I took this shitty bus trip so you don’t have to: How to tour Zaanse Schans, Volendam and Marken on your own

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

dutch countryside tour
No day in the Dutch countryside is a bad day, but the less time on a bus, the better.

First stop: Zaanse Schans

dutch countryside tour
The famous windmills of Zaanse Schans.
dutch countryside tour
There’s no better way to live like a local in The Netherlands than to rent a bike.
dutch countryside tour
Even though tourists flood this tiny town everyday, it’s still totally worth seeing.

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.


No Shortage of fish in Volendam
Heaven is a warm fresh Stroopwafel.

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.


Marken is quiet, secluded and perfectly photo-worthy.
During late summer the town is in full bloom.

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


wooden shoes
Wooden shoes for everyone!

Still got the travel bug? Check out our tips for Bali list.

10 thoughts on “I took this shitty bus trip so you don’t have to: How to tour Zaanse Schans, Volendam and Marken on your own”

  1. I was a bit sceptical of the bus tour and was looking for diy options so that I can explore the area at a leisure pace. Your blog is a great starting point.
    Would love if your could share some route/directions for commuting. Thanks 🙂

  2. I am going to attempt this DIY trip in two weeks time. Wish me luck! I much prefer having my own time to wander around pretty little towns than a rushed itinerary filled with demonstrations that I am not necessarily interested in.

    1. We took the tour and it was way back pre covid so buses may have changed but I would still recommend taking public transport rather than the tour. Good luck!

  3. Thanks Maloney for a great post. We did this by public transport last Wednesday (May 3). Train to Zaanse Schans from Ams Centraal – very quick and easy. Back to Centraal and took bus 316 from the rear of the station (buy tickets at the station) to Volendam – nice walk from bus stop to the harbour via the marina that took around 20 minutes. Didn’t take the ferry to Marken as it was cold and windy, but we could have done the whole trip easily in a day starting around 10am. Got back to Centraal on the bus around 6.30. Saw all the coach parties being shunted around – they looked a bit bewildered and didn’t get the chance like us of sitting in the sun out of the wind having tea and cake!

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