You may have read it as a child, or had it read to you as you lay under the covers in bed. The story was called ‘The Cat and the Cradle’ and the title sums it up nicely.
In the tale, a cradle is seen floating down a river with cat on top, jumping around to keep it balanced as it rocks from side to side.
When a man pulls in the cradle to rescue the cat, he looks inside and sees a baby sleeping peacefully. He realises then that it’s the cat that is the true rescuer.
A lovely story – and one that I had not given any thought to for more than twenty years. Not until, that is, I visited Kinderdijk in The Netherlands. Because it’s here that the story is set – according to legend – in the great flood of 1421.
It’s thought that maybe the child from this story inspired the name Kinderdijk – which translates as ‘Children’s Dyke’.
But there’s much more to Kinderdijk than just the children’s story. It is now one of the country’s most important tourist attractions because it is an excellent example of how the Dutch found ways to clear water from low-lying land.
The most striking part of Kinderdijk is the 19 windmills that are still here (and technically operational) that were part of the water management system – but there’s much more to see and do at Kinderdijk than just that.
Hydraulics were used here as early as the Middle Ages to drain the land for agriculture. And, for centuries, other innovative techniques were deployed to manage the water and allow people to live and work here.
Along with the windmills, Kinderdijk has pumping stations, dykes, reservoirs, and administrative buildings that are all significant parts of the heritage site, with plenty for visitors to discover.
What is Kinderdijk?
Kinderdijk is a neighbourhood near Rotterdam in the Netherlands that is famous for its water management – particularly its 19 historic windmills – and has been named as a World Heritage Site.
Do people live at the Kinderdijk windmills?
Yes! Most of the windmills at Kinderdijk have people living in them still – and most of them have a millers degree that lets them operate the machinery! In total, the village of Kinderdijk has a population of about 60 people.
Is it worth visiting the Kinderdijk windmills?
The Kinderdijk windmills are certainly worth the visit, and are one of the best things to see in the Netherlands. Not only are they an important part of the Dutch heritage, it’s a beautiful landscape perfect for some iconic photos.
The village of Kinderdijk is, in a sense, still just that – a village. It’s public land and you can visit it freely. Walking trails and cycle paths offer some wonderful ways to experience the landscape and take some nice photos.
However, all of the buildings are part of a single tourist attraction that you need to buy a ticket for.
I’ve got some more information soon about how to visit Kinderdijk, so the only thing I’ll say for now is that I really think it’s not worth coming all the way out here and not seeing the site properly.
If you’re not going to use a tour to visit Kinderdijk, I recommend buying your entry ticket in advance.
These days Kinderdijk is just 15 kilometres from the country’s second-largest city, Rotterdam. But it feels like stepping back in time.
Kinderdijk has been listed as one of the World Heritage Sites in the Netherlands but sadly not because of the fearless feline from ‘The Cat and the Cradle’, but because of what it shows about human ingenuity.
Why is Kinderdijk a World Heritage Site?
In the same way the cat handled the water to save the baby’s life, farmers have been handling the water here to produce food to feed the locals for centuries.
Go back a thousand years ago and the landscape in this whole area of Alblasserwaard was a huge peat bog. Useless for much except hunting and fishing.
So what makes Kinderdijk so significant, and the reason it was added to the World Heritage List, was how this useless peat bog was turned into a magnificent tract of land with fertile soil for agriculture, and room for thousands of homes.
The first thing they did to be able to use the land was build dykes around it. From as early as the 13th century, the Dutch then added ditches and canals that would lead the water away… to Kinderdijk, as it so happened. Here, they installed four sluices that let the water flow out at low tide.
This wasn’t enough, though. Over the years, it got harder to control the water, and eventually the solution that the authorities came up with was windmills!
The mills used the wind to turn the huge sails, which in turn moved machinery that would take the water from the land and move them into basins. During times of drought, the procedure could even be reversed and move water back to the farms.
For the time, they were an ingenious solution!
These days, there are 19 that are heritage-listed these days at Kinderdijk but at the height of the productivity in the eighteenth century, there were about 150 of them in the region.
In about 1950, modernity caught up with Kinderdijk and a different system of controlling the water was installed in the area. Steam-powered pumps (like the one at the D.F. Wouda Steam Pumping Station) were installed, and they now do most of the heavy lifting.
But the windmills have stayed operational, just in case. Many of them are still lived in and on a windy day the sails are let loose to cut through the air like they used to.
So, although it is this evolution of technology that put Kinderdijk on the World Heritage List, another important element is how it fit into the culture and economy of the Netherlands. Because, without this ability, who know if it would have become the great empire that it did.
Things to see at Kinderdijk
Within the official site of Kinderdijk, there are quite a few things to do that your entry ticket will give you access to. You should have enough time to see them all, and they each offer something a little different.
I’ll first mention the Visitor Centre because it’s where you’re likely to start your time here. It’s actually a (very) modern building, constructed to handle the crowds that come here.
Over three levels, there are some basic exhibitions giving you a little bit of information about Kinderdijk (although you’ll get much more within the site itself), and there’s a viewing platform on the roof so you can get a sense of the area’s layout.
The Visitor Centre also has a cafe and a gift store, so it can be a good place to have a rest at the start or the end of your visit to Kinderdijk.
Of the 19 Kinderdijk windmills, two of them are open and accessible to the public.
The Nederwaard Museum Mill, which was built in 1738, feels like a museum with historical photos, artefacts from people who once lived here, and the machinery of the windmill itself.
