Amsterdam and Zaandam go together like coffee and biscuits – and on this tour you’ll get a taste of both cities’ deep connections to their industrial pasts. In this part of Holland, for well over a century people have lived in the shadows of huge factories. Some of these are still in use today, others have been transformed into apartments or cultural venues. Yet the real jewel of this journey is the Zaanse Schans – a living village of windmills, wooden houses and artisanal workshops that is frozen in time.
Level 1: Oude Houthaven – Hembrug (6,2 km)
1a. Silodam and Pontsteiger Our journey begins at the Silodam, a 19th century wheat storage facility. Gaze over at the giant ‘n’ shaped building known as the Pontsteiger – this luxe apartment complex has Amsterdam’s most expensive apartment, clocking in at a cool 15 million euros.
1b. City of industry Amble under the trees along Nieuwe Hemweg toward Neptunushaven. Raw goods like cocoa are stored in the enormous warehouses here before being distributed.
1c. Centre of trade Notice the coal transport lines alongside the cycle path, which are used to move coal efficiently to the powerplant on the right.
1d. Hempontplein ferry Snap a selfie next to the giant statue of two kissing Dutch children, before boarding the Hempontplein ferry.
Level 2: Hembrug – Dam (3,7 km)
2a. Hembrugterrein With the Noordzeekanaal to your right, cycle alongside the Hembrugterrein (a vast industrial complex once used by the military) or veer off to visit the Hembrug Museum.
2b. Former Ammunition factory The white building is a former ammunition factory. Loop around the corner then cycle alongside the typical Havenbuurt.
2c. William Pont Island Although you wouldn’t know it from the modern apartment blocks, this small island was once a hub of the Dutch wood industry. Operated by wealthy merchant William Pont, who relocated his business from Edam to Zaandam after the completion of the Noordzeekanaal in 1876.
2d. Ship yards Alongside the Hogendijk there used to be many ship yards, where wood from Russia and Scandinavia was worked into sea-going vessels. The industry declined in the 18th century.
2e. Detour: The Czaar Peterhuisje Built in 1632, and played host to Peter the Great for a week in 1697.
2f. Dam Square Zaandam Dam Square is at the centre of Zaandam. Visit cafe ‘De Koperen Bel’, or rest and reset at any of the other cafes, restaurants and bakeries.
Level 3: Dam – Zaanse Schans (4,9 km)
3a. Bullekerk (aka. Westzijderkerk) Meaning ‘bull church’, the name comes from the tale of a farmer and his pregnant wife who were mauled by a bull in 1647.
3b. Verkadefabriek One of the Netherlands most iconic biscuit and chocolate factories. It began life as a single bakery in 1886, eventually expanding across the dyke to the west, where some of the buildings are still being used. Today, the riverside edifices are transformed into cultural venue.
3c. Urban-industrial contrast Notice three typical characteristics of the area: industrial heritage buildings, residential houses and modern infrastructure, all located around the imposing Tate & Lyle starch factory, founded in 1867.
3d. Cocoa trade and museum The cocoa trade was at its height around 1900, mostly in the North of the Zaan region: learn all about its impact with a stopover at the Cocoa Museum. Further up, ‘De Bleeke Dood’ (est. 1656) is the oldest wooden tower mill in the Netherlands.
3e. Zaanse Schans The Zaanse Schans is like a 19th-century Dutch masterpiece come to life – an area littered with windmills, artisanal shops and lovingly-preserved houses. Visit the imposing Zaans Museum to learn about the area’s history, see clogs from centuries yore at the Wooden Shoe Workshop, or follow your nose to the Verkade Experience.
Level 4: Zaanse Schans – Oostzijderkerk (5,5 km)
4a. Haaldersbroek Explore the picturesque hamlet of Haaldersbroek, once a fishing village. Today, it’s home to less than 200 people. At Haaldersbroek 11, you can see the oldest house which dates to c. 1661.
4b. Cocoa production This residential/industrial contrast is home to Gerkens, one of the Netherlands’ biggest cocoa producers, and a series of old houses and factories. Pit stop: Coffee and cake at Café Zaanzicht.
4c. Churches and warehouses The neo-classical Kerk van het Apostolisch Genootschap at Oostzijde 82 designed by town architect L.J Immink, was built in 1860. In this area you can admire price-winning modern architecture along the waterfront.
4d. Klauwershoek and Noorderkerkstraat This well-preserved part of old Zaandam has colourful cafés and eateries, houses old and new, and the impressive Oostzijderkerk.
Level 5: Oostzijderkerk – NDSM-Werf (8,8 km)
5a. Zuiddijk Cycle through the residential streets to explore the beautiful old houses along Zuiddijk then head through the bike tunnel under Den Uylweg back toward Amsterdam.
5b. Noorder IJ-Plas Amble along Noorder IJ-Plas with boathouses to your right and the Noorder IJpolder to your left. You’ll see plenty of greenery and bird life, like kingfishers around the lake.
5c. Amsterdam Marina Make your way around to Amsterdam Marina, with its curious mix of commercial hubs and shipyards. For a short stop-off, head to Loetje aan het IJ for a stunning panoramic view of the entire marina.
5d. NDSM-werf NDSM was once the largest shipyard in Europe. At its peak in the 20th century, thousands worked on cargo ships and oil tankers. Since the yard’s closure in 1984, the area has been re-generated as a start-up hub that you can explore by foot.