Dutch windows

Dutch windows ()

While wandering the streets of Europe you will notice that many homes do not have front yards. Whether in a small village or a large city, buildings are often constructed right next to the sidewalk. There are many reasons for this, but essentially it comes to down economics and history. Most European villages are very old and as they grew it was cheaper to construct buildings attached to each other, eventually cart tracks through farms expanded into roads through towns. The trend has continued in modern times even as buildings are reconstructed. Connecting to utility lines, which often run under the road, is cheaper near the street, and eliminating front yards allows for larger, private back gardens.

This style of housing means that front windows are often quite close to pedestrians on the sidewalk, and at eye level. The way different places treat their front windows is an interesting glimpse into the culture of the area.

Ever wonder what it’s like on the other side of the window? Visit to see someone else’s view. The website offers wonderfully simple, almost meditative glimpses out of windows worldwide.


Walk the streets of Leiden, Rotterdam or Amsterdam and you will be hard-pressed to avoid peering into private spaces. Windows in The Netherlands are known for their lack of curtains. It is quite common in Dutch culture to make thoughtfully simple, artistically designed displays in windows to draw the eye. You may see a symmetrically arranged pair of vases, a series of perfectly spaced dog statues, or three uniformly growing plants. They practically invite you to admire the home.

Where this tradition originates is up for debate. Perhaps using curtains blocks the homeowner from keeping tabs on the street outside. This may be an old custom brought about by the Calvinist view that an honest citizen had nothing to hide. Maybe it’s simply pride and aesthetics. Regardless of the origin, artistic curtain-less Dutch windows seem to say, “here we are, come and see,” like an invitation to peek inside the open and straightforward nature intrinsic to Dutch culture.


In other parts of Europe, interior window decorations are reserved for special occasions and designed to make the house a display space. Much in the way Americans take pride in their Halloween lawn art or Christmas light displays, European windows become a mark of seasonal change.

This is especially apparent at Christmas when windows display German candle arches, Swedish paper stars, Norwegian gnomes, Belgian lace rings, and Italian nativity scenes. In recent years, windows in Scotland have been taken over during Halloween and Samhuinn (Scots-Gaelic spelling of Samhain). Black silhouettes of witches, spooky forests and cats are now commonplace around Glasgow.

If you found yourself in Poland during Corpus Christi, you would be treated to a large procession of Catholic clergy and people in traditional outfits. In preparation, windows are cleaned, then crosses, candles and icons are displayed alongside exterior floral decorations that indicate both the sacred ritual and much older celebration of summer’s beginning.


Beautiful exterior floral displays are common throughout Europe in the sunny months. Austria is renowned for the multicolored flower boxes overflowing with geraniums, petunias and ivy on balconies and windows. In Germany, window boxes change with the seasons: Bright red trailing geraniums are very popular in summer. In winter, flowers are exchanged for heathers and evergreen boughs, while spring boxes have tidy daffodils, pansies and grape hyacinths.

In many ways these flowers set a boundary. They are for passersby to see, but they also demark the public and private spaces of the home. In contrast to the Dutch invitation to peek inside a window, extravagant flower boxes keep prying eyes outside the home. In addition, the neatness and uniformity of the plants gives us a peep into the structured nature of German culture with everything in its assigned place.

This same boundary-setting can be seen in French window décor where visions of Paris display the iconic use of decorative black iron bars and railings. Popular French windows, which extend to the floor and open like a pair of doors, were first used in grandiose baroque buildings of the 17th century. French culture is not one to shy away from creating art out of the mundane, and so we get to see the practical boundaries to private spaces presented as the most beautiful railings in Europe.


As the inverse to French extravagancies, Scandinavian windows are often used for their obviously utilitarian purpose to allow light and fresh air to enter the home. The well-known minimalist style of Scandinavian design is expressed with simple boxes of succulents and herbs being popular windowsill décor. The mindset here is that windows are for plants because that is (obviously) where the sun comes in. For this reason, curtains are also obsolete in Norway and Sweden. Unlike their Dutch neighbors to the south, however, lack of curtains is not an invitation to look in – how rude! – but simply a good usage of natural light.

In another contrast, windows of Mediterranean countries will completely shutter their windows during the afternoon with wooden or rolling blinds. In Spain, specifically, you wouldn’t be amiss to wonder if the small town you’ve entered at lunchtime is completely derelict, but they are simply closed to keep the afternoon heat outside. In addition to the practical aspects, Spanish window shuttering traditions may have originated with Arabic influences on privacy and homelife during Spain’s tenure as Al-Andalus. If you return to that small town after dark, all the windows will be open and people will be out enjoying the cool night air.

author picture
Kat is a travel and lifestyle writer based in Kaiserslautern, Germany with a special interest in anything outdoorsy or ancient. She has a bachelor’s degree in geography from Penn State University and has been a travel writer for a long while. Currently, she is in the depths of an archaeology dissertation for a degree at the University of the Highlands and Islands.

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