Open Air Museums Netherlands: Which To Pick

Last Updated: April 25, 2023

Gerrit Vandenberg

Gerrit shares his love for the Netherlands from his home near Amsterdam, helping thousands plan unforgettable trips to the lowlands. Discover his inspiring journey "From a critical health scare to celebrating Holland's charms". If you want to send Gerrit a quick message, you can contact him here.

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A reader wrote and asked my advice on different open-air museums Netherlands, in particular visiting the Zaanse Schans or the open-air museum in Enkhuizen.

I thought it would make an excellent post because the differences are stark. And there is also a 3rd museum, our national open-air museum, called the National Open Air Museum Arnhem. All three are worthwhile for different reasons.

This was the original question:

“We have three days to explore the Amsterdam area. Which would you choose between seeing – Zaanse Schans or Enkhuizen? There are many pros and cons to each, but which is the better experience for understanding Holland and the Dutch people? After all, that is our ultimate reason for travel – to experience and better understand other cultures.”

Enkhuizen is one of the open Air Museums Netherlands. Here is a view of a windmill.
Open-air museum Enkhuizen view on windmill – Photo ยฉ Hidden Holland

The Zaanse Schans – The Choice For Most

I enjoyed a wonderful warm stroopwafel at the Zaanse Schans on my tour with Go City.
View on the Zaanse Schans with Stroopwafel – Photo ยฉ Hidden Holland

The Zaanse Schans is visited by millions of tourists every year. It’s easy to see why. It’s the most famous of the three open-air museums in the country, it’s free to enter, it’s part of many tours by most tour companies, and its proximity to Amsterdam doesn’t hurt either.

It’s impossible to find an open-air museum that is easier to reach than the Zaanse Schans. 

Pros of the Zaanse Schans open-air museum

The Zaanse Schans most definitely has the Dutch cute factor. It’s fun to visit and will offer you good photo opportunities. You’ll be able to learn a little bit about the Dutch way of life and old traditions, albeit in a very romanticized (and commercialized) way.

  • The Zaanse Schans is straightforward to reach
  • Free to enter
  • Open year-round
  • You won’t be disappointed if this is your first experience with Holland.
  • Authentic buildings from the region have been re-located here
  • The first Albert Heijn store is here (now the largest supermarket chain in Holland)
  • Windmills

Cons of the Zaanse Schans open-air museum

Cheese demonstration at the Zaanse Schans, with a shop attached, of course.
Cheese-making demonstration at the Zaanse Schans – Photo: Zaanse Schans

The fact that the Zaanse Schans is free to enter and so close to Amsterdam is also the main disadvantage of the Zaanse Schans.

It doesn’t feel authentic with all the tour buses and many tourists around you. And because it’s free, every building is sponsored by companies aimed at tourists. Thus expect a sales pitch in every “workshop.”

Also, expect mediocre food at inflated prices. However, you can never go wrong with a Stroopwafel. Just promise to order it plain, and don’t spoil it with toppings. Plus many, many, did I say many, souvenir shops that are all offering the same products at inflated prices.

The cheese shop is now even sponsored by a cheese company that caters to tourists only, trying to pass off many flavors of cheese as “local cheese,” which I’ve never seen in a regular Dutch store, let alone the brand. It’s cheese -but not authentic to what a Dutch person would buy.

How to get to the Zaanse Schans

We visited the Zaanse Schans Windmills with our Go City Amsterdam pass.
Windmills at the Zaanse Schans – Photo ยฉ Hidden Holland

I started Hidden Holland because I’m a little allergic to tour buses, following people with umbrellas, and shops specifically set up for tourists. My goal is for you to have a more authentic experience, like itineraries I would arrange for my friends who are visiting from abroad.

However, the Zaanse Schaans is often a request from them too. So, will I visit the Zaanse Schans: Yes! Will I try to convince them to choose another open-air museum in addition: Absolutely :-).

