Kinderdijk: Amazing day trip from Amsterdam

Danik the Explorer

Usually when I tell people what to do and see in the Netherlands and I mention the word ‘Kinderdijk’, I usually get a confused look. Then I say hundreds of windmills in one area and their faces seem to lift. Kinderdijk is one of those places which for me symbolises the country as well as tulips, clogs and cheese. I would put a visit to the Kinderdijk when planning a trip to the Netherlands, especially when visiting the capital Amsterdam and it is so easy to do.

Netherlands, Kinderdijk, UNESCO

How to get to Kinderdijk

I usually go by car (and sometimes on the pushbike and made it a place to stop when I cycled from my house in Stevenage, UK to Amsterdam, check out my adventure here). Coming from any direction, Rotterdam, the North, the East, Belgium and the South, take the A15 highway and turn off junction 22. Go through the small town of Alblasserdam and follow the brown signs with Kinderdijk on them for a few kilometers. This will take visitors to the Kinderdijk. There is a small car park at the entrance to the area and there is a small fee. If it is a very busy day, a lot of cars park on the main road but you might be walking a few kilometers. By train from Amsterdam Central station, visitors will have to head to Rotterdam, then make another connection and then land up going on the waterbus (this is very time consuming and I wouldn’t recommend it). There are tour companies which take visitors here however I find them very pricy as the actual site of Kinderdijk is only a few euros to enter. 

Netherlands, Kinderdijk, UNESCO Netherlands, Kinderdijk, UNESCO

The lowdown on the Kinderdijk and why to visit

People who have been to Kinderdijk have told me that there is not a lot to see.  Excuse me but whilst there, especially on a nice day, there is plenty to see. Take in the landscape, the windmills, on quiet days take in the peacefulness, go for a walk around the site and then come back and tell me that there is not a lot to see. However I have been here several times and seen visitors just walk along the canal for a few hundred meters, take a few photos, see a windmill or two, do the gift shop and head off back in their cars to do the next thing on their Dutch Bucket List. I can easily spend a couple of hours at least here (a visit doesn’t require all day).

Netherlands, Kinderdijk, UNESCO

The Kinderdijk is an UNESCO World Heritage Site and lies underneath sea level. Since the first people came to the area, the first question the locals had is how to keep their feet dry! (I’m thinking where I can get food or to build a house but nope, the Dutch were more concerned about keeping their feet dry). The area near Alblasserwaard was just a bog which lies between the sea and the rivers. The first people here wanted to use the ground to try and grow food for the nearby cities in the west of the country. To do this (and get rid of the bog), dykes were raised to keep the water out. However by doing this led to another problem. Rainwater and groundwater had to be drained from the land within the dykes and into the river otherwise the land would just flood again. 

Netherlands, Kinderdijk, UNESCO

Eventually (in the 13th century) Water Board companies were set up to keep the area drained and the locals’ feet dry. A system of watercourses and ditches was used to take the water from the land to the lowest point (how low can Netherlands get?) which was in the western part of this area which is Kinderdijk. Water flows out into the river at low tide and doesn’t flood the land. This was the first real water management in the world (and this is why the Dutch are world experts on flood defences and reclaiming land back from the sea). To this very day, the process still works and the area doesn’t flood. 

Netherlands, Kinderdijk, UNESCO

After a massive flood in the 14th century (more on that in a bit), soil subsidence was becoming a problem. Power was needed to keep draining the water from the polders into the river. The Water Board companies decided the best way to deal with the problem was by using windmills. 

Netherlands, Kinderdijk, UNESCO Netherlands, Kinderdijk, UNESCO Netherlands, Kinderdijk, UNESCO
The basins serve as buggers to contain surplus water. Water in the lower basin was lifted up into the upper basin and also can be redirected back into the polder canals in time of drought. To do this, the windmills were powered up by the wind to lift up the buffers. Later on over the centuries, steam power also came into play to make the process a little bit quicker and also helped if there was no wind to power up the buffers.

Netherlands, Kinderdijk, UNESCO

Why is it called Kinderdijk?

Legend has it in the early days that the water kept coming back to try and flood the area. The soil kept subsiding, the ground level dropped even further and the river water level kept rising. On a stormy night in November 1421, a massive flood happened (named after Saint Elisabeth) and swept away the dykes protecting the polder, causing hundreds of people to drown, maybe thousands. No one has the exact figures. After the flood, survivors survey the damage. Some people saw a cradle bob up and down on the water which had a baby crying inside it. There was also a cat jumping up and down on it to keep the basket from sinking. The baby was saved and this is how the area is called Kinderdijk, which in English means Children’s Dyke.

Netherlands, Kinderdijk, UNESCO

How many windmills are there?

There are nineteen windmills in the area (there used to be twenty) and there are people still living inside them! A few of the windmills are turned into museums but most of them are living quarters for the millers who operate the windmills. 

Netherlands, Kinderdijk, UNESCO

A few tips

There is a small entrance fee I hear now to keep the maintenance of the area going but usually when I go, it is free to walk in by myself. However I also recommend going on a tour, listening and seeing what life is like inside the windmill and taking in the history. It is best to book online and this can be done here. I would try and get here early especially in the summer months to beat the crowds. One of my favourite times to come here however is at sunset. I just love checking out the sun going down behind the windmills. Make sure your camera is fully charged to take those magical photos, however, those with drones, sorry, it’s a no no! They are banned in this part of the Netherlands. Wear comfortable shoes (as there is plenty of walking involved) and bring some food and drink with you and make a picnic out of it. If this is not your way of eating, there are cafes at the main entrance but expect queues.

Netherlands, Kinderdijk, UNESCO

Final thoughts

This is one of my favourite places in the Netherlands. It may be a bit touristy because of all the windmills and backdrops but for me, this is what Netherlands is all about. I love coming here for a run or a cycle or just a nice steady walk in the sunshine. If you have never been, I would put this on the list of things to do whilst in the country. It doesn’t just have to be a day trip from Amsterdam. If you are in Rotterdam, Utrecht, Den Haag, Den Bosch, the country is so small that you can get here within a couple of hours from anywhere. Even put it down as a day trip from Brussels in nearby Belgium. It’s that close! What are you waiting for? Go!  

Kinderdijk: Amazing day trip from Amsterdam