The Blokweer Museum Mill is an older example of a windmill, built in 1630, and has been laid out to give more of an authentic feel of how it would have been to live in a windmill, including with a small farm in the garden.
Next to the Blokweer Museum Mill, you’ll find an old barge called ‘Alles Heeft een Tijd‘ that has been restored and turned into a visitor attraction that you can board.
It’s only small so, other than the barge itself, there aren’t a lot of artefacts to see. To make good use of the space, three films are shown here about the region’s water system, the great flood in the 15th century, and the effects of climate change.
To look at a later period of Kinderdijk’s history, head into the Wisboom pumping station, built in 1868. This red brick building once had a steam engine that was eventually replaced by an electrical engine.
There’s a comprehensive exhibition inside the pumping station that includes interactive displays, stories from historical figures, viewing boxes, and even miniature windmills that you can operate yourself.
Nearby, the De Fabrick auxiliary pumping station is a much smaller building but is still worth popping into. It has an 11-minute film that explains the broader issue of water management in the Netherlands and how Kinderdijk fits into that.
Next to the De Fabrick pumping station is another small building, this one dedicated to the nature of the region.
The Bird Theatre has a delightful exhibition about the rare birds that visit Kinderdijk, including the spotted crake and the purple heron. They use the swampy reed beds as protection at various times of the year.
From the Bird Theatre, you can also look out the large windows an, with the help of a guide, perhaps spot some of the local birdlife.
The entry ticket to Kinderdijk includes two boat tours that operate on the water around the site. Water is such an important part of the Kinderdijk story, it makes sense to get up close to it and see the land from a different perspective.
The Cruiser boat tour takes about 30 minutes and does a round trip around the site, showing you different parts of the water management system and how it all fits together.
The Hopper boat tour sails a fixed route and takes you from the Middelkade jetty to the Museum Mill Nederwaard and Museum Mill Blokweer, so is a convenient way to get between some of the main attractions if you don’t want to walk it all.
From Rotterdam, it can be a little tricky to get to Kinderdijk. There is no parking directly at the site so, if you drive, you’ll need to park off-site and use the shuttle bus to get in.
There’s no simple public transport and it takes longer than expected to travel by bus. But there is the Waterbus which will get you fairly close and there is also a daily boat tour that leaves from near the Erasmus Bridge.
However, once you’re here, it’s easy to spend at least several hours looking around all the different buildings, wandering the paths along the water, and taking some photos.
One idea is to bring a picnic with you, because there are lovely spots for that. Or there are some food offerings on site, or more substantial restaurants nearby in the Kinderdijk village.
If you’re interested in taking a tour, there isn’t really a simple one from Rotterdam that includes a guide and transport unfortunately.
However, there are these tours from further afield that also include some other sights in the area, that could work out well for you:
If you want to visit Kinderdijk independently, I’ve got a bit more information here to help you plan your visit. Coming first thing in the morning, or later in the afternoon, will certainly help you avoid the crowds.
Where are the Kinderdijk windwills?
The Kinderdijk windmills are about 15 kilometres east of Rotterdam, or about 60 kilometres south of Amsterdam.
The official address is Nederwaard 1, 2961 AS Kinderdijk. You can see it on a map here.
How do you get to Kinderdijk?
If you’re driving, there is limited parking at Kinderdijk. In winter, there are spots at the site that cost €9.50 per car. The rest of the year, you need to park at the Marineweg in Alblasserdam, where the cost is €7.50 and includes a shuttle to Kinderdijk.
If you’re not using a car, the most enjoyable option from Rotterdam is the Waterbus, which takes about 30 minutes on Line 21 from Erasmus Bridge (the winter timetable does not always have a direct route).
The other public transport option (which is probably better in winter) is the Line 489 bus to Kinderdijk Molenkade, which starts from Rotterdam Kralingse Zoom and takes about 35 minutes.
When is Kinderdijk open?
Technically, the area around the Kinderdijk windmills is always open because it is public land that you can walk or cycle through. But the site’s main attractions have official opening hours.
The Kinderdijk tourist site is closed in January and February. The opening hours for the Kinderdijk site are then:
March – October: 09:00 – 17:30
November and December: 10:30 – 16:00
How much does it cost to visit Kinderdijk?
Just like the opening hours, technically there is no entry fee for the Kinderdijk area because it is public land. But you do need to buy a ticket to visit the Kinderdijk attractions. (I don’t think there’s any point coming out here and not doing that.)
The prices are slightly different between peak days (weekends, for example) and off-peak days (in the middle of the week).
On an off-peak day, it is €16 for an adult and €6 for a child aged 4-12. (Children under four are free.)
On a peak day, it is €19 for an adult and €8 for a child aged 4-12.
You can buy your ticket in advance here.
The windmills may be a Dutch cliché these days but they were critical to the success of the country when they were first introduced.
Kinderdijk is a testament to almost a millennium of human ingenuity… and one cat’s heroism.
THE BEST ACCOMMODATION IN ROTTERDAM
As you would expect in Rotterdam, there are some very cool and interesting accommodation options in the city.
For one of the best backpacker options in the whole country, check out King Kong Hostel.
Hotel Bazar has some really funky rooms and with the huge breakfast, it’s great value.
For a bit of history, you can stay in the beautifully-designed Hotel New York.
And I think the best modern luxury in the city is the stunning Mainport Design Hotel on the water.
Time Travel Turtle was a guest of Rotterdam Marketing but the opinions, over-written descriptions and bad jokes are his own.