A Blog by International Students at Leiden University

Windmills, quaint houses, and… chocolate?! – A Zaanse Schans adventure

The weather has finally decided that it’s officially spring, making it prime-time to explore the best that the Netherlands has to offer. The first place on my list was Zaanse Schans, an area of exquisite natural beauty interspersed with an industrial backdrop, and the home of the windmill.

Just a stone’s throw north of Amsterdam, it is the perfect spot to bring (and impress) visiting family and friends. The closest train station to the park is about a 1 km walk away called the Zaandijk Zaanse Schans and is easily reachable from Leiden within an hour. If, however, you wish to catch a glimpse of the architecturally mad Hotel Inntel, I recommend stopping instead at train station Zaandam, where you’ll be greeted by the ‘stacked house hotel’. Imagine about 20 traditional 19th century Dutch houses were involved in a car-crash pile-up and were welded together, you would be left with this amazing architectural creation.

The ‘Stacked House’ hotel.

Feeling adventurous? After checking out the stacked house hotel cross the Zaan river and follow it north all the way to the Zaanse Schans park and museum. Beginning your adventure in the newly re-developed Zaandam town centre this 5km walk will take you north through quiet family neighbourhoods and, strangely enough, through more than a few cacao and chocolate factories. These factories will serve as a surreal, but delicious backdrop as you meander along the river, smelling the unexpected, but mouth-watering, scent of chocolate. At the end of this aromatic adventure you’ll have reached the Zaanse Schans.

Adjacent to the village, you’ll find the Zaans Museum, which, for 10 euros (8.50 for students) tells you the story behind the area’s industrial past and present. Highlights of the museum include works by Claude Monet and the ‘Verkade Experience’, which transports you into an early-twentieth-century chocolate and biscuit factory, telling you the history behind one of the area’s most successful businesses: Verkade. With its modern design and captivating form of story-telling the museum is well worth a visit, if only to understand the story behind this peculiar area of the Netherlands.

Verkade production-line, with original machinery.

After learning about the who, why, what, and where of the area it’s time to explore the reason over 1.6 million tourists visit every year; the Zaanse Schans ‘village’. The oldy-looking village is a neighbourhood artificially produced to give visitors the feel of walking through an 18th-19th century Dutch village. This tourist attraction is made up of windmills, quaint wooden houses painted the traditional Zaans bright green, and more than enough ‘tourist-trap’ type shops selling everything smeared with the words ‘traditional’ and ‘Dutch’. The village was created between 1961 and 1974 by relocating the traditional buildings you see today from all over the wider Zaan area. Dotted around the village – hidden within the houses themselves – are 7 small museums and workshops. Though the village is free to enter, a couple of the museums do charge small entrance fees. Of these the Albert Heijn Museum is a must-see, set within an old, traditional Dutch grocery store, the museum displays items that were originally sold by the man himself, Albert Heijn, from 1887 onwards.

Windmills, EVERYWHERE!

The Zaanse Schans is well worth a visit, at the very least even if only for great photo opportunities. Its only downside, in my opinion, is the swathes of other tourists you’ll have to fight your way through to enjoy yourself. If you successfully manage to duck and weave your way through the selfie-sticks you’ll find a wonderfully-told story of one of the Netherlands’ most influential neighbourhoods, set within an area of exquisite natural beauty (and don’t forget about the chocolate!).

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