Zaandam is a city in the Waterland and Zaan Region in the province of North-Holland in the Netherlands, just north of Amsterdam. Zaandam is the largest of 7 towns in the municipality of Zaanstad. In this article you can also find information on the other towns. For Zaanse Schans however, see the separate article.
Zaanstad nowadays amalgamates a number of smaller towns and villages, which have their origins in Late Middle Ages. The Zaan river connects the centre of Noord-Holland to the IJ river and Amsterdam, and on both sides of the river villages sprung up that soon became involved in all kinds of industrial activities. Most activity was concentrated on the west side of the river, where in the 17th century a string of small towns grew into the first industrial area in the world. Hundreds of windmills were employed to produce all kinds of produce like flour, timber, paints and oil for the city of Amsterdam - at the time the largest port of the world. While the Zaan Region lost much of its importance in the 18th century, it became the centre of Dutch food industry in the late 19th and 20th century. For more information, see the article on the Waterland and Zaan Region.
Zaandam is the largest agglomeration in Zaanstad, with some 73,000 inhabitants; the total population of Zaanstad stands at approx. 150,000. The other towns are Assendelft, Koog aan de Zaan, Krommenie, West-Knollendam, Wormerveer and Zaandijk. The Zaan Region is slightly larger than Zaanstad, and also includes Oostzaan, Jisp, Wijdewormer, Wormer, Neck and Markenbinnen.
Zaanstad is an extremely interesting place from an historical and architectural perspective, but it probably doesn't count as a typical 'pretty' tourist destination. Even then, a considerable number of traditional wooden houses and windmills can still be found in and around Zaanstad - including the world-famous Zaanse Schans open air museum - next to more recent 19th- and 20th-century industrial heritage.
Zaandam is only two stops from Amsterdam Central Station (travel time approx. 15 minutes, single ticket €2.60 with OV-chipkaart). Zaandam has direct Intercity connections to Alkmaar and Den Helder to the north, and to Nijmegen and Maastricht in the south. Sprinter lines connect Zaandam to the smaller towns in Zaanstad.
Try to avoid driving to Zaandam during rush hour. The route to and from Amsterdam is one of the busiest in the Netherlands.
From the A10 Amsterdam ring road, take the A8 and follow the signs to Zaandam (approx. 30 minutes outside rush hour). Coming from the direction of Hoorn, follow the A7 south and then the A8 (approx. 30 minutes). From Alkmaar, follow the A9 to the south and then take the N246/N8 to Wormerveer (also 30 minutes).
Most of the Zaandam city centre has paid parking, and in some places there are limitations to parking time. The best option is to find a larger (covered) car park. See the website of the city of Zaanstad for more information (in Dutch only).
Direct bus lines run from Amsterdam Central Station to Zaandam (R-Net 392 and 394), however, these are much slower than the train.
Cycling to Zaandam from Amsterdam is not difficult, though the route is not a very attractive one. Distance from Amsterdam Central Station approx. 14 km, cycling time 50 minutes.
In Summer, a regular ferry service runs between Amsterdam and Zaandam in the weekends (travel time 55 mins).
The individual towns can be easily explored on foot, but to get around it is better to rent a bike, or to use public transport. Frequent bus and train services will get you everywhere, for time tables and tickets see the websites of NS or 9292.
When you leave the Zaandam railway station, the first thing you will notice is a brand new shopping esplanade. It is built in a modern interpretation of the traditional greenpainted Zaan style, with the city hall as its centerpiece. This architectural style has been met with mixed feelings by the locals, but it is certainly eye-catching. The Inntel Hotel (see Sleep section) on the east side of the station is even more daring, it looks as if three levels of traditional houses are stacked on top of eachother.
From the shopping malls, it is a 10 minute walk to the more lively part of town where you can find most of the pubs and restaurants, on the waterfront of the Zaan river. However, Zaandam compares unfavourably to Zaandijk, where you can experience more of the traditional atmosphere of the area.
While most tourists will only visit the Zaanse Schans with its restored windmills and green wooden houses, it is actually only a 5 minute walk from there to cross the Zaan river and visit Zaandijk, which still retains much of its old village charm.
Since most tourists only come for the Zaanse Schans, the touristic infrastructure of Zaanstad is not very well developed, and visitors need to take some time to discover more of the area. If you go by bike, you can easily cycle through most of the area, including the surrounding countryside. Or you can take the boat and explore the Zaan river.
In the Netherlands, English-language films are subtitled, so it's easy to watch a movie.
The shopping esplanade around the Zaandam railway station is the main area for shopping, with an ample selection of shops . Shops in the Zaandam 'Stadshart' are opened on Sunday.
The Zaan Region was once known as the larder of the Netherlands, and in fact many foodstuffs that you can buy all around the country are made there. The largest supermarket store in the Netherlands, Albert Heijn, started in Zaandam and still has its main offices there, and they produce a biscuit covered with a layer of chocolate called Zaans Huisje. However, there are few foodstuffs around that could be called truly local (even when they would like you to believe differently in the tourist shops). The only exception is the duivekater, a traditional sweet bread eaten at Easter, Pentecost and Christmas.