My first impression of the Zaanse Schans was that is a little Smurf village. Only, decorated wooden houses are green and the whole landscape is dominated by large windmills.
One of the first things I noticed when getting off the Zaanferry was the smell. Partly sweet partly sour. Like something fermenting, not exactly unpleasant but I can’t quite place it. “Chocolate” I hear a lady behind me telling her friend. That doesn’t smell like any chocolate I know I think but turns out, she is right. After parking my bike (you can take your bike to the Zaanferry if you want to though I ended up only walking around) the first house that I notice is indeed a Cacaolab. A shop with a small added workshop section is right next to the pier and provides the fragrance ambience.
Some houses in the village are really tiny, rather a kiosk than an actual house. The cosy impression is further emphasized by the chicken and ducks waddling around in the bushes and in the canals and a mini-zoo in the backyard of the cheese shop. The overall impression is neat, like a village in the children’s book.
The first thing you see already from the boat, however, are the windmills. There are four windmills next to the landing and more in the distance. The ferry landing is between the tiny village on the right and the path the leads to the mills on the left.
About Zaanse Schans:
The Zaanse Schans is a neighbourhood of Zaandam, Netherlands. It’s approximately 20km from Amsterdam and is known for its historic windmills and a collection of wooden houses relocated to one open-air museum village.
The Zaanse Schans has several small museums and museum-shops, several windmills that are open for visitors and large Zaans Museum established in 1994 introducing area’s history and industries (there is a whole cookie factory linked to the museum).
Getting to Zaanse Schans:
Reaching Zaanse Schans is easy and you have various ways to get there. I took the Zaanferry as it was included in my I Amsterdam city card but you can buy tickets from the boat as well. The first ferry left at 10:00 AM (there are also transfers at 14:00 AM and 18:00 PM) During the summer the Zaanferry is going more frequently. The trip Zaanse Schans by ferry takes about 2hours and arrival point is right next to windmills and the village. You can take your bike to the Zaanferry.
To reach Zaanse Schans by public transport take the Rnet-bus 391 from the Central Station (about 40 minutes). A bus goes in every 15 minutes. The fastest way to reach Zaanse Schans is probably to take a train to Zaandijk (17minutes) and walk from there to Zaanse Schans (about 15 minutes).
Riding a bike to Zaanse Schans takes around one hour. There are no hills and the distance is about 20 km.
Windmills at the Zaanse Schans:
Windmills and the Netherlands are intertwined for more than just aesthetic reasons. The Netherlands is a land that is won from the ocean by hard work and the windmills were the technology that allowed Dutch people to do it. Windmills started out as water pumps and were later found to be useful to many other things.
Zaanse Schans has four large and still operational windmills. When you visit the Netherlands during the winter at least two of the four windmills in Zaans Schans are open at any given day. During the summer, from 24 March to 31 October, all four mills are open to visitors.
During my winter visit to Zaanse Schans (February) the two mills open happened to be the Saw Mill and the Dyestuff Mill.
Dyestuff Mill – De Kat
The first windmill that is open is for dyestuff. They grind down different minerals that among other things were used by artists like Van Gogh and Rembrandt to mix their own oil paints. It was not uncommon for artists to mix their own paints by mixing the pigments with oil, water, etc.
When I enter the mill huge, stoically rotating stones grinding white stones into a powder. The mill grinds material for the linoleum factory to make floor cover. While the stones are running white now there is an astonishing selection of different tone of historic pigments on display. The materials used are really creative and often toxic.
This mill allows access to the balcony surrounding the upper part of the windmill. Great photo spot and under-the-cloud weather give a dramatic look. From close up I look at the slowly rotating hands with wonder. The millstones under our feet weight 3 tons each (for the reference average car is 1-2 tons). While it is by no means windless around here it’s still amazing to think that it’s enough to move these monster-wheels and grind down stones.
Saw Mill – Het Jonge Schaap
Next windmill cuts wood. The mill itself is rebuilt recently, 2005-2007. Many of the windmills were broken down when the technological development made it unprofitable to use them industrially. Het Jonge Schaap original windmill was constructed in 1680 and demolished at 1942. However, the mill was properly measured before the original construction was demolished allowing to construct a close replica.
Today it still cuts the wood same time as working as a museum introducing logging and sawmills history in the Zaanse region. While the first mill offered an opportunity to climb high, the sawmill has spread out horizontally. It has separate buildings with a museum shop and gardens with boats, rafts, tables-chairs for sitting and a flock of chicken scrabbling about.
Netherlands Theme Museums in Zaans Schans
The Zaans Schans have a wide range of museums and museum-shops. The area was known for industries and craftsmen. From 1961 to 1974 old buildings from all over the Zaanstreek were relocated to the Zaans Schans and it makes up a nice village.
The variety of museums in Zaans Schans is really amazing. Strolling along the narrow path between the green, wooden houses I venture into a baking museum-cafe, clogs museum-shop, barrel workshop, Time Museum. Anything from handling the raw materials all the way to exhibiting finest machinery at a time (clocks).
In addition to small museum houses, most of the souvenir shops also have a museum room. It actually becomes tricky to tell the difference where the shop ends and museum starts and vice verse. The good side? Occasionally you get to sample things like in a cheese and mustard shop.
Zaans museum tells about the daily life of the Zaan region over the centuries and the exhibits include a lot of info about how things were made. The museum makes use of many modern interactive methods. Their collection ranges from factory machines and product samples to an interactive windmill landscape that shows the number of windmills in the Netherland over the years. Also, a more traditional section with paintings and period pieces is exhibited. Altogether the collection is well varied.
If you are travelling with kids in the Netherland they may be tired of being dragged into museums. Zaans Museum has a whole cookie factory connected to it with an assembly line, chocolate mixing barrel and a chocolate wrapping machine. The last bit can children use themselves to wrap their own chocolate bar. I didn’t see any Umpa Lumpas around so the odds of turning blue should be minimal.
After the cookie factory experience, it’s time for me to head back to the ferry. It has been a busy day. With many small places to visit instead of a few large museums, the experience has been like the all-you-can-eat buffet of information and experiences. I’d definitely recommend a day trip to Zaans Schans if you look for a day trip from Amsterdam!
*I was a guest of the I Amsterdam for the Zaans Schans part of my visit in the Netherlands. I’m proud to be an honest and transparent blogger, all opinions expressed on ALIML are my own and a true review of my experience.
Travelling in the Netherlands? You may also like: https://alibraryinmyluggage.com/2019/02/20/amsterdam-72hours/