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Windmills next to canals, set among the pretty Dutch countryside are what many visitors to the Netherlands expect to see. This picturesque setting is exactly what can be seen in the area north of Amsterdam known as Zaanse Schans, a very popular tourist attraction and one of the most important industrial heritage sites in Europe as noted by the European Route of Industrial Heritage. Many travelers will visit Zaanse Schans by bus or car but the attraction can also be reached by bike from central Amsterdam as this route also explores the North Holland region.

This biking route to Zaanse Schans starts from Amsterdam Central Train Station and leaves the city, heading northwest and crosses the IJ by ferry. The route then passes through the town of Zaandam before continuing north into the polders, land that has been reclaimed by from the sea. Looping around and heading south again, the route passes the iconic Zaanse Schans windmills, a popular attraction for tourists. Crossing the Zaan River, the route heads west through the towns of Zaandijk and Westzaan before looping around the dutch countryside and heading back to the ferry at the IJ and returning to Amsterdam.

From the busy Amsterdam Central Station, ride out to the street that passes in front of the station called Prins Hendrikade. Cross this street and immediately turn right onto the bike path that follows next to Prins Hendrikade. Near an intersection where the busy road looks to veer towards the train tracks, turn left onto the street called Singel. At the first street, turn right onto Haarlemmerstraat and follow this street, heading west through the busy Jordaan neighbourhood. After riding for several minutes, the street reaches a square and veers to the left before going right to traffic lights at an intersection. Ride straight through the intersection and across the traffic bridge to a second set of traffic lights. At this second set of lights, turn right onto Nassauplein. Ride to the first street on the right, before the train tracks overhead, then turn left and cross the street as you ride onto a bike path into Westerpark.

Ride along the path into Westerpark for 250 meters, then turn right and ride through a tunnel underneath the train tracks above. On the other side of the tunnel, turn left onto the first road, called Zaanstraat, and follow it as it passes through a residential area before heading up a slight incline and reaching a busy road. Go left at the end of the road onto Spaarndammerdijk and pass the Westcord Art Hotel before veer slightly left towards the trains and then following a bike path with train tracks on your left. For the next 4km, this bike path follows the road Nieuwe Hemweg through the industrial Westpoort neighbourhood of Amsterdam, heading northwest towards a ferry crossing the IJ. Ride straight through the traffic lights and under the Highway overpass. The route starts to veer to the right and eventually, the small ferry terminal can be seen on the right to take you across to Zaandam.

The Amsterdam - Zaandam Ferry is free and runs 24 hours a day, with very regular crossings. Board the ferry and relax as it takes you to the other side of the IJ. Immediately after leaving the ferry, turn right and follow a route that runs along near the water of the IJ on a road called Hemkade. The road veers left but continues following next to the water as you being to head northward, passing under a bridge and into a neighbourhood near Zaandam. Continue following the road, now called Havenstraat, staying near the water as it veers right onto Houthavenkade and passes a long bridge. Do not cross the long bridge, instead continue riding straight to the end of the street where you ride up a small bridge into the town of Zaandam.

After riding up the small bridge, continue to the second intersection and turn right onto Hogendijk. Follow Hogendijk through the streets of Zaandam until you ride into a square with a statue several minutes later. Past the statue, continue straight onto Damstraat for 100 meters and then continue straight onto a street that is now called Westzijde. You will continue riding along Westzijde for quite sometime, passing many houses and riding straight through an intersection at Vincent van Goghweg. About 400 meters after riding under a train overpass, turn right onto Leliestraat and ride over the Willem Alexanderbrug, a famous bridge named after Willem Alexander who became king of The Netherlands in April 2013.

After crossing the bridge, ride a few streets further and turn left at the roundabout onto a street called Doctor H.G. Scholtenstraat. Ride on the bike path on the right side of the street, heading north under the A8 Highway overpass and then past several soccer fields on the right. When the bike path veers to the right and away from the road, at a junction, go left and ride to a residential neighbourhood. When you reach the houses, make a slight left and ride in front of the houses for 175 meters until you reach a path on your left. Turn left onto the path and ride under the road, following this route for about 220 meters until you reach a road. Turn right at the road onto Roerdompweg and ride to the end of this street where there is a church on your right.

There is a bike path on the otherside of the canal at the intersection by the church and it is this bike path that you need to ride along. To get there, go left at the church and ride for a short 100 meters to a bridge on your right. Cross the bridge and immediately turn right onto the bike path that continues through a long straight stretch, passing dozens of houseboats on your right. The path eventually veers left and you arrive at the busy street of Leeghwaterweg. Carefully cross the street and ride up onto the dike on the other side.

