Zaanse Schans: The Best Day Trip from Amsterdam

Zaanse Schans: The Best Day Trip from Amsterdam

A visit to the Dutch town of Zaanse Schans is the perfect day trip from Amsterdam. Just 40 minutes north of Amsterdam by train, Zaanse Schans offers a real-life view into historic Holland. Take time out of your trip to Amsterdam to discover Zaanse Schans, a village compiled in the 1960s with operating windmills, a cooperage, the original Albert Heijn Dutch grocery store, a clog shop, a cheese farm, and much more.

Looking for other day trips from Amsterdam? Head south and spend A Day in the Hague instead!

N.B. This post contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase using an affiliate link I receive a commission at no cost to you. Thank you!

What to Do in Zaanse Schans

You will need at least a half day to spend in Zaanse Schans. You could really find a full day’s worth of things to do in the town if you stop for lunch too. These are some highlights from the village and top tips from my recent visit to Zaanse Schans.

Zaanse Schans Windmills

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In the 1960s and 1970s, the Dutch relocated some of its nearby windmills to Zaanse Schans to create a historic Dutch village. The windmills are not just for show: they continue to grind crops and make products available for purchase throughout the country! Many of the windmills offer tours and exploration for a small fee. Others accept either the Zaanse Schans Card or the IAmsterdam Card for entry. Some of them are free to visit!

De Huisman

The first windmill you will come across in town is De Huisman. This windmill is free to enter. Customers are encouraged to purchase the windmill’s products in exchange. The windmill has been used over the years to grind different spices. Currently, it is used to make ground mustard. The interior of the windmill shows the history of the spice trade and spice creation in the Netherlands. My favorite part was the interactive exhibit where customers could blindly smell six common spices and guess which ones they were. I got four correct!

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De Kat

Farther down the path of windmills you will find De Kat. This windmill is currently used to grind chalk for paint. Multiple grinding wheels are operated from the same exterior sails. Different closed rooms grind different paint colors. They are kept separated so the colors do not mix. The best part of visiting this windmill is that you can climb to its upper levels. You can stay inside on the second level or continue to the outdoor platform. Though there is a barrier preventing visitors from getting too close to the moving sails outside, you can feel their power and see their enormity up close from this vantage point. The platform also offers a spectacular view of Zaanse Schans itself. Admission to the De Kat windmill costs €4.50.

Catharina Hoeve Cheese Shop

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Cheese lovers will be in love with Zaanse Schans’ cheese shop and farm! One of three cheese farms in The Netherlands contributing to the production of the popular Henry Willig cheese, the Catharina Hoeve shop provides a proper Dutch cheese-tasting experience. Visitors can see how the cheese is made in the front of the shop, and then taste free samples of all the varieties for sale. There are at least 30 kinds of cheese! When you have sampled all the cheese and selected which ones to purchase, you exit out the back of the store to the farm where the goats are kept that provide the milk to be made into cheese. This is a Zaanse Schans experience not to be missed.

Zaanse Schans Clog Shop

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Clogs are a traditional Dutch souvenir. Perhaps you envision the Dutch clomping in them through town or wearing them to a formal dance. Did you know that clogs are certified by the European Union as work-safety shoes? They readily protect your feet from being crushed or soaked and therefore used in industry and on farms. There are also everyday clogs and wedding clogs that are much fancier than the industrial clogs.

When you visit the Zaanse Schans clog shop you can see how clogs are made and try a pair on for yourself. Once you see how comfortable and easy to walk around in they are - I was very surprised! - you may want to buy a pair for yourself. A plain wooden pair costs about €20 and a painted pair costs about €40. I did not purchase any for myself but I enjoyed learning the history of clogs, seeing them made, and wandering around the shop. This experience was free.

Kuiperij and Wevershuis

As in most historical villages, Zaanse Schans has its own cooperage (Kuiperij) and weaver’s house (Wevershuis) to visit. These attractions cost €2 each for adults and €1 each for children but are free with either the IAmsterdam Card or the Zaanse Schans Museum Card.

Kuiperij Zaanse Schans

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The Zaanse Schans cooperage was founded in 1919 by Jaap Tiemstra. It moved to Zaanse Schans in the 1960s and closed its production to become a museum in the 1990s when steel barrels became favored over wooden barrels. The cooperage is available for visitors to view and explore. The docents are happy to provide demonstrations, explanations, and historical facts about the cooperage. For example, the docents explained that because the cooperage made wet barrels (for holding wet goods), it was the #1 provider of barrels for Amstel beer until steel barrels came into favor.

Wevershuis Zaanse Schans

The weaver’s house looks small and yet it was shared by two families when it was in operation! As the docents explain, fabric for sails was imperative for the Dutch to dress both their windmills and their ships. However, the materials were so cheap that sails did not produce a lot of income for the families making them. Even though weaving was a skilled craft, the families that occupied the weaver’s house were poor. When you visit the weaver’s house you will get a first-hand look at an old Dutch loom stil operational by the docent.

Logistics for your Visit

If you’re considering a visit to Zaanse Schans from Amsterdam, the following information will help you plan your trip.

How to Get to Zaanse Schans from Amsterdam

Zaanse Schans is a 40-minute car or train ride from Amsterdam. If you have a rental car anyway the drive looked pretty easy. Otherwise, getting to the village by train was simple to figure out. Trains to Zaanse Schans leave from Amsterdam’s Centraal Station frequently. The Zaanse Schans train station was small and unoccupied. It is likely it is mainly used for accessing the historic village of Zaanse Schans. When you disembark in the small station follow the signs and the other passengers to find the village. It is about a 15-minute walk from the station. Bicycles are available for rent at the train station if you prefer a quicker and more typical Dutch type of transportation.

