Also known as Zaanstad, this district occupies both banks of the Zaan River north of Amsterdam. The industrial towns of the Zaanstreek are not greatly worth visiting in their own right, but they contain a number of embedded pearls that are worth seeking out. Timber was the foundation of wealth along the Zaan in the 16th and 17th centuries. A burgeoning Dutch merchant marine and navy needed the wood, and the invention of a wind-powered sawmill here in 1592 provided the power. The timber was used to build the Zaanstreek's distinctive green-painted houses.
Zaanse Schans -- 16km (10 miles) NW of Amsterdam
On the northern edge of the Zaanstreek, on the east bank of the Zaan River, this living-history experience is a replica 17th- to 18th-century village made up of houses, windmills, and workshops that were moved to the site when industrialization leveled their original locations. The aim is to recreate the way of life along the Zaan in the 17th century. Pictures of the windmills and the green-painted houses grace many a Holland brochure. Most of the buildings on the 8-hectare (20-acre) site are inhabited by people who can afford and appreciate their antique timbers, and who have the patience for the summertime crowds that pour from fleets of tour buses.