This Midwest Island is Home to America's Only Authentic, Working Dutch Windmill
Have you always wanted to see an authentic Dutch windmill in person? Save the $400-600 flight ticket to The Netherlands and take a trip to Michigan's lower peninsula instead. While enjoying a Grand Rapids vacation along our own Great Lakes road trip, Alex and I decided to spend a day exploring nearby destinations. Just 35-minutes away from our downtown hotel in "Beer City", for instance, is Holland: a southwest Michigan town best known for its well-preserved Dutch history, May tulip festival, and De Zwann ("The Swan") -- the country's only authentic, working Dutch windmill.
Visiting De Zwaan on Windmill Island
In order to reach De Zwaan (now listed on the National Register of Historic Places), one must arrive at the Windmill Island Gardens: a Dutch-themed garden that doesn't hold back on sharing Dutch culture.
Without prior research, you'd never realize the island was a reclaimed swamp from the lake: now a 36-acre site adorned with seasonal flowers, horse-trotted pastures, costumed guides, and Dutch-style architecture and artifacts.
As we strolled along manicured lawns and admired rows of radiant blooms, I spotted a drawbridge painted red and white. Reminiscent of its historic original, the replica bridge embraced the structure of one once in Noord Holland, over the Amstel River.
De Zwaan is run by the world's first Dutch-certified American miller & she's a woman!
Before we crossed the visitor drawbridge over the canal, we spotted the working Dutch windmill that has attracted visitors to Holland, MI for the last 50+ years.
At 125 feet tall, this mill is headed by miller, Alisa Crawford: one of the very few women in the industry and the first American woman to be trained as a Dutch-certified master miller by the Dutch Mill Society.
Crawford is also the first woman admitted to Ambachtelijk Kolenmolenaars Gilde, a grain millers guild in the Netherlands. (Source)
Though its blades weren't revolving while we were there, the closer we got to De Zwaan the better we could see a small crowd of people ushering in, preparing for the hourly mill tour.
This mill supplies local bakeries, breweries, and restaurants, and visitors tour the site for the opportunity learn both the history and functionality of the windmill (and bring home mill-ground flour!)
Note: If you don't do the tour, flour is available at the Molenwinkel shop in the Windmill or at the gift shop.
How to get to Holland, MI & Windmill Island Gardens
Surprisingly enough, round-trip flights to Holland, MI from NYC aren't very expensive. From $120-200 RT you can hop on a plane for a quick visit. But if you want my advice (that's why you are here, I assume) I wouldn't fly to Holland, MI solely to visit the Windmill Island Gardens.
I would include it in a Michigan or Great Lakes road trip, or visit to Grand Rapids, MI.
Why? The Windmill Island Gardens is a 2-3 hour experience that makes for a perfect afternoon visit. While there are plenty of other Dutch/Holland-related things to explore in the area, you'll be disappointed if you went all the way to Michigan and didn't experience swimming in Lake Michigan, tasting your way through Beer City, or enjoying some of the best outdoor experiences Michigan has to offer.
- My recommendation: drive your way around the area for an epic Midwestern road trip.
Wellness tips for visiting Windmill Island Gardens
I am often hesitant to visit high traffic attractions because of my crowd anxiety. If not for this travel blog and my extroverted partner, I'd avoid crowds way more often! As a solution, I make sure I only visit a big destination after a good night's sleep, on a full stomach, well-hydrated, and during the week (less people).
Here's my wellness scoop for visiting De Zwaan and the Windmill Island Gardens.
- The Crowds: I visited on a summer Friday around 3pm and found it to be quiet, with a just few families and couples roaming at their leisure. With the exception of the shops area, which was adjacent to the Dutch Kiddie Carousel and playground, you could hardly hear children playing. I'd imagine during weekends and Tulip Time, this might differ.
- Accessibility: The park is accessible, with the exception of touring the windmill. I also noticed wheelchairs available for use at the Posthouse.
- Sunscreen: There was hardly any shade on the island so I strongly recommend a billed hat and sunscreen. For relief, you can find a few benches with tree coverage or head to the shops for a break.
- Food & drink: For snacks and drinks, you can visit the gift shop. Keep in mind it closes at 4pm. There was also a free water fountain at the bathroom in the Posthouse Visitor Center.
Visiting Windmill Island Gardens during Tulip Time
Over 120,000 tulips bloom in the spring, sending a glowing welkom to thousands of visitors as they enjoy Holland's Tulip Time Festival. We visited the island and gardens during August, so did not experience Tulip Time's dual-weekend celebration firsthand.
According to my research, however, it seems the popular event attracts visitors in droves, and their limited parking spaces fill up quickly. If you park at the nearby Dutch Village instead, there is a shuttle (Orange Express) that can take you the rest of the way.
Hours & Fees: visiting Windmill Island
When visiting Windmill Island Gardens, plan for at least two hours for your visit. During Tulip Time, I've read a minimum of three hours is essential. Here is information about the attraction's hours and fees.
- Entry Fee: Adult $10 // Child $5 (ages 3-15)
- Hours: 9:30am - 6pm
Have you ever seen a windmill in person?
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