Zaanse Schans: A Dutch Day Trip Away from Amsterdam
A visit to the Netherlands isn’t really complete without seeing a windmill.
It would be like going to Paris and not visiting the Eiffel Tower, like a trip to New York City without seeing the Empire State Building.
You get my point: windmills and the Netherlands just go hand in hand.
I only had two short days to spend in the Netherlands during an overnight stopover on the Voyage of the Vikings cruise this summer. After the first full day of sightseeing in Amsterdam, I was ready to get out of the big city. The endless traffic, crowds, and muggy heat made me want to leave as quickly as possible.
For our second day, my mum and I decided to sign up for a tour to the windmill village Zaanse Schans. To be honest, we didn’t give the tour a whole lot of thought; we simply wanted to see something other than Amsterdam, and I am so glad we did.
Zaanse Schans is one of the top tourist attractions in the whole country, receiving approximately 1.6 million visitors last year.
In Amsterdam’s city center there are plenty of tour companies that offer this tour. We decided to go with Tours & Tickets, who seem to have an office on almost every city block. The five and a half hour tour cost 45 Euro per person, which included a live guide.
From Amsterdam it’s a short drive of approximately 30 km to Zaanse Schans.
Zaanse Schans lies in the Zaan region of northern Holland, and is Western Europe’s oldest industrial area. At one point there were over 600 windmills here running at the same time. Today ten windmills, each with a unique name and purpose, remain.
We peeked into a working windmill named De Zoeker, which was grinding nuts into oil with its large stone wheels.
The mills here aren’t only used for grinding oil, others are used to saw wood, make spices, and grind pigment for paint colours.
Built around the windmills are traditional style Dutch houses and small farms, complete with sheep, goats, and chickens.
And of course, Zaanse Schans wouldn't be complete without a clog or two. Or ten!
In total, we had about an hour and a half to spend in Zaanse Schans to view the windmills. This allowed us to get a brief overview of the history of the area, but I would have really liked to spend more time here.
After our group reconvened at the tour bus we were on our way to the nearby fishing village of Volendam.
Volendam is characterized by its neat rows of brick houses, each kept impeccably tidy. In fact, our tour guide mentioned that locals are always cleaning here. I found this statement to be fairly accurate, because even in my short time visiting the town there were several homeowners outside sweeping their patios or washing their windows.
I didn't realize at first, but my mum pointed out that all the houses have these sweet little curtains in the windows. Almost like a fairytale isn't it?
Our tour made a point of stopping in at the Volendam Cheese Factory. We were able to watch a live demonstration of how cheese is made, and afterwards sample various cheeses.
The shop itself felt like a tourist trap, but being able to take in the incredible taste and smells of these Dutch cheeses was a great experience.
The area now known as Volendam used to be the harbor for the nearby town of Edam (the original source for the cheese of the same name!). It wasn't until Edam got its own harbor that the farmers and fishermen living in this area formed into the town now known as Volendam.
When in Volendam, do as the locals do, and eat seafood.
The harbor is lined with restaurants, each touting to have the freshest seafood, but instead of dining in one of them we grabbed some fish from one of the street vendors (a tip we received from a friend who had visited Volendam previously).
We started off with some smoked eel - my mum's favorite! Once I got over the slimy look of it, I found the flavor similar to smoked salmon.
Next up was some herring with pickles and chopped onion. None for me, but my mum really enjoyed it!
Lastly, we tried one of the Netherlands most popular dishes: Kibbeling, which consists of deep fried fish (originally cod, but due to today's rising fish prices it is mostly made from other fish such as pollack) and some tartar sauce. It was delicious!
These tasty treats brought our tour to an end and we headed back to Amsterdam. All in all, I would highly recommend visiting Zaanse Schans and Volendam for anyone looking to get out of the city to experience Dutch culture and history.