The district's fascinating history is told in the Zaanse Schans Zaans Museum, Schansend 7 (tel. 075/616-2862; www.zaanseschans.nl), on the site, which is open daily from 9am to 5pm (closed Jan 1 and Dec 25). Admission is 4.50€ ($7.20) for adults, 2.70€ ($4.30) for seniors, and free for children 17 and under. Pick up a brochure here that features an artist's-impression bird's-eye view of the entire site, with each important location identified. This makes self-guided exploration a snap.
To the pleasure of just walking through Zaanse Schans, add a visit to one or more of the five working windmills (out of a total of eight) on the site: A sawmill (the wind-powered sawmill was invented in the Zaan district in 1592), and mills specialized in producing paint, vegetable oil (two mills), and the renowned Zaanse mustard; three smaller mills are speckled around. At one time the Zaanstreek had more than 1,000 windmills. Only 13 have survived, including these 8. Reconstruction of a second sawmill that was demolished in 1942 is underway. A short tour shows you just how these wind machines worked.
Visit, too, Museumwinkel Albert Heijn, Kalverringdijk 5, a working reconstruction, with old-style candies and other items for sale, of an Oostzaan store from 1887 that was the beginning of Holland's largest supermarket chain. If you are at all interested in cookies and candy and in old recipes for the same, step inside the Bakkerijmuseum (Bakery Museum), Zeilenmakerspad 4, in an old house called De Gecroonde Duykevater. And to get an idea of how a well-heeled Zaan resident lived, visit Museum Het Noorderhuis, Kalverringdijk 17, a merchant's house from 1670 containing furnishings, utensils, and costumes that date from a period 2 centuries later.
Even if you are in a hurry, you should make time for the Nederlandse Uurwerk (Dutch Clock) Museum, Kalverringdijk 3, which displays timepieces from the period 1500 to 1900, and a workshop. Then there's the Klompenmakerij (Clog Maker's Workshop), a workshop where wooden klompen (clogs) are made and sold; and De Catherina Hoeve Kaasmakerij, which does likewise with cheese.
Most of these minimuseums and other attractions are open March to October daily from 10am to 5 or 6pm, and November to February Saturday and Sunday from around 11am to 4pm. Open hours for other sites are more restricted. Admission varies from to 1€ to 2.50€ ($1.60-$4) for adults, 0.50€ to 1€ (80¢-$1.60) for children ages 5 to 12, and free for children 4 and under.
For a view from a different perspective, take a 45-minute cruise on the Zaan River aboard Rederij De Schans tour boat (tel. 075/614-6762; www.rederijdeschans.nl). Boats depart from a dock next to the De Huisman windmill, April to September hourly each day from 10am to 4pm. Cruises are 6€ ($9.60) for adults, 3€ ($4.80) for children ages 3 to 12, and free for children 2 and under.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.