Religions in the Netherlands: A 2024 Guide

Sofia Van Dirk

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The Netherlands boasts a tapestry of religious beliefs that have been interwoven over the centuries. Historically, religion has played a significant role in shaping Dutch culture, traditions, and social interactions. As the country evolved, so did its religious landscape, reflecting both historical influences and the modern spirit of tolerance.

In this article, we will journey through the major religions, historical developments, and the present-day significance of faith in Dutch society.

Key Takeaways:

  • The Netherlands has a rich tapestry of religious history, from Catholicism and Protestantism to the rise of secularism.
  • Today’s Dutch religious landscape is marked by a blend of traditional faiths and newer spiritual movements.
  • The country stands as a beacon of religious tolerance, ensuring freedom and protection for all beliefs.
  • Cultural festivals and celebrations from various religions add vibrancy to Dutch life.
  • Numerous avenues, both offline and online, are available for foreigners to connect with religious communities in The Netherlands.

Major Religions in The Netherlands

The religious tapestry of The Netherlands is diverse, shaped by both historical influences and more recent waves of immigration. While the nation has seen a shift towards secularism over the past few decades, a number of religions continue to have a notable presence. Here’s a closer look at the major religions in the country:


Once the dominant faith in The Netherlands, Christianity still holds a significant place in Dutch society.

Roman Catholicism

They are predominantly practiced in the southern provinces of The Netherlands like Limburg and North Brabant. Historically, the country was a significant Roman Catholic stronghold, and many Dutch traditions and festivals have their roots in this denomination.


The Protestant Church in The Netherlands is a union of several Protestant denominations. It has a prominent presence in the northern and western regions of the country. The Reformation played a crucial role in the spread and acceptance of Protestant beliefs in The Netherlands.

Other Christian Denominations

Over time, various other Christian communities, including Orthodox Christians, Baptists, and Pentecostals, have established a presence in The Netherlands, albeit on a smaller scale.


Islam has become more visible in The Netherlands, especially with the immigration of people from countries like Turkey, Morocco, and, more recently, from various Middle Eastern nations. Mosques can be found in major cities, and Islamic cultural centers serve as community hubs for many.


Though a relatively smaller community, Buddhism has found a place in The Netherlands. With immigrants from countries like Vietnam and Thailand, as well as Dutch converts, Buddhist temples and meditation centers have become a part of the religious landscape.


Primarily brought to the country by immigrants from Suriname, the Hindu community in The Netherlands celebrates traditional festivals and maintains several temples. Their cultural influence is palpable, especially in areas with significant Surinamese populations.


The Jewish community has a long-standing history in The Netherlands, with Amsterdam once being referred to as the “Jerusalem of the West.” Despite the devastating effects of World War II, Jewish traditions, synagogues, and festivals continue to be an integral part of Dutch culture.

Other Religions and Belief Systems

The Netherlands also hosts smaller communities of Sikhs, Bahá’ís, and other religious groups. Additionally, many Dutch identify with humanist, agnostic, or secular worldviews.

Historical Overview

The religious history of The Netherlands is as intricate and multifaceted as its canals and waterways. From early pagan practices to the rise of Christianity, and further on to the age of Reformation and modern secularism, each era has left its indelible mark on the Dutch religious milieu. Let’s delve into the key milestones that have sculpted the religious framework of this nation.

Early Religious Beliefs

Before the advent of Christianity, the region now known as Various Germanic and Celtic tribes inhabited the Netherlands. These groups practiced polytheistic religions, venerating a pantheon of gods and goddesses associated with nature, war, and fertility.

Influence of the Roman Empire

With the Roman conquest around the start of the Common Era, the religious landscape began to shift. The Romans brought with them their pantheon of deities, but more crucially, the eventual spread of Christianity. By the fall of the Roman Empire, Christianity had gained a substantial foothold in the region.

The Christian Middle Ages

Throughout the Middle Ages, Roman Catholicism dominated the religious scene in The Netherlands. Monasteries, cathedrals, and churches were established, becoming centers of education, art, and culture.

