amsterdam is the capital, but the government resides in The Hague. More than 40% of the total population live in the Randstad, the agglomeration of the cities of Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague and Utrecht.
Language: The official language is Dutch. The population of the province of Friesland has a choice between Dutch and Frisian, the only officially recognised regional language. The Netherlands also include the regional languages of West Low German and Limburgs. Inother parts of the Netherlands, people often speak a dialect besides Standard Dutch. Many Dutch people also speak German and English.
Landscape: Water dominates the Dutch landscape. Three big European rivers (Rhine, Meuse and Scheldt) reach the ocean via the Netherlands and create an important delta. 26% of the Netherlands is under sea level. During a age-long battle against the water, the Dutch constructed a water system consisting of dykes, polders and weirs. However, the Netherlands offers more variation than the familiar green, flat polder landscape with black and white cows.
Economy: The Netherlands is known as a politically stable country with a sound financial policy. The Netherlands is one of the most open economies in the world and is one of the world’s top 5 biggest exporters.
Three quarters of the professional population work in the tertiary sector, one quarter in the industrial sector and only 4 percent in agriculture. Despite these figure, the Netherlands are a big exporter of agricultural and horticultural products. Some big Dutch companies are: Shell, Unilever, Akzo Nobel, Philips, Aegon, ING Group, Rabobank, Heineken, TNT and Randstad.
Sports: The most popular sports in the Netherlands are football, hockey, tennis, cycling, golf, volleyball, korfball, handball, swimming and ice-skating. Dutch football and speed skating especially enjoy a worldwide reputation.
Orange is related to the Dutch Royal Family and represents the national identity of the Netherlands. That’s why Dutch fans dress up in orange. During some sport events the whole country turns orange and people become infected with what we like to call the ‘orange fever’.
National anthem: The Dutch National anthem is ‘Het Wilhelmus’, which consists of 15 stanzas about Prince William of Nassau, the Prince of Orange. The anthem is still played at official occasions, but most Dutch people will mainly recognise it because it is played during international football competitions.
Social ways: The Dutch are creative, open minded and pragmatic. They are also rather direct, honest and open in their dealings with others. The Dutch are known for their tolerant attitudes towards topics such as abortion, euthanasia and (soft) drug use.


ALKMAAR
Alkmaar is a municipality and a city in the Netherlands, in the province of Noord Holland. Alkmaar is well known for its traditional cheese market. For tourists, it is a popular cultural destination.
The earliest mention of the name Alkmaar is in a 10th-century document. As the village grew into a town, it was granted city rights in 1254. The oldest part of Alkmaar lies on an ancient sand bank that afforded some protection from the sea during medieval times. Even so, it is only a couple of metres above the surrounding region, which consists of some of the oldest polders in existence.
In 1573 the city successfully withstood a siege by Spanish forces under the leadership of Fernando Álvarez de Toledo, 3rd Duke of Alba. It was a turning point in the Eighty Years War and gave rise to the expression Bij Alkmaar begint de victorie ("Victory begins at Alkmaar"). The event is still celebrated every year in Alkmaar on October 8, the day the siege ended.
In 1799, during the French revolutionary wars, an Anglo-Russian expeditionary force captured the city but was ultimately defeated in the Battle of Castricum. The French victory was commemorated on the Arc de Triomphe in Paris as Alkmaer.
The North Holland Canal, opened in 1824, was dug through Alkmaar. In 1865 and 1867 the railways between Alkmaar and Den Helder and between Alkmaar and Haarlem were built respectively.
In the second half of the 20th century, Alkmaar expanded quickly with development of new neighbourhoods. On October 1, 1972, the town of Oudorp and the southern portions of Koedijk and Sint Pancras were added to the municipality of Alkmaar.
Alkmaar has many medieval buildings that are still intact, most notably the tall tower of the Grote of Sint-Laurenskerk, where many people from Alkmaar hold their wedding ceremony. The other main attraction, especially in the summer months, is Alkmaar's cheese market at the Waagplein, one of the country's most popular tourist attractions. The cheese market traditionally takes place on the first Friday in April and the last market of the season is the first Friday in September. Every Friday morning (10.00–12.30 a.m.) the Waagplein is the backdrop for this traditional cheesemarket. After the old-fashioned way of the hand clap, traders and carriers will weigh the cheeses. It is one of only four traditional Dutch cheese markets still in existence. The traditional fare of this cheese market are those cheeses made in the local area, as opposed to the well-known brands of Dutch cheeses, i.e. Edam cheese and Gouda cheese. It is not actually possible to buy cheese at the market itself, which is really only a demonstration of how this merchants' market operated in times gone by. However, the demonstration, which takes place in front of the medieval weighing house, is surrounded by many specialized stalls where it is possible to buy all kinds of cheese (and non-cheese) related products. The Waag is also home to the local tourist office and a cheese museum. Alkmaar has 399 registered rijksmonuments, of which most are situated along the city's old canals.
Alkmaar has two large theatres and a big cinema (which was originally two cinemas). A red light district is situated at the Achterdam, and Alkmaar has a nightlife scene as well which takes place in the pubs that are in front of the cheesemarket.

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