If you’ve ever visited Amsterdam, chances are you’ve heard about the windmills nearby in a little neighborhood called Zaanse Schans. Less than an hour by bus or car from central station, Zaanse Schans is a colorful little neighborhood in Zaandam just outside of Amsterdam. This photogenic town is a great day trip to take from Amsterdam if you find yourself lost in the busyness of the city and want to take a look at the countryside for a few hours.
When we first arrived to Zaanse Schans we didn’t really know what to expect. I had done minimal research and my family and I didn’t realize how touristy this neighborhood would be. I’m going to be honest and say it, but this place is the definition of a tourist trap. It’s definitely still beautiful and worth seeing if you have the extra time, but I wouldn’t put it first on my list of things to do when visiting Amsterdam and the Netherlands.
Instead of rolling up to what I imagined to be a tiny town with a few windmills, we were greeted by a museum and information center, parking lot and grand entrance to the windmills in which a photographer was waiting there to take your photo and hand you a card like they would do at a theme park like Disneyworld. It was a little over the top for us… also as you walk towards the windmills you’ll have to pass through tons of gift and souvenir shops and a wooden clog store. They really push the sales on you!
I wanted to get that out of the way, since none of the photos I had seen or people I had asked seem to mention this to me. I expected it to be more of a small town with not many people, so when I saw they had turned the neighborhood into an entire tourist trap filed with shops, museums and guides I was thrown off a little bit. I will say though, if you have small children this is something that they would definitely enjoy! Even though they push all these extra sales on you as you walk to the windmills, the place is actually free to visit. You only need to pay extra if you want to visit one of the many museums they have on site, get a tour guide, or go up inside one of the windmills. And while its very touristy, most of the windmills still actually function and it as actually really interesting to learn about some of the different things they use the windmills’ power for.
Across the river that runs through the neighborhood is another neighborhood where people actually live, and you can find a few shops, restaurants, pubs, a brewery and some cute buildings. We only had to pay one euro each to get across with the help of someone’s ferry boat, and it took all of 5 minutes at most. This side was much more quiet than the side with all the windmills. I don’t think many people make the crossing over, but if you’re looking for the more authentic side of Zaandam this is where you’ll find it. The people in town were super nice, and the brewery had a really good IPA you need to try if you head on over! We also walked up into an old church they were remodeling. The Netherlands is mostly an atheistic country, with only a small percentage belonging to a religion. Many of the churches in Holland have been torn down, or repurposed into something else. This one we climbed up into was being repurposed to be a center for autistic kids.
The place itself is still super cute, and if you have the extra time in Amsterdam I still suggest you take a few hours out of one of your days to go visit the windmills! Its great for photos, and its a nice break from all the craziness that fills the streets of Amsterdam with all the bicycling, traffic and buildings.