This page was last updated on February 27th, 2022
A reader wrote in and asked my advice wether to visit the Zaanse Schans or the open-air museum in Enkhuizen. I thought it would make for an excellent post. Because the differences are like night and day. And there is also a 3rd museum, that is actually our national open-air museum, called the national Open Air Museum Arnhem. All three are so different, and worthwhile for different reasons. But before we dive in this was the exact question:
"We have three days to explore 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."
The Zaanse Schans - the choice for most international visitors, but not (always) for me
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 this country, it's free to enter, it's part of many tours by most tour companies and it's 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 absolutely fun to visit, and it will offer you nice photo opportunities. You'll be able to learn a little bit about the Dutch way of life and old traditions, albeit in a very romanticised (and commercialised) way.
Cons of the Zaanse Schans open-air museum
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's doesn't feel authentic with all the tour buses, and so many tourists around you. And because it's free every building is sponsored by companies aimed at tourists. Thus expect a sales patch in every "workshop". Also expect mediocre food at inflated prices. Although 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 again inflated prices.
The cheese shop is now even sponsored by a cheese company that caters to tourists only, trying to pass off many flavours of cheese as "local cheese" which I've never seen in a regular Dutch store, let alone the brand. It's cheese - it's just not authentic to what a Dutch person would buy.
So know what you're visiting eg. a fun, very Dutch looking area with cute buildings and windmill aimed at tourists. And remember free is never free. So, better come with a strong will, or accept you will buy touristy items that are a little overpriced, but at the same time you keep the place running by doing so.
How to get to the Zaanse Schans
I started Hidden Holland because I'm a little allergic to tour buses, following people with umbrella's, 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 chose another open-air museum instead (or do more than one) absolutely :-).
If you want to visit the Zaanse Schans there are multiple ways to travel there:
Enkhuizen Open Air Museum and the actual city of Enkhuizen
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 a real city. With a lot of history. You have also have an amazing (in my humble opinion) open air museum there, which is extremely popular with Dutch visitors. Keep in mind that the museum is open in summer only (April to September). The museum depicts the life of the fisherman's village Enkhuizen, back in the day when Enkhuizen was a beach town situated on the open sea. Since the "Afsluitdijk" was build the sea was now closed off and a gigantic man-made lake was created (for safety reasons). The fisherman's life disappeared but the museum was able to capture it perfectly. It charges an entrance fee, which is worth every cent. You can buy your ticket here. Expect a very real life village setting, where you can experience how these people worked and lived. There are demonstrations, and many options to try authentic - good - Dutch food. The smoked fish station is by far my favourite recommendation. Both the herring and the salmon are amazing (the fish is a separate purchase)!
As an added bonus when you exit the museum, you also have a real 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, or when it's time for some wine and beer order a "portie Bitterballen"! You won't regret it (when you're not vegan), but do let them cool down a little before you take a bite. You'll find many, many Dutch locals on their e-bikes making a stop in this pretty town doing the exact same thing.
If you're there for lunch order an "Uitsmijter" or "Brood met 2 kroketten" for the true Dutch lunch experience among the Dutch.
PS: the open-air museum can easily be reached on foot, but is much more fun is to arrive by boat. Which is free if you have an entrance ticket to the museum. It's departs from the tourist information office behind the railway station. You can buy your Zuiderzee Open Air Museum tickets here. It's also included in the I Amsterdam card, which can be great value. I wrote a separate post about the card to determine if this is a good deal for you. You can read my Iamsterdam Card post here.
Getting to Enkhuizen
I hope I sparked your curiosity about Enkhuizen because it's often called one of Hollands hidden treasures for a reason. It just takes an hour to get to Enkuizen from Amsterdam Central Station by direct train, which depart twice hourly. It's close enough for an easy day trip, but far enough to escape most tourists. You'll have a perfectly local experience. I recommend first class tickets for this trip.
Download the NS app on your phone. It's available in English, you can use it for planning your journey and for buying your tickets (it accepts credit cards (the machines do not) and you avoid the €1 surcharge for paper tickets.
But there is a third option: The Dutch Open-Air Museum in Arnhem
Not well known with tourists, but very well known by the Dutch. Since this museum is a must visit destinations for most school kids. Including me. It's the official open-air museum of the country. I love this museum, but it's not as cute as the Enkhuizen museum. Let me explain:
What make the open-air museum Arnhem different is that is showcases the history of the entire country, not a specific town or area. That translate to small little areas in the park.
You'll learn how it was to life in Amsterdam when you're poor in the 60's. Spoiler alert: it's not as glamorous as Amsterdam might be conjured up in your head right now with its pretty canals.
There is also an area dedicated to living in the countryside, how harsh life used to be there and about the Dutch colonies and the impact it had also here in The Netherlands. It's absolutely a interesting museum to visit. And I would almost forget to say, of course, there is also a romanticised area where it feel truly old-fashionly Dutch.
Some highlights are in the park: visiting the cheese factory, going thru the back alleys of the Jordaan neighborhood of Amsterdam, visiting the Indonesian garden, the Molukken bunks, eat Dutch "poffertjes" with butter and powdered sugar and of course ride the historic trams (my personal absolute favourite).
Cons of the Dutch Open-Air Museum in Arnhem
There is just one con: this museum is difficult to get reach. We're not going to sugar-coat it. It is an effort to get there. You need to take a train to Arnhem from Amsterdam (about 1 hour), then you need to transfer to a bus (another 20-30 minutes) and then walk for 10 minutes. Unless you have a car of course, then it's a lot easier. If you're looking for a rental car, I can't recommend rentalcars.com more. This museum is most definitely off the beaten track for most international visitors. PS note this park is also only open during the season (April-September).
Why would you visit the Dutch Open-Air Museum Arnhem?
If you want to learn more about many diverse aspects of Dutch History, there is no better choice then this museum. It's also located in an interesting corner of the country. Around Arnhem you'll find a lot of war memorials and museums, since this area played a decisive role in the liberation of the country. If you're interested in WWII this is a must visit area (worth a separate post in the future). Arnhem is also home to the Burgers' Zoo (it's right next door to the open-air museum). This is one of the main zoo's in the country (also worth a separate post ;-). It's well-known for it's "ecodisplays" where they imitate the ecosystems in which the animals and plants live in nature.
So, which one to choose. It really depends, as you can see. Personally, 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. If this museum is your only reason to venture out to this area from Amsterdam it might not be worth it. If you want to combine a visit with other attractions in the region, this museum is an excellent choice.
The Zaanse Schans is a good choice when you don't want to travel far from Amsterdam. And when you don't mind the tourists, and you're willing to accept that everything there is commercial, then it's most certainly a fun afternoon out 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.
If you want all your old fashion Dutch photo ops in one trip and your short on time (on uncomfortable arranging your own transportation then I can definitely recommend the Get your Guide Zaanse Schans, Volendam and Edam tour.
Did this post help you?
I hope this post helped you making the decision which open-air museum to visit in The Netherlands easier. Please join the conversation below if this information has helped you in any way. Also, let me know when you're (planning on) coming to Holland and why! I'd love to know.
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