The Protestant Reformation

The 16th century marked a significant turning point with the Protestant Reformation. Led by figures like Martin Luther in Germany, the movement soon spread to The Netherlands. Criticisms of the Catholic Church led to the rise of Protestant denominations, particularly Calvinism. This shift wasn’t merely religious; it had profound political and socio-economic implications, culminating in the Eighty Years’ War and the establishment of the Dutch Republic, which was predominantly Protestant.

The Age of Enlightenment and Secularism

The Enlightenment era in the 17th and 18th centuries sowed the seeds of rationalism, individualism, and secularism. While religion continued to play a role in Dutch society, there was a growing emphasis on personal belief and a separation of church and state.

20th and 21st Centuries

The last century witnessed rapid secularization, with a significant portion of the Dutch population moving away from organized religion. The influence of globalization, immigration, and changing societal values have led to a more pluralistic and secular society. However, new immigrant groups have also reintroduced and reinforced various religious practices, reflecting the ever-evolving nature of Dutch society.

Modern Religious Landscape

Let’s explore the current state of religion and how it interplays with the societal structure of this European nation.

Decline in Traditional Adherence

Over recent decades, The Netherlands has witnessed a gradual decline in strict adherence to traditional religious beliefs. Many Dutch citizens prefer a more personal, individualistic approach to spirituality, often not associated with institutionalized religion. Surveys indicate that a significant percentage of the population identifies as non-religious or atheist.

Christianity’s Contemporary Presence

Even with the noted decline, Christianity, both in its Catholic and Protestant forms, remains the largest religious group. However, church attendance and traditional practices have seen a downturn, with many churches being repurposed for secular uses or other denominations.

Islam’s Growth

With the influx of immigrants from Muslim-majority countries, Islam has established a notable presence in The Netherlands. Cities like Amsterdam, Rotterdam, and Utrecht have vibrant Muslim communities, and the call to prayer, or the adhan, is a familiar sound in many neighborhoods.

Buddhism, Hinduism, and Others

The growth of Buddhist and Hindu communities, albeit smaller in comparison to Christianity and Islam, adds to the religious diversity. These communities often revolve around cultural centers and temples where festivals, teachings, and communal gatherings take place.

Judaism’s Continued Legacy

The Jewish community, while smaller than in the pre-World War II era, remains an integral part of Dutch society. Synagogues, Jewish schools, and cultural centers keep the traditions alive and offer places of congregation and worship.

Rise of Alternative Spiritual Movements

The Netherlands, with its open-minded ethos, has also seen the emergence of alternative spiritual movements and practices. Meditation, yoga, and other holistic practices often intersect with spirituality, catering to those who seek spiritual growth outside traditional religious confines.

Interfaith Dialogue

As a testament to Dutch inclusivity, interfaith dialogues and collaborations are common. Various religious communities engage in discussions, events, and initiatives, promoting understanding and unity amidst diversity.

Religious Tolerance and Freedom

religions in the netherlands

In the midst of its complex historical and contemporary religious tapestry, The Netherlands has consistently emerged as a nation that values freedom of belief and champions the principles of tolerance and acceptance. Understanding these principles is pivotal for those looking to grasp the Dutch approach to religious diversity.

Constitutional Guarantees: The Dutch Constitution plays a foundational role in ensuring religious freedom. Article 6 expressly guarantees every individual the right to freely profess their religion or belief, either alone or in community with others, without any interference based on the principle of equality. This means that every religious group, irrespective of its size or influence, enjoys the same rights and protections.

Interfaith Relations: Historically, The Netherlands has navigated its religious divisions with a sense of pragmatism and mutual respect. This ethos has led to a society where interfaith relations are generally cordial and collaborative. Workshops, dialogues, and community initiatives often bridge the gap between different religious communities, fostering mutual understanding.

Religion in Public Life: While the Dutch society leans towards secularism, it doesn’t push religion entirely into the private sphere. Religious symbols, festivals, and customs are visible and celebrated in public life. However, there’s a prevailing belief in keeping religious ideologies separate from state matters and political decision-making.