Zaanse Schans Card

If you plan to spend a full day in Zaanse Schans and do not have an IAmsterdam Card, consider purchasing the Zaanse Schans Museum Card. While it is free to walk around the village of Zaanse Schans and some of its attractions are free, you will save money visiting the paid museums in town with the Zaanse Schans Card. For €15 for adults and €10 for children, you can see the Zaans Museum, the Zaan Time Museum, the Weaver’s House, the Cooperage, and the Jisper House for free, as well as receive discounts around town. If you intend to visit all these attractions the card will save you money.

Opening Times of Zaanse Schans

Zaanse Schans is an operational village. As you wander around, you will pass quaint houses that the residents live in. One girl working in the cheese shop told me that she will often be at home and have tourists bang on the exterior wall to see if the building is real. She said the residents don’t mind and she will usually bang back from inside, startling the tourists!

Given that Zaanse Schans is not just a historic town, but one people live in too, it is always open to wander around. Most of the shops and attractions, however, are open from about 8 AM to 6 PM in the summer and from 8:30 AM to 5 PM in the winter. If you choose to spend an evening in Zaanse Schans, the rest of the town outside the historic section has restaurants and pubs that you can spend time in once the historic town attractions shut down.

Zaanse Schans Weather

Admittedly I did not have the best weather when I visited Zaanse Schans. It was my last day in Amsterdam and I had really wanted to see the town, so even though it was raining when I woke up, I still ventured to the village. I could see the windmills across the water as I traversed the Juliana Bridge to reach the town, but the sky was grey and I am holding an umbrella in all my photos. Once the rain stopped, the wind picked up and the sky was still grey. Stories from other travelers to Zaanse Schans describe similar experiences. While this may not sound ideal, remember that most experiences in town are inside. The weather should not deter you from making the trip, just remember to bring your umbrella!

Where to Stay in Zaanse Schans

If you would like to stay overnight, there are a few options in the modern town of Zaanse Schans nearby. You can see all the options available for Zaanse Schans hotel accommodations here. There are also AirBNBs available at reasonable prices located on the river with great views of the windmills. Find a Zaanse Schans AirBNB and get $40 off your first booking with this link!

I loved my visit to Zaanse Schans. If you have additional questions please leave a comment or contact me!

Don't forget to also read about the Top 20 Things to Do in Amsterdam itself!

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Plan the BEST day trip to the Dutch historic village of Zaanse Schans from Amsterdam using the guide in this blog post. Learn how to visit real windmills, see how clogs are made, and sample fresh gouda cheese FOR FREE! #zaanseschans #amsterdam #holland #netherlands #windmills
Plan the BEST day trip to the Dutch historic village of Zaanse Schans from Amsterdam using the guide in this blog post. Learn how to visit real windmills, see how clogs are made, and sample fresh gouda cheese FOR FREE! #zaanseschans #amsterdam #holland #netherlands #windmills
Plan the BEST day trip to the Dutch historic village of Zaanse Schans from Amsterdam using the guide in this blog post. Learn how to visit real windmills, see how clogs are made, and sample fresh gouda cheese FOR FREE! #zaanseschans #amsterdam #holland #netherlands #windmills
My Favorite Way to Spend A Day in The Hague

My Favorite Way to Spend A Day in The Hague

On a recent trip to Amsterdam, my friend Erin and I spent a day in The Hague (Den Haag). I had only wanted to see the Peace Palace in the city before continuing on to Rotterdam for the afternoon. However, after spending most of the day in The Hague there I completely fell in love with the city and cannot wait to return!

Looking for more day trip ideas from Amsterdam? Check out this Day Trip to Zaanse Schans!

Getting to The Hague via Public Transportation

Train

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The most common way to get to The Hague is by train. The trip from Amsterdam's southern station, Amsterdam Zuid, is only about 40 minutes and costs 12 €. Traveling from the Amsterdam Centraal station takes longer and is slightly more expensive. The Hague is one of the main cities in The Netherlands, so there are also trains from Rotterdam, Utrecht, and other small Dutch towns. All trains arrive at the main station Den Haag Centraal, from which you can easily hop on a tram to city center.

Plane

The Hague is easily accessible from Amsterdam's Schipol Airport. The Schipol train station connected to the airport has trains heading South away from Amsterdam. You can reach the Den Haag Centraal station in about 30 minutes from Schipol Airport.

There is also a smaller airport servicing The Hague and Rotterdam (airport code RTM). It is accessible by either train or subway from the Den Haag Centraal train station. It has direct flights from cities including Salzburg, Pisa, Geneva, London City, and Alicante, but you should be able to find a flight with one connection from anywhere in Europe to reach the RTM airport. If you are traveling from outside Europe, your cheapest and easiest option is probably to fly into Schipol Airport and take the train.

Subway

I was surprised to see Den Haag Centraal as a stop on Rotterdam's metro. The northern line on Rotterdam's subway system runs through its central train station, continues north through RTM airport and terminates at The Hague's central station. If you plan to spend a day in The Hague coming from Rotterdam this transportation method is also an option.

The Peace Palace

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As a scholar of International Law I have always dreamed of visiting The Hague. It is home to some of the most important international legal institutions in the world. Its city nickname is The City of Peace and Justice.

Though there are many peace-oriented buildings in The Hague, the most beautiful is the Peace Palace. Built in 1913 after two peace conferences in the city led by Russia's Czar Nicholas II, the Peace Palace is the current meeting place of the International Court of Justice ("ICJ," the legal body of the United Nations) and the Permanent Court of Arbitration. It also houses a library of international law.

