Zaanse Schans: The Best Day Trip from Amsterdam

Zaanse Schans: The Best Day Trip from Amsterdam

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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
Top 20 Things to do in Amsterdam

Top 20 Things to do in Amsterdam

When you think of things to do in Amsterdam, the stereotypical Red-Light District and pot-filled coffee houses may come to mind. However, there are dozens of things to do in Amsterdam that have nothing to do with either of these activities! Amsterdam is a multi-cultural city with a rich history that will appeal to many travelers. Whether you are interested in museums, food, shopping, culture, or spending time outside, you will find something to enjoy in the Netherlands’ capital city. I went to Amsterdam for the second time about a month ago: here are the top 20 best things to do in Amsterdam that I discovered during my visits.

Best Amsterdam Museums

If you want to visit Amsterdam's museums, purchase the I amsterdam City Card. Before visiting the city I researched the card and decided against buying it. However, once I was in The Netherlands, I realized I would save money with the 48 Hour I amsterdam pass. The card allowed me to visit museums I may have otherwise skipped because they were essentially free. You can purchase the card online or at the Rijksmuseum store once you are in the city. All of the museums recommended below, and many more, are included with the I amsterdam City Card.

1.   Rijksmuseum

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The Rijksmuseum is the most famous museum in Amsterdam. Its collection stretches a millennium from 1000 AD to the current era. Its most famous painting is Rembrandt's "The Night's Watch," and it maintains the largest collection of Rembrandt paintings in the world.

Some of the best things about the Rijksmuseum are the guides provided for the most famous pieces. They describe the background of each painting and help visitors appreciate details that may otherwise be passed over. For example, I learned "The Night's Watch” was named such centuries after it was painted because the canvas had become dirty, making it look as though Rembrandt intended to paint men gathering in the middle of the night. After restoration, it was clear that daylight shone through a window in the painting, but the name stuck.

2.   Oude Kerk

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The oldest building in Amsterdam is Oude Kerk or Old Church. Built in 1390, Oude Kerk sits on a canal in the Puritan Quarter of De Wallen, which is the Red-Light District. Ironic, right? While the church certainly stands out in the area, its structure is less imposing from the outside as you would expect from its size. I easily missed it the first time I walked by.

Stepping into the Oude Kerk's interior took my breath away. I was completely in awe. This is far from the first European church I've visited, but its vast space was nothing like I'd seen before. Not only is the interior large but it is almost completely empty. The center does not have pews, just a few chairs behind a wall facing a pulpit. There is a small music room off to the side with a piano available for playing that fills the entire space. Even if you’ve seen your fill of European churches, Oude Kerk is not to be missed.

3. Rembrandthuis

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These "box beds" were so small because people in Rembrandts' era slept sitting half-upright: they believed if you fell asleep lying down all the blood would rush to your head and you would die! Sounds uncomfortable to me.

Rembrandt was once a wealthy inhabitant of Amsterdam’s city center. He had a multi-story house sitting on one of the canals that he lived in and used as a painting studio. Unfortunately, he went bankrupt and all of his things were sold to pay off his creditors. Visitors to Amsterdam can visit Rembrandt’s house to learn how he lived and see his living quarters, but most of the things in the house are replicas of items he may have owned, as his real items are lost to history.

4. Van Gogh Museum

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Van Gogh is another famous Dutch artist whose work is featured in Amsterdam. Visit the Van Gogh Museum to see his famous “Sunflowers” still life and his self-portrait, both painted in the late 1800s when he lived in the South of France. Though you may have seen recreations of these and other Van Gogh paintings before, viewing them in person in the museum brings them to life. Visitors can see how much the colors he used pop off the canvas and can study the details in the paintings that you can’t see in a photo or recreation.

5. Resistance Museum

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The story of World War II for The Netherlands is much different from that of many other European countries. In May 1940 the Nazis leveled Rotterdam in a bombing campaign. They threatened to do the same to Amsterdam and other Dutch cities. As a result, Dutch Queen Wilhelmina surrendered to prevent additional destruction and loss of life and fled to the UK. The Nazis invaded and took over the country.

The Resistance Museum tells stories of various Dutch citizens during the war. It describes how the Nazis initially treated most of the Dutch well because of their shared Germanic roots. The museum includes stories of Dutch citizens who thought Nazi rule was the new normal and joined their ranks, citizens who tried to mind their own business during this time, and citizens who supported the underground resistance efforts. The matter-of-fact inclusion of all these stories provides an in-depth look at life in The Netherlands during World War II.

6. Tulip Museum

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A visit to The Netherlands wouldn’t be complete without learning about its famed flower, the tulip! If you have the chance, get out into the country and experience the tulip fields for yourself. For a shorter trip, check out Amsterdam's Tulip Museum.

Admittedly this is a museum I wouldn’t have visited if I had to pay for it separately. I’m glad it was included in the I amsterdam City Card because it was fascinating to learn about the history of the tulip.

