Ultimate Guide to visiting Dutch UNESCO Heritage Sites

When I visit a new place I always check to see if there is a UNESCO heritage site nearby. I hope you enjoy my ultimate guide to visiting Dutch UNESCO heritage sites.

Kinderdijk Windmills by water
Kinderdijk Windmills

Dutch UNESCO Heritage Sites

There are 12 Dutch UNESCO heritage sites. I confess that I have only cover 11 as one (although officially Dutch) is Willemstad on the Caribbean island of Curaçao and not so easy to get to. Some are easy to define buildings but others stretch for many miles or cover several sites.

Kinderdijk

Chances are that if you’ve seen a picture of a series of Dutch windmills they will be at Kindedijk.  Nineteen of the Netherlands twelve hundred windmills can be seen at Kinderdijk.  There used to be more.  They harnessed the wind to pump the water off farmland and into the river and thence into the sea.  Nowadays the heavy lifting is done by electric pumps.  For me the best thing about visiting Kinderdijk was talking to a miller.  He was born on Kinderdijk, his father was miller, he is related to most of the other millers on Kinderdjk.  He lives in a mill just over the dyke from the one in which he talks to you.  His mill still turns in the wind, it is his job to keep it turning. 

Visiting Kinderdijk

You can just cycle through Kinderdijk but if you want to go into the mills then you need to pay, also included in your ticket is a boat ride alongside the mills. 

  • Kinderdijk, Nederwaard 1, Kinderdijk
  • Admission: Adult €16
  • Open: March – October Daily 9am – 5.30pm, November – December 10.30am – 4pm
  • Getting there: The best way to get there either by waterbus from Rotterdam or Dordrecht.  If you arrive by car then you will need to park in the official car park and then catch a shuttle bus. If you do arrive by car at peak times you will need to book both carpark and  Kinderdijk tickets.

Canals of Amsterdam

Well more specifically, the seventeenth century Canal Ring area of Amsterdam, the canals in the very centre of Amsterdam.  Nearest to the centre is the Singel which was once the moat around Amsterdam.  Then come the Herengracht, Keizergracht and Prinsengracht, these were built in the 17th century to provide more space for housing.  The Golden Bend on the Herengracht was the fanciest place to live. 

Bridge over canal in Amsterdam
Amsterdam Canal

Exploring the Canals of Amsterdam

You can see the Canals of Amsterdam for free.  Grab a map, put on a comfy pair of shoes and walk.  Take your camera and snap away.  On the way you will come across many inviting bars and cafés to stop and take in the view.  When you get tired you can can take a boat trip, dusk is my favourite time to do this as the lights begin twinkle.  If you are feeling brave you can hire an SuP or Pedalo, but be warned the canals are busy with motorised boat trips.

Dutch Water Defence Lines

Water is everywhere in The Netherlands and has played an integral part in its defence too. There are two parts to the Dutch Water Defence Lines, the Defence Line of Amsterdam to the north west of Amsterdam and the New Dutch Defence Line to the south.

Cyclist on straight path lined with trees in The Netherlands
Cycling in search of the Defence Line of Amsterdam

Defence Line of Amsterdam (Stelling van Amsterdam)

An engineering marvel but also a bit of an white elephant.  The Stelling van Amsterdam was commissioned in the wake of the unification of Germany, when suddenly defending herself again a newly large and powerful neighbour seemed sensible to the Netherlands.  It is a 135 kilometre (84 miles) ring of forts around Amsterdam that could if needed trigger a flooded defence ring around the capital.  The water would be no deeper than 30cm, deep enough to deter troops but not deep enough to float a boat on.  Construction took place between 1880 – 1920 by which time planes and tanks had been invented rendering the Defence Line ineffective.  What remains now are a string of forts that are usually only open on Heritage Memorial Day.  We spent a pleasant day cycling from fort to fort when we were staying at in the castle at Heemskerk.

New Dutch Water Defence Line

Different but similar to the Stelling van Amsterdam, in reality an extension of the scheme.  The new Dutch Waterline was constructed between 1815 and 1940.  It was deployed three times.  Successfully during the Franco-German War in 1870 and during World War I. On the eve on World War II once again the flood gates were opened but this time German planes flew over the submerged land.  The line runs for 85km, taking in 45 forts, 6 fortified cities and a couple of castles. As you would expect the New Dutch Waterline can be seen in many ways.  There is a cycle route along it, a museum near Utrectht and you can even stay in one of the forts.

Cycle Route New Dutch Waterline Cycle Path

Depending on how energetic you are feeling there are various options.  The Fortenland route is 34km long and takes in the most impressive forts along the route.  For those who like to click up the kilometres there is the Jan Blanken route at 75km that takes in fortified cities, locks and fortresses.  There is also a shorter 30km route on offer.

Water Line Museum

The Waterline Museum just outside Utrecht explains everything you need to know about the use of water as a weapon.  Lots of hands on displays show the engineering marvel that is the Dutch Waterline.