The next section of this bike route passes through the scenic polders of Northern Amsterdam. If not for the engineering of the Dutch, this land would be underwater but instead, has been reclaimed from the sea and used for agriculture. Ride straight onto the bike path with the canal on your right as you ride through the scenic dutch countryside for the next kilometer. At the first 3-way intersection, continue straight along Engewormer. At the second intersection next to a bridge, turn left (do not cross the bridge) and continue riding along the quiet, scenic route. Go left at the next intersection and continue following this road as it winds through the countryside for the next 2.5km. Eventually, you reach some houses and a bridge on the right but continue straight, not crossing the bridge. The road arrives at a large waterway on the right and follows it before veering left. Turn right at the street called Kalverringdijk and, within minutes, this street brings you to the first windmill at Zaanse Schans.

The eight windmills that make up Zaanse Schans have been well preserved and are a sample of the thousands of windmills that once lined the shores and were the strength of Holland's economy. The windmills are still working and, if you're lucky enough to visit on a day when they're in operation, you will be able to see some of the work they perform. Here is a complete list of the windmills and their primary use:

  • "The Houseman" - Mustardmill - De Huisman
  • "The Crowned Poelenburg" - Sawmill - De Gekroonde Poelenburg
  • "The Cat" - Dyemill - De Kat
  • "The Young Sheep" - Sawmill - Het Jonge Schaap
  • "The Ox" - Oilmill - De Os
  • "The Seeker" - Oilmill - De Zoeker
  • "The Cloverleaf" - Sawmill - Het Klaverblad
  • "The Spotted Hen" - Oilmill - De Bonte Hen

After enjoying the attractions at Zaanse Schans, ride to the end of Kalverringdijk, the street that passes the windmills, and turn right at the sign pointing to Zaandijk. Follow the bike path as you ride over the bridge Julianabrug. Ride into the town and continue straight through the first intersection along Guisweg. Continue straight through a 2nd major intersection and ride across the train tracks, following the bike route along a side street next to houses. At the next major intersection, ride around the roundabout, turn left onto Fortuinweg, following the bike path on the west side of the street. Immediately after riding under the A8 Highway overpass, turn right onto a bike path and following it for a brief time next to the highway before it veers left and passes the Papiermolen de Schoolmeester, the only paper mill in the world that is still powered by wind.

Continue riding along, what is now called Provincialeweg. At an intersection with traffic lights, turn left where a sign points to Westzaan and ride into the small community. After riding for about 400 meters, turn right onto Watermolenstraat. If you ride across a bridge, you have gone too far and must backtrack slightly until you find Watermolenstraat. Ride for about 600 meters along Watermolenstraat until you reach the end of the road at a dike. Go left and follow the route next to the canal for the next 2km to the town of Nauerna.

When you reach an intersection with with the road Overtoom, turn left then immediately ride down the hill to the right and onto the bike path. The bike path follows the road Overtoom but is lower down and not on the raised dike. Continue following this bike path as it stays near the road but weaves its way through the countryside before riding along a quiet neighborhood street of houses. When you reach a street at the end of the houses, you must go left up to the main road, then turn right and ride along the road which is now called Westzanerdijk. At a 3-way intersection, turn right onto Ringweg and ride down the hill towards the roundabout. Go left at the roundabout and follow the red bike path next to the busy street called Hoofdtocht.

The route along Hoofdtocht passes a busy industrial area as you quickly make your way westward for roughly 2km. At the busy intersection with Albert Heijnweg, follow the bike path left and up the hill as it continues next to the busy road before veering right, crossing an overpass over the train tracks, and arriving at the intersection at Provincialeweg. Turn right at Provincialeweg and follow the well marked bike path as it passes by several stores, through a tunnel, before arrive back at the Amsterdam - Zaandam Ferry terminal where you crossed the IJ earlier in the day.

After crossing back over the IJ on the ferry, you will retrace the bike path you took earlier as you make your way back to Amsterdam Central Station. Leave the ferry terminal on the south side of the IJ, cross the street and turn left, riding along the bike path next to Nieuwe Hemweg. Follow this long route under the highway overpass, straight through the intersection at Kabelweg, back to where it passes the Westcord Art Hotel Amsterdam. Turn right, riding in front of the hotel, then 100 meters further, turn right onto Zaanstraat and ride down the hill. The street of Zaanstraat passes through a neighborhood of houses on your left, with train tracks on your right. Watch for a tunnel on your right and, when you see it, ride through it back into Westerpark. After passing through the tunnel under the train tracks, turn left and follow the park path out to the road.

Go right at the road and ride to the main intersection nearby as you begin the last portion of your journey. Turn left onto Haarlemmerweg and ride across the Willemsbrug, continuing straight through the intersection immediately after the bridge. Ride past a small square and then go left, then a quick right onto the first street, which is also called Haarlemmerweg. Follow this busy city street for about 1km until you arrive at Prins Hendrikkade. Turn left and ride to the main street where Amsterdam Central Station comes into view. Ride along the bike path next to Prins Hendrikkade until the first traffic light, then cross the street, arriving back at the station where you began.