Windmills used to be everywhere

Edam windmill

A gentle creak and a soft ‘whoosh’ as the sails zip past is all you hear when standing close to a windmill. These days, it’s easy to forget that a century or so ago this sound was ubiquitous. Windmills (or molens in Dutch) used to be everywhere: more than 10,000 fully operational windmills once dotted the Dutch landscape, being employed for industrial purposes. When the windmills found themselves in competition with steam and later diesel and electricity, they gradually disappeared from the Dutch landscape: around 1,200 of them remain today. Being lovingly maintained and protected, they are now world-famous icons of the Dutch landscape, especially in Old HollandOne of the best places for windmill spotting is the Zaanse Schans, a free outdoor park with an impressive collection of historical windmills.

Windmills are true all-rounders

Many people think windmills were only used to make flour out of grain, but in fact, there were many more functions. Windmills were draining the lowlands of excess water to reclaim polders, to press oil from seeds or to saw wood. One must-see windmill is De Kat, a paint mill where dyes and chalk are still ground to produce pigments for traditional paint.

Windmills started the world’s first industrial revolution

The mills that were used for sawing wood ensured a flourishing shipbuilding industry in the Zaanstreek region in Old Holland. This is where the world’s first bona fide industrial zone emerged in the 17th century. Around 1650, some 75 ships were built here each year. Even Tsar Peter the Great came over from Russia to learn how to build a ship in Zaandam!

There is a National Windmill Day

The Dutch love their windmills so much that they have even dedicated a special day to them. Every year in mid-May, the country celebrates National Windmill Day, for which windmills throughout the Netherlands are decorated with flowers, figures of angels or Dutch flags, and doors are thrown open to visitors. 

You just need to jump on a bike to see lots of them

There are many ways to enjoy a day out windmill spotting. For example, numerous bus tours take visitors to the most interesting and picturesque specimens. But one of the loveliest ways is also the most Dutch one: hire a bike and start peddling! This cycling route through the Zaanstreek region, the historical windmill paradise, takes about three hours and passes a number of must-see mills (and even a windmill museum). Or check out this Old Holland cycling route that's a little bit longer.