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Kinderdijk or Zaanse Schans?

You’re visiting Holland, so of course, you want to see windmills. While windmills dot the countryside all over the Netherlands, Kinderdijk and Zaanse Schans are two popular places for viewing windmills and seeing inside them.

This view, taken from across a canal, shows the water in the foreground and three mills in the background on the opposite bank. All are thatched. One is nearby, just opposite. The others are quite distance down the bank.
Windmills at Kinderdijk

I wrote about a visit to Zaanse Schans a couple of years ago. North of Amsterdam, Zaanse Schans has a collection of six windmills along the Zaan River, as well as five small museums. You can read my Zaaanse Schans article here.

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Below I’ll give you a description of Kinderdijk, along with a comparison of the two, in case you only have time for one or the other.

First, though, go read what I wrote about Zaanse Schans, then pop back here for the rest.

The windmill stands on stilts and is painted green, with a 4-sided body, slightly wider at the base than the roof. A low building next to it has a gable that rises on either side and is flat on the top. It is also made of wood and painted green.
Poelenburg windmill: a sawmill at Zaanse Schans

Kinderdijk

Kinderdijk is a UNESCO World Heritage Site because the “outstanding contribution made by the people of the Netherlands to the technology of handling water is admirably demonstrated by the installations in the Kinderdijk-Elshout area.”

In other words, what is celebrated here is a manmade environment: 19 windmills plus pumping stations and sluices, all used to create fields (called polders, which indicates land that is reclaimed from the sea) and to keep the land from flooding.

Kinderdijk or Zaanse Schans? Looking over the water, the opposite bank in liked with grey thatched octagonal windmills. In this photo, 4 are visible, with the nearest one largest.
Windmills at Kinderdijk

All of this industrious reshaping of land and water to suit humans’ needs makes for a lovely environment today. Widely-spaced windmills line the waterways. The 10 Overwaard ones, on the left as you enter, are octagonal, made of wood and covered in thatch. The 8 mills on the right are the Nederwaard row, made of brick. All were built in the mid 1700s. There is also one smaller hollow post mill called Blokweer, dating to 1630.

This kind of windmill is shaped differently than the other. The base is like a house, but with a very high, steep roof. Perched on top is the windmill, shaped a bit like a square barn with a sloped roof. This part can rotate, while the bottom part sits on the ground. the windvanes are on the right side of the upper part in this view.
Blokweer

All of the mills are still in working order, and most serve as homes to this day. A few of the families have been millers for generations. Anyone living in one of these monuments commits to maintaining it and operating it a certain number of days per year. Modern pumps (steam, then diesel, then electric) have replaced them in function, though they can still be helpful if the modern systems fail.

A closer view of one of the thatched octagonal windmills. there are 4 vanes, but only two have the sails unfurled over the vane to catch the wind.
A Kinderdijk windmill with two of the sails unfurled. It was quite a windy day when I last visited.

Inside the Kinderdijk windmills

Only a few of the mills are open to visitors at Kinderdijk, which makes for some crowds.

The Nederwaard museum mill is furnished inside as it was when a miller named Hoek operated it and lived inside it, along with his wife and 13 (!) children.

On a red-painted shelving unit, a row of simple pots: white ceramic with simple blue decorative paint. Below them, a row of enamelled metal pots, all in a gray pattern.
Crockery neatly stored on shelves in Nederwaard museum mill.

In the Overwaard museum mill, (not always open) you can learn more about how a scoop pump mill works.

The Blokweer museum mill and the yard around it looks at the life of a miller in the 1950s.

The bed is built into a wall, with a blue painted door standing open. A small ladder of just a few steps, also blue-painted, leads to the bed, which appears quite small. Under the bed are some shelves. Inside, the mattress, blanket and pillows are visible. At the foot of the bed, inside the bedstee as well, a small cradle seems to be mounted on the wall.
A bedstee (cabinet bed) inside the Blokweer museum mill gives an idea of what life was like for a miller and his family.

Also at Kinderdijk are more modern pumping stations and displays explaining how the land was created and how pumps continue to keep it dry.

The windmills are quite spread out along the waterway. Small boats ferry passengers across or from one end to the other, and the views from the water are definitely worth the boat ride.

