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Kurpfälzsiches Museum Heidelberg

Kurpfälzsiches Museum Heidelberg

Our city museum in Heidelberg has some fascinating exhibits, and I think it’s a shame I never see it in those ‘what to see in Heidelberg’ posts. It does an excellent job of putting the Heidelberg area in historical context – highlighting the extensive Roman settlement, and some of the personalities that lived in our glorious Heidelberg Castle. I highly recommend you make time for a half-day at the museum before you see all the sights of Heidelberg so you get the most out of your visit to my beautiful little town.

Kurpfälzisches – what does that mean?

The region that we now call Germany was once a patchwork, and I mean a very detailed patchwork, of duchies, free states, free cities, and bishoprics that shifted and changed allegiance every time someone powerful, somewhere, died. The term ‘Kurpfalz’ is translated to Elector Palatinate in English. From roughly 1200s through to around the early 1800s, the Holy Roman Emperor was chosen by a group of powerful princes, as well as a few assorted bishops – the number of which shifted over time, but somewhere from seven to ten people. The Kurpfalz refers to a region that covered up to the middle Rhine and Moselle valleys, parts of eastern France, and south down to around Karlsruhe, though the borders changed over time. It was one of the most important electoral regions, and Heidelberg was the capitol for much of this 600 year period. The term ‘Kurpfälzisches’ is the adjective form of this same word, because it’s describing the museum, so in English it would be Museum of the Elector Palatinate Region, essentially.

An overview of the exhibitions at the museum. Turn on the captions and set to auto-translate English to get a sense of what he’s saying

Museum in a palace

When you enter the museum off the Hauptstraße, you come in through the arched gate of the beautiful baroque Palais Morass. This building in itself is a bit of a wonder. Built in 1712 for Johann Philipp von Morass, who was rector of Heidelberg University for a time. Various nobles owned the palace for the next two hundred years (you can see von Bettendorff’s coat of arms above the entranceway from the mid 1700s), when it passed to the city of Heidelberg in 1906 to house the city’s art collection. You get to wander through the rooms of the Palais as you visit the museum, though there have been some modern extensions built in the courtyard.

Even on a dark day in March the courtyard of the museum is inviting.

Famous Heidelbergers

Heading up the staircase, you come face to face with a glorious painting of Heidelberg Castle and its gardens as they were imagined, though not quite completed, and a huge painting of Friedrich V, one of the most famous of the Prince Electors to live in the Heidelberg Castle. His wife was Elisabeth Stuart, daughter of James I of England, and it was for her that Friedrich commissioned the gardens. Moving through the nearby gallery, you can listen to stories in English on the audio guide about the dwarf tailor from Italy called Perkeo who became a vital member of the Heidelberg court.

Liselotte von der Pfalz, the original painting is on display at the Reiss Engelhorn Museum in Mannheim

Liselotte forever

My favourite Heidelberg historic personality has to be Liselotte. If you’ve watched the TV series Versailles, you’ve met her already. The acerbic wit of the French court of the Sun King, Liselotte grew up at Heidelberg Castle, and had many fond memories of climbing trees and exploring. She was married off to the French king’s brother in 1671, leaving her beloved Heidelberg behind forever. Her 60,000 letters to her friends and family back home in Germany are a masterclass in snarky observation on the French court. You’ll notice a few of the small tour boats and ferries on the river Neckar are named ‘Liselotte’ in her honour.

Salon in the Palais Morass

Walk with the ghosts of Goethe and Chopin

The next parts of the museum are in the Palais Morass proper. Wander these beautiful rooms, knowing that you’re standing where Goethe attended a dinner party, and Chopin gave a thank you concert to the surgeon who operated on his hand. I particularly like listening to the music samples played on the fragile and beautiful fortepiano – look for the numbers on little signs near the instrument. In the cabinets you can see some delicate examples of early Frankenthal porcelain, produced when the secret to making it was still new to Europe. Don’t forget to look up, there are some dramatic and unusual chandeliers in these rooms.