Visitors to the Peace Palace can explore its visitor's center and museum any day of the week. As the Palace itself hosts an active court and learning center guided tours are only available on certain weekends. The visitor's center has a free guided audio tour that lasts for about a half hour that is worth listening to. If you are determined to go in the building itself and wander the gardens on the grounds, check its opening days before planning your travel.

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A map of the world outside the visitor's center: the map is made of the world "welcome" written in each country's native language!

Alternatively, if you are interested in listening to a session of the ICJ, you may arrive at the building 30 minutes before proceedings begin to be let in to watch. Note that this admission does not include a tour of the building or access to the gardens, just the opportunity to watch the Court in session.

Lunch at Zee Op Tafel

After leaving the Peace Palace, Erin and I wandered through Archipelbuurt neighborhood making our way North. We were not hungry, but the sidewalk cafes looked so cute and the smells wafting from each one smelled amazing! We returned to this area later for lunch.

Any of the restaurants would have been great, but Zee Op Tafel had the best smells so we opted to eat there. Zee Op Tafel features a fish market in the front of the store with a small restaurant in back. Being in a seaside town we had to try the fish! I ordered fried mackerel and Erin had fried cod (or more correctly, the Lekkerbek and the Kibbeling).

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This meal contained some of the freshest fish I've had in my life! It was all crisp, clean, well-cooked, and with a pleasing distinct flavor that was not overly fishy. The side salad I ordered with it was refreshing. The waitstaff was friendly and attentive, rounding out the positive experience. I'm sure any restaurant in the neighborhood would have been equally pleasing, but Zee Op Tafel is one to which I would gladly return.

Madurodam

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One attraction often noted in connection with The Hague is Madurodam. Madurodam is a miniature version of buildings and highlights in The Netherlands. It features most of the major cities and their landmarks like Dam Square in Amsterdam, the Erasmus Bridge in Rotterdam, and The Hague's own Peace Palace. It also portrays a port with container ships and Schipol Airport with model planes from various airlines.

Origin of Madurodam

Madurodam is named after George Maduro. Born in Curaçao in 1916, George was a Dutch law student who was conscripted into the Dutch army at the start of World War II. When the Nazis arrived in The Netherlands in 1940, George helped prevent them from completely occupying The Hague. He was later captured by the Nazis, held as a prisoner of war, and ultimately died in a concentration camp. He is a decorated Dutch war hero. His parents created Madurodam in his honor. It is intended to be the happiest war memorial in the world.

Visiting Madurodam

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Madurodam is open every day of the year. Opening times are season-dependent. The entrance fee is 19,50 € for adults. Most of the park is outside, so I would pick a nice day to visit.

Madurodam has many interactive activities. You can use a miniature crane to load containers onto a ship or practice your soccer skills alongside the national team of The Netherlands. You can learn about The Netherlands' history with a 4D video experience. Did you know The Netherlands only became independent in the 1500s, and got its freedom from the Spanish with a Revolution? I didn't until I visited Madurodam!

Other Attractions for Spending Your Day in The Hague

There were so many things in the city I was unable to see and do during my  visit! As you are planning your visit to The Hague I recommend looking into the following things as well:

How do you plan to spend your day in The Hague?

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How to Spend a Day in The Hague, Netherlands.
How to Spend a Day in The Hague, Netherlands.
How to Spend a Day in The Hague, Netherlands.
How to Visit the Great Wall of China

How to Visit the Great Wall of China

Visiting the Great Wall of China is one of the most popular day trips you can take from Beijing. If you travel halfway across the world to China's capital city, you should make time for a trip to one of its most famous landmarks, the Great Wall. I was not sure what to expect during my visit. I was awed and impressed by the Great Wall and had a fun day exploring the area. A visit to the Great Wall of China is not to be missed!

For more great stories about adventures in Asia, read these articles about What to Expect on your Ha Long Bay Cruise and How to Visit Angkor Wat!

Note that this page includes affiliate links: this means if you make a purchase using the link I receive some compensation at no additional cost to you. Thank you!

A Brief History of the Great Wall of China

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Construction

The Qin Dynasty began building the Great Wall sometime between 221 and 206 BC. The Ming Dynasty, who ruled from 1368 to 1664 AD, completed the wall during their reign. Though its building spanned millennial, the wall you see today was built mostly by the Ming Dynasty. Few remnants of what was built by previous dynasties still exist. When the wall was no longer needed to protect China from the Hun invaders from the North - and it is unlikely it ever offered protection to begin with - it fell into disrepair. Restoration efforts in the 1980s brought the wall back to the state in which we see it today. In 1987, UNESCO declared the Great Wall a World Heritage Site.

Facts

The Great Wall of China is between 13,170 km and 21,196 km long. It contains many sections, with some looking like your typical Great Wall photos and others like mounds of dirt. The main tourist area near Bejing has ten sections. The most famous sections for tourists are Badaling and Mutianyu. There are many tours available to choose from that bring tourists from Beijing to visit the Wall. Alternatively, you may embark on your own adventure to visit the Great Wall using public transportation or a private driver.

Deciding which Section to Visit

There are many sections to choose from when visiting the Great Wall from Beijing. Most visitors find themselves choosing between Badaling and Mutianyu.

Badaling is the most famous section likely because it is easiest to get to from Beijing. This also makes it the one most tourists visit, meaning it is often very crowded. For this reason I do not recommend visiting the Badaling section if the others are accessible to you.

