Zaanse Schans is an old historic town famous for its well preserved windmills and houses. It is a popular tourist stop for the day trippers from Amsterdam. It gives you a flavour of what life used to be in Holland in the early 17th and 18th century by allowing you to experience functioning windmills, wooden shoe workshop, cheese farm and other aspects of traditional Dutch lifestyle. Places like this are, in fact, becoming quite popular in Europe for the last decade or so. They are what you may call as an “open air conservation museum”. It is an attempt towards preserving a slice of life, as it were, from the times gone by. We have been to similar conservation museums in the UK, Continental Europe and Scandinavian countries. The difference between Zaanse Schans and other places is that Zaanse is fully inhabited and therefore has a much more authentic feel to it.
The place can be easily reached in 20 minutes by frequent trains departing from the Amsterdam Central Station. There is a short walk required from the station to the actual site. Watch out for a tourist information guy standing on the platform where the train arrives from Amsterdam who will be happy to point you to the museum and give you a free map. There is also an option to rent bikes to go around the various historic sites.
The moment you set foot in the town you are transported back in time. All traditional Dutch icons are present here whether it is windmills, clogs, milk maids in traditional costumes, cheese farm or early 19th century candy store. Along the river are about six windmills starting from traditional saw mill to, something I had never heard before, an oil mill. I believe only a few are open to public each day. The one we went inside was being used for grinding chalk and, subsequently , making paint and dyes from it. There were tiny stairs that took us right to the top of the windmill where we got great views of the surrounding countryside. We could also look out as far as the horizon due to very flat Dutch terrain.
Zaanse is one of those touristy places that, if it wasn’t for the fact that it is so nicely preserved, I wouldn’t have thought of ever visiting it. I do recommend going there at least once, if for nothing else, than to view the historic windmills.