Replica of one of the reliefs in the Roman Mithras temple in Heidelberg

Roman Heidelberg

When I bring visitors to the museum, I skip the paintings and head downstairs for the archeology exhibits. Our castle tends to overshadow Heidelberg, in more ways than one, and your average day trip visitor may never hear about our extensive history as a Roman settlement. On the opposite bank of the river Neckar from the castle is the neighbourhood of Neuenheim, whose pretty Jugendstil (Art Nouveau) villas and riverside meadow make it an attractive place to live. Underneath the houses, though, are the remains of the Roman fortification and settlement. If you walk along the Neckarwiese (Neckar meadow, the green park on the riverside where everyone goes to barbeque) today, you can still see a few of the Roman stone bridge supports sticking out of the ground. In the archeological sections of the museum, you can see a life-size reconstruction of part of the Roman burial ground. The hilltop across the valley from the castle was special to many groups of people, hosting a Celtic hillfort, Roman temple of Mithras, and a monastery in the middle ages, and the museum has recreated several of these structures in models. Make sure to look at the 4-metre high Jupiter column, rescued a well shaft and nearly perfectly preserved. Possibly my favourite part of these exhibits is the discussion of a discovery of a shaft full of pottery, nearly 2,000 pots, tossed away. Most of them weren’t broken, so why were they disposed of? I can only imagine some poor pottery shop made 2,000 pieces in the wrong colour or something, but we’ll never know!

It’s hard to miss this bright red facade on the Hauptstraße

Visiting the Kurpfälzisches Museum in Heidelberg

It’s easy to stop in at the museum on a stroll down the Hauptstraße, it’s a little bit of a walk from the centre of the Old Town.

The museum is open year round from 10am-6pm, Tuesday to Sunday excepting holidays (Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve, New Year’s Day, Shrove Tuesday and 1 May)

Entrance is only €3 per adult, €1.80 on Sundays, and the audio guide is included in your ticket price

Children up to 16 years old are free

Audio guides are available in German, English, and Russian

There are free lockers for coats and large bags directly past the Admission desk, and they ask that you don’t take these into the museum.

Occasionally there are special exhibitions that require an additional entrance fee if you want to visit them.

There is a café in the garden, but it is not strictly attached to the museum, I have never tried it as the prices are a bit steep for me. If you’re looking for lunch after your museum visit, I recommend Gino’s for a wrap on house-made flatbread, it’s a short walk along the Hauptstraße towards the castle (number 113A) – it’s super tasty, very reasonably priced and the staff are lovely. If that’s not quite to your taste, I have a whole post on where to eat in Heidelberg that might help.

Kurpfälzisches Museum Heidelberg
Hauptstraße 97, 69117 Heidelberg, Germany

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Pile Dwelling Open Air Museum on Lake Constance

Pile Dwelling Open Air Museum on Lake Constance

The day we visited the Pfahlbau Museum Bodensee, or Pile Dwelling Museum on Lake Constance, it was absolutely pouring. It was in the shoulder season, so there was only one tour that day, and we all crowded under the eaves of the information centre waiting for our guide, while getting pounded by the rain. It seemed a fitting kind of day to explore these examples of prehistoric pile dwellings found around the Alps. 

I love a good open-air museum

If you’ve ever watched those shows where people attempt to recreate life from another time period, you’ll remember how devastating heavy rain can be. If you’re wearing wool, it could be days before you’d dry out. Looking out at the houses on stilts over the lake, connected by slippery wood walkways, I could only imagine how long you’d have to stay inside, huddled together, waiting for storms to pass before you could do anything. Well, for us, even if not all of the tour group was appropriately dressed, we stamped out in the rain to investigate the villages regardless.

What is there to see at the Pile Dwelling Museum?

There are 20 buildings in all, arranged in small clusters. These buildings are, of course, recreations of structures from the Neolithic and Bronze Age (4000 – 850 BCE), based on extensive archeological evidence. But you might be surprised to learn that two of them are 100 years old themselves. In 1922, an open-air museum society built two pole dwellings, and they have been refurbished and repaired over the years, probably much like the originals were. Evidence of prehistoric pile dwellings like these have been found in lakes across this region, in Switzerland, Germany, Italy, and France, and this museum, is a UNESCO World Heritage site. It seems counter-intuitive, but these pile dwellings by their location have left much for archeologists to find. Bogs and marshy lakebeds are terrific preservers of wood – whole sections of floor, piles, roof pieces, and walls have all been found, even pieces of furniture. 

