Windmills are so iconic of the Dutch landscape that it’s the first thing most people associate with the country. In the 17th century, some 19,000 windmills dotted the Dutch landscape. To date, there are about 1,200 windmills still in existence, the oldest of which goes back to before 1451. A spontaneous day trip brought us about half an hour away from Amsterdam to Zaanse Schans, a neighbourhood of the city of Zaandam. Someone wanted to see her windmills, and see her windmills she did.
Zaanse Schans is an open air conservation area and museum, an idyllic recreation of a Dutch village from the late 19th century. Most of the buildings were transported here from elsewhere in the Netherlands and meticulously recreated. It definitely doesn’t feel authentic and is completely touristy – it fittingly receives almost 2 million visitors a year.
It was a hot summer day in Holland but thankfully because the area is huge and has so much open space that it didn’t feel crowded. (The restaurants were another story.)
Zaanse Schans houses 8 iconic windmills, each with its own quirky name (The Cat, The Young Sheep, The Houseman, The Crowned Poelenburg, The Ox, The Cloverleaf The Seeker, The Spotted Hen). The place also showcases the traditional architecture of the area: green wooden homes.
Since Zaanse Schans is a village where people actually live in, it’s not possible to visit the houses, but you can pay to enter the windmills which are kept in working condition. There is also a museum in the area, the Zaans Museum which showcases the heritage of the Zaan region.
Dutch Windmill Trivia
- Windmills were used for turning any raw material that needed pounding, mauling, shredding, hacking or mixing into a tradeable product. The Zaanstreek paper mills, for instance, were renowned throughout the world for their good quality paper. In fact, the American Declaration of Independence was printed on sheets produced there. There were mustard mills, hemp mills, grain mills, snuff mills, cocoa mills, oil mills, chalk mills, paint mills and saw mills.
- The architecture of the Dutch mills is extremely varied.
- The Dutch celebrate National Mill Day, where windmills all over the country are open to the public. Read more at DutchNews.nl: 10 things you should know about Dutch windmills http://www.dutchnews.nl/features/2015/05/10-things-you-should-know-about-dutch-windmills/
It was such a cute place I wish I had more time to explore it. With its proximity to Amsterdam and ease of access, I definitely recommend including it in your itinerary.