The Mutianyu section, on the other hand, is not yet overrun with tourists. In fact when I visited on a beautiful day in September there was almost no one there! It contains a quiet village at the bottom of the wall, a chair lift up to the top, well-preserved stone walkways, and a toboggan slide down.

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Getting to the Great Wall of China

The Great Wall of China is about an hour North of Beijing by car and two to three hours by public transportation. Visiting the Wall will take at least half a day. Once you decide which section of the Wall to visit, the easiest way to determine how to get there is to use the Rome2Rio website, which provides directions between any two places in the world, including Beijing and the Great Wall.

Badaling

Rome2Rio identifies many options of transport between Beijing and Badaling. The easiest way to reach the Badaling section of the Great Wall is to take the Beijing subway to the Huangtudian Railway Station. From here you can board a train that will take you directly to Badaling. This trip is the easiest and most direct way to visit the Great Wall from Beijing, which is why so many tourists opt for it.

Mutianyu

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My experience getting to Mutianyu was slightly different. I was fortunate to have my friend Dong as a local guide. I met Dong in law school in the United States. She grew up in Southern China and lived in Beijing. Dong asked me to meet her at the Dongzhimen bus station around 8:30 AM the day of our visit to the Great Wall. We planned to take a public bus all the way to the Great Wall for about $3 USD with just one transfer.

Travel by Local Bus

The ride out of the city provided a unique perspective on life in urban China. We traveled through smaller cities around Beijing using both highways and local roads. From the looks of things around us we could have been driving through somewhere in the United States: it would have looked the same except for the Mandarin writing on the signs.

The bus made multiple local stops in the different towns as we approached the wall. Looking around at the other passengers, it was clear this was transportation used mostly by locals rather than tourists. My dad, who was along with us, and I were the only non-Chinese people on the bus. We clearly stuck out as foreign tourists.

Transfer to Private Car or Taxi

At one stop, a man from outside saw us on the bus, boarded the bus through a back door, and approached us speaking broken English. Not knowing what he wanted, I tried to ignore him and pretend I spoke another language. Dong was sitting behind my dad and I, and we heard her speak Mandarin with the man. Suddenly she told us to get off the bus and quickly. I had no idea what was going on. Were we in danger?

To my surprise, as we left the bus we followed the man and got in his car! It turns out he was a taxi driver. It had been obvious to him that two white people on the local bus in that area were trying to visit the Great Wall. Had we remained on the bus it would have taken another half hour to reach the Great Wall. With our new taxi driver we were just a five minute drive away from the entrance.

Visiting the Wall

A visit to the Great Wall of China includes much more than just wandering around an elevated stone path for a few minutes. At most sections you will find a small village, information about the Wall, and transport up to and back from the landmark.

Reaching the Wall

In the Mutianyu section visitors purchase access to the wall at the main entrance. Your ticket includes a chair lift ride up and either a chair lift or a toboggan ride down. We all opted for the toboggan ride ticket seeing as that was one of the main reasons I had chosen to visit this particular section of the wall.

The chair lift from the village to the top of the wall took about ten minutes. As an avid skier, I had been on many chair lifts before. I sat back and enjoyed the views of the surrounding Chinese countryside during the trip up. If you are not accustomed to riding on chair lifts, make sure you lower and raise the safety bar at the appropriate times (there are signs), sit all the way back in the seat, and don't rock the chair! If fear of heights is an issue, just watch the chair in front of you. There will be plenty of time to take in views of the area from the top of the wall itself.

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"Climbing" the Wall

The night before our visit to the Great Wall, Dong took my dad and I out to dinner. When we discussed our adventure planned for the next day, she kept talking about "climbing" the Wall. I kept imagining us having to climb up the side of the wall from the ground! I was very pleased, though slightly confused, when I selected the chair lift option at the entrance and learned we would be dropped off on top of the wall.

The climb to which Dong was referring occurs once you are on the wall. Because it was built many centuries ago, the architecture of the wall is imperfect. Additionally, the expanse across which it stretches is marked by rolling hills. These factors mean visitors must exert some effort  to hike along the wall between the watch towers. At various points you travel up or down along the paths on top of the wall following the hills. In some areas there are stairs to climb. Other areas are not well kept and are tricky to navigate. The stairs are not always evenly spaced. I thought this was a result of bad technology or architecture at the time, but this was often done on purpose to throw off intruders trying to run up and down the wall.

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If you are not expecting an active hike, you can still visit the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall. The chair lift drop off was intentionally set at a part of the Wall that is flat and well-maintained in almost perfect condition. If you are able to travel further and make the hike you will be well-rewarded with the natural beauty of the surrounding area, the uniqueness of each historic watch tower, and the thinning out of crowds as you travel further from the entrance point.

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Descending the Wall

One of the most unique features of the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall is its toboggan ride to the bottom. Though you have the option to return to the village by chair lift, complete your visit by taking the toboggan down. Even Michelle Obama chose this option during her visit! Each rider rides in their own toboggan with a handle to hold onto that also contains a break. You use the break to control your own speed. The track looks like a metal luge or skeleton racing track traveling through the woods from the wall back to the village. The ride down takes five to ten minutes depending on your chosen speed. All three of us visiting the Wall that day took advantage of this option.

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bejing; great wall; china; visit the great wall of china

Mutianyu Village

Complete your visit to the Great Wall by exploring the shops and eating in the restaurants in the Mutianyu Village. Though the area may seem touristy, we had delicious authentic food served to us in a village restaurant, and then bought a few trinkets by which to remember our visit.

