On the banks of the river Zaan, time stopped three centuries ago at Zaanse Schans. In this recreation of a Dutch village in the 17th–18th centuries, stroll down streets lined with typical green wooden houses, manicured gardens and graceful bridges. Poke into tradesmen's workshops, historic windmills and tiny boutiques. See how wooden clogs are made and watch pewter jewelry fashioned before your eyes. Discover how artisanal Dutch cheese is crafted and purchase a wheel of Gouda or Edam to take home. Refuel with coffee and apple pie in one of numerous restaurants within the village. Explore a few museums and round off your visit with a boat trip on the river.
Although several museums at Zaanse Schans charge for admission, there's no entry fee at the popular tourist attraction created by relocating houses, windmills, storehouses and barns to form a replica of a typical Zaanse village. Alongside clusters of windmills, characteristic wooden houses and unique shops, traditional Dutch crafts are showcased and the lifestyles of people who lived in Holland long before sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll entered the picture are revealed.
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Time Flies at the Museum of the Dutch Clock
In a tiny wood-beamed cottage in Zaanse Schans, a collection of working timepieces provides a glimpse into the development of Dutch clocks from 1500‒1850. There's a small admission fee to enter the Museum of the Dutch Clock, where you'll hear clocks from Zaandam, The Hague, Amsterdam and the province of Friesland ticking away.
In several cozy rooms, the collection traces the evolution of Dutch timepieces from tower and early pendulum clocks to regional time keepers from Friesland, the Zaan-area and Amsterdam. You won't find much to go around your own wrist, but there's always that cell phone in your pocket to tell you what time it is.
A dazzling collection of windmills at Zaanse Schans includes this octagonal platform model that's been transformed into an oil press with a revolving cap. Built around 1693, the De Bonte Hen Mill is set in the northern end of the 17th century village replica. It has been struck by lightning numerous times, but damage was always repaired and the windmill restored to life.
After many fires, the De Bonte Hen Mill is in perfect working order today. In a renovation project that lasted from 1973–1978, it was refitted as an oil mill with millstones, striking rams and stone furnaces. These days, it's often put to work in the village of Zaanse Schans. There's a small admission fee to enter.
Albert Heijn: How a Small Food Emporium Evolved into a Giant Chain
Holland's ubiquitous Albert Heijn grocery chain had modest beginnings as a small food emporium in Oostzaan. Today's modern stores with their giant blue and white signs look nothing like this quaint green cottage in Zaanse Schans. Stepping inside it, contemporary shoppers may be surprised to see how grocery shopping has evolved in Holland through a detailed reconstruction of the first Albert Heijn and its goods inventory.
In a shop like this, Albert Heijn, grandfather and founder of the mighty Ahold supermarket emporium, opened for business in 1887 when he took over his parents' small grocery store. The reconstructed interior of his shop in the Zaanse Schans village is clear evidence of the changes that have occurred in the retail food industry over the last century.
In a tiny gazebo beside a manicured English garden near the entrance to Zaanse Schans, an age-old metal craft is practiced. Inside De Tinkoepel Pewter Foundary, you can watch a local artisan pour hot pewter into molds shaped like animals, people, vehicles and everyday items. The cooled substance is transformed into intricately chiseled trinkets, jewelry, trays, mugs and figurines. All are created from a metal alloy that was so cheap in colonial days, it was used for bullets in the American Revolution.
Made chiefly of tin and lead, pewter is brighter than lead but not as harsh to look at as shiny tin. It's a soft metal, so it wears out quickly, but has a dark luster as it ages. Sometime in the 15th century, pewter replaced wood for kitchenware. While no famous manufacturers are associated with its use, its charm remains as a reminder of a bygone era. You can return to that time in one of Zaanse Schans' least touristy souvenir shops, where tiny treasures and elaborate kitchenware glow with a subdued patina. While not inexpensive, they'll serve as a functional reminder of your trip.
After small pieces are turned out of molds, they're hammered and burnished by hand. Larger plates and cups are finished on a lathe. After polishing, some get additional stamping, engraving or embossing. In the 17th century, the Dutch were renowned for their chiseled pewter works.
Beyond the chance to turn back time and peer into the lifestyle of an earlier era, one of the joys of visiting Zaanse Schans is the chance to escape urban buzz. While it's less than an hour away from Amsterdam by train, this replica of a 17th century Dutch village is worlds apart from the Dutch capital's edgy culture and incessant hum.
Situated in Zaandam, a town in Noord-Holland on either side of the Zaan River, Zaanse Schans provides jobs for many of Zaandam's nearly 73,000 residents. In a green, bucolic landscape, families enjoy a semi-rural lifestyle that recalls simpler days in Dutch provinces during the country's Golden Age. In outdoor scenes, Zaans Museum exhibits and shops throughout the village, see how people in the Netherlands keep 400-year-old traditions alive.
Long before the Industrial Revolution, companies that relied on wind power grew up on the banks of the Zaan River. From cocoa processing to industrial mills, there were dozens of factories turning out food and paper products between the 17th‒19th centuries. Hundreds of windmills produced power to saw wood from Scandinavia, the Baltic region and Germany for ships, homes, mills and warehouses. In addition to saw mills, there were hulling mills, paper mills, oil mills, paint mills and spice mills.
Around 1850, steam power supplanted wind, but Zaandam was still a major timber port up to the late 20th century. Many villas were built in the late 19th century—evidence of the wealth activities on the Zaan River generated. Some have been converted into retail or office space, but the windmills and other Golden Age trappings remain on the eat side of the river at Zaanse Schans.
While Zaanse Schans is less than an hour from Amsterdam by train, you might want to spend the whole day there and overnight at D 'Vijf Broers (The Five Brothers) to complete your Zaans experience. The 14-room hotel owned by Sjoerd and Mar Bergsma offers coziness without fuss in a quiet residential neighborhood adjacent to the Zaanse Schans village.
The hotel's showpiece is a terrace bar with subtle white and gray decor, overlooking the establishment's man-made Zaan Beach—a great place for drinks, lunch or dinner when weather permits. Upholstered benches set right on the sand provide comfy space for watching the sea while nibbling on bitterballen and sipping a glass of Moët & Chandon, the house supplier. The hotel's 80-seat restaurant serves local specialties like Zaanse mosterdsoep in an intimate dining area overlooking the water.
Windmills, warehouses and traditional Dutch farmhouses set in a polder landscape with dykes, emerald fields and grazing sheep give Zaanse Schans its characteristic 17th century ambiance. The idea for the open air attraction evolved in the 1960s, as a way to preserve the culture and history of the Zaans region. Nearly a million annual visitors from around the world attest to its popularity as an attraction in Holland, well worth a day trip from Amsterdam if you fancy replicas that keep the past alive.
Admittedly touristy with its array of shops selling cheese, wooden clogs, pewter figurines, nautical curios, textiles, cheeses and other traditionally produced Dutch souvenirs, the re-created village is also enlightening in its depiction of home, work and play more than 400 years ago. As you wander around, taking in views of the canals and historic wooden homes, you'll see how the Zaanstreek―Holland's first industrial area―looked in the Golden Age, when more than a thousand mills were needed to grind materials for paper, mustard and oil. Watching demonstrations of age-old crafts like cheese and clog-making, see how people lived in the Netherlands before electricity and turbine power entered the picture.