Nehalennia boat cruise
From Rotterdam to Kinderdijk and back on a vintage excursion boat
From: Rotterdam, Netherlands
K, a village near Rotterdam, is home to the largest collection of windmills in the Netherlands.
Nineteen windmills--mostly from the mid-1700s--stand in neat rows along an L-shaped drainage canal, where they pumped water from the surrounding polders (areas of land below sea level that are protected by dikes) until steam and electric pumps offered more reliable protection against flooding.
Since 1997, Kinderdijk has been on UNESCO's World Heritage List, and the windmills in their park-like setting are one of South Holland's most popular tourist attractions.
Although you can get to Kinderdijk by car, public bus, guided tour, or fast ferry from Rotterdam, there's an even more pleasant way to reach the windmills: on the Nehalennia, an old-fashioned excursion boat that cruises between Rotterdam and Kinderdijk for most of the year.
You'll board Nehalennia in central Rotterdam, spend an hour or so cruising up the Nieuwe Maas River to Kinderdijk, disembark at the windmills for about 60 minutes of independent sightseeing, then return to the city on the boat.
The excursion takes three hours (give or take a few minutes), and it offers a chance to see life along the scenic river--including barge and boat traffic--as you go to and from Kinderdijk.
From the end of March until late October, Nehalennia cruises daily except Monday, with departures at 12 p.m. The boat returns to the pier in Rotterdam four hours later.
Nehalennia cruises to Kinderdijk leave from, the quay below the flag-lined promenade along central Rotterdam's waterfront.
Keep an eye out for the ticket booth, which is next to the water about 250 meters or 275 yards east of the Erasmus Bridge.
Tickets and reservations:
It's a good idea to book ahead, especially on weekends or during high season. Phone +31-6-55826463 (international) 06-55826463 (in the Netherlands), visit the ticket booth on Bompjeskade or the Rotterdam Tourist Office, or e-mail [email protected].
For more information, including ticket prices and schedules, see the boat's multilingual Web site.
Food and drink:
Nehalennia has a snack bar with reasonable prices. A waitress makes the rounds of the tables once or twice during the cruise, and small items (such as drinks and ice-cream bars) are available at the counter inside the boat.
You can also buy food at Kinderdijk if you get hungry while ashore.
Returning by bus and train:
If you miss the boat's return trip, or if you decide to stay on for a few hours at Kinderdijk, you can get back to Rotterdam on public bus No. 90. (You'll see a bus stop near Kinderdijk's entrance; take the bus that's headed west toward Rotterdam.)
After a 34-minute ride, you'll reach the Rotterdam Lombardijen railroad station on the south side of the river, where trains run frequently to the Rotterdam city center and beyond.
For more information, use 9292.nl's Door-to-Door Journey Planner, selecting "Attraction: Kinderdijk" as your departure point and any Rotterdam train station as your destination.
Returning by Waterbus:
A more scenic option is the Waterbus regional fast ferry. Routes and timetables vary by season. Try this link for the simplest connection. (You'll be departing from Kinderdijk Molendade and arriving at Rotterdam Erasmusbrug.)
1. Departure from Rotterdam:
Nehalennia arrives and departs from De Boompjskade, a quay about 250 meters (.16 mile) east of the Erasmusbrug or Erasmus Bridge.
You can reserve ahead and buy tickets at Nehallenia's booth on De Boompeskade.
The ticket agent also helps to tie up the boat and position the gangway, which you can see lying on the pier to the left of the booth.
After you've boarded the boat, head to the upper deck in good weather and grab a table near the railing. (In our opinion, the best views are on the port side on the way to Kinderdijk; on the return trip, you'll see the same views from the starboard side.)
If it's cold or rainy, you can retreat to the sheltered portion of the upper deck or to the larger saloon on Nehalennia's lower or main deck.
