The Netherlands' name reflects its low-lying topography, with more than a quarter of its total area under sea level.
Now a constitutional monarchy, the country began its independent life as a republic in the 16th Century, during a long struggle with Hapsburg Spain, when the foundations were laid for it to become one of the world's foremost maritime trading nations.
Although traditionally among the keener advocates of the European Union, Dutch voters echoed those in France by spurning the proposed EU constitution in a 2005 referendum.
The Netherlands has produced many of the world's most famous artists from Rembrandt and Vermeer in the 17th Century to Van Gogh in the 19th and Mondrian in the 20th. It attracts visitors from across the globe.
KINGDOM OF THE NETHERLANDS: FACTS
- Capital: Amsterdam, (government) The Hague
- Area: 41,850 sq km
- Population: 17.7 million
- Languages: Dutch, also West Frisian, Papiamento, English
- Life expectancy: 79 years (men) 83 years (women)
Head of state: King Willem-Alexander
King Willem-Alexander became the first Dutch male monarch in more than a century in April 2013 when his mother Beatrix abdicated to end a 33-year reign.
The generational change in the House of Orange-Nassau gave the Netherlands a moment of celebration and pageantry at a time of recession brought on by the European economic crisis.
The much-loved Beatrix ended her reign in a nationally televised signing ceremony as thousands of orange-clad people cheered outside. Her retirement followed in the tradition of her mother and grandmother.
Prime minister: Mark Rutte
Prime Minister Mark Rutte's centre-right VVD party was the biggest winner in the Mazrch 2021 elections, enabling Rutte, who has been in power since 2010, to form his fourth coalition government.
The second biggest party is the centre-left D66 with 24 seats. Geert Wilders' far-right party loses its support.
The Dutch approach to public broadcasting is unique. Programmes are made by groups which reflect political or religious currents, or other interests. These organisations are allocated airtime on TV and radio, in line with the number of members they have.
Public radio and TV face stiff competition from commercial stations. Viewers have access to a wide range of domestic and foreign channels, thanks mainly to one of the highest cable take-up rates in Europe. Every province has at least one local public TV channel. The three national public TV stations enjoy high audience shares.
Some key dates in the history of the Netherlands:
1914-1918 - The Netherlands maintains its neutrality during World War One.
1940 - Nazi Germany invades. The Dutch Royal Family flees to England, accompanied by the Dutch cabinet. The Dutch army is overwhelmed and the Netherlands surrenders.
1944 - As Allied forces advance towards Germany, the Netherlands becomes the site of bitter fighting.
1945 - The occupation ends with the surrender of German forces in the Netherlands. The Netherlands goes on to become a charter member of the United Nations.
1948 - Benelux customs union between Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands comes into effect.
1949 - The Dutch East Indies, which had been occupied by Japan during World War One, becomes independent as Indonesia after a four-year independence struggle against Dutch colonial authorities.
1949 - The Netherlands abandons its policy of neutrality and joins Nato.
1952 - The Netherlands is a founding member of the European Coal and Steel Community, which becomes the European Economic Community five years later in 1957 with the Treaty of Rome.
1975 - Dutch colony of Surinam achieves independence. Hundreds of thousands of Surinamese emigrate to the Netherlands.
1980 - Queen Juliana abdicates; Beatrix becomes queen.
2002 - The Netherlands adopts the euro.
2013 - Queen Beatrix abdicates; her son Willem-Alexander becomes king.