Zaanse Schans: A Fairy Tale Town Just Outside Amsterdam

Zaanse Schans
The lovely neighborhood of Zaanse Schans.

Gulliver Travel! Did you like those stories, Dear Reader? Personally, I really enjoyed the first part where Gulliver finds himself as a prisoner on an island ruled by a tiny Lilliputian people. Back in my childhood I imagined them walking around their small squares with small monuments in the middle, relaxing in their small cherished gardens and sitting on their small benches. And, though, Lilliput country isn’t for us to discover, there is something that can make us feel otherwise. Well, with a little bit of imagination of course.

Just 20 minutes away from the wonderful Amsterdam there is a place called Zaanse Schans. It’s probably the most iconic place for seeing and admiring the famous wooden Dutch windmills. I’m pretty sure that you have seen those windmills once, or twice in your lifetime, but, if that was only on the internet then you have no idea what a magical atmosphere is waiting for you there.

Zaanse Schans
An iconic place to see the authentic Dutch windmills.

To be fair, if not that short distance from Amsterdam, we would have probably never visited Zaanse Schans. Back then we understood that we’re going to see one of the most symbolic Dutch places, but we had no idea that we will find more than windmills there1. And those unexpected findings overcame our expectations about the place in 100 percent!

The Story of Zaanse Schans

Zaanse Schans
Each windmill is like a separate museum.

Zaanse Schans is a small neighborhood outside the city of Zaandam at the shores of Zaan river. Originally, neighborhood served as a sconce during the Eighty Years’ War back in the 17th century. From here the name of the place derives: Zaanse for the Zaan river, and Schans as in sconce in Dutch. However, there is nothing left of the old sconces nowadays. Modern Zaanse Schans is a tribute to the prosperous 18th and 19th centuries – the industrial times.

Zaan district is the oldest industrial area in the Western Europe, where at its heyday you could see even 600 windmills working at the same time! Various crafts prospered and numerous products were created here. That’s why residents of Zaan area decided that they need to make sure that these great times won’t be forgotten, and made a magical open-air museum out of Zaanse Schans.

Zaanse Schans
Houses and gardens around them looks like from a fairy tale here in Zaanse Schans.

During the period between 1961 to 1974, all the old buildings from the Zaan area were collected and carefully transported into the territory of Zaanse Schans. Now this area is like an inhabited open-air museum which offers a preserved view of what it was like to live in the Netherlands back in the 18-19th century. Residents of Zaanse Schans lives in a town where every house, every garden, every shop, every windmill is an unique exhibit.

What is more, today in the historical town of Zaanse Schans you can find seven authentic museums: Zaans Museum and the Verkade Pavilion, Albert Heijn Grocery Shop, Zaan Time Museum,  Bakery Museum, the Weaver’s House, the Cooperage and the Jisper House. All these houses offers a detail view to the historic warehouses and workshops of the prosperous industrial times.

But that’s not all! The most important thing to do in Zaanse Schans is to visit a working windmill. There are six remaining of them and they all are like a separate museums. Here you will find a mustard mill, two oil mills, two sawmills, and most importantly the last working dye mill in the world!

A Cherished Town out of the Fairy Tale

Zaanse Schans
Zaanse Schans looks like a village from the fairy tales.

So, Gulliver Travels. Though Zaanse Schans is an inhabited area, but there is something so strange about that place, that made me feel like walking in the streets of a beautiful tale for kids. I didn’t see that at first, but after some time I noticed, that this village looks like it was shrunken a little bit. The beautifully preserved gardens looks like a miniature parks. A small village squares holds a small monuments in the middle of them. And, though, the houses are suitable to live in and the windmills are the size of a three-floored buildings, but I kept imagining those gardens and squares ruled by the Lilliputians. Small bridges, small canal, small windows, small garden gates. It’s a cherished town taken out of the fairy tale!

What is more, Zaanse Schans is located at the suburbs of one of the liveliest cities in Europe, so the peacefulness and the authenticity of 18-19th century comes by surprise. Imagine, Dear Reader, that you are walking through the busy streets of Amsterdam towards a busy (and a very majestic!!) Amsterdam’s train station. 15 minutes later you find yourself in one of the most peaceful villages that you have ever been to. And you can’t see almost any item that would remind you of the modern times. Just wooden houses, workshops and windmills. Simply magical!

Final Thoughts

Zaanse Schans
Windmills are inseparable from the Netherlands.

Though Zaanse Schans isn’t a natural village, but it’s made so thoughtfully that there is no reason for you to feel that way. It’s an open-air museum which convinces its visitors that they are walking around a real, though a bit magical town taken straight out of the 18-19th century. Everything about Zaanse Schans looks really charming, and it makes this place a really great afternoon destination from Amsterdam. Especially for those, who want to discover that other side of the Netherlands. The one with clogs, cheese and windmills.


What do you think about this place, Dear Reader? Would you like to explore such a magical open-air museum as Zaanse Schans is? Waiting for your thoughts in the comments!

Yours, L. 

  1. Yes, I know! We suck at research.