But why did they build their houses on poles?

The lakes near mountains, while incredibly rich in flora and fauna (ie food), and water to drink, are also prone to major flooding when the spring comes. Lake Constance, for instance, can rise up to three meters in the spring, and very quickly. Presumably from experience, our ancestors figured out that having their houses up on stilts meant they wouldn’t be washed away each year. 

Visiting the Pile Dwelling village

In the off and shoulder seasons, there is one tour a day, and the guide takes you around the little village clusters, and brings you inside several of the buildings to look at the dioramas set up with realistic looking mannequins using period tools. The tour is in German, but you are provided with some documentation in English. In the spring and summer months, guides are waiting in the buildings to explain things, but you are free to wander about. Even at the end of our tour, we were left to explore the houses on land near the information centre on our own for awhile. The tour is quite leisurely, and we didn’t feel rushed at all.

My favourite part of a good open-air museum visit are the moments you can feel what it might be like to live there. To listen to the wooden joists groan and creak in the wind, the water slap at the poles underneath you, and wonder whether the house can stand up to the storm raging outside! But stepping out on a walkway afterwards, watching the clouds race away across the lake, that also must have been satisfying. Unlike most of the other open-air museums I’ve visited that focus on the middle ages and a bit later, this life is so far removed from our own, it’s quite fascinating to experience. There’s so much we don’t know about these people, and even what some of the artefacts the archeologists have found might have meant to them. I think the museum has made a good attempt to fitting it together, but as the guides will tell you, sometimes they’re just not sure. 

Visiting the Pile Dwelling Village with kids

While we went in shoulder season, it would be easier for non-German speakers to visit in the summer so you can take your time exploring with the English brochures the museum has available at the ticket counter. Kids are encouraged to explore, and like other open-air museums, it’s quite easy for them to grasp some of the history just by standing in the houses or walking along the walkways. If you have an under-6 who likes to run, this may be a bit of a challenge as the walkways do go over the lake quite a long way. If you’re doing the self-guided visit, you’ll be fine, but the tour takes an hour and that might be too long to stay focussed for the littlest among us. Definitely check their website for the details of their tours and opening times. 

Getting there

To get to the museum, you can walk from the Uhldingen-Mühlhofen station (Oberuhldingen), it takes about 25 minutes, or take a taxi from the station. There is a wharf right next to the museum, so your best bet is to take a ferry from Konstanz or another stop along the lake – you can see the ferry routes and timetables here. The stop for the Pile Dwelling Museum is Unteruhldingen, and it’s a pleasant walk through the park to the museum itself. You could always combine your trip to a visit to Mainau, the garden island, as well. Do check for combination tickets, someone at the ferry ticket desk can help with this. For shoulder and off-season visits, do check the schedule well ahead of time as the ferries don’t run as often or stop everywhere.

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Hessenpark Open-Air Museum

Hessenpark Open-Air Museum

Not far from Frankfurt is the Hessenpark, an open-air museum that has over a hundred historical buildings from the region all in one place. It’s open year-round, and has an impressive events schedule including cooking regional food, making local crafts, music making, and more. You can get to Hessenpark in about an hour from the center of Frankfurt, so it makes an ideal day trip. 

I love open-air museums. We are a history-obsessed family, but even if you’re not, it’s such an easy and enjoyable day out. When you’re traveling with kids, they can run and jump and explore without an adult constantly asking them to be quiet. Other adults get some time to actually read the information without being tugged onto the next thing. It’s win-win really. 

Beautiful historic houses at the Hessenpark. Those wires on the roofs are lightning rods, to prevent fires starting in the thatch.
Beautiful historic houses at the Hessenpark. Those wires on the roofs are lightning rods, to prevent fires starting in the thatch.

What is the Hessenpark?

