Exploring Holland Michigan with kids

The following post is written by Pit Stops for Kids’ Midwest contributor, Kate Basi.

The town of Holland, Michigan was settled by Dutch immigrants in the mid-19th century, and has made a name for itself as a go-to destination for experiencing Dutch culture. Situated near Lake Michigan, three hours from both Chicago and Detroit and 35 minutes from Grand Rapids, Holland boasts two stand-out attractions for families.

Nelis’ Dutch Village

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One part amusement park, one part living history, and one part quaint shopping district, the Dutch Village is a compact, charming replica of 19th-century Dutch culture.

Originally opened as a retail shop for the Nelis family’s tulip growing operation, the village now boasts a carillon, cafe, pub, extensive gift shop, and attractions for kids and adults alike.
 
Start your day by saying hello to the families of ducks paddling in the Village’s decorative canals. Then listen to a performance of the “Gouden Engel” (golden angel), a 1920s street organ. This wooden-piped, ornately carved and painted work of art includes drums and mechanical figures. Periodically through the day, costumed employees converge on the square in front of the organ to demonstrate klompen dancing. Afterward, the crowd is invited down to learn a basic dance.
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All-you-can-ride carnival-style swings, windmill-themed Ferris Wheel, small zip line and carousel are included in the admission price. For the little ones, there are also “petal pusher cars,” which run on railroad tracks and are powered by the children themselves.

It’s not all carnival rides, though. The Nelis family has set up a mock Dutch village where visitors can see short (5 minutes or less—perfect for little ones) demonstrations from cheese making to wooden clog making. You can even be weight on a scale to prove you’re not a witch. There’s also a petting zoo (hand sanitizer provided!).
Keep your eyes open for gems not included on the map. Behind the zip line stands a trio of old-fashioned water pumps attached to gutters for racing rubber duckies. Beside the school house you’ll find not only a bean bag toss, but a contraption that I can only call a “tandem” snow board.
Nelis’ Dutch Village is ideal for kids in the 3-10 age range. Plan at least four hours for your visit, and don’t be surprised if the kids clamor to stay until closing time.
Whether or not you have time to spend in the park, take time to visit the cafe and souvenir shops, which are accessible from outside the park. The cafe serves kid-friendly fare and Dutch specialties like Kroketten, a fried meat pastry, and Saucijzebroodjes, a sausage pig’n’bun. Kids can also make a “stroopwafel,” a thin waffle cookie spread with a cinnamon-sugar concoction.
The cafe offers the usual souvenir fare–t shirts, shot glasses and the like–but the real gems are found in the collection of Dutch gifts—blue china, cuckoo clocks, and other beautiful artwork.
Nelis’ Dutch Village is located at the corner of US Highway 30 and James Street. Hours vary by season and are posted on the website. (link: http://www.dutchvillage.com/park/hours.html.) Admission is $11 for adults and $9 for children 3-15.

Windmill Island Gardens

Windmill Island Gardens, operated by the city of Holland, Mich., is a beautiful preserve and botanical garden at the edge of the downtown area. 

Entering Windmill Island, you will drive through a marshland grown up in cattails. The scent of flowers greets you upon getting out of the car. A street organ sits at the head of a breathtaking flower garden and lawn, where the mysterious snow-board contraption makes another appearance, along with hoops and sticks. Both of these are unique play opportunities for kids to enjoy while parents listen to frequent organ concerts.
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The highlight of the grounds is, of course, the picturesque De Zwaan (the swan) windmill. This 250-year-old structure was relocated from the Netherlands, still in working order, and actually grinds grain that can be purchased on site. Costumed guides give klompen dancing demonstrations and offer tours of the first five levels of De Zwaan. Kids can turn a miniature millstone, and you can see World War II bullet holes in some artifacts on display. Although the inner workings of the windmill are fascinating to adults, the highlight for kids is going out on the “gallery,” where you can touch the windmill blades when the windmill is not in operation.
Note: although the rest of the grounds are accessible, the upper floors of the windmill are reached via stairs; strollers will have to be left at ground level.
There are picnic tables, and visitors are encouraged to bring food. The carousel here is smaller than most, so it’s particularly good for little ones. Behind the carousel you’ll find a playground and a small courtyard where children are encouraged to water from a rain barrel and get up close and personal with herbs and edibles.
If you want to get out of the sun, a building adjacent to the gift shop houses a 1930s-era model town (think model railroad, but with boats instead of trains). The gift shop offers snacks and Dutch souvenirs as well as bags of De Zwaan bran, corn meal, wheat flour, and so on.
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While you’re on the grounds, you might well see people kayaking in the canal that flows through the property. Kayaks are not rented on site, but can be rented in town.

Windmill Island, located at 1 Lincoln Ave., is open 9:30a.m. to 6p.m. daily from mid-April to the beginning of October. Admission is $8 for adults and $5 for children 5-15, but residents of Holland are admitted free with proof of residency.

As we disclose whenever applicable, Kate and her family experienced Holland Michigan with compensated attraction tickets, for the purpose of review.

About the author

Kathleen Basi Freelance writer Kathleen Basi has lived her entire life in "flyover country," but she's an old pro at road trips, having taken the first of many extended driving vacations at the tender age of five. She's a huge proponent of letting kids see and experience the space between "here" and "there." Find her at http://kathleenbasi.com/blog/.

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