Zaanstad is actually a municipality made up of several smaller towns and villages that is located in the northern part of the Netherlands, not far from Amsterdam. With a combined population of 151,000, it is one of the largest municipalities in the North Holland province behind the capital and Haarlem. Towns included in the Zaanstad umbrella include Zaandam, Westzaan, Wormerveer, Assendeltf and Krommenie.
Zaandam is the main city of Zaanstad and almost half the population of the municipality live here. During the Dutch Golden Age, this city was a major milling centre for the country and contained a vast number of windmills that powered the saws. Although Zaanstad lies in close proximity to Amsterdam, it has a plethora of tourist attractions in its own right and offers a huge amount of culture and history for those who seek it.
Lets explore the best things to do in Zaanstad:
1. Zaans Museum
The main attraction of the small village of Zaanse Schans, this museum is dedicated to preserve the history and culture of the region and was originally opened in 1994. Included inside this complex are several recreated buildings such as the Weavers House, the Cooperage, the Jisper House and Czar Peter House.
Aside from the faithfully reconstructed buildings, there is also an important collection of artwork and artefacts from the Zaans region included paintings from the renowned impressionist artists Monet.
An exhibition entitled “De Zaanstreek Maakt Het” (The Zaan region really makes it) displays the history of the industry in the area and what products were made here.
For an in-depth and interesting look at the history of Zaanstad, there is no better place.
2. Het Jonge Schaap
Het Jonge Schaap (which translates as young sheep!) is the first of the outstanding active windmills at Zaanse Schans and is used as a wooden sawmill.
Constructed in the 1600’s, the original mill was demolished during World War II, but a replica was rebuilt between the two existing saw mills.
Faithfully reconstructed to the original plans, the windmill is an impressive structure and together with the Molen De Kat, forms an impressive skyline on the banks of the river.
Inside this structure, you can see the milling process and learn how logs are sawn in the traditional method.
This really does provide an interesting insight into another age-old manufacturing technique and is a fun visit for all ages.
3. Molen De Kat
Windmills are synonymous with Zaanstad and the De Kat windmill is the only working windmill remaining in the entire world! Originally constructed in 1646 as an oil mill, the windmill was then destroyed in a fire but was rebuilt and used actively until 1904. The structure alone is wonderful to behold and looks extremely idyllic on the banks of the river.
Furthermore, the windmill is active and you can see how the process works and learn a great deal of information about milling and the history of the De Kat structure.
A visitor’s centre is also present where you can buy souvenirs and have a coffee.
Group tours are extremely cheap and should be a must if you want to see the windmill in action.
4. Czar Peter House
Unless you know the true identity of this small and unassuming building, you may pass it by and not realize its importance.
Within the confines of the Zaans Museum is one of the oldest wooden houses in the Netherlands.
Standing resolute as the day it was built back in 1632 from the remnants of old ships, this was the place where the great Tsar Peter once lived whilst learning the art of ship building.
A true testament to the skill and craftsmanship that is involved in building a sturdy wooden house, this building is a true marvel.
Admire the fantastic design of this structure, and stand in the same place that Peter did.
5. Catharina Hoeve
In the small village of Zaanse Schans you will find many of the iconic Dutch traditions including cheese making.
At the Catharina Hoeve cheese farm you can enjoy a detailed demonstration of the cheese making process carried out by authentically dressed staff.
Enter the intriguing world of cheese and see exactly how it is made using old traditional methods.
Furthermore, the extensive Catharina shop features a huge variety of cheese from simple plain blocks right through to speciality blends full of flavour.
You can even sample the various different cheeses on display before making a purchase! For a slice of authentic Dutch history, this Cheese Farm is a delightful place.
What could be more traditional than a museum about Windmills? This is exactly what the Molenmuseum is and it provides a fantastic look at both the history of windmills in general, and the history of windmills in the Zaanstad region.
Although the actual operation of the windmills is not touched upon (This is better described by an actual visit to one in Zaanse Schans), the museum details the different products the mills helped create, their design and structure, and artworks depicting various windmill scenes.
Some detailed wooden models of the windmill frames stand in perfect condition, together with actual parts that have been salvaged from now defunct windmills.
7. Zaanse Schans
One of the main reasons people visit Zaanstad is to see the delightful neighbourhood of Zaanse Schans.
Located in the northern region of Zaanstad, this small village has a host of attractions and is a great place for a day trip.