In the 1970s, this park was created to conserve the history of the German state of Hesse, and take older houses that were being dismantled in villages all over the region. When a historic house can’t be preserved in its original location, it is carefully dismantled and recreated in the Hessenpark, using historically accurate materials as far as possible. Now, there are over 100 buildings arranged in several little clusters in the Hessenpark, and it’s still growing. When I originally read there were a hundred buildings, I thought, surely they are counting sheds and whatnot. But oh no, there really are loads and loads of huge buildings to explore. 

One of the coolest things about this place is being able to walk up to a random building, and the door is unlocked! Kids love this part, because when else can you wander through a village and poke around in all the shops and houses? Some are set up as exhibitions, some are arranged with period furniture as they would have been 200 or 300 years ago. 

How long should we plan for a trip to the Hessenpark?

It is easy to spend a full day at the Hessenpark and still not see everything. Between exploring the buildings, watching demonstrations, having lunch, letting kids burn off steam in the playground, and shopping, I would say not to budget less than a day here. You won’t want to feel rushed. Ideally, you could stay overnight and split up your exploring. 

Market square at the Hessen Park
Market square at the Hessen Park

When is the best time to go?

The park is open year round, but as much of it is outdoors, spring through autumn is preferable. There are more activities going on in these months, as well. However, we visited in January, and it was still lovely, and there was lots to do. In Advent (late November through to Christmas Eve, 24 December) there is lots going on with a Christmas market and special events all through the park, so that would be a magical time to visit as well. They also do special events for Karneval (end of February, early March) and Easter. Check the event calendar on the Hessenpark website to see if there’s a specific demonstration you’d like to see. 

Windmill at the Hessenpark
Windmill at the Hessenpark

What is there to do at the Hessenpark?

You pick up a map upon arrival, and just wander, opening doors at random and exploring inside. The state of Hesse was known, 200 years ago and earlier, mainly for farming, wool production and weaving, flax production, and basalt quarrying. There are buildings or sites dedicated to all these traditional types of work in the park, even a little basalt quarry. As well as weaving, Hessen women were well known for their traditional openwork embroidery, and there is a fascinating upper floor of a house dedicated to examples of this fine work. 

Colourful local chickens
Colourful local chickens
A Thuringian goat completely uninterested in getting its photo taken.
A Thuringian goat completely uninterested in getting its photo taken. Nice straw moustache though…

There are all the traditional workshops you would expect to find, including basket weavers, wheelwrights, blacksmiths, printers, roper makers, millers, and even historic firefighters and their equipment. Not every building is staffed, but you can peer in at the equipment, all set out to be used, like the workers have just stepped out for a moment. There is a full-sized windmill, a water wheel, and working farm buildings. There are chickens wandering around, pigs, and goats. In fact, the museum has been working to preserve local livestock breeds, so they aren’t just your regular farm animals you can see here. In fact, this museum is playing a vital park in keeping some of these breeds from extinction. Look out for the Coburger Fuchsschaf, literally a ‘fox sheep’, that has naturally red wool when born. There’s also the Meissner Lop rabbit, a long-eared black rabbit with gloriously shiny fur that was kept by Hessian farmers. We met some Thuringian goats, which are now endangered. However the Hessenpark goats are in fine form, in fact the kids regularly jump over the fences of their pens and wander around for awhile. The colourful local chickens walk around, completely uninterested in anyone, despite the trails of fascinated small children they have behind them. 

There are also several places of worship in the park. A synagogue, and several chapels from different areas of Hesse, including a working organ that gets a work out every month or so with singalong events. 

One of the chapels at the Hessenpark
One of the chapels at the Hessenpark

Eating and drinking

There are several places to have a meal or a snack on site. The Wirsthaus Zum Adler is a traditional inn on the market square, near the entrance, that serves traditional Hessian food, and there’s a biergarten around the back (it’s under renovation in 2019, unfortunately, check the site in case it’s open again). The Alter Markt restaurant is part of the hotel in the park, and it is also in the market square, right next to the Zum Adler, and it’s open every day from 6.30am – 10pm. 

