Nelis’ Dutch Village brings the Netherlands to Holland, Michigan. Over 30 structures represent iconic Dutch architecture from several regions of the Netherlands throughout a ten acre property landscaped with water features, gardens, and brick walkways. The village offers family friendly rides, entertainment, and sales of Dutch souvenirs and food, as well as the tulips that made the village famous.
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Children’s rides and activities at the Dutch Village include Harry’s Windmill Ride, a full sized 1940’s Dutch windmill converted into a Ferris wheel. A carousel, or Draaimolen, is a classic, restored ride from 1924 with hand carved painted horses. The Dutch Chair Swing Ride, or Zweefmolen, is among the most popular rides. Young children will enjoy riding Plasma Cars on the ‘KinderBaan.’ The pedal-less bicycles use the forces of physics to allow kids to kick and wiggle their way through a miniature highway. A playground area offers a giant wooden shoe to climb in and on, a climbing castle, a water-pumping race and a Dutch shuffleboard game named Sjoele. A petting zoo allows children to take a goat or a sheep for a walk on a leash, and to pet rabbits, pigs, cows and Princess, the mini-horse.
Additional areas of interest include a life-sized stone frieze that represents the story of Pieter and the Dike. The legend of the “Little Dutch Boy” tells the story of Pieter, who noticed a leak in a dike on his way to school one day and alerted the village, saving them from flood. A sculpture of a giant stork, a symbol of fertility and luck in the Netherlands, offers a photo opportunity. A giant windmill is representative of the classic type used for pumping water from land back to sea. The Kolean Museum houses antiques, family histories, and Dutch costumes. The Waaggebouw is a weighouse replica, where children may follow the Dutch tradition of being weighed to see if they might be a witch.
Dining options include the Hungry Dutchman Café, which serves a variety of traditional Dutch faire, including the popular Banket, an almond dessert pastry. For casual snacking, an ice-cream shop, cheese shop, chocolate, candy and fudge shop are located throughout the village. Areas available for event rental include the Thirsty Dutchman Pub, as well as the Het Terras Event Patio.
The famous souvenir shops are open year-round. Guests may purchase a pair of traditional Dutch wooden shoes, hand painted gifts and ornaments, lace, nutcrackers and pewter steins. Tulip bulbs are sold between July and December.
History: In 1910, Harry Nelis was the first of his family to immigrate to the United States in search of rich farmland and a better future. His family joined him soon after in 1911. After unsuccessful attempts at turning a profit through vegetable farming in Missouri, the family of 12 moved to Chicago, where they were working odd jobs when they heard about a Dutch settlement in Michigan, named Holland. The Nelis family purchased 80 acres north of town, and during the Great Depression, made the switch from vegetable farming to tulips. As the tulip farm grew in popularity through the 1930’s, the family added a windmill and began to sell souvenirs. When the souvenirs became just as popular as the tulips, the Dutch village was born. The first buildings were constructed in 1952 on 40 acres bisected by the precursor to U.S. Route 31. By 1970, the family, now operating a successful company, added a wholesale division for worldwide sales of their tulip bulbs and imported Dutch souvenirs, followed by a mail order business in the 1990’s. The company is still family owned and managed, now under the direction of the third generation of Nelis family immigrants.
Ongoing Programs and Education: Entertaining performances are ongoing throughout the day. Dutch dancers in traditional costumes perform folk dances in front of the historic Golden Angel Street Organ. The 109-year old street organ recently returned from the Netherlands where it underwent a full restoration after 50 years of service at the Dutch Village. The organ received 450 feet of new piping, and played on the tulip season’s opening weekend in 2017. Dance lessons are available immediately following each dance performance.
Carillion bell music plays from the main entrance’s bell tower every hour on the hour. The Bioscoop Theater shows vintage short films about the Netherlands, each lasts approximately 20 minutes. A one-room schoolhouse, De Oude School, offers visitors the opportunity to learn a few Dutch words.
12350 James St., Holland, MI 49424, Phone: 616-396-1475