Religious Education: In The Netherlands, religious schools are a testament to the country’s commitment to religious freedom. These institutions, whether Christian, Islamic, Jewish, or of any other denomination, receive state funding, provided they adhere to national educational standards. This ensures that religious communities can educate their children in line with their beliefs while also preparing them for modern Dutch society.

Challenges and Discussions: Like any society, The Netherlands isn’t without challenges when it comes to religious coexistence. Discussions about the place of religion in society, especially in relation to topics like integration and cultural preservation, do arise. However, these discussions are generally approached with a commitment to dialogue, understanding, and upholding the principles of freedom and tolerance.

Protection Against Discrimination: The Dutch are proactive in protecting individuals from religious discrimination. Laws and regulations are in place to ensure that no one faces prejudice based on their religious beliefs, be it in the workplace, public services, or any other domain.

Cultural Festivals and Celebrations

One of the most colorful and tangible manifestations of religious diversity in The Netherlands is the myriad of festivals and celebrations observed throughout the year. These events not only add vibrancy to Dutch life but also foster unity, as people from various backgrounds come together to participate, observe, or simply enjoy the festivities.

ReligionMajor FestivalDescription
ChristianityChristmas (Kerstmis)Celebrated with family gatherings, gift exchange, and meals.
Easter (Pasen)Observance with church services and egg hunting.
IslamEid al-Fitr (Suikerfeest)Marks the end of Ramadan with prayers and feasting.
HinduismDiwaliThe festival of lights symbolizing victory of light over darkness.
JudaismHanukkahFestival of Lights celebrated by lighting the menorah.
BuddhismVesakCommemorates the birth, enlightenment, and death of Buddha.
National (Religious Origin)St. Nicholas’ Day (Sinterklaas)Pre-Christmas tradition with gift-giving centered on St. Nicholas.

Christian Celebrations

  • Christmas (Kerstmis): Widely celebrated across the country with traditional fervor, Christmas in The Netherlands involves family gatherings, exchange of gifts, and elaborate meals. The lighting of the Christmas tree and attending midnight mass are common practices.
  • Easter (Pasen): A significant Christian holiday, it’s marked by church services, family gatherings, and the popular custom of egg hunting for children.
  • Pentecost (Pinksteren): Celebrated fifty days after Easter, it’s another significant Christian observance with church services and communal gatherings.

Islamic Celebrations

  • Eid al-Fitr (Suikerfeest): Marking the end of Ramadan, the holy month of fasting, Eid al-Fitr is celebrated with communal prayers, feasting, and giving to the less fortunate.
  • Eid al-Adha (Offerfeest): Commemorating the willingness of Ibrahim (Abraham) to sacrifice his son for God, this festival is marked by special prayers, slaughtering of livestock, and sharing meat with family and the needy.

Hindu Celebrations

Diwali: The festival of lights, Diwali, has become increasingly popular in The Netherlands, especially within the Surinamese-Hindu community. It signifies the victory of light over darkness and good over evil. Homes are decorated, lamps lit, and sweets exchanged among loved ones.

Jewish Celebrations

  • Hanukkah: Known as the Festival of Lights, Hanukkah is celebrated by lighting the menorah, playing dreidel games, and enjoying traditional foods like latkes.
  • Passover (Pesach): Observing the liberation of the Israelites from Egyptian slavery, Passover involves a special meal called the Seder, where the story is retold using symbolic foods.

Buddhist Observances

Vesak: Commemorating the birth, enlightenment, and death of Buddha, Vesak is observed with meditation, prayers, and acts of generosity.

National Celebrations with Religious Origins

St. Nicholas’ Day (Sinterklaas): On December 5th, this pre-Christmas tradition involves the figure of St. Nicholas, or Sinterklaas, bringing gifts for children. It’s one of the most anticipated events in the Dutch calendar.

Related: Interesting Things To Do in the Netherlands

ABOUT Sofia Van Dirk

Sofia van Dijk is our resident Relocation Expert at Born and raised in the Netherlands, Sofia possesses extensive knowledge of Dutch culture, local customs, and the practicalities of living in this unique country. She studied International Relations at the University of Amsterdam and spent several years working for an international relocation company before joining our team.

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