They are an integral part of the typical Dutch landscape: the historic windmills. Along with cheese, tulips and clogs, they are among the most famous symbols of Holland. There are still over 1,000 of them across the country, so it’s quite likely that you’ll come across one of these impressive structures on your bike rides through the flat countryside. In this post we’ll tell you where to find the most beautiful windmills in the Netherlands. Join us on a tour of discovery!
Why is it so interesting to visit a windmill?
A visit to a historic mill is a journey through time. You can learn a lot about the history of the Netherlands and the life of Dutch people of past centuries. Not only will you discover that windmills are fascinating and ingenious structures, but you’ll also learn what purpose they served: grinding flour is by no means the only thing they were used for! For example, there are mills in which paints, mustard, oil or spices were produced. By building sawmills in the early 17th century, the Dutch were able to build ships on a large scale, which were used for international trade and the military. And did you know that many windmills were used to pump water to drain land and keep it dry? So windmills made an important contribution to the prosperity of the Netherlands in the so-called Golden Age of the 17th century!
1. The Schiedam Jenever mills
A walk by the Schiedam windmills is an impressive experience because in Schiedam, which is very close to Rotterdam, stand the highest historic windmills in the world. They were built in the 18th century to produce Jenever, a traditional Dutch gin. The Jenever mills had to rise above the rest of the city’s buildings in order to catch enough wind. There used to be almost 40 Jenever mills in Schiedam, which must have made for a pretty impressive skyline. Seven of these are still preserved today. Our tip: visit the De Walvisch windmill. Here you can buy real mill flour and visit the Jenever Museum.
2. The Schermerhorn polder mill
In the picturesque agricultural landscape of the province of North Holland you’ll find the Schermerhorn museum windmill. It was part of a gigantic land reclamation project in the 17th century. At that time, 52 (!) mills were built to make polders, i.e. land created by draining water. Eleven of the mills are still preserved today. In the Schermerhorn museum mill you’ll learn everything about the special history of land reclamation with the help of wind power, and also you can see the mill in action. In each polder mill was a giant Archimedean screw six meters (20 ft) long. When the wind was favorable, each individual mill could easily pump 60,000 liters (15,850 gal) of water per minute (!) uphill from the polder into the canal. An impressive achievement! In the Schermerhorn museum mill you can visit almost all floors, including the apartment of the miller and his family. And from the platform you can enjoy a great view of the more than 47 square kilometer (18 sq mi) Schermerpolder.
3. Windmill Museum De Valk
De Valk windmill is a tower mill from 1743. It is the last of the original nineteen mills that used to stand on the ramparts of the city of Leiden. After the death of the last miller, the mill was turned into a museum in 1966. On the ground floor and in the annex, you can visit the former kitchen, the living rooms and the stables. The first and second floors were bedrooms, while the third floor served as storage. Milling happened on the fourth floor, at a height of 14 meters (46 ft). This area was set up for the main function of the mill: grinding grain into flour. All seven floors are accessible to visitors. The mill operates regularly, and you have a great view of downtown Leiden from the outside platform.
4. The mills of Zaanse Schans
Imagine that all you see around you is water and windmills – as far as the eye can see. This is what the area around Zaanstad, north of Amsterdam, must have looked like in the past. There were over 600 mills around 250 years ago. You could say it was the first industrial area in Western Europe. Back then, trade goods from all sorts of countries reached the Zaan region via the port of Amsterdam. Here the mills processed a remarkable number of raw materials: wood was sawn for shipbuilding, hemp was used to make paper, seeds were used to extract oil, stones were ground into pigments and cocoa beans into powder.
Most of it is gone, but you can experience a taste of this history at Zaanse Schans, a museum village with pretty, green wooden houses and 12 historic windmills on the site. You can visit most of them. The paint mill De Kat dates back to 1781 and is one of the most beautiful mills in Zaanse Schans. It is the only working paint mill in the world. In its shop you can buy color pigments that were made here. The sawmill De Gekroonde Poelenburg is also a striking sight in the landscape. Research has shown that the mill dates from 1867. It was originally in a different location, but it had to make way for a new residential area in the 1960s. At that time, it was disassembled and rebuilt at its current location. It still works perfectly and when the wind is favorable, you can see De Gekroonde Poelenburg in action.
5. Kinderdijk: The most famous windmill village in the Netherlands
Kinderdijk is a small village in the Alblasserwaard polder in the province of Zuid-Holland. And even if it only has a few hundred inhabitants, it is world famous. The reason for this is the 19 magnificent windmills dating to around 1740. They are part of a larger water management system, which includes drainage channels and catchment basins, among other things, and was designed to protect against flooding. In 1997 the mills were declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. You can experience the mills up close on a bike tour because the bike path leads right past them. And it’s worth packing your camera, because there’s hardly a more idyllic Dutch view for your vacation photos!
Would you like to see the most beautiful mills in Holland for yourself?
We’ve planned the bike tours on our trips so that you can visit historic windmills along the way. Our tips for mill fans: the round trip through North Holland, the southern tour through Holland, the trip through the green heart of Holland and the tour from Amsterdam to Bruges.