In May 2019, a Kaffeehaus is opening on the market square, also attached to the Landhotel, and they will be open on Saturdays and Sundays from 10am-5pm. Perfect for a spot of coffee and cake, I think.

Down by the playground in the North Hesse area is the Martinsklause, a pub-type restaurant with displays on brewing beer in the area. They have a lovely terrace seating area looking over the playground. This one is only open on Saturdays and Sundays however, from 11am-4pm. 

The bakery in the market square is open daily from 10am-6pm March to October, and you can get bread, pastries, brezel, and cakes here. A perfect in between option if you’re not up for a full meal. 

When we visited in January, there was a small wheeled cart selling bratwurst in buns in the corner of the market square, and inside the Delikathessen, they were making hot waffles to order. 

Loom in one of the Hessenpark houses
Loom in one of the Hessenpark houses

There’s a hotel in the Hessenpark?

Yes! The Landhotel Zum Hessenpark (literally translates to country hotel to the Hessenpark) is right on the market square in the museum. Rooms range from €75-95 per night for a single room, €99-129 per night for a double room, and €129-159 per night for a triple family room. All rates include breakfast in the historic Alter Markt restaurant. To book, you need to fill out a form on the Landhotel Hessenpark website (in German only I’m afraid, but it’s pretty straightforward). I think I’m going to ask for a night at the museum (literally!) for my birthday this year. How cool is that?

Shops on the market square
Shops on the market square

Proper shopping

There are several places to pick up some traditional wares within the Hessenpark. The Delikat(h)essen has shelf-stable foods to take home like mustards and vinegars, as well as plenty of beautiful pieces of kitchenware, and humorous mugs and tea towels. Next door is the Trachten shop, selling traditional clothes like dirndls and lederhosen, but they also stock tin toys, books, postcards, and more little pieces. Just so you know, dirndls and lederhosen are not costumes, but traditional clothing and many German people wear them to weddings and important family events, so don’t expect to pick one up on the cheap. A good dirndl, with all its assorted pieces, easily costs upwards of €250, particularly from a quality Trachten shop like this one. Lederhosen start around €200. 

There is also a woodworkers shop with wooden toys, games, and housewares, as well as many versions of the traditional Hessian stool, called a Schawellsche, and wooden trays for apple wine glasses, another traditional product of the region. One of the most popular shops is the brush shop. Family-owned for three generations, this little workshop continues to turn out brushes and brooms of endless varieties. If you need a brush for a special task like brushing down your felt hats or cleaning lamps, this is the place for you. When we visited, we couldn’t even get in the door as so many people were coming in and out. The goldsmiths is not just a historic building either, but an actual working jewellery maker. You can even arrange to do a one-day class in jewellery making on site, though you have to book ahead as the courses are only for four people at a time and they are popular. There are lots of weddings at the Hessenpark, and you can even arrange to make your own wedding ring, guided by the jewellers, which I think is just lovely. 

Hessenpark entrance price and hours

The Hessenpark is open 1 November to 28 February only on Saturdays and Sundays from 10am-5pm, with last entry at 4pm. From 1 March – 31 October, they are open daily from 9am – 6pm with last entry at 5pm. 

Entry price is as follows: 

Adults €9

Children and students €1

Children under 6 free

Family ticket €18 (2 adults plus up to four children 6-17 years old)

50% family ticket €9 (1 adult plus up to four children 6-17 years old)

Dogs (including a dog poop bag) €1

There’s free wifi near some of the buildings, which is marked on the map you can pick up for free where you buy your tickets. 

There aren’t guided tours or audio guides, but you’ll find informative signs outside each building, in several languages, as well as detailed exhibitions in some of the buildings as well. The map you pick up at the entrance is easy to use and very clear. 

How to get to Hessenpark

By train

Take the bus or train to Wehrheim or Neu-Anspach / Anspach Bahnhof. In Wehrheim, board the 64 bus, and in Neu-Anspach/ Anspach Bahnhof board the 63 bus and exit at Neu-Anspach / Hessenpark. From Frankfurt main train station, this journey takes a little more than an hour. The bus stops directly in front of the Hessenpark too!

