To be fair, it wasn’t the worst way to spend a day in The Netherlands. It just wasn’t the best. But my mistakes are there to make you a better traveller, and now you don’t need to get stuck on a hot bus with 100 other tourists racing through The Netherlands like it was a police chase. Here’s a breakdown of how to tour Zaanse Schans, Volendam and Marken on your own.
The bus trip that I took so you don’t have to:
Tours & Tickets bus trip booked through Viator – $76 USD per person 7hrs
First stop: Zaanse Schans
Amsterdam to Zaanse Schans by Train $7-$14 USD / Bus $6-$12 USD
This city of windmills looks like something straight out of The Hobbit. The landscape is picturesque, and you could spend a whole day loading up your Instagram. But remember: people live here. Don’t walk through their yards or sit on their porches for the perfect photo. It is clear though, that tourism keeps this town alive, they even have an app you can download to plan your trip.
The windmills function but maily for tourist demonstrations. The streets are lined with shops and cafes, and you can actually smell chocolate in the air. With only 1,200 windmills left in The Netherlands, Zaanse Schans has 13 of them still operating daily, grinding spices, paint, oil, flour and stone.
Public toilets, on the other hand, are not quite as abundant. There’s one, to be exact, and it will cost you .50 Euro so keep some change on hand for emergencies. If you have any Euro leftover, rent a bike and follow the well laid out paths circling the town.
- Our bus tour included 60-minute to walk to a sawmill, a 15-minute presentation about how it works, a few fun facts (The United State’s Declaration of Independence was written on paper traced back to this village!) and a firm warning that if we were not back at the bus on time, they would leave. And they weren’t joking, either. They say they leave people everyday.
Book a bed and breakfast or an Airbnb for the night or head 23 kilometers east to your next stop – Volendam.
Busses leave from Zaanse Schans for $6 USD
Volendam is best known for three things: cheese, fish and pop music. I can direct you to the first and most important of these.
The Cheese Factory is worth a stop but the 8 minute demonstration is not. Instead, sample all the cheeses, purchase your favorite and then walk over to Woltje’s Backerij for desert. Head downstairs for a more worthy demonstration and brief history of stroopwafels. Upstairs get a hot and fresh caramel-filled piece of heaven for 2 Euro. It’s totally worth it.
- The bus tour will drop you first at the Volendam museum which is mostly mannequins in authentic costumes. Skip it, especially if time is tight. Then cheese and stroopwafels with quick lunch break and a stop at Foto de Boer a portrait studio with traditional outfits. Lastly, there’s another firm warning that the ferry will leave without you.
Luckily, you’re not on this bus tour and you have time to walk through this adorable town. There is plenty of shopping and most of the touristy Dutch souvenirs are cheaper than in Amsterdam.
After a lunch of fish with a scenic lake view, walk to the Volendam Marken Express Ferry, which leaves every 45 minutes for Marken – our next stop.
Volendam to Marken by ferry $10 USD
Wooden houses, wooden shoes … you wouldn’t want to miss this place. It’s the least tourist-filled tourist town on this trip. Marken is quiet and slow, the perfect last stop to sit and have a beer overlooking the Harbor.
- – Unless you’re on the tour bus, in which case you’ll race through town on foot to the Wooden Shoe Factory, watch a really cool machine carve out a wooden shoe in minutes, try on or buy a pair and hurry back to your tour bus because it’s time to go home.
But you heeded my advice and skipped the tour, so have a stroll through the winding roads and admire all the well-kept gardens. Plan ahead if you want to spend the night — the small town has limited choices — or head back to the big city. Busses back to Amsterdam cost just $7 USD.
Congratulations! You saved money, not time. I took the shitty bus tour so you don’t have to. Oh, one last dig at the tour package: the free canal tour in Amsterdam? Skip it! The Lovers tour is jam packed and you listen to a recording through a headset in your language of choice. Instead, try a smaller tour company. We loved Those Dam Boat Guys. You’ll never have more than 10 people on your trip, and you have a say in where you go, plenty of opportunities to ask questions and they actually encourage you to bring alcohol or your smoke of choice.
Lovers Canal Cruise is $15 USD 1hr
Those Dam Boat Guys $30 USD 90+ min
Still got the travel bug? Check out our tips for Bali list.