Nothing is more Dutch than windmills, cheese and those cute wooden shoes. All of which we happily found in one place at Zaanse Schanse in the Netherlands. This open-air “museum”, located in the neighborhood of Zaandam just north of Amsterdam, will take you back in time for a snapshot of 17th century Dutch life – think adorable little houses, themed museums, artisan shops and of course, windmills. This re-creation of a real living and working village is a hands-on adventure for all your senses where visitors of all ages can see and participate in the making (and tasting) process first-hand.
We feared that Zaanse Schanse would be overly touristy, so we planned to get there early and were pleasantly surprised (the tour buses started pouring in just as we were getting ready to leave after 4+ hours, and perhaps the gray drizzly weather put a damper on the crowds too). Another thing to consider is whether or not you will get your money’s worth by buying the Zaanse Schans Card. While the pass does give you free access to a variety of sites, as well as a 10% discount on all purchase at stores and restaurants, it’s probably not necessary since the majority of the most interesting sites are already free. Plus, some sites are closed on specific days during the week (look this up on the website in advance), so you would probably be better off paying the few euros at individual sites as needed unless you plan on doing a lot of souvenir shopping (see below) or like the convenience of having everything already included.
Overall our visit to Zaanse Schanse was one of my favorite experiences during our time in the Netherlands. We found ourselves smiling from ear-to-ear all day and had a ton of fun exploring this historic playground, even if it was in the rain. ;)
- Close to Amsterdam – Zaanse Schanse is only 40 minute away via Connexxion bus #391 (also reachable by train, car or bike), making it an easy and accessible daytrip from Amsterdam and much closer than other open-air museums and notable windmills around the region
- Cuteness overload – between the historic wooden houses that were relocated here in the 1960s to the friendly animals at the farm, seemingly endless fields and always-smiling members of this living and working community who still don traditional dress, everything is just so Dutch and so stinking cute
- Working windmills – perhaps one of the biggest draws of Zaanse Schanse is its windmills, most of which are still working and allow visitors to peek inside for an up-close look at how they make products like oil, paint, spices, tobacco and timber, along with informative videos, hands-on activities and even a chance to climb to the deck for a panorama view
- Chocolate, cheese and cookies, oh my! – definitely bring your appetite to Zaanse Schans because there is soooo much deliciousness to try, from a huge variety of samples at the Catharina Hoeve Cheese Farm to make-your-own Dutch hot (or cold) chocolate at the Cocoa Lab, as well as a nice little cafeteria-style restaurant where you can feast on traditional made-to-order Dutch pancakes for lunch
- A museum for everything – it’s easy to fill your day with all of the various museums, attractions and shops you’ll find around Zaanse Schanse, each dedicated to a specific craft like the bakery museum, time museum, weavers house and more, plus the Zaanse Museum in the main visitor’s center building rounds out this uniquely Dutch experience
- Souvenir shopping – with so many shops of uniquely Dutch products, Zaanse Schans is a great place to purchase gifts for friends and family back home – like wooden clogs, handmade soaps, imitation Delft ceramics, fresh-baked speculaas cookies and more – most of which are of surprisingly good quality and price (often better than what we found in Amsterdam and other nearby cities)