Zaanse Schans is a neighbourhood of the town of Zaandam, located near to Amsterdam. The Zaanse (Zaan river) Schans (sconce) was originally a fortification against the Spanish during the Eighty Year’s War for Dutch independence. Between 1961 and 1974 a number of historic buildings were re-located here and the area is now a major tourist site featuring preserved traditional Dutch windmills and a number of museums depicting early life in the Netherlands. The site receives more than a million visitors each year and it’s easy to see why; the neighbourhood is picturesque and gives visitors a taste of traditional Dutch country life away from the hustle and bustle of the major cities. Here you can see cheeses being made (and taste many different varieties), find out about traditional ways of making clogs and barrels, and even try your hand at making traditional Dutch chocolate. Located so close to Amsterdam it’s a great place to visit to enjoy the scenery and learn about Dutch history and culture. It’s also very possible to have all these experiences without spending much money! Read on to find out my best tips for visiting the beautiful Zaanse Schans on a budget.
Getting To Zaanse Schans
Located very close to Amsterdam, Zaanse Schans is very easy to get to by train or car. If you are based in Amsterdam you can catch an 18 minute train from Amsterdam Centraal to Zaandijk Zaanse Schans for only €3.10 each way! From the station it’s only about a ten-minute walk to the Zaanse Schans site, and if you travel outside of peak hours you can also take your bike and use that to get around – there are lots of bike paths around Zaanse Schans and you can also explore the town of Zaandijk if you wish. If you have a car there is ample parking on the site, although it will cost you €10. This is a flat rate though, so you can stay as long as you like and explore for hours!
Free Things to do at Zaanse Schans
Aside from travel and/or parking costs, it is possible to visit Zaanse Schans, have a great time and not spend a thing! I would suggest bringing food and drink with you, there are lots of nice spots where you can sit and have a picnic while enjoying the scenery and atmosphere and of course, buying food at a supermarket beforehand is very economical. While you can buy things to eat and drink here it’s mostly of the snack/sweet treat variety (waffles, biscuits, ice-cream, cheese) and the only restaurants on site are a pancake restaurant and a rather expensive (but beautiful looking) restaurant called De Hoop op d’Swarte Walvis. Save money by bringing your own Dutch style picnic and skip the exorbitant prices! Of course, you may wish to buy some souvenirs or Dutch cheeses and such, that is completely up to you, but here is my list of all the fun and FREE things you can do at Zaanse Schans:
The Clog Workshop
In this museum you can learn about the Dutch footwear: clogs! Watch a demonstration of how clogs are made, read about the history of clogs and clogs that are made for special occasions (like the carved bridal clogs above right) and even buy yourself some clogs in the gift shop if you want. Don’t forget to take advantage of the cheesy photo opportunities outside as well!
The Catharina Hoeve Cheese Farm
This replica of a traditional cheese farm shows how cheese is made and has hundreds of different types of cheese (and mustards and other treats) for display and for tasting. Staff wearing traditional cheese maker costumes can tell you all about the different types of Dutch cheese as well as daily demonstrations of the cheese making process, and of course, lots of testing trays!
Zaans Gedaan (The Cocoa Lab)
As soon as you arrive at Zaanse Schans the first thing you notice is the delicious scent of chocolate wafting through the air. You can follow your nose to this tiny little cocoa lab and try your hand at making your own chocolate or chocolate drinks (for a fee) or simply marvel at the many chocolate moulds and produce on display. You will be sorely tempted to try some of the mouth-watering products available here, I especially recommend the Tony’s Chocolonely bars; a Dutch company and the cocoa lab has a fantastic variety of flavors to choose from! Or you can simply sit outside all day and enjoy the tantalising aromas!
Albert Heijn Museum Shop
Albert Heijn is one of the biggest Dutch supermarket chains, and here you can see the humble beginnings of this Dutch grocer’s shop. Complete with original furnishings and stock, and a very friendly old Dutch man to ask questions of, you can take a step back into the past and pretend you are doing your grocery shopping in the 1880s.
Bakery Museum de Gecroonde Duyvekater
This little bakery museum dates from 1658 and features a fascinating collection of old baking tools such as cake moulds, recipes and a massive standing mixer! The name of the museum comes from the Duivekater, a famous Zaanse sweet bread which you can buy fresh and warm here, as well as waffles and other traditional Dutch baked goods and sweets. There is an old-fashioned sweet shop at the front, then the bakery with museum as the back. There are also lots of charming baking themed goods to buy, as well as special Dutch cookbooks and a sweet little cafe area to sit in if you choose to buy something to eat.
Of the eight preserved windmills at Zaanse Schans, De Huisman (on the right above) is the only one you can visit inside for free. De Huisman (The Houseman) is a mustard mill and when you go inside you can see the original grinding stones and read information about its use for milling spices in the past. You can also use your nose to identify different spices which is quite fun, and, of course, buy souvenirs if you feel like it!
Window Shopping and Outside Areas
As well as the above free attractions there are also quite a few shops that are free to have a look around in as long as you don’t buy anything! There are numerous souvenir shops, a jewellery store and an antiques shop. Walking around the lovely old wooden buildings and garden areas are also free, as is wandering along the river and seeing the rest of the windmills from outside. This is partly what I enjoyed the most, as the area is very picturesque and some of the houses are actually residences. So while you should be respectful of the people who live here, it is also very enjoyable to see lived-in traditional buildings and gardens.
While the coopery below costs money to visit and learn about barrel making, the barrel-themed play area outside for children is perfectly free, and also looks quite fun!
The windmills are the biggest drawcard and the walking path along the river lets you see them all while also having an enjoyable walk. There are seats along the way, and sitting here and looking at the rest of the pretty town of Zaandam across the river is also very nice.
If you want to pay to go inside another windmill I would recommend De Kat (the cat) because you can climb up and go outside on the balcony, and it seems to be the highest balcony of all the windmills that have them here. Be warned, the stairs are VERY steep (more like a ladder) so you need to be mobile enough to climb up and then climb down again; this is not an easily accessible windmill! It costs €4 per adult to go inside any of the windmills that are open (they’re not all open every day). The views from De Kat were very nice and I didn’t fall down any stairs (always a real concern with me!) but you might not think €4 per person is really worth it. De Kat was a dyemill, so there is some interesting information about the materials used to create dye, and you see the mill mechanisms as well but it’s not a big display, you mostly go for the view.
So all in all, for our visit to Zaanse Schans for two persons we spent €18; €10 for parking and €4 each to go into De Kat. If you are coming by train it would probably be even cheaper minus the costs of whatever food you bring along. It is definitely easy (and still very fun) to visit Zaanse Schans without spending much money!
More Budget Tips for Visiting Zaanse Schans