Did you know tulips are natively from Central Asia? Tulips were brought to The Netherlands by travelers from the Ottoman Empire. It was considered a flower of royalty because of its rarity. Tulip Mania in the 1600s caused tulip bulb prices to skyrocket. Unfortunately, tulip bulbs multiply themselves underground during the winter to create many more tulips. This quickly decreased their rarity and caused the tulip speculation bubble to burst. I never would have learned any of this without a visit to Amsterdam’s Tulip Museum!

7. Our Lord in the Attic Museum

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The Netherlands is considered a country of tolerance and diversity since its founding in the 1500s. At that time the Dutch proclaimed the principle of freedom of belief. A fantastic principle in theory, in practice the Dutch said “you are free to believe what you want. However, we support Protestant Christianity, so if you’d like to believe anything else, please hide it from public sight.” Catholics were specifically targeted because the Catholic Spanish that had colonized The Netherlands had just been kicked out of the country.

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This intolerance led to the creation of churches in the attics of otherwise residential-looking buildings. Our Lord in the Attic Museum is one such church. When you visit, you can see how the residents lived on the first two floors and then enter the church on the third level. The top three levels were cut away to create balconies highlighting the altar and two-story organ in the back of the church. This museum is worth a visit for its unique disposition and place in Dutch history.

Top Outdoor Activities in Amsterdam

Regardless when you visit Amsterdam, plan on spending some time outside. In typical European fashion, al fresco dining is available year-round. Many of the best areas to explore are outside.

8. Canal Cruise

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Canals at night from the water

You cannot visit Amsterdam without seeing its canals! Amsterdam is one of seven cities known as the Venice of the North due to its many canals. The best way to experience the canals is from the water itself. Canal cruises are available near the Centraal Station and the Rijksmuseum starting at 10 euros. A canal cruise is also included in your I amsterdam City Card for free! You can choose to spend an hour learning about the history of the city and the canals as your boat meanders through the watery paths around the city, or upgrade your experience with a wine and cheese cruise. I recommend an evening or sunset cruise as the water is even more beautiful with all the city lights reflecting on it.

9. A'DAM Tower

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The A’DAM Tower is a new attraction situated across the harbor from the Centraal Station. You can reach it using the free ferry that crosses the harbor every five minutes. The tower itself is a mecca of art and science innovation with many start-ups using office space throughout the building. The top two floors of A’DAM Tower are accessible to visitors. You can eat lunch or dinner in the tower’s dining room while enjoying the views of Amsterdam, or check out one of the rooftop bars. There is one inside the second floor from the top and one actually on the roof. If you are daring, you can take the opportunity to ride on an outdoor swing that sends you over the edge of the tower above the harbor! Whichever option you choose, make sure you spend some time walking around the rooftop for the best views of the city.

10. Dam Square

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A visit to Amsterdam would not be complete without a walk through Dam Square. This is where you will find Dutch residents relaxing together and tourists watching the street performers pretending to be statues and making giant bubbles.

11. Vondelpark

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Vondelpark is located outside the canal rings in the Western part of the city. At 120 acres you could spend an entire day getting lost in this park! I especially loved taking morning runs through the park during my first visit to Amsterdam. As you wander through Vondelpark’s tree-lined pedestrian routes you forget that you are in a city where buildings are built almost on top of one another. If you want to escape the city and spend some time in nature during your visit to Amsterdam, head for Vondelpark.

12. Red-Light District

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You may be intrigued by stories of the Red-Light District and want to see the area for yourself. You may instead have no interest in the area but might still happen upon it accidentally. The Red-Light District, also called De Wallen, occupies streets in the city center that are also full of cannabis shops, cheese shops, and fry vendors. The women in the windows rent out rooms for an afternoon or evening and then try to entice passersby to join them for a fee.

It is pretty awkward to walk by the windows as the women move seductively and try to make eye contact to catch customers. I did not see anyone take them up on the offer while I was in Amsterdam, and tried to avert my eyes from the buildings in that area. Early in the day there aren’t many windows filled so you can use that opportunity to look inside the rooms through the window if you are curious. Note that you absolutely cannot take pictures of the women in this area, as most of their family and friends do not know they are prostitutes: there are stories that tourists who have tried to do so have had the women come out of their windows and throw the cameras in the canals!

Read more about human trafficking in The Netherlands and how to combat it here: https://ec.europa.eu/anti-trafficking/member-states-0/Netherlands_en.

13. Rembrandtsplein

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Though many roads in Amsterdam are narrow due to the canals, there are also a few open plazas, throughout the city, called pleins, where residents and tourists alike gather. Rembrandtsplein is one such plaza. The area is pretty chill, attracting a more mature clientele than the nearby Leidseplein. The plaza is surrounded by bars and restaurants open late into the night. This is the perfect place to relax and enjoy a meal or drink outside while watching people wander by after a long day exploring the city.

14. Leidseplein

If Rembrandtsplein sounds too laid back for you, head over to Leidseplein instead. Leidseplein is the plaza with all the young energy. Many students and young travelers take over this area at night participating in pub crawls or looking for a place to dance. As revelers move between establishments, they spend some time in the plaza itself. If you are looking for an exciting night out while in Amsterdam, you definitely want to be in Leidseplein.

