Largely a dormitory suburb of Amstedam, the modern town of ZAANDAM is not especially alluring, though it does deserve a brief stop. The town was a popular tourist hangout in the nineteenth century, when it was known as “La Chine d’Hollande” for the faintly oriental appearance of its windmills, canals and row upon row of brightly painted houses. Monet spent some time here in the 1870s and, despite being under constant police surveillance as a suspected spy, went on to immortalize the place in a series of paintings.
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About 4km north of Zaandam, Zaanse Schans is a re-created Dutch village whose antique houses, shops, warehouses and windmills, mostly dating from the eighteenth century, were brought here from all over the region half a century ago and re-erected amid a network of narrow canals. It’s a popular day-trip from Amsterdam and can get very crowded in summer, but it’s a real village too – all the businesses are real, even though they derive most of their income from tourists, and all the houses are lived in year-round by people who have opted to move and work here. It’s also the closest place to Amsterdam to see fully functioning windmills.