On weekends and holidays, there is a direct bus service (no. 5 bus) from Bad Homburg / Gonzenheim and Bad Homburg / Bahnhof to Hessenpark.

You can book your ticket in English here:

By car

Hessenpark is about half an hour from Frankfurt, there is ample parking close to the entrance. 

PS – Want other ideas for day trips from Frankfurt?

PPS – Need help with packing for Germany? I’ve got you covered for packing for your Germany trip in spring or summer.

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Visiting Trier, Germany

Visiting Trier, Germany

Unless you live in Germany, or studied history in university, there’s a good chance you’ve never heard of Trier. Which is a shame really, because this picturesque little town has a lot to offer. Is it worth visiting Trier? Definitely.

Trier Porta Nigra 4
My son grinning at me from the other side of the old Roman city gate, the Porta Nigra, in Trier.

My husband filmed some incredible footage of Trier, the Mosel valley and our favourite place to stay in the area, Ernst.

Serious history

Founded in the 4th century BCE by the Celts, Treuorum, as it was then called, was an important centre before the Romans arrived in the first century BCE. The Romans built up the city as the capital of Gaul, and it functioned as the administrative centre for most of the Western Roman Empire. The city then passed to the Franks, France, and Prussia over the next century, as well as being home to one of the Prince Electors.

Trier Konstantinbasilika 2
Inside the old Roman Imperial Throne Room, now a church.

Trier Konstantinbasilika 2-2
Just as imposing from the outside, this Roman building is 1500 years old. See those little people next to it? It is that big.

Trier Porta Nigra 1
My son peering through the windows of the Porta Nigra.

Roman ruins

What is so amazing about all this history, is the evidence is still standing. Not a few stone pillars either, but giant structures. It was a complete surprise to me that there were so many Roman ruins in such good condition this far north. For my son, who has been steeped in Asterix and Obelix, it was very cool to run around inside the the Porta Nigra, one of the Roman city’s giant gates to the city. For me, the Konstatinbasilika was a highlight. It was once an Imperial throne room, and the brick room is impossibly huge – it was just mind blowing that it’s been standing for 1500 years. My husband was excited to see the Roman amphitheatre, where they staged all the usual bloody spectacles. It was beyond creepy to go below ground and see the holding chambers for animals and slaves. If you like, you can try out Roman food as well at Zum Domstein. They have a short Roman menu with dishes based on the recipes from De re coquinaria, a 4-5th century Roman cookbook. I tried it, and it was good, but you may want to share the pork dish, it was a lot of meat!

My son in front of the Elector Palace in Trier.
My son in front of the Elector Palace in Trier.

Trier Konstantinbasilika Palasgarten2
The small but perfectly formed Trier Electoral Palace Gardens

Trier Konstantinbasilika Palasgarten3
A nice bicycle in the Electoral Palace Gardens.

Trier Konstantinbasilika Palasgarten4
Playground right next to the Trier Electoral Palace, with one for smaller kids right behind it.

Medieval sites and more

Right in the centre of the town is the High Cathedral of Saint Peter, the oldest one in Germany. It was first built in the 4th century, and subsequently destroyed and rebuilt twice before making it to the 11th century. Throughout the buildings there are many different architectural styles represented, and even when it was first completed, it was already one of the biggest ecclesiastical complexes outside Rome. Next to the Konstantinbasilika is the Kurfürstliches Palais, a 17th century Baroque confection next to its stark Roman cousin. Unfortunately, you can’t go inside generally, as it is an administrative building, but the gardens are pleasant.

Trier Hauptmarkt
Hooray for carousels, this one is in the Hauptmarkt in Trier.

Trier Cathedral 1
The Cathedral of Trier

Trier amphitheatre 4
The Roman amphitheatre in Trier, imagine lions! Gladiators!

Trier amphitheatre 2
Tramping up the stairs to the stands in the amphitheatre.

Trier amphitheatre 1
The very creepy underground level at the amphitheatre.