If you want to visit the Zaanse Schans, there are multiple ways to travel there:

  • Bike: An entertaining way to travel to the Zaanse Schans is by bike. Be aware to rent from the first rental place you find since most likely they offer sturdy – uncomfortable – city bikes, not fit for a trip to the Zaanse Schans. I recommend booking your Bike with Bikebooking.com and opt for a tour bike or an electric bike. They offer the lowest pricing if you book in advance. This makes the trip already a lot more off-the-beaten-track.
  • Train: The Zaanse Schans has a train station with a direct connection from Amsterdam that takes you there in just 17 minutes. From the station, it’s a 15-minute walk to the entrance. The Amsterdam Region Travel Ticket covers this journey.
  • Bus: R-net bus line 391 takes you to the entrance of the Zaanse Schans in 40 minutes. In summer, you can take the express bus 891, which takes only 20 minutes. The Amsterdam Region Travel Ticket also covers this journey.
  • With a Tour: If you prefer to go on a guided tour instead I can highly recommend this 3.5-hour Zaanse Schans Windmill tour that I took myself. Of course, it’s touristy but what I loved was that you had the freedom to choose. You could stay with the entertaining guide for two tours at a clog maker and a cheese farm (read shops), and then 1.5 hours of free time, or use all of your time as free time and just use the bus as transportation and learn something from the live commentary.

Enkhuizen Open Air Museum And The City of Enkhuizen

Open air museum Enkhuizen view on windmill.
Open-air museum Enkhuizen view on windmill – Photo: ยฉ Hidden Holland

I immediately recommended Enkhuizen to this reader who asked the question above. The Zaanse Schans is cute. But it’s not as authentic as Enkhuizen is.

Enkhuizen is an actual city with a lot of history. You also have a unique (in my opinion) open-air museum here, which is extremely popular with Dutch visitors. Remember that the museum is open in the summer only (April to September).

The museum depicts the life of the fisherman’s village Enkhuizen, back when Enkhuizen was a beach town on the open sea. Since the “Afsluitdijk” was built, the sea became a gigantic man-made lake.

The fisherman’s life disappeared, but the museum was able to capture it perfectly. It charges an entrance fee, which is worth every cent. Expect a real-life historic village setting where you can experience how the people here worked and lived.

There are demonstrations and many options to try authentic – good – Dutch food. The smoked fish station is by far my favorite recommendation. The herring and the salmon are excellent (the fish is a separate purchase)! 

Demonstration of a women preparing food at the Enkhuizen open-air museum.
Demonstration of women preparing food at the Enkhuizen open-air museum.

And please don’t discount the herring. It’s not the raw version Dutch people usually eat and love, but the average visitor is usually horrified by it. This is smoked herring. It’s warm and delicious.

As a bonus, when you exit the museum, you also have an actual old and cute city in front of you. Walking around the town will offer many photo opportunities. It’s a beautiful place.

It’s also wonderful to sit down here at a local cafe and have a coffee with apple pie (never say no to the whipped cream) and mingle with the locals.

When it’s time for wine and beer, order a “portie Bitterballen“! You won’t regret it (when you’re not vegetarian) but do let them cool down a little before you take a bite.

You’ll find many Dutch locals on their e-bikes making a stop in this pretty town doing the same thing.

If you’re there for lunch, order an “Uitsmijter” or “Brood met twee kroketten” for the authentic Dutch lunch experience among the Dutch.

PS: The open-air museum can easily be reached on foot from the railway station, but a much more fun way to arrive is by boat. Which is free if you have an entrance ticket to the museum.

The boat departs from the tourist information office behind the railway station. It’s also included in the I amsterdam city card, which can be of great value.

I wrote a separate post about the card to determine if this is a good deal for you. You can read my I amsterdam city card post here.

The Dutch Open-Air Museum in Arnhem

Open-air Museum Arnhem here a historic tram from Rotterdam.
Historic tram from Rotterdam at the Open-air Museum Arnhem – Photo: Bayke de Vries

Off the beaten tourist path, the Netherlands Open-Air Museum in Arnhem is a local favorite and must-visit for schoolchildren nationwide.

While it may not have the same quaint charm as the Enkhuizen Museum, this fascinating museum offers a unique glimpse into our history.

What sets the Arnhem Open-Air Museum apart is its focus on the entire country’s history rather than just one specific town or region. This results in various smaller areas within the park, showcasing different aspects of Dutch life.

Experience the challenges of being a poor Amsterdammer in the 1960s. Visit a tram depot, or gain insight into the difficulties faced by those living in the countryside back in the day.

The museum also highlights the impact of Dutch colonies on the Netherlands, providing a well-rounded historical perspective.

Paper Mill from the Veluwe region at the open-air museum in Arnhem.
Paper Mill from the Veluwe region at the open-air museum in Arnhem.

In addition to its educational exhibits, the museum features a cozy, nostalgic area that captures the essence of old-fashioned Dutch charm. Treat yourself to delicious Dutch “poffertjes” with butter and powdered sugar here, and don’t forget to ride on the historic trams!

