Lake deposits of late Saalian (MIS 6) and early Eemian (MIS 5e) age in glacially excavated basins in the central part of the Netherlands provide a high-resolution stable isotope and pollen record of the glacial-interglacial transition. Late Saalian warm conditions were interrupted by a cold dry interval at the Saalian-Eemian boundary, which we correlate to the Kattegat Stadial and Heinrich Event 11. This cold interval ties our continental climate record to that of the marine oxygen isotope-based time scale. Oxygen isotope data from this sequence indicate that the subsequent early Eemian saw a quick recovery to warm, interglacial climatic conditions, which was reached already during the pioneer phase of the vegetation. The sea transgressed the lake ∼1 kyr after the start of the Eemian and highstand was reached ∼2 kyr later. Precipitation increased just prior to transgression of the sea into the lake, causing important changes in the vegetation. Transgression of the isostatically rebounding area, once covered by the Baltic ice sheet, is of early Eemian age, and becomes younger from the former centre of the ice sheet along the Baltic Sea to its margin in the Netherlands. The highstand cannot precede the start of the Eemian as the area was emerging. Assuming that the effect of the isostatic rebound is small along the margin of the former ice sheet, and by using the Australian U/Th ages of the Eemian highstand coral reefs combined with the duration of the Eemian pollen zones derived from the annually layered lake deposits of Bispingen, it is concluded that the Eemian in the Netherlands starts at ∼131 ka. © 2005 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.