Admittedly, I take the Netherlands for granted. My husband and I adore Amsterdam, and can easily spend a week or more in this amazing city without ever leaving its center. But the Netherlands has a lot more to offer beyond Amsterdam’s city limits.
Prior to our last visit to Amsterdam, I had set up a private tour of the De Kuyper Royal Distillers. They are based out of a small town called Schiedam. Not only had I never heard of this town before, but I wrongfully assumed that because I’d never heard of it, it wasn’t worthy of visiting.
I was wrong.
Here are 5 reasons why you, too, should take the time to visit Schiedam on your next trip to the Netherlands.
1. It’s a break from the big city mentality
Big cities are great for exploring and finding things to do. But sometimes the crowds and noise can be a little overwhelming. Schiedam is peaceful and not overrun by tourists, but there’s still enough to see and do to keep you busy for a day or two. Just stop off at the visitor’s centre, ask a few questions, grab a city walking map and a copy of their “S’Dam (what the locals call it) Insider Tips” pamphlet and begin your adventure!
Schiedam maintains its old-world charm and architecture, making it very picturesque.
It’s only a 45-minute train ride from Amsterdam, and less than 10 minutes from Rotterdam, which makes it an easy day trip.
You can easily circle the old town center on foot in a half hour or so, but take your time and don’t rush. You never know what you may find:
2. Schiedam has a fascinating history
Schiedam is a very long-standing municipality, gaining city rights way back in 1275. The city also gained a bit of fame through one of its residents, named Lidwina. Lidwina was born in Schiedam in 1380. As a young girl, she broke her leg while ice skating. She never fully recovered from her injuries, and eventually became almost completely paralyzed. It’s thought that her disabilities were caused by multiple sclerosis – one of the first documented cases of the disease.
Lidwina became a mystic and healer, fasting continuously until her death in 1433 at the age of 53. Her grave became a place of pilgrimage for devotees, and so a chapel was built on the site. In 1890, Pope Leo XIII canonized her, and she became the patron saint of ice skaters, the chronically ill, and of Schiedam itself.
A new church dedicated to Saint Lidwina was built in 1859, but it was demolished in 1969, and her relics were moved to another chapel. The veneration of Saint Lidwina was later moved to the Singlekirk, a large Neo-Gothic style church built in the late 1800s. In 1990, Pope John Paull II elevated the status of the church to a minor basilica, which is now known as the Basilica of Lidwina.
Schiedam was also a successful trading town. It was a prime location for fishing, especially herring. But there were two industries in particular that made Schiedam successful. One of those industries was shipbuilding.
In the 19th Century, the shipbuilding business was booming here. After WWII, businesses expanded even more. But in the 1970s and 80s, as transportation costs dropped, so did the shipbuilding industry. today, only two shipyards remain.
The other industry that kept Schiedam afloat (pun intended) is a personal favourite of mine, and another reason to consider a stop here:
3. It’s a hub for gin distilleries
In the 18th and 19th Centuries, Schiedam was the prime location for jenever (Dutch gin) distilleries. At its height, approximately 220 distilleries flourished here.
But the industry had one big drawback for the town. The coal-fired distilleries left black soot covering all the buildings, earning Schiedam the nickname “Black Nazareth”.
Most of the distilleries are gone now, but a few remain. De Kuyper, Nolet and Ketel One are just a few of the larger companies still operating in Schiedam.
Schiedam hosts a Jenever and Gin Festival every year in June, and gin tours are offered through I-Punt S’DAM tourist information center.
And if you haven’t had your fill of jenever distilleries and tours, you can always visit the Jenever Museum!
The museum consists of several floors of exhibit space, covering the history of jenever and distilling. It includes scaled-down models of distilleries, antique bottles and advertisements, and even a film or two.
There is even a small distillery on site you can tour, and tastings are also available for an additional fee. The gin tasting here was just ok though, and the sample sizes were small. You may also get a bit of the bum’s rush if a tour group comes in because it takes a while to serve everyone. If you want to do a proper tasting, I’d recommend contacting one of the distilleries or taking a gin tour to get the full experience.
4. Schiedam has great restaurants and artisan shops
You don’t tend to expect amazing restaurants in small towns. But the food we had in Schiedam was good enough to add to this list! We stopped at a lovely cafe called De Beurs:
We ordered simple fare: Mark ordered a hamburger with fries, and I ordered a sandwich. And, of course, we ordered beer:
In fact, Schiedam is full of great restaurants and cafes covering everything from Japanese and Italian cuisine to traditional Dutch fare. Plus, Schiedam is known for its artisanal bread – there’s a flour mill in town, churning out great-quality flour for baking. And having good bread is the basis for so many meals!
Schiedam also has some pretty interesting shops you won’t find anywhere else. De Bonte Koe Chocoladekunst is a delightful chocolate shop that you can’t miss. It’s conveniently located next door to the Jenever Museum.
The shop also hosts a chocolate festival in September, plus they offer chocolate-making workshops. An added bonus: they also make sugar-free chocolate for diabetics!
5. Schiedam has the tallest windmills in the world
I saved the biggest reason to visit Schiedam for last. If you want to see windmills, this is your kind of place. At one time there were around 50 windmills in and around Schiedam, with about 20 of those right in town. The reason so many of the windmills here are the tallest in the world is because those built in town had to be taller than the buildings surrounding them.
Windmills and jenever production went hand-in-hand. Windmills were used to grind the grain needed in gin production. And with over 200 distilleries to service, windmills were a necessity.
Today, most of the windmills have been demolished. But 8 still remain in town, and you can easily walk to all of them.
The windmill at Nolet Distillery is a bit of a ruse. Although it’s built in the traditional style, it’s deceptively new – from 2005! The sails are aerofoils, and the “windmill” is actually a wind turbine!
The Molen De Kameel windmill is a 2011 reconstruction of the original, which stood near this spot between 1715 and 1868.
The windmill wrapped in white tarp is De Nieuwe Palmboom (The New Palm Tree). The original windmill was built in 1781, but rebuilt in 1993 after a fire burned down the original in 1901. This building now houses a museum dedicated to mill history and its connection to jenever production.
The windmill in the background is Windmill De Noord, built in 1803. At a height of 33.3 meters, it’s the tallest windmill in the world. Today it houses a restaurant.
Windmill de Drie Koornbloemen is the oldest distillery windmill in Schiedam, dating to 1770. It’s also the only windmill with an attached miller’s house. It’s not usually open to the public, but may open occasionally for special events.
Whether you decide to visit Schiedam as a day trip, or stay for a few nights, there is something for everyone in this surprising little town!
This blog post is now available on GPSmyCity here: 5 Reasons to Visit Schiedam, South Holland