Zaandam is a medium-sized city just north of the Dutch capital of Amsterdam. It is just a short journey from Amsterdam. Zaandam is part of the municipality of Zaanstad (consisting of 7 towns of which Zaandam is the biggest), in the Zaan Region.
Directly outside the train station Zaandam is a shopping esplanade (currently being completely rebuilt), bike rental, taxis and a hotel. It takes a ten minutes walk through the rather dull shopping esplanade (called Gedempte Gracht) to get to the slightly more atmospheric area where you can find the pubs and restaurants. That area, with streets like the Zuiddijk and Prins Hendrikkade, is located at the waterfront of the river Zaan.
In all honesty, the centre of Zaandam is not very special, except for a few nice pubs and a venue with live music. The centre is currently a big construction site, as the town council is putting a big effort in reconstructing and rebuilding the city centre under the name "project Inverdan". This project consists of the building of a complete new town hall adjecent to the railway station, a brand new hotel which looks like a pile of wooden houses from the Zaan Region, a shopping mall/apartment complex (Hermitage) and bringing the water back in the Gedempte Gracht shopping mall.
You can explore the typical Dutch landscape with completely flat meadows and windmills around the city. The Zaan Region is possibly the oldest industrial area in the world (as it was not driven by steam but by wind), and it is shown in many old buildings.
Direct trains to Zaandam run twice every hour from Schiphol Airport. (These trains have destination Hoorn). In all other cases you can take any train with destination Amsterdam Centraal that stops at Amsterdam Sloterdijk and change there for Zaandam.
Zaandam is just two stops from Amsterdam Central Station. You pass through station Amsterdam Sloterdijk. Trains leave regularly (4-8 trains per hour) until 1 am.
If you are on to visit the Zaanse Schans open air museum, take the "Sprinter" train with destination Uitgeest (runs 4x per hour on weekdays, half-hourly on Saturdays and Sundays) and get off at Koog-Zaandijk railway station (4th stop). From here it is about 10 min.walk to the Zaanse Schans.
Take from the northern part of the circular road of Amsterdam (Ringweg A10) the A8 to Zaanstad/Zaandam, and just follow the signs.
Connexxion bus lines 92 and 94 run at least 4x per hour to Zaandam Centre (Peperstraat Bus Station) and Zaandam Railway Station. Bus line 91 runs from Amsterdam Central station to the Zaanse Schans open air museum.
The whole area around the river Zaan, to be explored biking, walking, driving around or even boating  over the Zaan River. You will see a great mix of old style industry unusual for the Netherlands, old wooden houses and windmills, together with open green pastures (grass land) in the span of just a few miles. It will be like different epochs clash. This journey has to be arranged on an individual basis, as outside the Zaanse Schans tourism is not very well developed.
Zaandam has lots of shops and you can start shopping as soon as you go out of the train station. First to see is Primark which sells affordable clothes.It has nice designs and they're generally in decent quality. There is a big electronic market called Saturn, a bit expensive when you compare with mediamarkt chain stores. Along the canal on the main street there are countless of shoe stores, V&D, Vero Moda, De Tuinen, Blokker, H&M, Etos, Hema, C&A, Dixons and many more. There is also a pet shop on the street. One shop sells novelty home and kitchen items called Nice Thingz and there are indeed nice things in the store. When the main street ends, you turn left and shops like Halfords, Xenos, Kruidvat, Bigbazaar, Dirk and so on is there.
The Zaanse Schans is north of Zaandam, but still in the Zaan Region. It is an open air museum that consists of old windmills and the original wooden houses. These windmills have approximately 1 million visitors each year.