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At the end of our time in Mutianyu, we met our taxi driver - who had waited for us the whole time! - who took us back to one of the main bus stops in the area where we boarded our public transportation back to Beijing.

I highly recommend selecting the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall to visit. Regardless of which section you choose, make sure to add this day trip to any itinerary of a visit to Beijing.

Planning a trip to Beijing and looking for a great hotel? Check out the options here: Beijing City Hotels.

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Learn how to visit the Great Wall of China with my travel tips and advice!
Learn how to visit the Great Wall of China with my travel tips and advice!
Learn how to visit the Great Wall of China with my travel tips and advice!
What to Do in Denver in Every Season

What to Do in Denver in Every Season

Have you ever wondered what to do in Denver if you’re planning to visit at a particular time of the year? Denver is one of the best cities to visit at any time, whenever your schedule allows! The city offers four seasons of fun and has activities that will appeal to everyone. Denver residents are known for their healthy lifestyles, so most activities will also promote an active vacation!

Planning a trip out West? Check out Weekend Adventures in Portland, OR for more adventures for your U.S. trip!

What to Do in Denver in the Winter

When most people think of vacation in Denver, they immediate think of skiing and snowboarding. Given that there are dozens of mountains just an hour or two away from the city, this makes sense. Hop on Route 70 from the Denver airport, take a scenic ride through the Rocky Mountains, and pick your ski resort!

Loveland Ski Area – Day Trip

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If you want to experience Denver-area skiing and snowboarding for a day, head to the Loveland Ski Area. Just an hour from Denver, this ski area does not have an accompanying resort so it is meant for day trips. Loveland is a smaller mountain that has many great trails for beginners. Even so, there is still enough intermediate and advanced terrain for experienced skiers and snowboarders to have fun for a day too.

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If you have time after your day on the mountain, continue ten minutes up route 6 from the ski area to the Loveland Pass and take a photo on top of the Continental Divide.

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Keystone Resort – Weekend or Full Week

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About an hour and a half outside of Denver, Keystone Resort is a mid-sized ski resort perfect to visit for a few days. You can stay right on the mountain, or check out accommodations in the nearby town of Keystone, CO. The mountain itself is welcoming to skiers of all levels. Even beginners can enjoy spectacular views from the summit before making their way down the mountain. Expert skiers looking for a wilderness experience can take the Outback lift to an off-piste area that is part of the mountain. With 148 trails covering 3,148 acres, Keystone Resort provides enough skiing and snowboarding opportunities to last a few days. When your group is ready for a break, head to the Keystone ski village to enjoy a hot chocolate and gaufre liège.

Want more ski resort recommendations? Check out the Best New England Ski Resorts post!

What to Do in Denver in the Spring

Cherry Creek Bike Ride

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The Cherry Creek Trail is a 42-mile pedestrian and bike path that runs along the Cherry Creek River. It begins in Downtown Denver and travels South to Castle Rock, CO. If you’re feeling really adventurous, you could bike the entire path. Otherwise, rent a bike in the city from any B-Cycle Station and spend a few miles cycling peacefully by the river as it runs through town. If you choose to leave the path, most Denver city roads are bike-friendly as well.

Colorado Rockies Baseball Game

Watching a live baseball game is the perfect way to spend a Spring afternoon or evening in America! The Colorado Rockies play at Denver’s Coors Field in downtown Denver.  Major League Baseball’s 2019 Opening Day is scheduled for March 28. This early start gives you plenty of opportunities to pick up day-of tickets if you decide to attend a game while you’re in town.

What to Do in Denver in the Summer

Elitch Gardens

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Summer is for theme parks and water parks! Forego the big-name commercial theme parks for a chance to step back in history at Denver’s Elitch Gardens. The gardens have been running continuously since they opened in 1890 as a garden and zoo. The first theme park ride, the carousel, premiered in 1928 and is still operating today. Many other rides in the park may look familiar to patrons from around the country: I recognized a number of rides as duplicates of those I spent many years on at Lake Compounce Theme Park in Bristol, Connecticut. Don’t forget to pack a bathing suit for the water park too, which is included in your admission ticket!

Rocky Mountain National Park

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Hiking is considered a year-round activity in Colorado, but the best time to go is in the Summer. Temperatures in the higher altitudes will drop quickly, even when it is 90 degrees in the city. Go on your hike prepared with appropriate pants and a sweater. The best hiking in the area is in Rocky Mountain National Park. The park is about an hour and a half North of Denver. Hiking in the park is not strenuous itself, but if you are not used to the higher altitudes, you may become out of break quicker than usual. This is normal and you are not suddenly out of shape, it is just the new altitude! Be sure to carry water with you and go slowly if you experience this strange phenomenon.

What to Do in Denver in the Fall

Denver Broncos Football Game

As with baseball in the Spring, American football in the Fall is a quintessential American activity. Denver’s football team, the Broncos, play at the Mile High Stadium located in downtown Denver. If you want to catch a game, you could swing by after Sunday brunch, pick up a ticket, and head right into the stadium for kickoff. However, if you do that you may miss out on the best part of football: tailgating! To participate in tailgating, make your way to the parking lots outside the stadium a few hours before kickoff. Wander around the tailgate parties and engage with the fans. You may even be invited to partake in a game of cornhole (bean bag toss) or enjoy a beer with fellow Broncos fans at their tailgates.

Stanley Hotel in Estes Park

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stanley hotel; the shining; stephen king; what to do in denver in the fall; what to do in denver in autumn; halloweek; horror; estes park

If you’re a fan of Halloween and horror stories, you don’t want to miss the Stanley Hotel in October. This is the hotel on which Stephen King’s “The Shining” book and subsequent movie is based. Eerie in its own right, the hotel leans into its haunted fame to host Twin Terror Weekends leading up to Halloween. Visit the hotel to take a tour, explore the grounds, attend a party, or stay overnight if you want the full experience.