Manageable size

Trier is not a big city, so that makes getting to all the things you want to see quite easy. There is a hop-on hop-off tour bus, which we tried out. It’s a bit expensive for a city as small as Trier, but check online for deals ahead of time. There is also one of those little trains that is actually an articulated bus, that runs tours through the city as well. In good weather, there are plenty of places to eat out in the squares, try the restaurants down the Johann-Philipp-Straße from the Konstantinbasilika – it opens up into a square, the Kornmarkt, with several options. We tried the Italian restaurant, Donna Mia Trier, and were pleasantly surprised. The Hauptmarkt, the square between the Porta Nigra and the Cathedral, is surrounded by older buildings, has a carousel in good weather, and several places to get ice cream.

Trier electoral palace garten 1
Climbing trees just outside the Electoral Palace Gardens.

If you have more time, and older children

We had to give the museums of Trier a miss, as we only had a day, but the collections of the Stadtmuseum, the Rheinisches Landesmuseum (Archeological Museum), and the Spielzeugmuseum (Toy Museum) are all well regarded.

Nearby Trier, Germany

There are loads of things to see within a short drive or train journey from Trier. Burg Eltz, one of the most beautiful castles in Germany, is close by, as are the endless wineries of the Mosel valley. There are river tours that leave from several towns, including Trier.

PS – Need help with packing for Germany? I’ve got you covered for packing for your Germany trip in spring or summer.

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Originally published in spring 2017, updated in January 2019

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The Windmills of Kinderdijk in the Netherlands

The Windmills of Kinderdijk in the Netherlands

I love a good open-air museum, and the windmills of Kinderdijk, just south of Rotterdam, did not disappoint. Being able to climb up inside one of the windmills, all the way to the top, was incredible. So should you make time to visit this UNESCO World Heritage site? Definitely.

Museum windmill Blokweer
Museum windmill Blokweer

What is Kinderdijk?

This area of South Holland is a microcosm of the Dutch struggle to keep their fertile farmland from flooding. Nearly 17% of the Netherlands is land reclaimed from the sea, through their ingenious dyke and windmill systems. The Kinderdijk (literally translating as ‘Children’s Dyke’) is one such area of farmland where 19 of the 20 historic windmills have been maintained and preserved. These windmills are still doing the job they were built to do, and must be kept in working condition in case the diesel-powered pumping stations lose power for any reason. So while this is an open-air museum, these incredible wooden machines are still an important part of keeping this area dry.

Wooden clogs outside Museum Windmill Blokweer
Wooden clogs outside Museum Windmill Blokweer

What are the windmills at Kinderdijk for?

When the Dutch people built the dykes this enclosed land for farming, but it was still flooded with water. The windmills (molen, in Dutch) power large Archimedes screws that pull water out of the farmland, and drain it into canals. Rain and natural groundwater seepage keeps threatening to drown the fields, or polder, requiring the windmills to keep the balance. In the event of a drought, the windmills can provide water from the canals as well. 

For those of us not used to living near these magnificent buildings, we might be tempted to think of them as cute and small. Up close, they are huge, powerful, and very dangerous. A common hazard of living and working near the windmills was getting hit by one of the sails. I stood mesmerized by the whoomp-whoomp-whoomp of the passing sails, and shuddered at the thought. The power they can generate is tremendous. 

A view down the Kinderdijk
A view down the Kinderdijk

What is there to do at Kinderdijk? Is it for kids?

The name ‘Kinderdijk’ is the name of the area itself, and it definitely is not just for children. The story goes after a terrible flood in 1421 that killed thousands of residents, a baby’s cradle was spotted floating on the flood waters, with the baby crying inside. The child was saved, and the area renamed the Children’s Dyke. 

The museum is definitely family friendly, but on our visit we saw mostly adults visiting the area, so don’t be turned off if you’re not traveling with children. 

There are 19 windmills on site, but you can only go inside two of them. There are two boat tours along the canal: one will take you on a full circuit, and one is a hop-on, hop-off affair. You can definitely walk all over, but the boat makes it quicker. Unsurprisingly for a place with 19 windmills, it is very, er, windy, so you might want a break from walking along the dykes. 

