Working Dutch industrial windmills and historical buildings can be seen at Zaanse Schans in Zaandam on a self-guided day-trip from Amsterdam in the Netherlands.
Despite windmills being imprinted in the mind of many visitors as the most typical of Dutch scenes, it is quite possible to visit Amsterdam, and indeed the Netherlands, without seeing a single one. The easiest way to see historical working windmills near Amsterdam is to take a self-guided half-day trip to Zaanse Schans in Zaandam just north of the Dutch capital.
From the 1960s onwards, windmills and historic houses have been restored or moved to the Zaanse Schans area to preserve them. Currently, there are eight windmills as well as several mostly seventeenth and eighteenth-century dark-green wooden buildings that house museums and traditional workshops.
Although bearing most of the hallmarks of a European open-air museum, Zaanse Schans is not formally a museum. The area is laid out like a typical nineteenth-century village with free access to public spaces at all hours.
The Windmills of Zaanse Schans
Zaanse Schans has six large industrial mills on the bank of the Zaan River – during the nineteenth century, around 400 mills worked on the banks of the Zaan and in total over a thousand were built since the construction of the first one in 1597.
The six industrial windmills at Zaanse Schans are:
- The mustard windmill De Huisman (the home owner, literally the houseman),
- The wood sawing windmill De Gekroonde Poelenburg (the crowned Poelen Castle),
- The paint windmill De Kat (the cat),
- The oil windmill De Zoeker (the seeker),
- The oil windmill De Bonte Hen (the speckled hen), and
- The wood-sawing windmill Het Jonge Schaap (the young sheep).
Admission to each windmill, if and when open, is around €2.50 per mill.
Museums and Workshops at the Zaanse Schans
In addition to the windmills, Zaanse Schans has five museums on site:
The Zaans Museum is in a modern building and illustrates the local history, crafts, and industrial development of the region.
The Noorderhuis Museum is in a building from the mid-seventeenth century. It is the only house open to the public in the complex and has the typical furnishings of a rich merchant house from the nineteenth century.
The Museum Shop Albert Heijn has the interior of a nineteenth-century grocery store.
The Bakery Museum (Bakkerij) is in a mid-seventeenth-century building and shows a typical nineteenth-century bakery.
The Dutch Clock Museum (Nederlandse Uurwerk) explains the development of Dutch clocks from the sixteenth to mid-nineteenth centuries.
In addition to the museums, traditional crafts are demonstrated in several shops. These demonstrations include cheese making (kaasmakerij), pewter making (tingieterij), and the wooden shoe workshop (klompenmakerij).
Zaanse Schans Opening Hours, Fees, and Restaurants
Admission to the Zaanse Schans site is free as it is laid out as a real town but admission is charged to individual windmills and museums. The lack of a central administration means that all sights set individual opening hours with admission charges ranging from €1 to €6.
In general, all sights are closed in winter on weekdays. Although some sights are open, Monday is never a good day to visit. Even in summer, some mills are only working on weekends with Saturday generally a better bet than Sunday.
Two interesting restaurants in seventeenth-century buildings offer alternatives to returning to Amsterdam for dining:
- Restaurant De Hoop op d’Swarte Walvis (literally, hoping for the black whale) offers haut cuisine in an elegant, formal setting.
- Restaurant De Kraai (the crow) serves smaller meals and snacks in an Old Dutch setting. A good choice is pancakes (pannenkoeken) – these crepes are at least 12” (30 cm) in diameter.
From April to September, the Zaanse Schans can also be seen from pleasure boats on the Zaan River. The first around 50-minute cruise departs at 11 am.
As the Zaanse Schans is basically like an open-air museum, it is best visited on a sunny day. However, whatever the weather, visitors will soon realize why the windmills were erected here in the first place.
Zaanse Schans is easily reached from Amsterdam Centraal Station:
The easiest way is by bus. Connexxion Bus (Line 91) runs twice per hour in 40 minutes to Zaanse Schans – the last of over 20 stops.
Trains offer a slightly faster connection but the difference is minimal. Take the stoptrein (slow train) in the direction of Alkmaar and get off at Koog-Zaandijk, the fourth stop – around 20 minutes. From Koog-Zaandijk station, it is a well-signposted, 15-minute walk through a neat, modern neighborhood to the Zaanse Schans.
The largest collection of historical windmills in the Netherlands is the 19 windmills at Kinderdijk in South Holland. Kinderdijk is a popular day trip from Rotterdam and day excursions are also available from Amsterdam and other Dutch cities.
Besides windmills, the mainstay of tourist images of rural Holland is flower bulb fields. These can be seen easily on various day trips from Amsterdam but the best show is the tulip flower garden annually planted at Keukenhof near Lisse.