Some 20km southeast of Rotterdam, the ancient port of Dordrecht, or “Dordt” as it’s often called, sits beside one of the busiest waterway junctions in the world, where tankers and containers from the north pass the waterborne traffic of the Maas and Rijn. Eclipsed by the expansion of Rotterdam – and barely touched by World War II – Dordrecht’s old centre has survived in excellent nick, its medley of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century warehouses, townhouses and workers’ terraces strung along its innermost canals and harbours. It takes about three hours to cover all the town’s main sights, and it’s the obvious base from which to explore the sprawling marshes and tidal flats of the wilderness Nationaal Park de Biesbosch just south of town. The other main pull hereabouts is the windmills of the Kinderdijk.
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- The Nationaal Park de Biesbosch
Some 12km north of Dordrecht, the Kinderdijk (Child’s Dyke) sits at the end of a long drainage channel that feeds into the River Lek. Sixteenth-century legend suggests it takes its name from the time when a cradle, complete with cat and kicking baby, was found at the precise spot where the dyke had held during a particularly bad storm. Encompassing a mixture of symbols – rebirth, innocence and survival – the story encapsulates the determination with which the Dutch fought the floods for hundreds of years. Today, the Kinderdijk is famous for its picturesque, quintessentially Dutch windmills, all nineteen lining the main channel and its tributary beside the Molenkade for some 3km. Built around 1740 to drive water from the Alblasserwaard polders, the windmills are put into operation every Saturday afternoon in July and August, while one of the windmills is also open to visitors (April–Oct daily 9.30am–5.30pm; Nov–March Sat & Sun 11am–4pm; €6; w kinderdijk.nl).