By far the most famous tourist attraction in and around Zaandam is Zaanse Schans. This neighbourhood of Zaandam is an open air museum featuring a collection of old Dutch building, windmills and museums. While it looks like it’s been here for centuries, the buildings were actually relocated here between 1961 and 1974, from all over the region.
Clearly, we couldn’t come to Zaandam, without a visit to Zaanse Schans. Particularly as it was just a little over 6 km to cycle there from our holiday home. So on the Tuesday of our week there, and with the sun shining down again, we headed out on our bikes.
Riding to Zaanse Schans
Setting off from our holiday home, we cycled through the local roads, then across the S155 and onto Vermiljoenweg. This took us over the Gouw on a bridge, where we took an immediate right turn, to get onto the path that runs alongside, heading north.
To get to Zaanse Schans, we’d be largely following the route along the Gouw, which would take us along a number of cycle paths, fietsstraten (cycle streets) and through the Burgemeester In ‘t Veldpark park.
We passed under the bridge we just cycled over on what is a newly installed cycle path, which until recently, used to be a road carrying motor traffic. Being an old road, this was nice and wide and the bridge underpass had been colourfully painted, making it quite attractive.
It wasn’t long before the cycle path became a fietsstraat (cycle street), where cycling is prioritised and cars are guests. For those that don’t know, fietsstraten make up a significant part of the Dutch cycle network. When done well, they provide a safe and comfortable environment for cycling, while allowing local access for motor traffic, but at cycling speeds.
Fietsstraten work best when there’s no through traffic, so traffic levels and speeds are kept to a minimum. This isn’t always the case. We’ve experienced a number of poorly executed fietsstraten during our visits, usually where through traffic is allowed and traffic levels are much higher than they should be. This led to drivers tailgating and overtaking, which they shouldn’t be doing. With how narrow fietsstraten can be, it can make for a really unpleasant experience.
We weren’t on the fietsstraat too long before it turned back into a cycle path, as we entered Burgemeester In ‘t Veldpark park. This park is the largest in the Zaanstad municipality and spans both sides of the Gouw, with each side connected via three walking and cycling bridges.
The park has a high quality north to south cycle route passing through it, which continues across the bridge, as it switches sides. The bridge is a great place to stop and take in views of the Gouw, which we did as we cycled along.
Once across the bridge, we cycled along the western bank as we headed north. The park soon ended as we reached a large new residential development along the bank, which is built on what used to be an industrial site. This included rows of three storey townhouses that open onto the cycle path and the Gouw.
Now I have to say I was pretty jealous of the people who live here, with views of the Gouw and direct access to a traffic-free cycle route from your front door. Though I suspect most people keep their cycles round the back, where there’s also car parking, so it’s not completely traffic free.
Further along the cycle path, we passed a large new Albert Heijn supermarket, with a cycle path running to its main entrance and ample cycle parking from a long row of Sheffield stands outside the front. Contrast this many UK supermarkets, where if you’re lucky enough to find any cycle parking, it’s usually located in the worst spot in the car park and nowhere near the entrance!
Once past the new development, we cycled under the A7 motorway, then past quite a few sports fields, before heading under the railway line that goes east from Zaandam Station.
We were soon back cycling on more fietsstraten, as we went through an older residential area, featuring lots of very typically Dutch looking mid-century houses. Again, these had views of the Gouw, though slightly obscured by on-street car parking. Next up was the another underpass, this time under the A8 motorway, which then opened out onto a more rural landscape.
We were now riding along the Nagouw (which maybe stands for the North Gouw I guess?). The countryside continued for a short distance, before we were back in another residential area, in what looked like an 80s housing estate.
The cycle path continued as it took us under the S155, past more houses and then across the Braaksloot, which is a tributary of the Zaan. At this point the area started to look much older, with an old, narrow paved road and traditional looking Dutch houses.
It then became quite industrial as we continued along, though not for long, as we soon crossed the N515 and arrived at Zaanse Schans, where we parked up.
After parking the bikes, we headed out to have a look round and see what we could find. As you can see from the photos, Zaanse Schans looks absolutely stunning, particularly with the sun shining down. They really did a fantastic job of locating the windmills on this stretch of the Zaan.
Given it was a hot August day and we were at an outdoor attraction, it was unsurprisingly busy at Zaanse Schans. This got me thinking about those hire bikes we saw in NDSM. I suspect many of them end up being ridden here, as part of a day trip out of Amsterdam and into the countryside.
We started off from near the Zaans Museum, passing the Vrede souvenir shop and other shops nearby. This area is made up of lots of small traditional Dutch buildings and shops and the odd small windmill, such as the Molen De Hadel windmill.
We stopped at the Catharina Hoeve Cheese Farm. Being big fans of cheese products, it seemed like a good place to start. This has a recreation of a old cheese farm, as you might imagine, though in reality, it’s more cheese shop than museum. There were plenty of free samples of Dutch cheeses to try though, so worth visiting for that!
We continued along to the path behind the windmills, which nicely has both walking and cycling paths, as it’s a also a through route for cycling. We decided to have a look round of the windmills, so we stopped at the Verfmolen De Kat mill.
Verfmolen De Kat was originally built in 1781 as a paint mill, for grinding up pigment, which it’s still doing today. It was impressive watching the big grinding stones being turned by wind power, via the many gears and shafts to grind the pigment.
We decided to head upstairs and explore further. Stairs is probably a bit of grand term for what was effectively a near-vertical wooden ladder. Is now a good time to mention I’m not great with heights? It probably is.
We made it up the stairs anyway and out onto the deck below the sails, where we were rewarded with absolutely magnificent views across the Zaan. It felt a little precarious, looking down through gaps in the deck and with quite a low rail, so I didn’t get too close to the edge. You wouldn’t think I’d once been up to the top of the Burj Khalifa, would you?!
Coming down was much worse than going up, especially with impatient people waiting for us to descend. I was dreading losing my footing and ending up in a big pile at the bottom, taking the kids out on the way!
After the windmill experience, we carried on exploring Zaanse Schans and all the old houses and shops. In addition to the windmills, there’s museums and shops to explore, such as the The Albert Heijn Museum Shop. This is located in a reconstruction of the first Albert Heijn shop, which used to be Oostzaan, not far to the east of Zaandam.
After a wander round and the obligatory ice cream it was time to head back. Zaanse Schans was a great option for a hot sunny day like this. There was definitely more we could have seen, but as it was so hot, we’d done about as much as we could.
Leaving Zaanse Schans, we set off on the same route we took getting there, following the path along the Gouw. The only difference was we decided to take advantage of the conveniently located Albert Heijn supermarket on the way.
Arriving at Albert Heijn, the long row of Sheffield stands directly outside the main entrance tells you everything about how cycling is prioritised here. While there’s also large amounts of car parking space, they clearly expect many people to arrive by bike.
With our shopping done, we loaded up the bikes and carried on along the cycle route next to the Gouw, taking in the early evening views. Watching the boats pass by from the bridge made us want to do the same, which we did the following day, making use of the boat that came with our holiday home.
We soon left the route along the Gouw and made our way back along the local roads to our holiday home, for an evening of al fresco dining, after another lovely day in the sun and on bikes.
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- Around Zaandam
- The route to NDSM
- The route to Amsterdam
- The route to Zaanse Schans
- The route to Zwembad De Breek
- Riding around Hembrug
- Zaandam by boat
- A day out in Delft