The park offers several exciting attractions: learn about cheese-making at the cheese factory, stroll through the back alleys of Amsterdam’s Jordaan neighborhood, relax in the Indonesian garden, or visit the Moluccan barracks.

The Dutch Open-Air Museum in Arnhem will give you a better understanding of Dutch history and culture.

Cons of the Dutch Open-Air Museum in Arnhem

There is just one con: this museum is difficult to reach. It’s an effort to get there. Unless you have a car, of course, then it’s a lot easier.

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This museum is most definitely off the beaten track for most international visitors. You can get your tickets here.

Castle farm at the open-air museum in Arnhem.
Castle farm at the open-air museum in Arnhem – Photo: Bayke de Vries

PS note this park is also only open during the season (April-September).

Conclusion – What Museum To Choose

So, which one to choose? It depends, as you can see. I think the Zuiderzee museum (Enkhuizen) is the most beautiful, while still easy enough to reach. 

The Dutch open-air museum in Arnhem comes in as a close second for me. It’s a little bit of everything and for that reason a lot of fun and diverse. But it’s a trek to get there.

I would not go to only this museum if you were based in Amsterdam. But if you’re planning to see more sights in and around Arnhem, this museum is an excellent choice.

The Zaanse Schans is a good choice when you don’t want to travel far from Amsterdam.

Also, when you’re in the Netherlands outside of the season, the Zaanse Schans is your only option.

It’s most certainly a fun morning or afternoon, will give you some great photos, and it does give a great impression of village life in the old days in this part of the country. Plus, you can visit (working) windmills.

Frequently Asked Questions Open Air Museums Netherlands

Are there windmills at all three Dutch open-air museums?

Yes, all three museums have windmills. But the Zaanse Schans offers the best photo opportunities for windmills. At the Enkhuizen museum, there is also a particular pretty photo you make with a windmill (see the featured image on top of this page. At the open-air museum in Arnhem, you can also find windmills but the setting is not as pretty as in the other museums. What is interesting here is that they have different windmills from different areas in The Netherlands.

Which museum is most suitable for families with young children?

All three open-air museums in the Netherlands have something for children. I think the national open-air museum offers the most for children since they’re also the number one choice for schools, many activities are catered towards children. The open-air museum in Enkhuizen is a close second. The Zaanse Schans has fewer activities and is more touristy eg shops. So a bit less kid-friendly. Still, kids can enjoy themselves here too.

Which Dutch open-air museum offers the most authentic experience of traditional Dutch life?

The Open Air Museum Enkhuizen provides a comprehensive insight into traditional Dutch life, with well-preserved historical buildings and exhibits. If you want to learn more about traditional Dutch life this is the museum to go to. In Arnhem, you’ll learn more about Dutch history in general. The Zaanse Schans should be visited for its cute factor and photos. But it has less educational value.

Which Netherlands open-air museum is easiest to reach from Amsterdam?

That is an easy question to answer: Zaanse Schans is the closest to Amsterdam and can easily be reached by train or bus within 30 minutes. The open-air museum in Enkhuizen is also easily reached by train from Amsterdam but is further away. The trip takes about an hour. The museum in Arnhem is the most difficult to reach. It requires a longer train journey to Arnhem and then a local bus. It’s easier to visit this museum by (rental) car.

Are guided tours available at these open-air museums?

Guided tours are available at all three museums, providing visitors with a more in-depth understanding of Dutch culture. For the Zaanse Schans, you can book me as your private tour guide. I’d love to show you around and tell you more about the buildings and Dutch life in this area. For the museum in Arnhem, I highly recommend a private museum guide who will have a wealth of information to share. For Enkhuizen, you can either travel together with me (I can also arrange private transportation) or book a museum guide as well.

How much time should I allocate to visiting each museum?

Allocate half a day for a visit to the Zaanse Schans. That is enough time. A whole day for the Open Air Museum Enkhuizen and the city. For the National Open Air Museum Arnhem, half a day is usually enough, but the journey is longer, so plan a whole day too. However, you can combine your visit with another attraction in Arnhem on the same day.

Which Open-Air Museum Would You Like To Visit?

Iโ€™d love to hear your thoughts: Did this post help you getting a better understanding of the different open-air museums in The Netherlands? Share your thoughts in the comments below, and let’s start a conversation ๐Ÿ’ฌ.

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Gerrit shares his love for the Netherlands from his home near Amsterdam, helping thousands plan unforgettable trips to the lowlands. Discover his inspiring journey "From a critical health scare to celebrating Holland's charms". If you want to send Gerrit a quick message, you can contact him here.

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