Zaanse Schans is just a short day trip from Amsterdam and this well preserved town feels like an open-air museum full of traditional Dutch handicrafts and culture. I felt like I was on sensory overload when I stepped off the bus and took in my first view of the village. This was exactly how we had pictured Holland to look and we practically didn’t know where to start our visit. No matter whether you take a guided day trip to Zaanse Schans from Amsterdam or visit independently, don’t miss these things in the village.
1. Visit a Working Windmill
Thump-thump. Thump-thump. The sound drew us down the gravel path toward the windmills along the Zaan River.
The people that had lived along the banks of the Zaan River had gotten rich from trade and fishing and built their first windmills around 1600. The windmills produced everything from barley and rice to paper, wood, cooking oil, and even tobacco and hemp. The people that had lived along the banks of the Zaan River had gotten rich from trade and fishing and built their first windmills around 1600. The windmills produced everything from barley and rice to paper, wood, cooking oil, and even tobacco and hemp.
Of the over 1000 windmills that once dotted the riverbank, there are just 13 remaining. Only six of those 13 are working windmills at Zaanse Schans: a mustard mill, two sawmills, two oil mills and the world’s last working dye mill.
A visit to at least one of the windmills is not to be missed when visiting Zaanse Schans.
The thump-thumping got louder as we approached the first windmill and wandered in. The windmill is a paint and dye mill called De Kat and was built between 1646 and 1696. It unfortunately burned to the ground, but was quickly rebuilt in 1782. Believed to be the only remaining mill of its kind, the mill grinds raw materials to make pigments for paints.
On the ground floor, we could see the huge grind stones crushing the chalk. The grindstones are driven by the windmill. As we watched the materials being ground and ducked every so often as the huge machine rotated around, we understood the sign warning “Your visit to this windmill is at your own risk.”
We climbed the narrow and steep ladder up to the second level. Here we had a direct view of the huge wooden cogs that turn, transferring the wind energy down to the grindstone. The wooden floor seemed almost rickety as it creaked and shook from the cogs turning.
Another narrow ladder led up to a tiny door and we emerged outside onto the platform encircling the mill. Stepping onto this platform is not for those with a fear of heights.
Wooden planks were nailed a few inches apart and even I dared not to look down to the river running below as we inched our way along the platform. We watched the sails of the windmill complete their revolution, moving a little quicker as the wind picked up.
We had visited a windmill selling baking supplies a few days earlier in Grosbeek, but it had long since been retired. I never thought it would be possible to visit a working windmill and it was fascinating.
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. Each mill costs €3 to visit or one mill can be visited with the Zaanse Schans Card.
Visit the third windmill for an excellent mug of Dutch hot chocolate and a short film on the history of the windmills of Zaanse Schans.
2. Clomp Around in Some Klompen
When you think of something typically Dutch, we’d be willing to be windmills and wooden clogs come to mind (at least they do for us). Dutch clogs are part of the heritage, but are really only worn mostly in rural areas by farmers and gardeners because they’re great for walking around on the swampy ground. Dutch clogs are actually even certified by the European Union as a safety shoe because they can withstand sharp and heavy objects as well as concentrated acids.
Traditionally, skilled artisans made clogs by hand and could produce up to seven pairs each day. Today, clogs are made by machines, but clog makers still do make them by hand at the Zaanse Schans Clog Workshop.
Dutch clogs are typically made from willow or poplar and over six million are produced each year. Of those six million, most of them destined to be purchased by tourists.
Part of the Zaanse Schans Clog Workshop is dedicated to an interesting Wooden Shoe Museum where you can see clog roller skates, betrothal clogs and many other unique clogs. The Dutch apparently love to skate and these clogclapskates had a lap time of 48 seconds at Thialf Stadium in Heerenveen.
Traditional Dutch clogs had other purposes. In the 9th century, it was a tradition for a fiance to present his future bride with a pair of long pointed wooden shoes made with the utmost love on Christmas Eve.
For more practical purposes, there are many less intricately detailed versions of clogs simply worn for work. The clogs were adapted for the type of work they would be worn for and all kinds of professions wore clogs.
Free clog making demonstrations take place regularly throughout the day and the shop boasts the largest selection of clogs in all colors and sizes in The Netherlands. Be sure to try on a pair and see what it feels like to clomp around in your klompen. If you do want to purchase a pair as a souvenir, the shop has all colors and sizes for women, men and children, and range in price from around €20 – €150.
And no visit to the Wooden Shoe Workshop would be complete without sitting in and wearing giant clogs.
The Zaanse Schans Clog Workshop is open daily from 8:30am – 5pm.
3. Go Cheese Tasting
Who doesn’t love cheese? (Well, unless you’re lactose intolerant. Then skip this one.) And free cheese is even better.
We’ve never seen so many different types of Gouda in our lives. There was regular Gouda, smoked Gouda with herbs, Gouda with chilies and even a neon green Gouda with pesto. If Gouda isn’t your thing, there are many other Dutch cheeses as well.
The Cheese Farm De Catherinahoeve also conducts free cheese making demonstrations throughout the day and is open daily from 8am – 6pm.
4. Indulge in a Dutch Pancake
What’s so special about a Dutch pancake? We wondered the same thing.
Nearly 29 centimeters in diameter (that’s almost one foot), they come in sweet or savory varieties and are eaten as a main course. My sweet tooth got the better of my and I ordered the pancake with apricot jam, eggnog and whipped cream. I excitedly watched as the batter was poured in the pancake mold and waited in anticipation for it to turn golden.
De Kraai Pancake Restaurant is open March – October from 9am – 6pm and November – February from 10am – 5pm. Pancakes range from €6 – €12 depending on toppings.
5. Shop at the Historic Albert Heijn Grocery
The historic Albert Heijn Grocery is how Albert Heijn, grandfather and founder of the mighty Ahold supermarket emporium, began when he took over the small grocery store from his parents in 1887. The recreated inventory of coffee and spices serves as a small museum for the original grocery.
In a back room, a small museum dedicated to the history of Dutch coffee (actual coffee, not the other meaning of “coffee shop” in The Netherlands) walks through the modernization of the coffee grinder. To be honest, the coffee grinder hasn’t changed all that much over the course of a couple hundred years.
Dutch licorice and some other things can be purchased in the grocery store. Admission to the museum is free and it is open Tuesday – Sunday from 10:30am – 1pm and 1:30pm – 4pm.
Know Before You Go
Or book a day trip to Zaanse Schans from Amsterdam that includes round trip transportation, entry fees and lunch at the pancake restaurant.
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