Seen across a canal, a motor boat - blue hull, white railings and bridge - in the middle of the canal, with a windmill the bank behind. In the foreground, some bright purple wildflowers.
A boat ride offers a different view of the Kinderdijk windmills.

Visiting Kinderdijk

From Amsterdam it would be easiest to take a group or private tour. Take a look at any of the Kinderdijk tours at this link.

If you’ve rented a car, you can drive there in about an hour and a half from the center of Amsterdam (barring traffic jams). There are ways to get to Kinderdijk via public transportation from Amsterdam but none of them is straightforward and they all involve changing trains/trams more than once.

From Rotterdam Zuidplein you can take bus 190 to Kinderdijk. To get to Zuidplein, take metro D from Central Station. Alternatively, you can take the Waterbus from Erasmusbrug during the summer. The rest of the year you’d get off at Ridderkerk and catch the Driehoeksveer ferry from there.

Tickets cost €11 at the entrance or €9 through the Kinderdijk website. This includes the museums and a boat ride.

In this view we look up one of the vanes. The part of the mill that can rotate is painted black.
Blokweer museum mill at Kinderdijk

You might also enjoy this article I wrote about the Dutch and their attitude toward water: Watery Hubris.

Zaanse Schans or Kinderdijk?

Crowds

While both Zaanse Schans and Kinderdijk can get quite crowded, it’s generally busier at Kinderdijk. Since only a few of the mills are open to visitors, you may have to wait in line to enter, as I did, after busloads of tourists.

In both places there are ways to avoid the worst of the crowds: go early in the morning, or go straight to the furthest end where the crowds will be thinner. Towards the end of the day you’ll get fewer people in general and also have better light for your photos.

The backs of a group of tourists, with the brick wall of the windmill beyond them.
Waiting behind a busload of tourists to see inside the Nederwaard museum mill at Kinderdijk.

Number of windmills and authenticity

Kinderdijk is special because of the sheer number of windmills (19) and the fact that they are still in their original place and used for their original function. Zaanse Schans, on the other hand, has only six windmills, and only two were originally there.

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Windmill functions

On the other hand, at Zaanse Schans you’ll see more variety: a mustard mill, two sawmills, a paint mill, and two oil mills (flaxseed and peanut). Each has a different architecture as well and their age varies too. At Kinderdijk, the mills all do the same thing: move water off lower land into higher bodies of water.

At the same time, you will only learn about land reclamation and water control – an extremely serious topic in a country that is largely below sea level – at Kinderdijk, not at Zaanse Schans.

In both places, the mills are in working order, and you’ll be able to see them in operation if you visit on a weekend and there’s enough wind.

KInderdijk or Zaanse Schans? Three windmills are visible in this picture along a body of water. The nearest one seems to be six-sided and is perched on top of the roof of a house (but I think it's a workshop/factory). All are made of wood, and the house is on stilts above the water.
Zaanse Schans windmills

Seeing inside windmills

Assuming you visit when they’re open, you can enter more windmills at Zaanse Schans than at Kinderdijk. Both complexes have other elements to see: little crafts museums and historical buildings at Zaanse Schans, information on water control at Kinderdijk.

Locations

Kinderdijk is about two hours south of Amsterdam and one hour from Rotterdam. Zaanse Schans is about a half hour north of Amsterdam, making it an easier, quicker trip if you’re visiting Amsterdam.

If you’re going to spend time in Amsterdam, check out my series on museums in Amsterdam before you go!

So, will it be Kinderdijk or Zaanse Schans?

Despite the fact that Kinderdijk is UNESCO-listed and Zaanse Schans is not, I prefer Zaanse Schans. While both places are pleasant to visit and offer pretty views, I like the variety at Zaanse Schans, and the opportunity to enter more windmills (when they’re open) and even see them in operation.

Pinnable image
Text: Kinderdijk or Zaanse Schans? Which to visit?
Images: Above, the row of windmills in Kinderdijk. Below, the view of three windmills at Zaanse Schans.
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Have you been to either one or both? Tell me about your experience in the comments below!

