On our way to Rome, we had a long layover at the Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam. Aware that sitting at the airport wouldn’t be fun, I searched for something easy and entertaining to do until we caught our connecting flight. A day trip involving something typically Dutch, Zaanse Schans seemed to be the perfect destination.
Zaanse Schans is a delightful neighborhood in the city of Zaandam, north of Amsterdam. Designed to recreate the look of an 18th/19th-century village, the area includes picture-perfect, colorful wooden houses, gigantic historic mills, and narrow canals along the Zaan River. The fresh air and serene atmosphere gave us not only a real taste of the Dutch countryside but also a chance to learn about the region’s prosperous past. Furthermore, if it weren’t for the 21st-century tourists strolling through the area, I’d say it felt like we were stepping back in time.
We spent about four hours in Zaanse Schans, but we wished we could have stayed longer. We explored as much as time allowed. Read on and find out what you need to know for this marvelous day trip, starting the moment you arrive at Schiphol Airport.
Schiphol Amsterdam Airport Luggage Storage
If you need a place to store your carry-on (or all luggage), the Baggage Depot, located in the basement between Arrivals 1 and 2, can be easily found by following the signs strategically placed in the airport. The Baggage Depot is open 24 hours a day and offers an excellent service. The prices for luggage storage range from €6 to €12 which you can pay with debit or credit cards.
How to get to Zaanse Schans from Schiphol Amsterdam Airport
The best way to travel from Schiphol Airport to Zaanse Schans without a car is by train. It only takes 30 minutes, and prices start at €15.20 round-trip. Several trains travel every day between the two locations. Inside the airport, there are self-service machines where you can buy your ticket.
Your route will be from Schiphol Airport to Zaandijk Zaanse Schans Station, and it will require at least one change in Sloterdijk or Amsterdam-Centraal. There are no direct train services for this journey. On your way back, make sure you get on the correct train by checking the overhead platform boards for destination Schiphol Airport. Again, there is one change in Sloterdijk.
Zaanse Schans village is just a 15-minute walk from Zaandijk Zaanse Schans Station. Signs will lead you to the village as soon as you leave the station.
Note: Check out the trains departing from Schiphol Airport to Zaandijk Zaanse Schans here. Do not forget to validate your ticket before each route using machines conveniently located near the platforms.
What to see and do in Zaanse Schans
1.Wander through the village
In the 17th century, over 1000 windmills stood along the Zaan River to make flour and cocoa, saw wood, crush seeds, and grind spices. Towards 1850, steam engines took over the windmills’ jobs, and around 1920 only 20 non-operational windmills remained in the area. To save these Dutch icons, 13 mills, houses, and barns were moved and saved to create an open-air museum, Zaanse Schans. The village attracts nearly a million visitors per year. It may be a tourist trap (as described by some folks), but it fits perfectly in my childhood vision of what I thought the real Netherlands looked like.
Undeniably there is no better way to enjoy the village than by wandering aimlessly among the well-preserved old windmills and houses, narrow canals with cute, little bridges, and shops. The scenery was gorgeous and every step we took we had an opportunity for a stunning photo. The entire village is peaceful, inviting, and easy to explore. There is no charge to walk around, but a fee is required to enter the windmills and the museum.
Note: Try to arrive as early as you can. The place was empty around 9 am. By noon it was packed with tourists that arrived on tour buses.
2. Check out a windmill
The windmills are the real draw of Zaanse Schans. With plenty of them spread out along the Zaan River, all you have to do is stroll or bike (available for rent) to one or all of them. Photo opportunities are countless. However, if you want to get a legitimate experience of the past, take a tour into at least one of the six functional windmills that are open to the public. The small fee is well worth it. Despite having the chance to see the structure up close, we also learned about the history behind the windmills that produced everything from spices and oil to paper, flour, and even dyes during the 18th and 19th centuries.
3. Visit the clog workshop
Clogs are another icon in the Netherlands. The Dutch have been wearing plain wooden shoes since medieval times. Shaped differently according to the region or each profession, the foremost intention was to protect the feet of farmers, fishermen, factory workers, and artisans. Although known as the poor man’s shoes, there were shoes for special occasions as well. While they wore plain clogs on work days, Sunday clogs had beautiful, detailed paintings.
The clog making workshop was free and interesting. The five-minute demonstration takes place continuously throughout the day as visitors gather in front of the sitting area. During that time, we watched from start to finish how the clog takes shape. Meanwhile, we learned that a skilled artisan would spend 3-4 hours to make one pair of wooden shoes by hand. Nowadays, with machines’ help, it is reduced to five minutes.
If you wish to purchase a pair of clogs, the extended gift shop has an incredible inventory in all sizes, designs, and colors. Not interested? At least make sure to try on a pair and experience what it feels like to walk with a piece of wood attached to your feet.
4. Sample local cheese at Catharina Hoeve Cheese Shop
For cheese lovers, Catharina Hoeve cheese shop offers both free cheese-making demonstrations and tasting. After the short presentation, we walked through the extension of the store where we tasted an excellent selection of cheeses, mustards, chocolate, and waffles.
Who knew there could be so many flavors of Gouda? There was regular Gouda, smoked Gouda, Gouda infused with truffle, Gouda with garlic, Gouda with herbs, spiced Gouda, and Gouda with pesto just to name a few. If Gouda is not your favorite, do not worry, there are other kinds of cheeses.
5. Taste the Dutch pancakes
Initially, there was nothing appealing about the restaurants we saw in Zaanse Schans. Yet, in need of some food, the De Kraai Restaurant attracted our attention by the advertisement of Dutch pancakes. What is a Dutch pancake anyway? We wondered. First of all, pancakes in the Netherlands are not just for breakfast. Because they offer sweet and savory versions, the dish is often on lunch and dinner menus. Close to a 16-inch size pizza, a Dutch pancake is thin, reminding me of a crepe. Like pizza, it was made to order, and we could choose from a wide variety of toppings such as Nutella, chocolate, lemon, jams, bacon, cheese, pineapple, strawberries, and whipped cream just to name a few.
We ordered a Pineapple & Cheese and a Chocolate with Whipped Cream. It was a mouth-watering experience! Lightly browned, the dough was fluffy, buttery, and flavorful. Although the toppings added more flavor to it, I would be happy just eating a plain Dutch pancake.
6. Discover the local history at the Zaans Museum
If you want to dive into the history of the influential industrial era of the Zaan region during the 17th and 18th centuries, the Zaans Museum becomes a mandatory stop. The exhibitions cover the indisputable importance of Zaan to the world during that period when over 600 active industrial mills helped the growth and prosperity of the Industrial Revolution in the area. The windmills varied from machine-sawn wood, paper, ground spices, oil for food and paint, dyes, fibers, flour, cocoa powder, and more.
The museum also highlights the rise of the Verkade Chocolate and Biscuit Factory at the Verkade Pavilion. As we walked through the building, we checked out the original 1950s machines (still operating) which gave us a comprehensive idea of how the bakers made the biscuits. Kids can have fun designing their own wrapper for a customized Verkade chocolate bar and then package the chocolate using a mini packaging machine.
Last but not least, we were delighted to see some of Claude Monet’s work of art at the Zaans Museum. The brilliant French painter stayed in Zaandam for four months in 1871. While there, inspired by the beauty of the place, he worked on 25 paintings, two of which are on display at the Zaans Museum.
Note: Guests have access to a complimentary audio tour. The admission receipt allows a free pass to the bathrooms by scanning the barcode on it.
Have you been to the Netherlands? What is the most iconic Dutch element in your memories or imagination?