  • Waterline Museum, Marsdijk 2, Bunnik
  • Admission: Adults €9.50 family tickets available
  • Open: Tuesday – Sunday 10am – 5pm
Fort Everdingen

Fort Everdingen is now home to the German&Lauret brewery.  There is a tasting room with beer and some snacks on offer.  If camping is your thing, you can camp in the grounds.

  • Fort Everdingen, Noodweg 2, Everdingen
  • Open Friday noon – 6pm, Saturday 11am – 6pm, Sunday 10am – 6pm
Fort Bakkerskil

A stay at  Fort Bakkerskil is on my list of things to do, who wouldn’t want to stay in a UNESCO heritage site?!  The fort has seven rooms including two family sized ones.

Fort bij Herwijnen 

The Fort at Herwijnen is now home to Geofort.  As well as discovering the forts role as part of the Water Line, Geofort offers an in depth exploration of all things Geo science.  You can journey to the centre of the earth or go back in time to 4AD.

  • Geofort, Nieuwe Steeg 74, Herwijnen
  • Admission: Adult €14.50
  • Open: Weekends and most Dutch school holidays 11am – 5.50pm

Schokland

Schokland formerly an island, taken from what would have been the seabed
Schokland – taken from what would have been the sea bed

Schokland was the first Dutch UNESO Heritage site.  It was an island once upon a time.  In fact not so long ago.  When the Afsluitdijk was built in 1927 the Zuider Zee ceased to be a sea.  It became the IJsselmeer and drainage of the land began.  The Noordoostpolder drained first in 1942, leaving two former islands Urk and Schokland as villages.  Schokland was abandoned in the mid nineteenth century when island life became too precarious to continue.  Now you can visit a really interesting museum about island life, see inside the church, look out across fields that were once under water.  Best of all of the Cultural Teens was sitting in a land locked rowing boat pretending to row across the sea. 

Visiting Schokland

Car is really the only way to get to Schokland, we visited on our way from Friesland to Amsterdam.  Once there you can hire bike to explore the area around this way you get a real feel for how Schokland was an island once.

  • Schokland, Middelbuurt 3,  Schokland
  • Admission:Adults €8
  • Open: Tuesday – Sunday 11am – 5pm
  • July and August also open on Monday

Wouda Pumping Station

The Netherlands is full of pumping stations but the Wouda Pumping Station really is special.  It is the largest still operating steam operated pump in the world.  It can pump 4,000 cubic metres a minute, at that rate it would empty an Olympic sized swimming pool in 35 seconds.  It was built in 1920 to help drain Friesland, that was then still regularly flooded in the wintertime.

Visiting the Wouda Pumping Station

The reason we drove past the Wouda Pumping Station is because it wasn’t opened on the day that we were near it.  Getting there is best done by car.

  • Wouda Pumping Station, Gemaalweg 1, Lemmer
  • Admission: Adult €9.50
  • Open: Wednesday – Saturday 10am – 5pm

Beemster Polder

Reclaiming land from the sea is big in The Netherlands and the Beemster Polder is where it all began. In 1607 the Dutch set about draining an inland sea. Five years later 43 windmills were constantly pumping to keep the new land dry. Today the land, on average 3.5 metres below sea level, is still fertile farmland. Cycling or driving across the Beemster Polder is the perfect way to explore, you even visit on the on the Windmills.

Two windmills at Museum Mill Schermerhorn Beemster Polder UNESCO world heritage site
Schmerhorn Museum Mill

Schermerhorn Museum Mill

The Schermerhorn Museum Mill is one of the remaining eleven Beemster polder mills. We had no idea you could visit until we drove past on a self devised tour of Beemster windmills. You get to clamber around the inside and learn all about how the windmills kept the land dry. It was here that the classic Dutch landscape of farmland and windmills was first created.

  • Schermerhorn Musuem Mill, Noordervaart 2, Schermerhorn
  • Admission: Adults €6, Museum card free
  • Open: March Sunday Noon – 4pm, April – October Tuesday – Sunday 9am – 4.30pm
  • Getting there: Driving or cycling, we drove across the Beemster polder on our way from Alkmaar to Horn

Van Nelle Factory

Factories can be beautiful.  The Van Nelle factory in Rotterdam was built in the Modernist style in 1931.  No lesser person than Le Corbusier described it as “the most beautiful spectacle of the modern age”.  It is made of glass and reinforced concrete.   Coffee, tea, tobacco, chewing gum and instant pudding were produced in its light filled interior.  As a child of the 70s I am especially fond of instant pudding and need to visit for this reason alone!  

Visiting the Van Nelle Factory

A visit to the Van Nelle factory requires careful planning.  The site is now houses an assortment of media and design companies.  You can visit the site and look from outside but to get inside you need to book a weekend guided tour via the Chabot Museum.

  • Van Nelle Factory, Van Nelleweg 1, Rotterdam
  • Admission: Tours €19.50, booking essential
  • Open: Tours on Saturday and Sundays

Rietveld Schröder House

In 1924 Truus Schröder commisioned Gerrit Rietveld to design and build a new house for her in Utrecht. The result is a perfect distillation of the De Stijl design movement. Blocks of primary colours, sliding walls and a boxy asymmetrical shape that allows interior and exterior to seamlessly mix. You can only visit the Rietveld Schröder House on a tour, as the house remains as it was when it was a home.