What to Do in Denver at Any Time

Museum of Nature & Science

what to do in denver; museum of science; museum of nature and science; museum; downtown denver

Stuck inside on a rainy day? Too cold to explore the city? Looking for someplace to take the kids? Check out Denver’s Museum of Nature & Science. Even if you’ve been before, the rotating exhibits guarantee there will be something new to see next time. For example, I saw awesome exhibits on Whales and the Silk Road a few years ago that are long gone. Next time, I would love to go see the current Cuba! exhibit. Depending on the weather, after your museum visit you can meander through the bordering Denver City Park and make your way over to the nearby Denver Zoo (also located in the park).

REI Flagship Store

what to do in denver; rei; flagship store; rock wall; climbing wall

If you are interested in outdoor activities or shopping, be sure to stop at the REI Flagship store when you are in Denver. Sitting on the banks of the Cherry Creek and Colorado Rivers, this store offers much more than a chance to buy new hiking boots. There are free outdoor sports seminars, a cold room that lets you try cold gear, and the best attraction: a 3-story indoor climbing wall! Unlike your local REI, this is a destination, not just a store.

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Planning a trip to Denver? Check out this post for activities available year round in the city and surrounding area!

What to Do in Denver in Every Season: list of activities in this awesome city for any time you may be visiting!

Best New England Ski Resorts for Weekend Getaways

Best New England Ski Resorts for Weekend Getaways

New England ski resorts are open for 2018! For anyone looking to get away for a ski weekend in the Northeast from now until March or April, check out the resorts below. Each resort listed has great terrain, many accommodation options, villages offering you a break from your boots, and price points that won't break the bank, at least as far as ski weekends go.

Looking for more things to do in New England? Check out these posts about a Weekend in New Hampshire, Fall in Connecticut, and a Day Trip to Salem, MA!

Mount Snow

West Dover, Vermont * Opens for the season November 4, 2018https://www.mountsnow.com/

mount snow; ski; vermont

The Mountain

Mount Snow is the closest Green Mountain ski resort to both Boston (2.5 hours) and New York City (4 hours). It runs 20 lifts for its 600 acres of terrain, including the Bluebird Express that provides a front cover to cut the wind as you ride to the summit. The mountain provides mostly intermediate terrain, with a few steep diamond trails and a nice long, easy beginner trail down from the summit.

mount snow; ski; resort; new england; vermont; mountain

Accommodations

Two on-site accommodations are available at Mount Snow. The Grand Summit Resort Hotel provides ski-in ski-out privileges for the mountain. If you are looking for something more budget-friendly, stay at the Snow Lake Lodge across the street from the mountain, which is accessible by shuttle. Both locations offer hot tubs to enjoy during your après-ski time.

Village and Town

Mount Snow doesn't have a contained resort area, but it doesn't need one. The town of West Dover, Vermont, is a short drive away from the mountain and provides everything you would want in a ski town. If you want to be a part of mountain history, head for TC's Restaurant, home of Gold-Medal Olympian Snowboarder Kelly Clark. For something more upscale, sit in the dining room at West Dover Joe's. Looking for nightlife after dinner? The Snow Barn, a few feet from the mountain, provides drinks and live music most nights.

Overall Review: Given its location and size, Mount Snow is great for a short weekend ski trip or a long day of skiing if you're coming from New England or Eastern New York.

Killington

Killington, Vermont * Open NOW for the season! * https://www.killington.com/

killington; ski resort; vermont; new england

The Mountain

Nicknamed "The Beast," Killington offers the biggest ski area in New England. Its size means there are enough trails to satisfy skiers of all levels. Thrilling black diamond trails challenge the best skiers, while beginners can stick to the numerous bunny trails or try a run from the summit entirely on beginner trails. Lift tickets are also some of the most expensive in the area at full price, but Killington often offers discount tickets if you spend time investigating.

Accommodations

The Killington Grand Resort Hotel at the base of the mountain is the perfect place to stay if you want all the comforts of a ski hotel. However, ski cabins are much more popular at Killington, as many of them have lift access, offering ski-on/ski-off capabilities. Killington's Managed Condos website or AirBNB can help you locate your ideal accommodation, whether it's a 12-person cabin with a private outdoor hot tub and indoor sauna, or a single-family two-bedroom bungalow.

Village and Town

Killington's Base Lodge offers numerous dining options for hungry skiers. Favorites include Preston's and Killington House of Pizza. If you want to venture into the cold for some nightlife, you must check out the Wobbly Barn, Killington's infamous music house and nightclub.

Overall Review: While Killington doesn't offer the on-site resort experience you may expect out West or in Europe, it has the best mountain in the area, so it's the best destination for serious skiers and their friends.

Jay Peak

Jay, Vermont * Opens for the season November 23, 2018 * https://jaypeakresort.com/

jay peak; snow; ski; resort; new england; vermont

The Mountain

Jay Peak offers 385 acres of terrain with 79 trails. However, it boasts the encouragement of off piste skiing as well, with 100+ acres of glade terrain. Advanced skiers looking to challenge themselves can take advantage of this additional acreage, while advanced-beginner skiers will find the intermediate trails accessible.

Accommodations

Jay Peak offers numerous accommodation options, all connected with their convenient shuttle service. For a hotel-like experience, stay at the Hotel Jay, Tram Haus Lodge, or Stateside Hotel. Many condos and cabins are available for larger groups who prefer their own private residence.

