Edit – I should add that whilst the arrival into Amsterdam was a nightmare, you quickly forget about that as soon as you seen the windmills lining the river banks at Zaanse Schans.
We flew into Amsterdam Airport Schiphol with EasyJet and immediately things started going wrong. We landed on time but the gate we were supposed to park at was still in use. The captain informed us that they were trying to use another gate but the airport controllers weren’t allowing it. We eventually parked a good 20 minutes later. After leaving the plane and walking for seemingly forever, we walked through security gates to be met by thousands of people. After listening to hard-to-hear announcements we figured out that we were being held back because the passport control hall was too busy. People taking flights were told to (literally) push through and make themselves known. After 10 minutes, people with EU passports were told to make their way to the front of the queue and they’d be let through in small groups – this caused uproar amongst the non-EU passport holders (Brexit supporters – this will be us soon. Thanks for that). We finally got through to the hall and joined yet more queues where some english lads provided some light entertainment by singing (badly). We later found out that the queues in the airport had made the evening news in Holland as they were so bad.
Finally we got through, got our bags and then joined another queue at Avis to collect our rental car. It was really slow moving and I have to say, mostly caused by the sales team not knowing enough to assist without repeatedly asking help from the manager who was also trying to serve customers. This belief was compounded when I tried to use a discount voucher sent to me by Avis in their own app – the guy serving me had no idea how to process it and had never seen it before. I gave up trying as I simply wanted a car. After eventually getting the paperwork, we walked another mile (it felt like it) before joining another queue (!) to collect the car. A decent car upgrade made things a little better though and we left the airport.
After a slight detour, we arrived at Zaanse Schans. Billed as an open air conservation area and living museum in North Holland around a 30 minute drive from Amsterdam, it huddles along the banks of the river Zaan. The village is mostly car free with a small car park at the entrance for residents and people staying in the only B&B. Next to the start of the cobblestone road through the village was a large bicycle park next to the wide smooth bike lane which never ceases to make me happy to see – as a life long cyclist, I love how cycling is engrained into some European countries and how everything is done to make it easier and safer.
We found our B&B (the only accommodation in Zaanse Schans) where we were welcomed by our marvelous host. Heerlijck Slaapen consists of 3 buildings combined together to offer large bedrooms (some with views of the river and windmills) in a very historic (to the point that we were waking to coach loads of Chinese tourists taking photos of “our” front door) building and setting. After showing us around, explaining where breakfast would be and where to park, we were left alone to explore our new home. As well as views from the bedroom, we also had a private garden looking onto the river and windmills.
We were booked into the romantic Whale room with its own dining room and the large Mole room with a fresco ceiling and the marble fireplace. We quickly fell asleep to the sound of the small river waves lapping against the side of the building.
Upon waking the following morning, we pulled back the curtains to reveal the sight of the historic and working windmills scattered along the river. Some of the sails were being unfurled and attached to make them begin to turn in the light breeze. I’ve certainly had a morning coffee in worse places before! Breakfast was served in another part of the house and included a range of fresh breads, or an even wider range of cereals, jams, little tubs of chocolate sprinkles and a few hard boiled eggs. Tea was chosen from a cute wooden box with re-fills offered frequently.
We were heading to the Keukenhof Gardens that day but for ease of reading, I’ll put that into another post. We also took a day trip into Amsterdam from the local train station (a short walk past a lovely smelling chocolate factory! which took just 15 – 20 mins on a clean and comfortable train. Zaanse Schans is a great base for exploring Amsterdam but lovely to return to the tranquility in the evening.
On returning, the coach loads of day trippers and tourists had departed so we took advantage of the peace and tranquility and went exploring Zaanse Schans at night. Gently lit with the moon attempting to break through the clouds, the whole village was still with the windmills, houses and bridges reflected on the narrow ditches that separate the houses.
That night we had booked a table at the wonderfully named Restaurant De Hoop Op d’Swarte Walvis. There were limited options for vegetarians but wide range if you eat meat or fish. The service was impeccable, with a few amuse-bouches, a decent wine list and a very solid home made apple pie for desert. The former 18C orphanage has it’s own history which (in short) is that various local residents bought it to return it to it’s original look and make it part of the village. It’s listed in the Michelin Guide and has a great sun terrace for the summer.
On the final day, we woke early to get breakfast eaten and get out into the village to explore in the daylight before the coaches arrived. Other than a few super keen Chinese tourists, we beat the rest and got to walk around the village whilst the windmills began working. A stiff wind meant that the blades were spinning much quicker than previously adding more atmosphere and extra sound to the village. It was lovely to watch the workers settling up the windmills as well.
We spent the morning walking around and inside the various windmills which, although they now have added elements such as gift shops, are still genuinely used for various things such as cutting wood or grinding flour. It’s really worth going inside one or two but don’t pay for more than one or two – they are all the same really! A cheese factory and a demonstration in making clogs (much more interesting than you’d think) completed the village. We got some lunch in a small cafe – Dutch soup and a sandwich. Quick, tasty and cheap (there are limited options for lunch there though). To finish off the day, before driving back to the airport, we hired some Dutch bicycles and took them for a spin along the path that follows the river. Great way to finish the trip. If you have more time to explore the local area, then I’d highly recommend doing it by bike – it’s safe, quiet, cleaner and easier. The hire bikes all come with built in locks and baskets if needed. There are cycle paths everywhere and places to lock bikes all over the place.
Tips and tricks
- Our Revolut cards worked everywhere as normal.
- The totally free offline maps.me app works a treat as always but just watch the speed cameras on the road from the airport as you come into Amsterdam. Stick to the speed limit which varies and you’ll be fine.
- The train station, into Amsterdam, is well within walking distance – but double check the times it runs as it seemed to vary quite a bit depending on the day of the week.
- It’s worth going to the museum just outside of Zaanse Schans just to climb the look out behind it which gives a great slightly elevated view.
- Our accommodation included parking and you can drive to the house first to drop bags off. If visiting on a day trip, expect to either park in the museum car park a short walk away, or use the train and walk.
- All the dinner food places seem to close at 9pm here so book and eat early or remember that you can get a take away delivered – try Just Eat or UberEats. We got pizzas delivered to “our” front door without issue.
- Want a photo stood inside a giant clog? Then do it here with a view of real Holland behind you rather than some tacky gift shop in Amsterdam!
- Booking in advance for accommodation here is vital. It’s easily accessible from Amsterdam but you’ll never experience it in the evening/night time or early morning which made it so much better for us.
- Amsterdam airport is vast. As in the write up, expect delays and for things to take longer than normal. Schiphol airport has some great facilities (including a full sized supermarket) but it’s just too big. I’ve no idea why they haven’t split it into different terminals properly – they have different departure gate “areas” but they all feed into the same places. Personally I wouldn’t get a connecting flight via Amsterdam unless it was a mind-blowingly cheap price and I’d still need to be convinced.