I didn’t even know about UNESCO World Heritage Sites before I started traveling. Now I want to see them all. Kinderdijk is the first of seven that I visited in the Netherlands, and I hear it’s the most beautiful. From what I saw, I can understand why.
Kinderdijk is a collection of windmills set up outside Rotterdam to help pump water out and keep the area from flooding. There are two words which I realized I had misunderstandings of. First, I thought the Netherlands was covered in windmills to mill all the grain. Not so. The windmills are actually used not as a mill, but to pump water into dikes. That’s the second word. I always thought a dike was an embankment, like a levee, to keep water out of an area. Turns out there’s a second meaning which is an artificial canal or watercourse. The windmills all around the Netherlands basically pump water out of the rivers and into canals that divert it away so people can build on the land. Ingenious!
There’s a legend which gives Kinderdijk, or Child’s Dike, its name. Back in 1421, there was a massive flood from a tidal surge in the North Sea. A bunch of the Netherlands was underwater, except for the area where Kinderdijk is now. After the flood, someone saw a cradle floating in the water with a cat keeping it balanced and afloat. When the person inspected the cradle, they found a baby inside. Thus the dike there was named after the child. It’s the same story as The Cat and the Cradle which I read as a kid, but obviously didn’t realize the connection to Kinderdijk at the time.
The nineteen windmills in Kinderdijk were built in 1740. Some are still functioning to this day, although there are modern, more efficient water pumps also in use. A couple of the windmills have also burned down over the years and were rebuilt. The site was given UNESCO World Heritage designation in 1997. It’s one of the most popular tourist destinations in the Netherlands. It was certainly busy when I went, but not horribly so.
My Couchsurfing host brought me to the windmills on my last Sunday in Rotterdam. To get to Kinderdijk from Rotterdam, the easiest and cheapest way is by waterbus. You have to take the 202 line from the ferry terminal just south of the Erasmus Bridge. It leaves 4-5 times a day between May and October and takes a little under half an hour to get to Kinderdijk. One way is €2.73 ($3.16) using the OV chip card, which is a must if you plan to be in the Netherlands more than a couple days.
Entrance to Kinderdijk is free, although there are two attractions you can pay for. One is a boat ride along the canal for €5.50 ($6.37), and the other is two museum windmills for €8 ($9.25). My host and I opted to just get the boat ride. It’s a 25-minute ride, leaving every half an hour from the entrance of the site.
By boat, we were able to see all 19 canals up close. I believe all of them (except for those used as a museum) are homes that people live in. They are individually beautiful and unique, although they are all built in a similar pattern. The canal bends halfway down, so you get two long stretches of windmills. This is the largest collection of working windmills in Holland. Yeah, definitely a beautiful location.
After the boat ride, we walked down the path that travels between the two canals. I had fun making friends with the ducks and horses in the area. The ducks were quite accommodating with posing for some great photos.
Around 5, we made our way back to the entrance. We just missed the last waterbus back to Rotterdam, and the next bus was an hour away so we went for drinks at the local cafe (I’ve learned that cafes in the Netherlands are more like bars or beer gardens). The bus ride back was nearly an hour, a lot longer than the waterbus, but didn’t cost too much more. The only other way to get to Kinderdijk is by bicycle, and that takes a good hour from the city center.
On the suggestion of another travel blogger, I would have loved to see the windmills at sunrise or sunset. Unfortunately, the ferries don’t run at those times, and I also went near the longest day of the year when sunrise was at 5:30 a.m.! But I’ll be in the Netherlands until September, so maybe I can go back and see Kinderdijk during Golden Hour. Anyone want to join me?