You can’t go to the Netherlands without seeing windmills. Or canals. The windmills of Kinderdijk, an easy day trip from Rotterdam, are part of a classic Dutch landscape of water, dykes and wind power. Kinderdijk is also a place to learn about the long struggle between the people, their land, and the sea.
Kinderdijk, A World Heritage Site
The whole story of this part of The Netherlands is based around attempts to reclaim the land from the sea. Kinderdijk is a part of that story, with a canal and 19 windmills. These were once part of a complex system of water management.
Over the years more modern methods of managing the land and the water have developed, and windmills have gradually disappeared from the landscape. However the windmills of Kinderdijk have been retained so that visitors can learn the history of the area. Kinderdijk became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997, one of 10 UNESCO sites in the Netherlands.
Reclaiming The Land
Two of the Kinderdijk windmills are now open as museums, explaining why land reclamation was necessary and how it was managed. Because the land is fertile, this area has been inhabited for thousands of years. However the land is also flat, and the inhabitants had to find a way of stopping the sea from flooding their fields and their homes. They built canals and dikes to drain the water, but needed to control the water level in the canals and rivers. The result was a system of pumps, reservoirs and locks, all powered by windmills.
The windmills remained in use until the 20th century. At Kinderdijk the show windmills give you an idea of how a miller and his family would have lived in the 1950s. It seems to have been a self sufficient existence, with each family having a small plot of land to grow food and keep chickens.
A Walk Along The Canal
Kinderdijk isn’t just about history: it is also a place for a peaceful country walk. Admittedly it can be crowded at the start of the path (a cruise ship had just turned up when we arrived), but it gets much quieter as you walk further on. Once we got past the second windmill-museum it was just us and some cyclists. Bicycles are popular here, and we even saw a man on a penny-farthing!
The path along the canal goes through fertile peatland. The grass is full of wild flowers and there are bog irises and waterlilies. We saw nesting birds, dragonflies, and the shells of fresh water pearl mussels.
The easiest way to get to Kinderdijk from Rotterdam is to take a boat from the Erasmus Bridge (payment on board by cash). Some boats go directly to Kinderdijk, or you can take the waterbus to Ridderkerk, and then go on the local ferry across the water to Kinderdijk. Alternatively you can visit as part of a day tour from Rotterdam.
You can take your bike on the boat, or rent a bike from the souvenir shop at Kinderdijk. If you don’t want to walk or cycle, boat trips along the canal are available. There is no charge to enter the site, but you need a ticket to go in the windmill-museums.
Refreshment facilities at Kinderdijk are limited, although you can buy drinks in cans or bottles. If you want something to eat I recommend you do as I did, and take the ferry across to Ridderkerk, where you can enjoy a leisurely snack or meal at the Paviljoen. Here you can watch the river traffic going by until it is time to catch the waterbus back to Rotterdam.