Village

The New England ski resort with the most options available when you're ready to give the skis a break is Jay Peak. The Pump House indoor water park is a guest favorite with water slides, a lazy river, and indoor surfing. Access to the Pump House is included in your Ski and Stay ticket. The Ice Haus indoor ice skating rink lets you brush up on your other winter sport while you are on vacation. With 16 on-property restaurants, there is something to accommodate everyone's tastes at Jay Peak. At night, a few of the bars provide live music. If you want a quieter evening, see what's playing at the Movie Theater next to the Stateside Hotel.

jay peak; pump house; waterpark; indoor water park; vermont; ski resort

Inside the Pump House

Overall Review: A large mountain near the Canadian border, Jay Peak offers a full day of skiing and plenty of dining and entertainment options off the mountain to keep you occupied for a long vacation. 

Sugarloaf

Carrabassett Valley, Maine * Opens for the season November 19, 2018 * https://www.sugarloaf.com/

sugarloaf; maine; mountain; new england; ski resort

The Mountain

Sugarloaf is one of the most popular mountains in Maine. Though somewhat difficult to reach, traveling on about 30 minutes of dark, local roads after you pass Portland, the journey is worth it. Sugarloaf Mountain offers 162 trails, which are evenly divided among beginner, intermediate, and expert options. The signature feature at Sugarloaf is its summit lift that is the only lift to bring skiers to trails above the treeline in the East.

Accommodations

Sugarloaf Mountain is in the middle of nowhere, so you're going to want to stay on the mountain. The Sugarloaf Mountain Hotel offers beautiful rooms at the base of the mountain. If you don't want to stay in a hotel, your other option are the ski-in/ski-out condos and cabins on the mountain.

Village

Because of its remote location, Sugarloaf offers plenty to do on its property, and provides frequent shuttle buses to bring visitors to all its dining and entertainment options. The premium restaurant for a nice night out is 45 North. During the day, pick up a quick snack at Hunker Down or Alice & Lulu's between runs. If you're looking for a nice drink, The Widowmaker or Shipyard Brewhaus has got you covered. At night, take the shuttle to The Rack to grab a drink while listening to live music.

Overall Review: Sugarloaf's remote location mandates great customer service, a standard that the resort definitely lives up to. 

BONUS REVIEW: Mont Tremblant

Mont Tremblant, Quebec, Canada * Opens for the season November 22, 2018 * https://www.tremblant.ca/

mont tremblant; ski resort; canada; quebec

While this post is meant to focus on New England ski resorts, I would be remiss if I did not mention the absolutely best ski resort in the Northeast, just over the border in Canada. A 6-hour drive from Boston, or a quick flight from New York City, Mont Tremblant ski resort is absolutely worth the trip.

The Mountain

With 102 trails on four separate slopes, you could spend your entire trip covering new terrain with every run. The slopes are well-maintained with packed powder. Just remember to pack all your cold-weather ski gear: temperatures at the summit when I was there were below zero degrees Fahrenheit, without a wind chill!

Accommodations

There are cabins and condos available in the area of Mont Tremblant, but with such diverse options in the village, you should pick one of the official lodgings for your stay. The Fairmont and Le Westin provide the high-end, luxurious options. Homewood Suites and the Holiday Inn Express round out the hotel chain options with hotel suites including gas fireplaces and kitchens. For a more traditional experience, look into the Sommet des Neiges, Ermitage du Lac, and the Tour des Voyageurs.

Village

When you arrive at Mont Tremblant's village, you will think you've been transported to a European ski village in the French or Swiss Alps, and not just because everyone speaks both English and French. The village was built in 1939, creating Canada's first ski resort area. As you walk through the lower and upper villages, you will pass many shops, restaurants, bistros, and bars. Make sure to stop into a shop for your traditional Canadian maple taffy, freshly made on Mont Tremblant's snow!

mont tremblant; canada; ski resort

Overall Review: If you want a proper European ski resort experience, take the time to visit Mont Tremblant. Also worth noting for American visitors, this luxury ski resort is a bargain due to our favorable exchange rate! It is also advised to take advantage of American bank holidays to visit this Canadian destination: many Montrealers venture to Mont Tremblant on the weekends, but it is virtually deserted during the week. I had an entire trail to myself on Martin Luther King Day a couple years ago!

 

Ready to plan your ski weekend? Find some of my favorite ski gear, like goggles, helmets, jackets, and base layers here!

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Best New England Ski Resorts for Weekend Getaways
Best New England Ski Resorts for Weekend Getaways
The Time I Tried to Go to Nicaragua

The Time I Tried to Go to Nicaragua

The summer after college, my parents and I went on a week-long vacation to Costa Rica. Instead of flying into the capital San Jose, we went to the little-known Guanacaste region in the Northwest corner of the country.

At the Resort

The resort we stayed at, the Hotel Riu, was beautiful. Its grounds offered multiple restaurants, at least three pools, and a long private beach. The typical resort activities were available, such as water aerobics in the pool and water sports on the ocean. There was more than enough to keep my family occupied for our entire week’s stay, especially with our off-site day-trips.

riu, resort, costa rica, pool

Our resort pool with the hotel in the background

These were the circumstances under which I suggested to my parents that we drive to Nicaragua for an afternoon. It was our first full day of vacation: we had spent the morning lounging by the pool soaking up the sun. When the daily tropical rainstorm hit, we headed under cover for lunch. At that time, we discussed what we might do for the afternoon. I had seen on our map that we were only about an hour from the Nicaraguan border. At the rental car company, there had been advertisements for day-trips to a Nicaraguan town just over the border. Given my desire to visit every country in my world, this seemed like my chance to pick up Nicaragua. To my surprise, my parents said “ok” and after lunch we were on our way!