As Nehalennia cruises up the Nieuwe Maas River from central Rotterdam, it passes Het Witte Huis, Europe's oldest skyscraper (on the right side of the photo above).
"The White House" is a ten-story office building that stands on 900 pilings. It was finished in 1898 and is one of the few buildings in central Rotterdam to survive the German bombings of May, 1940.
During the outbound leg of our cruise to Kinderdijk, a No.1 Waterbus passed the Nehalennia just as we reached the Van Brienenoordbrug, a bridge near the city's outskirts.
The bridge carries traffic for the A16 motorway, which is the eastern segment of the ring road around Rotterdam.
Four playful examples of Rotterdam's modern architecture are on the north shore of the river as Nehalennia cruises beyond the Van Brienenoord Bridge.
As Nehalennia continues upriver, bridges are replaced by car ferries that connect villages on both sides of the Nieuwe Maas.
2. A visit to Kinderdijk:
About an hour after leaving Rotterdam, Nehalennia ties up at a pier next to the Kinderdijk pumping station. Passengers have between 90 minutes and two hours to explore the windmill area, which is just beyond the footbridge and the grass-covered dike.
Just past the pumping station is a building with toilets, food, and a souvenir shop. Cars aren't allowed beyond this point, but bicycles are, so observe the lane lines on the path.
Admission is free at Kinderdijk, although you'll pay small fees if you ride the canal boat and go into the working windmill.
A map of Kinderdijk shows the layout of the canal and its 19 windmills. (Nehalennia's pier is at the bottom of the map, on the Nieuwe Maas river.)
Signs explain the history and working of the Kinderdijk windmills and drainage system. (Most signs have both Dutch and English text.)
In the days before modern communications, windmill operators who served the public (such as millers who turned grain into flour) would position their windmills' blades to indicate whether the mills were working or offline.
As you continue down the path, you'll see a wide canal to your left. This is the drainage canal for the surrounding polders, which are below sea level. Excess water from the canal is pumped into the Nieuwe Maas River near the entrance to the park.
If you're unable or unwilling to walk the short distance to the windmills, a small sightseeing boat will take you up the canal and back for a few euros.
Kinderdijk has 19 windmills along its L-shaped canal. During July and August, at least one windmill is working every Saturday. (If you don't mind seeing the windmills at rest, you can visit any day of the week year-round.)
This photo shows the design of a typical windmill at Kinderdijk. The main structure (which contains the mill-keeper's living quarters) is made of brick, with the windmill mechanism rotating on top of the structure to face the wind. The blades have retractable sails.
If you're curious to see what a windmill looks like inside, you can visit a working windmill from mid-March until November 1. The windmill is open daily, and the mill-keeper will show you around.
A footbridge leads to the working windmill, where you'll pay a small fee for admission.
If you're pressed for time, skip the working windmill and continue along the footpath, enjoying the view of windmills on both sides of the canal.
Different views of windmills are at every turn. Here, two windmills are framed by tall grass.
During our visit to Kinderdijk, the canal sightseeing boat passed us as we walked back toward the river and Nehalennia.
3. Return to Rotterdam:
Nehalennia was waiting for us at Kinderdijk's riverside pier. (If we'd missed the boat, we could have returned to Rotterdam by regional fast ferry or bus and train; see page 2 for details.)
On the way back to Rotterdam from Kinderdijk, we again chose a table on Nehalennia's top deck. (Many of our fellow passengers had gone inside to avoid the windy, damp weather.)
We had a snack on the return trip, served at our table at a surprisingly reasonable cost.
After a leisurely hour on the river, we arrived back at De Boompjeskade in central Rotterdam.
In this final picture of Nehalennia in central Rotterdam, you can see the ship's layout: The main saloon is on the lower deck, with the upper deck consisting of two parts: an enclosed lounge with snack bar, and an open rear deck with tables.
Seating is on a first-come, first-served basis, so arrive early and be at the head of the boarding line on sunny days or weekends.