Kinderdijk Windmills: Water Reclamation, Dutch Style

Myriad canals lined with tall, narrow row houses. Verdant fields filled with colorful tulips. Puffy pannekoeken topped with sweet, fresh berries. These may be some of the first things that come to mind when you think of Holland. But perhaps the most typically Dutch of sights to see here are windmills. At Kinderdijk, you can explore a fascinating collection of 19 antique windmills that grace the low-lying Alblasserwaard polders. The Kinderdik windmills, set at the confluence of the Lek and Noord Rivers in Zuid-Holland (South Holland), is a UNESCO World Heritage Site—and the only place in the world with so many windmills set so close together in an authentic polder landscape. It is also the only place to witness the complete history of water management in a single location.

The Alblasserwaard region is more than 10,000 years old and has been permanently inhabited for 1,000 years. Until the 13th century CE, the waters surrounding the polders drained naturally. However, with dewatering and land settling, water problems arose. That’s when Floris V, Count of Holland, ordered the establishment of water boards. A series of sluices helped drain the water until a new system of boezems (storage basins) was introduced around 1738. The Kinderdijk windmills were built between 1738-1740 to pump water from the low boezems into those that were higher. In 1868, two steam-powered pumping stations were constructed to support the windmills.

One of the pumping stations, the Wisboom, is now the Kinderdijk Visitors’ Center. The other, the Blokweer—unique because of its exterior water wheel—is today the Museum Mill, located outside the village. The remaining fully operating windmills in the Nedervaard and Overwaard water boards were, wisely, positioned to not block each other’s wind, allowing for efficient water drainage.

UNESCO named Kinderdijk a World Heritage Site in 1997 because the polder area and its dykes, boezems, mills, and pumping stations offer proof of mankind’s ingenuity in reclaiming and protecting the land. Today you can visit Kinderdijk and witness this amazing feat firsthand.

With the help of a miller, you can learn how the mills were built, maintained, and operated. Watch a series of films in the museum and Visitors’ Center for additional insight into this important component of Dutch history. Climb to the top of the museum for breathtaking views of the Kinderdijk windmills and the untamed peat landscape of the Alblasserwaard.

You can experience the quaint beauty of Kinderdijk on Vantage Cruises’ Waterways of Holland and Belgium: Tulips, Windmills and Canals cruise. Before you embark, click here to learn more about all the sights, sounds, and flavors that this region has to offer.