15. Shopping in Jordaan or the Nine Streets

You can find typical souvenir shops all over Amsterdam. For more authentic goods, such as real Delft Pottery or maritime antiques, check out the Nine Streets in the Jordaan area of the city. This quiet area is great for wandering around when you want to get away from the excitement of downtown. You can peruse the shops at your leisure and make a few purchases of high-quality items to bring back and remember your trip by.

Find the Best Food and Drink in Amsterdam

16. House of Bols

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Everyone has heard of Amsterdam’s Heineken Brewery, but have you considered visiting the House of Bols? Bols Genever has been made in Amsterdam since 1575. It was the precursor to British gin. You probably have seen its unique bottles filled with colorful liquids at your local bar or liquor store. Visit the House of Bols to learn about the history and current production of the genever, then enjoy two cocktails at the bar at the end of your visit. Even if you’re not a gin fan you should still visit the House of Bols: unlike gin, Bols liqueurs come in over 45 flavors and make delicious cocktails for every taste!

17. Pannenkoeken

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The most traditional Dutch breakfast is the Dutch pancake. A cross between an American pancake and a French crepe, Dutch pancakes are wide and flat with fillings mixed into them. You can try them savory or sweet. I recommend a fruit and Nutella combination. Any pancake house in the city will suffice for trying pannenkoeken, but I am particularly fond of the Carousel Pancake House by the Rijksmuseum.

18. Dinner in De Pijp

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Get away from Amsterdam’s touristy city-center for dinner and pick a restaurant in the trendy De Pijp neighborhood. The restaurants in this area will give you a more authentic experience. They are frequented by locals, not tourists. The atmosphere is very posh and you will get a great meal for your money! The Seafood Bar, in particular, is a beautiful establishment with high-quality seafood where you can take your time eating and enjoying your meal.

19. Coffee or a Drink at a Sidewalk Café

I have a confession: on my first trip to Amsterdam many years ago, I was naive. I thought that you could only buy cannabis at coffee shops. It did not occur to me that you could also get coffee, so I spent three days without caffeine. Last month, I made sure to enjoy at least one cup of coffee per day while in Amsterdam. The best way to enjoy Dutch coffee is sitting at a sidewalk café by a canal. You can order a cappuccino, latte, or espresso inside at the bar and then relax and watch the city’s lively scenery pass by before continuing with your city adventure.

20. Argentinian Steakhouse

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For no apparent reason, Argentinian steakhouses are a big deal in The Netherlands, particularly in Amsterdam! I must have seen at least five on one road, and they were all over the country. The only satisfactory explanation I received was that the Dutch like high-quality meat and steak-and-potatoes is an easy meal to make. This is the most common meal at the steakhouses. Due to the abundance of Argentinian steakhouses in the city, I had to have dinner here one night. It was one of my favorite meals of the trip! The steak was flavorful and perfectly cooked, the salad was light and refreshing, and I couldn’t say no to a glass of Argentinian Malbec wine. It may seem odd to eat South American food while in Europe, but if you’re looking for a great meal, stop by an Argentinian steakhouse in Amsterdam.

Outside the City

Take a Day Trip!

A weekend in Amsterdam is the ideal length. After that, unless you plan on visiting every single museum available on the I amsterdam City Card, you may run out of exciting things to do. Luckily, The Netherlands is a small country with many cities close together. They are all easily accessible with the cheap Dutch train system. Use your time in Amsterdam to take day trips to places like The Hague, Rotterdam, and Zaanse Schans!

Learn more about what to do in these cities here:

A Day in The Hague

Zaanse Schans

Notes on a couple of Amsterdam's top attractions not on this list: Anne Frank House and Heineken Brewery

If you’re wondering why two of Amsterdam’s most famous attractions, the Anne Frank House and the Heineken Brewery, are not on this list, it is not for lack of trying. I failed to visit these places on both of my trips to Amsterdam, and I do not want to recommend places I haven’t seen for myself.

The Anne Frank House used to have visitors stand outside for hours waiting to gain access. The museum has since updated its method for granting tickets. 80% of the tickets available for each day are released online two months in advance. The remaining 20% of tickets are released online at 9 AM the day of the visit. If you plan a trip to Amsterdam less than two months in advance your only option is to try and buy tickets at 9 AM. However, you will need to log on to the ticketing website around 8 AM. I learned this by the last day and was still unable to obtain a ticket before they were sold out. I have heard it is much easier to get tickets two months in advance. If you want to visit the Anne Frank House, be prepared to be diligent in obtaining tickets online!

The Heineken Brewery is easier to gain access to. The only catch is you must show up more than two hours before it closes. On my last day in the city, I noted the brewery closed at 7:30 PM, so I planned to do some shopping and then visit around 6:30 PM. Unfortunately, I needed to arrive by 5:30 PM in order to gain access. I was disappointed I could not visit the brewery and will put it on my list first-thing the next time I am in Amsterdam.

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Find the top 20 best things to do in Amsterdam, capital city of The Netherlands, in this post!
Find the top 20 best things to do in Amsterdam, capital city of The Netherlands, in this post!
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