Zaanse Schans is one of the Netherlands’ most popular tourist attractions, so how come we’ve never been?
Well, mostly because its one of the Netherlands’ most popular tourist attractions! We tend to try to find experiences that are off the tourist beat so we can avoid the coach-loads heading off the cruise ships and enjoy a slice of real Dutch life.
That said, on a recent trip we decided to give it a go. And you know what, we were pleasantly surprised and had a rather brilliant morning. Here’s why…
Zaanse Schans is within incredibly easy reach of the city. Just 15 minutes on the train from Amsterdam’s Central Station you’ll find yourself in this former industrial area packed with traditional 18th and 19th century houses and mills that used to produce oil, paint, mustard and paper. These days the heart of the village has been turned into a kind of open museum with gift shops selling traditional goods such as cheese, chocolate and of course clogs!
The visitor centre doubles up as a museum. Those who arrive early or out of season will be rewarded by having this interesting and well-designed space to themselves. Our kids absolutely adored the recreated chocolate and biscuit factory hidden deep inside, where they not only saw how these treats were originally produced, but they even got to design their own chocolate bar wrapper and take it home – with a bar of chocolate inside of course. The staff were incredibly friendly and insisted the boys tasted traditional biscuits whist they were working, which made the experience even more fun.
Outside, the view is undeniably wonderful with windmills turning across the edge of the polder, dotted with traditional green houses and red tiled roofs.
There’s no getting away from the fact that the workshops are effectively enterprising shops selling all manner of Dutch tat but frankly our kids loved cheese-tasting, animal-spotting, tree climbing and I’m sorry to say we even got roped into buying the world’s ugliest clog slippers!
As well as posing endlessly in giant clogs, the opportunity to see inside working windmills as well as enjoy the beautiful scenery made this a really fun morning and even in low season, the landscape and nature more than made up for the Dutch cliches hanging in shop windows.
There are more authentic and definitely less touristy places that bring ‘The Netherlands of old’ to life, from the wonderful ZuiderZee Museum in Enkhuizen to the OpenLucht Museum near Arnhem and the Kinderdijk Windmills near Rotterdam but if you’re looking for something close to the city and a snap of a windmill to adorn your social media feed, there are worse places to head.