The Netherlands is synonymous for its windmills, clogs, tulips, canals, cheese markets… practically everything that you would expect to find in a charming and utterly picturesque country. But, whatever image you associate with the lowlands, the first thing likely to come to mind is the windmill (molen). Such is the importance of these living monuments that there is even a National Windmill Day (11 May), and on festive occasions or national holidays molens are decked out in flowers, garlands, figures of angels or the Dutch flag. For centuries, windmills have helped the Dutch fight water shortages so it is little wonder that they were the first to develop ‘windmill technology.’ In the glory days, the Netherlands boasted more than 10,000 mills but the molen population today stands at a mere 1,000. Many of the remaining mills are open to the public and a couple have even been transformed into homes, but a word of warning, these are not museums!
If you want to spent a nice afternoon on a bike in the countryside of Amsterdam, join the Countryside Bike Tour, that will bring you to one authentic windmill, among other things
Contrary to popular belief, you don’t even have to leave Amsterdam to see a little piece of Dutch heritage up close. Like most things in a multidimensional city, everything is literally at your doorstep or just a short bike ride away. There are in fact 8 windmills at the heart of Amsterdam – this may even come as surprise to the locals – but you can only visit two. For 17th century molens, head for De 1200 Roe on Haarlemmerweg 465, De 1100 Roe on Herman Bonpad 6 or the Riekermolen located along the Amstel River. For a later example of molen artistry, try D'Admiraal on Noordhollandschkanaaldijk 21 or De Bloem on Haarlemmerweg 701, which in fact has been moved form its original location.
By now you may be wondering what happened to the other three mills but fret not, the best have been saved for last. If you are into architectural makeovers, visit de Gooyer or Fuenmolen located on Fuenenkade 7. East of Amsterdam, this windmill houses Bierbrouwerij ‘t Ij, a brewery that still sells the traditional Dutch Y-lake (Ijmeer) beer. Of all of the 8 mills, this is probably the easiest to get as it is within walking distance of the Maritime museum. If you happen to be in the city on the first Saturday of the month, you might just catch the windmill in action. The two remaining windmills are Molen van Sloten, highly popular with tourists, and de Otter, which is quite possibly Amsterdam’s best-kept secret. Fortunately, you can still visit these molens today.
Located on the outskirts of the city, the Molen van Sloten mill is situated on Akersluis 10. It is a 19th century polder draining mill accessible to the public daily between 10am and 4pm, with the exception of public holidays. Disabled and eldery people as well as children and pregnant mothers are also able to enjoy a guided tour through the mill and visit the gallery thanks to an in-built lift. You can trace the history of the mill or the life of Rembrandt and why not make a day of it – visit the neighbouring village of Sloten. What makes this mill truly extra special is that it has been officially declared a ‘house of the municipality’, which means that you can actually get married here.
Last but not least is De Otter mill. Built circa 1630, De Otter stands proud as the "heritage of Amsterdam, the instrument with which the Netherlands ruled the waves." The mill is approximately 20 minutes away from Dam Square by foot on Gillis van Ledenberchstraat 78, west of the Jordaan district. De Otter is a post-mill (paltrok) and not only is it the only wood-sawing mill of its kind still in operation but it is also the oldest. Unfortunately it is being threatened by developers who plan on knocking down history to build a block of luxury apartments or offices. Already, De Otter is having trouble operating as a proper mill because neighbouring houses are obstructing the passage of wind and although the owner is fighting tooth and nail to keep the mill, the future looks bleak. So if you really want to see a traditional molen, make sure you visit De Otter before it’s too late. Just one look at this beautiful mill and you will be blown away!