Dissolved organic nitrogen (DON) dynamics in the North Sea was explored by means of long-term time series of nitrogen parameters from the Dutch national monitoring program. Generally, the data quality was good with little missing data points. Different imputation methods were used to verify the robustness of the patterns against these missing data. No long-term trends in DON concentrations were found over the sampling period (1995–2005). Inter-annual variability in the different time series showed both common and station-specific behavior. The stations could be divided into two regions, based on absolute concentrations and the dominant times scales of variability. Average DON concentrations were 11 μmol l−1 in the coastal region and 5 μmol l−1 in the open sea. Organic fractions of total dissolved nitrogen (TDN) averaged 38 and 71% in the coastal zone and open sea, respectively, but increased over time due to decreasing dissolved inorganic nitrogen (DIN) concentrations. In both regions intra-annual variability dominated over inter-annual variability, but DON variation in the open sea was markedly shifted towards shorter time scales relative to coastal stations. In the coastal zone a consistent seasonal DON cycle existed with high values in spring–summer and low values in autumn–winter. In the open sea seasonality was weak. A marked shift in the seasonality was found at the Dogger Bank, with DON accumulation towards summer and low values in winter prior to 1999, and accumulation in spring and decline throughout summer after 1999. This study clearly shows that DON is a dynamic actor in the North Sea and should be monitored systematically to enable us to understand fully the functioning of this ecosystem.