Colonies of Benevolence

You could devote a whole holiday to visiting all of the Colonies of Benevolence, there are seven of them dotted around the Netherlands and Flanders.  What are the Colonies of Benevolence, I hear you cry.  They started in 1818 as a bold experiment to try and eliminate poverty in the Netherlands.  Tracts of land were bought, roads and houses built and work provided.  All of the colonies share a distinct landscape and architecture.  Residence at some of the Colonies was optional and others required, some of them even became prisons.  

Visiting the Colonies of Benevolence

The Colonies only became UNESCO sites in 2021 and so not all have visitor centres yet.  The Dutch colonies are in the North of the Netherlands near Drenthe and the Belgian ones just south of The Netherlands border

Trial Colony Museum (Museum de Proefkolonie)

The first colony to be established was Frederiksoord.  Fifty two farms welcomed poor people, school was compulsory, churches, shops and school followed. The Museum Proefkolonie offers the chance to explore the landscape and buildings of the colony.  Expect to as much outside as inside. 

  • Museum de Proefkolonie, Majoor Van Swietenlaan 1A, Frederiksoord
  • Admission: Adults €10
  • Open Thursday – Sunday 10am – 5pm 
National Prison Museum (Nationaal Gevangenismuseum)

Veenhuizen started life as a paupers colony but midway through the 19th century became a penal colony.  It remained a prison right up until the 1980s.  Now it is a museum looking at the history of imprisonment in the Netherlands.  You can even stay in one of the former guard houses.

Lower Germanic Limes or Frontiers of the Roman Empire

What is a Germanic Lime? Good question! Not a citrus fruit but the Latin for frontier, specifically the northern border of the Roman Empire. You could devote a whole holiday just to visiting the Lower Germanic Limes which roughly follow the Rhine from the Nijmegen on the German border to Katwijk on the North Sea. There are 102 sites including forts, aqueducts, canals and ports that date from 1 – 5AD. I was especially excited to learn of Katwijk’s importance as it was Katwijk Youth Hostel that had my first overnight stay on my epic round Netherlands cycling trip when I was 18.

Archeon Museum Park

Just to the west of Leiden is the Archoen Museum Park, which has remains dating from pre-history, Roman, Viking and medieval times. There is also a large museum devoted to Roman finds across the whole a South Holland.

  • Archoeon, Archeonlaan 1, Alphen aan den Rijn
  • Admission: Adult €24.50, Museum card free
  • Open: Winter weekend 10am – 5pm, Summer Tuesday – Sunday 10am – 5pm
  • Getting there: 15 minute walk from Alphen aan den Rijn station.

DOMunder

DOMunder involves going deep under the Dom Plein in Utrecht to discover the origins of the city. With a magic torch you uncover Roman remains and wander around the foundation pillars of St Martins Cathedral.

  • DOMunder, Domplein 9, Utrecht
  • Admission: Adults €12.50
  • Open: Daily 10am – 5pm

De Bastei

Museum Hoge Woerd

Just outside modern Utrecht is Museum Hoge Word based at the Roman fort Castellum Hoge Woerd. Most exciting of all is the ship De Meern 1, the most complete Roman river craft ever discovered in north-west Europe. I’ve never seen a Roman ship and would travel just for this. Roman bathing complex and a watchtower are also on offer.

  • Museum Hoge Woerd, Hoge Woerdplein 1, De Meern
  • Admission: free
  • Open: Tuesday – Sunday 10am – 5pm

De Bastei in Nijmegen tells the story of the oldest city in The Netherlands and the importance of the river Rhine.

  • De Bastei, Lange Baan 4, Nijmegen
  • Admission: Adults €10
  • Open: Daily 10am – 5pm

Wadden Sea

Wadden Sea sailing toward West Terschelling
Sailing across the Wadden Sea

You can find the Wadden Sea in the far north of the Netherlands where it meets both the North Sea and Germany.  A string of islands separate the North Sea from the Wadden Sea.  When the tide goes out the Wadden Sea becomes a sea of mudflats bisected by river channels.  It is a magical place.  Land and sea seem to merge seamlessly.  There are many birds.  You can visit the Wadden Islands but in the main need to leave your car behind.  One of these days I would love to spend a winter week on a Wadden Island watching the weather.  In the summer the North Sea facing beaches are among the best bucket and spade beaches in the world.  

Where to find the Dutch UNESCO Heritage Sites

Here are all the Dutch UNESCO sites mapped. Well sort of … the Waterlines and the Lower Germanic Limes are just too spread out to map. Essentially the waterlines are in an arc from the north west to south east of Amsterdam and the Limes follow the Rhine from Nijmegen to the coast.

I have yet to visit all the Dutch UNESCO sites, some have been closed on the days that our family holidays have taken us nearby and Utrecht is high on my list to visit. Which Dutch UNESCO Heritage Sites have you visited?

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