Here you can see windmills, a quaint harbour, the peaceful Zaan River and the various museums and sights that can be found here.
Sights you can see include the Molen De Kat, the Catherina Cheese Farm and the Zaans Museum.
You would not expect such a plethora of attractions in such a small place, but Zaanse Schans is absolutely full of things to see and do.
8. Forteiland Ijmuiden
Part of the historical defence line of Amsterdam created back in the late 1800’s, this fortification stands on a partially man-made island in the Noorderbuitenkanaal at Ijmuiden.
Standing for hundreds of years, the defence fortification was modified and strengthened during both WWI and WWII but fell into disrepair after these period as its importance declined.
During the public open days, you can explore the tunnels of the fortification and have a guided tour to see exactly how this intriguing place operated.
Tours are available only on Wednesdays and Sundays, and the boat to the island departs from the Cup Harbour in Ijmuiden.
9. Hembrug Museum
A unique museum located in Zaandam on the banks of the river in the Hembrug district, the Hembrug museum is dedicated to the history of military artillery systems.
If you are interested in military history and firearms, this is the perfect place.
Inside you can find a wealth of information about the munitions factories in Delft, the different types of artillery systems produced, and the military complex in Hembrug.
Displays contain many original documents and artefacts together with interactive image databases and films.
Scattered over a series of buildings that are surrounded by woodlands, this really is an interesting place.
10. De Jonge Dirk
This beautiful natural area is situated between Westerkoog and Westzaan and lies on the banks of De Gouw.
Only accessible by boat, this small piece of land features a beautiful windmill that once served as a spice mill and can now be seen by guided tours.
Once you are on this magical strip of land, you can see the fantastic surrounding countryside and the various waterways and flat stretches of fertile green pasture.
It really is a stunning natural beauty and the various windmills dotted in the distance provide many photographic opportunities.
11. The Clog Museum
The Dutch are famed for many traditions – Windmills, Cheese and of course clogs! In the charming village of Zaanse Schans there is a renowned clog maker that has created a museum to display this fantastic piece of footwear.
Kooijman Souveniers and Clogs have a fascinating range of shoes that have been collected over many years and from a wide variety of countries and time periods.
Aside from the beautifully arranged wall displays, you can also see a live demonstration on the clog making technique, and also see how they are traditionally decorated.
12. Burgemeester in’t Veldpark
Zaanstad has a host of beautifully designed parks and natural spaces and the Burgemeester in’t Veldpark is a wonderful place that is spread out over the Gouw waterway in central Zaandam.
Contained within the grounds of the park are many different footpaths and cycle routes, small lakes and winding waterways, and some beautiful forestland and open grassland.
Here you can enjoy a leisurely stroll through the grounds, an invigorating bike ride, or simply sit back and watch the boats sail on the calm and pleasant waters.
Alternatively, there is a basketball court and a small football pitch if you fancy partaking in some sport.
13. Zaanse Golf Course
To the east of the popular Zaanse Schans is the fantastic and challenging Zaanse Golf Course.
With 18 demanding holes and surrounded by some stunning natural scenery, this really is a premier golf location.
Wind remains a challenging factor throughout the course, but you must also adapt to the narrow fairways and teeing off can be hugely important.
Maintained to a high degree of quality, the course is in perfect condition and the facilities include a driving range, a short game practice area and modern club house with extremely friendly staff.
14. Blauwe Huis van Monet
Claude Monet is one of the most famous and world-renowned artists of all time.
He is best known for founding the impressionist movement in the early 1900’s and his water-lily paintings are some of his best known.
One other famous painting is the simply titled “Blue house” which was completed in 1871. The actual house this painting depicts is located in Zaandam and still stands today and has been renovated to display its original colour.
See the house in all its glory and maybe take a guided tour of Zaandam to see the other historical places that Monet painted.
15. Het Twiske
Located to the north east of Zaandam, Het Twiske is a large recreational park consisting of many waterways, fields and forests.
For a true retreat from the city, there is no better place in the region – Some of the quieter areas are unbelievably peaceful and wild.
Wildlife here includes Bittern, the Bearded Tit, Foxes, Stoats and even Buzzards.
Aside from the fantastic natural landscape and wildlife, there are also several beaches, adventure playgrounds and even a diving platform for those who want to enjoy the warm waters.
Surrounding the reserve is also a 15km route that is perfect for cycling or even skating.