Driving in Costa Rica

For our vacation, my parents rented a car. The roads were what you would expect in a developing country: unpaved, no street lights, and not offering great directions. For example, our resort was on a road off of “Monkey Way”. The rules of the road were no different. Drivers traveled as they pleased and if someone was going too slow in front of you, you drove on the other side of the road to get around them (but not necessarily in designated areas as in the United States). We often found ourselves driving around cattle roaming the streets rather than cars. At one point our GPS sent us down a flooded road in the middle of the rain forest where there was no room to turn around and avoid the deep puddle.

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Cattle in the road in front of our car

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Giant puddle in the road where our GPS had brought us- luckily we had a 4-wheel-drive that could get through it!

The Drive to Nicaragua

To get to Nicaragua from the Riu, we traveled back through the town of Liberia into which we had flown, then headed North on Route 1, the Inter-American “highway”. This two-lane road is the main through way on the West side of Central America. Therefore, it is filled with 18-wheeler trucks transporting goods between countries. The trucks themselves did not cause any issues while traveling along the road. However, from what we could tell, the customs inspection site at the border took time for trucks to get through and closed early in the evening. This meant that about ten miles from the Nicaraguan border trucks that would not make it through customs that day pulled over to spend the night on the side of the road. The drivers even had hammocks they hung under their trucks to sleep in!

When we approached the first few trucks that had pulled over, we were unsure why there was such traffic. Then we saw a car in front of us pull out of the lane and drive down the opposite lane! Assuming this was the proper thing to do – drive the wrong way towards potentially oncoming traffic – we pulled out and did the same thing. It seemed like a great plan until the car in front of us quickly swerved back towards the trucks parked on our side of the road, unveiling another giant 18-wheeler coming in our direction! We quickly moved back into our lane best we could to let the truck go by, narrowly avoiding being smashed. A few minutes later we made the same maneuver to the other side of the road halfway into a ditch. As I said earlier, there were no real rules of the road in that part of Costa Rica. No one else seemed surprised to find cars driving on the wrong side of the road up the highway.

costa rica, volcano, landscape, plains

Costa Rican volcanic landscape on the drive to the border

Experience at the Border

My parents and I finally arrived at the border unscathed. The border area between Costa Rica and Nicaragua is unlike that of Western nations. For example, between the U.S. and Canada there are toll booth-like stations on the road with immigration officers manning them. When you leave the U.S. and enter Canada, you stop at the booth, speak with the Canadian immigration officer, show him your passport, and proceed into Canada. The same occurs on the way back into the U.S.

Between Costa Rica and Nicaragua there are two large buildings about 100 meters apart. You stop first at the Costa Rican building. As soon as we parked our car outside the building, it was surrounded by five Nicaraguan teenagers in brightly-colored Abercrombie t-shirts. At the time, I “spoke” some Spanish, and my parents spoke none. I did not completely understand what the teenagers wanted other than to exchange money with us. I tried to make them go away so we could enter the immigration building. They were rather aggressive in their desire to take our Costa Rican colones and give us Nicaraguan pesos in return. This experience was unsettling to my parents, so my dad and I left my mom with the car as we entered the Costa Rican immigration building with our three family passports.

Inside the building there were a dozen of what looked like bank teller counters. One lone immigration officer sat behind one of the counters. We approached him with our passports, and I managed to convey that we were going to Nicaragua for the day. He did not understand why we were two people but had three passports with us. Finally the officer accepted that my mom was outside with our car and gave us the three “exit” stamps. As we left the building the Nicaraguan teenagers we waiting for us, again trying to exchange money. They also tried to say something in broken English about leaving our car behind, but we definitely weren’t about to do that.

my tan feet, nicaragua, costa rica, immigration

Photo from inside Costa Rican immigration from the “My Tan Feet” blog: https://mytanfeet.com/travel-tips/crossing-the-border-between-costa-rica-and-nicaragua/

The Big Decision

About 30 meters past the Costa Rican immigration building, we decided that maybe this day trip wasn’t such a good idea after all. At this point, we were in the 100-meter stretch of land between Costa Rica and Nicaragua. We had exited Costa Rica, but had not yet reached the Nicaraguan immigration building to enter Nicaragua. We made our U-turn in this area and started to head back. Then I realized we had exit stamps in our passports. If we did not rectify the situation before returning to our resort, we would raise red flags at the airport later when we tried to leave the country without valid entry stamps. This meant we had to return to the Costa Rican immigration building.

The lone immigration officer sitting behind the counter was not happy to see us back so soon. He said something like “I just let you out, what do you mean you want to come back already?” We were clearly interrupting his alone-time, since his checkpoint was nowhere near busy. Instead of just giving us entry stamps again, the immigration officer made us make copies of our passports in another building before he voided our exit stamps.

passport, void, stamp, exit stamp, costa rica

The only voided passport stamp I’ve ever seen!

Happy to be Back

After about an hour at the Costa Rican border, we were on our way back to our resort. We were happy to get back and sit by the pool with a few drinks when we returned. Later, we learned that it is illegal to bring a rental car from Costa Rica across country borders. The car could have been impounded and my family and I thrown in jail or fined! It’s a good thing we never made it to Nicaragua: I will have to add it to my list another time.

costa rica, pacific ocean, coast, driving

View of the Costa Rican Pacific Coast on our ride back to the resort

 

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