Inside the Museum Windmill Nederwaard
Inside the Museum Windmill Nederwaard

Museum Windmill Nederwaard

This windmill was built in 1738, and one family lived and worked in it for many generations. At one point 13 children lived here! Inside, you can see how the living areas were set up, and climb the very steep staircases. You can climb into one of the beds built into the wall, and imagine if you could sleep with the sails spinning outside. It sounds like you’re on a ship, the way the creaking and groaning of the wooden gears and ropes carry on. And carry on constantly – all through the night and day. I can imagine you’d get quite used to it, even find it soothing. 

The bed built into the wall in the Museum Windmill Nederwaard
The bed built into the wall in the Museum Windmill Nederwaard

All around there are photos of the Hoek family who lived in this windmill, along with clothing, dishes, and stories. It was impossible not to get a sense of the lively group of people who spent their lives here over hundreds of years. Sadly, one of the Hoek mothers died after getting hit by the windmill’s sails while chasing after one of her children. In one of the photos, all the children had shaved heads, which I can imagine was to combat lice… I don’t know how they managed to keep that under control in such a tiny and crowded living space. 

I particularly loved this museum windmill, and how much the photos made me think of the people who lived there in their groaning and creaking home. My son loved getting into the bed, and poking his head up through the top floor to see the workings of wooden gears in the attic of the windmill.

Woolen underthings and clogs in front of the little stove in the Museum Windmill Blokweer
Wool underthings and clogs in front of the little stove in the Museum Windmill Blokweer

Museum windmill Blokweer

This smaller windmill looks quite different than the other Kinderdijk windmills, because it was built in 1631, and has a movable top that can turn to face the wind. Outside, there is a chicken coop, vegetable garden, and a goat pen. Millers still needed to feed their families of course. There’s also an outdoor kitchen, where someone in costume was preparing food. There’s also a small gift shop and cafe next to Blokweer. Inside the mill, the kitchen is beautifully preserved and set up as though the owner has just stepped out. In the shed just adjoining the door, you can see a selection of wooden clogs hung up on rails. What is it about shoes that conjures up an image of their owners so immediately? 

Embroidery hanging in one of the windmills. Rough translation: 'The wind that blows, the mill that turns, the blessing of the Lord that makes the small increase.'
Embroidery hanging in one of the windmills. Rough translation: ‘The wind that blows, the mill that turns, the blessing of the Lord that makes the small increase.’

Clog shelving in the Museum Windmills at Kinderdijk
Clog shelving in the Museum Windmills at Kinderdijk

The other windmills

They may not be museum windmills, but you will notice by the windowboxes and curtains that people do still live in them! That’s why you’re not allowed to walk up to all of the mills on site. 

Kinderdijk opening hours, ticket prices and how to get there

The Kinderdijk is open all year except December 25th. 

January & February, 10am – 4pm

March – October, 9am – 5:30pm

November & December, 10am – 4pm

Ticket prices

Adults €7

Kids (4-12 years old) €4.50

Kids under 3 are free

Boat tours are €5.50 for adults, and €3 for kids, again under 3 are free. 

Maps cost €1.

You can order all of these tickets ahead on their website, but you do have to choose which day you will be visiting. You save €1 per adult by booking online, so it’s definitely worth it, even if you just do it that morning. 

Getting to Kinderdijk

Kinderdijk is a very easy day tip from Rotterdam.

You can drive to the Kinderdijk, as we did, but be warned that you will have to take a very short car ferry. It was a bit of a surprise to us, we came over the hill and there was the boat! It didn’t show up as such in the satnav. 

From Rotterdam, it is a 30-minute journey on the WaterBus, and you can buy a combination ticket online here, which gives you a discount on entrance to Kinderdijk as well, though you will still need to buy a boat tour ticket when you arrive if you’d like to do that as well. The return ticket, is €11.70 for adults, and €8.55 for kids – this doesn’t include the entry fee, but upon showing your ticket you will get 20% off. 

PS – We stayed in a castle in the Netherlands too, it was amazing! And if you’re going to Amsterdam, here’s our one-day guide.

Fifi and Hop
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