After a few days in Amsterdam, a day trip to Zaanse Schans can provide a much-needed break from urban buzz. I can’t deny it, this place is shamelessly touristy, but it’s the perfect place to escape the bustle of the city and discover Dutch picturesque countryside, renowned for its authentic atmosphere and, of course, for its iconic series of working windmills.
It’s often listed on the internet as a good day-trip from Amsterdam, but if you’re short on time and pick the museums you want to visit, I found that half a day was enough time.
SO…WHAT IS ZAANSE SCHANS EXACTLY?
Zaanse Schans is a lovely village with a virtually unpronounceable name on the banks of the Zaan River, in the province of North Holland, famous for holding a collection of well-preserved historic windmills and houses dating back to 18th and 19th century.
A heavenly smell of chocolate and waffles waft over you as you pass through the entrance, and it is easy to imagine you have stepped back in time as you walk between green Zaan-style houses. I actually tried to see where the strong smell of chocolate was coming from, and guess what? There’s a Willy-Wonka-like Chocolate factory in Zaandam! Not only that, I found out that Claude Monet lived in Zaandam for months, where he found inspiration and painted 25 pieces. What an awesome city.
It’s a very special place, and it is delightful just to walk around the waterfront looking at the cute houses, tiny bridges, open fields and of course, the windmills.
There are a couple of windmills in Zaanse Schans that you can actually enter to see their inner workings. Each mill operates on different days and hours, so be sure to check the schedule if there is a specific mill you’d like to visit.
De Zoeker, an oil mill built in 1672, makes oil in the traditional way by grinding seeds and peanuts. De Kat, my personal favorite, is a dye mill built in 1646, is the only mill in the world to still process raw materials such as chalk and wood into pigment for the production of paints and dyes. Inside the windmill was just as impressive as the outside with two massive stones working chalk into a fine powder in the main area as we came in.
It is possible to climb up to the second level and to the balcony, where you can see the spinning blades in action up close — but not too close! It is also at this platform that one can enjoy a panoramic view of Zaanse Schans and its surroundings.
If you’re afraid of heights, it might take all of your courage to climb the flights of stairs to the top, but once you’re back down you can always reward yourself with a cup of hot chocolate and a huge Dutch biscuit. Like anyone needs an excuse for chocolate anyway!
After exploring the windmills, cross over a cute little bridge towards the bleating sheep lounging in the green. From there, you can weave in and out of the other historical buildings on site, which include a historic shipyard, a chocolate shop, a cheese farm, a clog workshop and a replica of the oldest Albert Heijn.
Boat rides are also available, which cross the water toward the historic homes overlooking the lake.
HOW TO GET THERE
The fastest way to get to Zaanse Schans is to take the 15 minutes train to Koog Zaandijk station from Amsterdam Centraal station. If you prefer to travel to Zaanse Schans by bus (which may take 30 to 40 minutes), bus 391 leaves Amsterdam Central Station twice every hour and arrives at the Zaans Museum.
INFO & PRICES
The museums and workshops have different opening hours, but if you aim to be at Zaanse Schaans between 10 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. most things should be open. For a list of all the different opening hours, click here.
Whilst admission to the Zaanse Schans is free (yay!) I can’t promise you you won’t be spending some hard cash on the delicious cheese and waffles for the ride back home!
Have you ever been to Zaanse Schans? Do you happen to know how to pronounce Zaanse Schans?