We had been planning to visit the windmills of Kinderdijk in the Netherlands for a long time. Despite it being so close (or maybe just because of it), somehow we never found the time to get there. There was always a good reason for it – too rainy, too cold, too busy… Until last week, when our boys unexpectedly had a day off from school and we found ourselves looking for something fun to do on a sunny weekday.
I’ve seen many pictures of the windmills of Kinderdijk over the years, but I never knew what the story behind them was. To start with, I never even realised they were so old…
The oldest one, the Blokker, dates from before 1540, when it was first mentioned on a map. The other 18 windmills which now form the unique Kinderdijk landscape date from 1738 – 1740. They were built as part of a drainage system in order to drain the excess water from the area into the river which subsequently discharges the water into the sea. For many centuries the Dutch windmills played an important role in the drainage and reclamation of land in the Netherlands.
If you are somewhat familiar with the history of the Netherlands, you know that almost a third of the country is below the sea level and two thirds of Holland is vulnerable to flooding. The Dutch are world-known for their water management. And at Kinderdijk you can learn about the complete history of water management, over the many centuries, in one single location.
Some interesting facts about the windmills of Kinderdijk
– Originally there were 20 windmills at Kinderdijk. Now 19 of them remain.
– Kinderdijk UNESCO World Heritage Site consists of 19 windmills, but you can only go inside two of them – Nederwaard and Blokweer. Most other windmills are used as private homes and cannot be visited.
– In the past the sails of the windmills were used as a means of communication between the millers. The position of the sails indicated if the mills should be operated or whether the millers had taken a break. But they were also used to share the news such as birth, marriage or death in a family… On festive occasions, the millers would decorate their windmills with colourful flags.
What we liked most about our family visit to Kinderdijk with kids
First of all, it’s a really nice area and you can spend a nice couple of hours walking around, bicycling, having a picnic, etc. Visiting the windmills is also a unique experience. You get to see how people used to live there in the past, the way they cooked or did their laundry, the tiny rooms they slept in or the clothes they wore…
Our boys loved exploring the interior of the windmills, learning how to do the laundry the old-fashioned way (not that they would ever offer to help with the laundry at home) and looking for some grass to feed the two goats living at the Blokweer windmill – Milly and Molly.
Our oldest told us in the evening that he didn’t expect much of the visit, but that he had a really good time. The kick scooters kept the kids busy on the way, so that helped a lot, but I think they would have enjoyed it just as much if they had to walk. Oh, and they really liked the short film at the visitor’s centre and the explanation about the history of the area. And here I was thinking that a 5 or a 7 year old couldn’t care less about history…
What left the biggest impression to me were the sails of the windmills. No words can possibly explain what it feels like to be standing next to the giant sails spinning at a high speed. It’s mesmerising and frightening at the same time. Luckily, everything in Kinderdijk is now built in such a way that you cannot accidentally get hurt by a turning sail.
Standing there you understand where the Dutch saying ‘een klap van de molen krijgen’ comes from. Literally it means ‘to get hit by a windmill’ and people use it to say that someone has a screw loose. You would definitely have more than a loose screw if you were hit by a windmill…
What you may want to know before visiting Kinderdijk
– Kinderdijk is located just 20 km East of Rotterdam and is just a bit over an hour’s drive from Amsterdam. You can get there by a water bus from Rotterdam, by car or as a part of an organised tour.
– You can visit Kinderdijk for free, but you have to pay a small fee for the entrance to the museum windmills. The ticket costs 7,5 EUR / adult (5 EUR for the kids) and it includes a short film at the visitor’s centre. You get to know a bit about the history of the area – it’s very well done and really worth it!
– The whole area around the windmills is easily accessible, so you can visit with a baby in a stroller. You can walk, rent a bike, or take a boat. Renting a bike costs about 3 EUR per hour and we saw at least two places in the village where you could rent one.
– We walked and our kids took their kick scooters which they could ride everywhere. It’s not a very long walk, about 25 to 45 minutes one-way depending on your pace and how many photo stops you make.
– If you don’t like to walk, you can take a boat – Canal Hopper – that stops at all the main sights of the area. Or you can take a regular boat – Canal Cruiser – for the scenic ride. The Cruiser goes a bit further than the Hopper, but it doesn’t stop along the way. A boat ride costs 5 EUR for adults and 3,5 EUR for the children.
– You can visit Kinderdijk in just an hour or spend half a day – the choice is yours.
– There are several small cafes with bathroom facilities at different locations in Kinderdijk. There are also several bigger restaurants in the village, where you can have lunch or dinner. Alternatively, you can reserve a picnic basket in advance if you like to or take your own picnic with you. There is a nice picnic area at Blokweer windmill.
– Photography. I took the widest lens I have (16-35mm) and it was ok to photograph the windmills from close by as it allowed me to get the whole building, but it was too wide to photograph some of the landscapes as many windmills were standing pretty far, on the other side of the canal. Next time I would take my regular lens, 24-70mm.
All in all, we had a great time in Kinderdijk and I’m really glad we finally found the time to visit. Would I go again? Absolutely! Would I come from the other side of the world for it? Just for the windmills, no. But it’s something you should really consider adding to your itinerary if you are traveling to the Netherlands. After all, this place is one of a kind!
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