22 Comments

  • Philip Verghese Ariel

    June 23, 2020 at 4:16 pm

    Hi Rachel,
    What a joy to be here today!
    Glad that we met today at Linkedin. 🙂
    From there I am here. Wonderful and lovely share.
    Indeed these eye-catching scenes made my day!
    Keep sharing.
    All the best.
    ~ Phil

    Reply
  • Edyta

    June 26, 2020 at 2:12 pm

    Nice comparison, good job. Been to both many times, and I agree that Zaanse Schans is a bit more interesting. I used to work for the shipyard located right by the Kinderdijk mills and I could admire them every single day, but that does not influence my choice. I think there is more to do in Zaanse Schans. Still, Kinderdijk is a nice place to visit, especially if you are staying in Rotterdam. It is also nice that you can travel there with the affordable ferry

    Reply
  • Renata

    June 27, 2020 at 6:38 pm

    Now this is such a helpful post – you are really explaining the differences so well! From your pix, however, both places look really beautiful and I would have thought that it’s calmer to visit Kinderdijk. However, I guess you’re right that the variety at the Zaanse Schans ist greater. Hm, maybe I just should visit both – I don’t live that far away, after all.

    Reply
    • Rachel Heller

      June 27, 2020 at 9:04 pm

      Kinderdijk has a calm look to it and a pretty environment to walk through, but then so does Zaanse Schans. I’m not happy in crowds, and I’ve experienced both on crowded days. I guess it was easier to get away from the crowds at Zaanse Schans by just heading for the furthest windmill first.

      Reply
  • Sandy N Vyjay

    June 28, 2020 at 3:23 pm

    The windmills standing by the waterways in Kinderdijk evoke scenes from a fairy tale. They look so beautiful. But yes, apart from their cosmetic value, they stand as testimony to the ingenuity and resourcefulness of the people. I can understand why you prefer Schans over Kinderdijk, as that is where one can really appreciate and enjoy the windmills in a more leisurely and relaxed manner with lesser crowds.

    Reply
  • Arnav Mathur

    June 28, 2020 at 5:00 pm

    The first time i came across the names of these town, when i was editing a gust post about a 7 Day Netherlands Itinerary to go live on my blog. The windmills caught my interest, but want able to read much in detail at that time. Really enjoyed going through this, and both Kinderdijk and Zaanse Schans are on my radar. Your tip about more varieties being there at Zaanse Schans is highly appreciated.

    Reply
  • Kendra

    June 29, 2020 at 1:32 am

    How lovely! I have never heard of either Kinderdijk or Zaanse Schans, but I’ve always wanted to go to Holland. Now I can’t go without seeing one of these places! I appreciate your comparison, I think I’d go to Zaane Schans with your recommendation!

    Reply
  • Freya

    June 29, 2020 at 7:29 am

    Both look wonderful, but I think I’d have to go for less crowded Zaanse Schans over Kinderdijk as well. Being able to see different varieties of mills at Zaanse Schans sounds really interesting. Lovely photos by the way, it seems you had the perfect weather for your visit.

    Reply
      • Rachel Heller

        July 2, 2020 at 7:06 pm

        You can go inside a couple of the windmills at Kinderdijk too. But if you want to see how different ones work for different purposes, then yes, Zaanse Schans is the better choice. Check their website for when they’ll all be open, since they’re all independently-run.

        Reply
  • Jeff & Crystal Bryant

    June 30, 2020 at 4:24 pm

    What a fun walk through the windmills. We have never visited this region, but I believe we would lean toward the Kinderdijk windmills. It would be so much fun to explore them inside and out. Of course, that boat tour would be an additional vantage point to help get a complete picture.

    Reply
  • Sarah

    July 1, 2020 at 12:08 pm

    Interesting post. I’ve been to the Kinderdijk windmills and loved exploring there. Didn’t know about the ones at Zaanse Schans. I’m planning a trip early next year to Amsterdam, so as not too far away I may pay a visit.

    Reply
  • Archana Singh

    July 1, 2020 at 7:24 pm

    I spent two weeks in Jan-Feb this year in Amsterdam. Loved the city and took a day off to visit Zanse Schans. Couldn’t stop shooting the Kinderdijk windmills and tasting the local cheese. Oh I miss those days!

    Reply

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