Most people I talk to refer to Holland in the same way as they would to The Netherlands. They think Holland is the same as The Netherlands. Just to let you in on a little secret: this is wrong!
So what is the difference, you may ask?
Well, the difference is that The Netherlands (the kingdom as we know it nowadays) came into existence after Napoleon (1830). Between 1815 and 1830 The Kingdom of The Netherlands also included Belgium, but that is another story for another time 😉 Nowadays The Netherlands consists out of twelve provinces: Groningen, Friesland, Drenthe, Overijssel, Flevoland, Gelderland, Utrecht, North-Holland, South-Holland, Zealand, North Brabant and Limburg.
So what is Holland then?
I am glad you asked … Two of the twelve provinces in The Netherlands have the name Holland, specifically North Holland and South Holland (see also a map of The Netherlands here). The major cities (Amsterdam, Rotterdam and The Hague) are located in these two provinces. So if you have ever been to The Netherlands, the chance is big that you have also been to Holland.
Why does everyone refer to The Netherlands as Holland then?
To answer that question we need to give you a little bit of a history lesson: When the Dutch went out into the world during the Dutch Golden Age (starting in the 17th century) to establish our trading routes, most ships came from the two provinces now called North Holland and South Holland. As you might have figured out, The Netherlands did not exist at that time yet, so when you would ask the sailor where they were from they would respond with the name of their city-state (province). Most of the time the sailor response would be that he was from Holland. Ever since Holland has been an synonym for the area that would later be called The Netherlands. Of course the supporters of some of the major Dutch soccer teams (also mostly from Holland) did not help making this clearer for foreigners 😉
So now that I all know this, can I still refer to The Netherlands as Holland?
Now since there are ten other provinces with each having their own proud history, I would not recommend saying Holland when you are actually trying to refer to The Netherlands. It is just not correct and can even be seen as offensive or insulting, unless of course the person you are talking too is from one of those two provinces 😉
Still confused, maybe the following video can explain it better:
If you have any question or comments about the difference between Holland and The Netherlands, make sure you leave a comment below 🙂