Many tourists visiting The Netherlands would like to see at least one of our typical Dutch windmills (windmolen) on their trip. Most obvious places to visit are Kinderdijk near Rotterdam and Zaanse Schans in Zaandam, close to Amsterdam. I recently went to Zaanse Schans. Here I tell you a bit about the history of windmills in Holland, how to get to Zaanse Schans and what my experience was like.
History and use of windmills in the Netherlands
The first windmills starting popping up in the Dutch countryside in the 13th century. Its rotating mechanisms were used to mill various grains into flour for baking bread. From the 17th century onwards, windmills started to become more popular, and they started being used for more than just milling grain: sawing wood, drainage of land, oil pressing, grinding spices and making paint. In Zaandam, there used to be hundreds of mills. Many of them have disappeared.
Nowadays the monumental mills are often in the care of a historical society to keep the heritage alive. Every year, there is a National Mill Day when many mills are open to visitors. It is in fact a weekend, not a day, in May.
You can still find references to mills even after they have disappeared. For instance, in many cities you will find street names with molen (mill) in them. In Amsterdam, a side street of the Prinsengracht is called Molenpad (mill path) and there is a nice café of the same name.
How to get to Zaanse Schans from Amsterdam
There are various options to get to Zaanse Schans from Amsterdam.
- Guided tour
- Public transport
I won’t go into the guided tour, since I think that speaks for itself. It is pretty easy to get to Zaanse Schans by yourself.
Once you are on the ring road around Amsterdam, it takes about 20 to 30 minutes to get to Zaanse Schans. A big disadvantage in my opinion is the steep parking price of €10,- Even if you stay for only one hour, you have to pay the full price. An alternative is to park a bit further away and save on the parking fee.
Bus: A regional R-net bus number 391 goes from Amsterdam Central station to bus stop Zaanse Schans, which is almost in front of the windmills. The bus ride takes around 45 minutes and departs about every 15 minutes from Central Station.
Train: You can take a train from Amsterdam Central station to station Zaandijk Zaanse Schans. From there, you’ll need to walk about 10-15 minutes to get to the windmills. The train (direction Uitgeest) takes 18 minutes and makes three other stops along the way before reaching Zaanse Schans. The train departs regularly during the day.
The most fun option! Unless it is raining, which does happen regularly. If you do choose to go by bike, you would have to have slightly more time than if you choose one of the other options. From Amsterdam Central Station the bike ride will be about 1,5 to 2 hours or longer if you want to stop for photos, take a break, or if you get lost. Follow the road signs for bikes (red-white) to Zaanstad.
What to do and see at Zaanse Schans
Marvel at the row of windmills along the river De Zaan. You can visit some of the mills. Check the website to see which one interests you the most. Entrance fee per mill is about €4,50. You can also take a boat ride along the mills for €6,- Walking around is free.
Go to a museum/shop
Besides the windmills, there are a few ‘museums’ on the grounds. Honestly, these are just shops where you can see a demonstration on clog making or learn a bit about making cheese.
There’s plenty of opportunity to buy souvenirs! Keep in mind that Zaanse Schans is a very touristy place, which reflects in the price level. Even buying an ice cream comes at a hefty price here.
Pros and cons of visiting Zaanse Schans
- Close to Amsterdam
- Multiple windmills to be sure you get your fix
- Great photo opportunities
- Lovely area
- Very touristy; many people around
- Expensive if you want to buy or do anything besides look at the mills
Windmills in the city of Amsterdam
In case you have your mind set on seeing a windmill on your trip to the Netherlands and may not have enough time to make a half or full day out of it, there are other options. Here a few mills within the city of Amsterdam:
East: The mill next to Brouwerij ‘t IJ
The mill itself is not open to the public, but you can combine looking at it and drinking top quality locally brewed beer at brewery ‘t IJ next door. Get a little plate of cheese or sausage to go with your beer, or even a hard-boiled egg if you want to go full on traditional.
North: Krijtmolen d’Admiraal
Located in a quiet area of town, this chalk mill opens for visitors every second Saturday of the month. You can also request a private tour.
West: De Blom
This former flour mill is only open to the public on National Mill Day in May, but is very close to the city center if you just want to look at a mill. It is next to Westerpark where many activities are held, and you can go there on a nice sunny day to relax.
For an overview of all mills in The Netherlands, consult this database.
Have you visited any of the windmills in or around Amsterdam? If so, how was it? Let me know!