This cycle route passes the west port basins, crosses the North Sea Canal by ferry, through the polder village of Westzaan, to a heritage windmill park on the Zaan river, and back along the still-industrial riverside. 40 km, 4-5 hours. Revised February 2017.
Recommended cycle map: the ANWB Fietskaart Noord-Holland Zuid (Amsterdam & Kennemerland), which costs € 9. The map is nr. 13 in the ANWB Fietskaart series, the scale is 1:50 000, and all the cycle routes here are within the map area. There are two specialised map shops in Amsterdam: Pied à Terre (Overtoom 135-137), and A la Carte (Utrechtsestraat 110/112).
start at Haarlemmerplein (square) on the western edge of the historic core of Amsterdam, in front of the Willemspoort, a triumphal arch built in 1840.
go under the railway viaduct, cycling alongside the tramline – this is Plancius straat. The original brick viaduct into Centraal Station was rebuilt for 6 tracks.
100 m further, turn left into Eerste Breeuwers straat, and then immediately turn right into the street between the rows of houses, Houtman straat.
This is a pedestrianised access to 19th-century social housing. At least it was social housing until several years ago: the tenants were evicted for gentrification.
at the end, you are back on Plancius straat. Turn left, and cross the bridge over the canal (Zoutkeetsgracht).
at the end of Plancius straat is the square Zoutkeets plein: turn left, and then right, onto the Houtman kade. This is still recognisably a quayside (‘kade’ = quay). In the side streets is more late-19th-century social housing.
at the end of the Houtman kade, at the busy Van Diemen straat, turn left across the canal. It is the main shipping route through west Amsterdam.
from the bridge go straight on, along the Tasman straat: a tunnel is under construction next to the road. Behind it, the former timber dock, Houthaven, is being redeveloped.
pass the Albert Heijn supermarket, and continue along the main road, now called Spaarndammer dijk. You are still cycling alongside the tunnel construction site.
at the next traffic lights, turn right. Use the cycle path! This is a temporary road over the tunnel roof, with a temporary cycle path alongside it.
at the end of the temporary cycle path, in front of the Jongeneel warehouse, turn left. This is Haparanda weg, but there is no sign here.
pass a new school (4e Gymnasium), and turn right along Archangel kade. After just 40 m, turn left onto a new cycle path, Zonnehoeks pad, and follow it between allotment gardens and warehouses.
at the end of this path, you are back at the main road: turn right, toward the antenna mast.
pass the Gamma store, and the antenna mast. 30 m after the mast, cross to the other side of the road, and continue on the two-way cycle path there.
pass the Mercuriushaven, a grain dock. After the North Sea Canal was completed in 1876, the port of Amsterdam expanded westward (the historic docks lie east of the centre).
ahead is a motorway viaduct, it takes the ring motorway to the Coen tunnel (under the North Sea Canal). Nearer the viaduct, pass a concrete channel on the left of the cycle path. It carries cooling water, for the power station.
at the motorway junction go straight on, following the cycle sign for Zaanstad. From here, the road is primarily access to the ferry.
The rail line alongside the road is the original route across the North Sea Canal, over a swing bridge. In 1983, the bridge was replaced by a tunnel, and the rail line was relocated further west.
pass the Hemcentrale – the main power station of Amsterdam. It consists of a powder coal unit of 630MW, and a 435MW combined-cycle unit.
300 m on, a viaduct crosses the road, an enclosed conveyor belt carrying coal to the power station, from the Amsterdam Bulk Terminal on the left. Part of it is beside the cycle path: if it is in use, you can hear it clearly.
continue past oil tanks: although Rotterdam dominates oil and bulk traffic, Amsterdam has increased its share of refined fuel traffic. Also on the right, Icova recycling – but you usually smell it before you see it.
1 km on, you reach the ferry landing stage at the North Sea Canal, the ship canal to the port.
The primary function of this ferry is to provide a diversionary route, for dangerous cargoes not allowed in the road tunnel. Diagonally opposite is a white building, the former national Artillery Establishment, Staatsbedrijf der Artillerie-Inrichtingen. It is part of a larger military complex, begun in 1899, strategically located at the former rail bridge over the North Sea Canal.
cross by the ferry (free). On the other side is the provincial highway to Alkmaar, one of the first-generation motor roads in the Netherlands (opened 1934).
sources: settlement and landscape history
take the cycle path away from the ferry, towards Zaandam. Cycle on through the new cycle underpass, with tiled walls.
at the next traffic lights, turn right across the main road, toward the Cafeteria. Then turn left along the waterside road, past the statue and the houseboats. The road bends right, parallel to the harbour.
This is the former port area of Zaandam, once a main timber port. Together with other settlements along the Zaan river, Zaandam was absorbed into Zaanstad municipality in 1974. The municipality has 150 000 inhabitants.
cross the narrow wooden lifting bridge: go straight on, into Czarina straat (Tsarina street).
turn right at the small public garden, the Czaar Peter Plantsoen (Tsar Peter Garden). At the end of the street is the explanation for Zaandam’s Russian connection – the Czaar Peter huisje.
Preserved as a shrine, inside a 19th-century building, is the little wooden house where Tsar Peter the Great stayed in 1697. (Entrance on the other side, open Tuesday-Sunday 10:00 to 17:00). The Tsar came to Zaandam to learn shipbuilding: his visit to Holland and England is an episode of symbolic significance in Russian history. It was an admission that Russia was backward, and needed to learn from the west – a policy opposed at the time, and ever since. Most Russian tourists in the Netherlands visit Zaandam, and so did Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, Ph.D.
turn back to the Czarina straat, and turn right to continue. This is a low-income neighbourhood, at the edge of the town centre.
pass the rear entrance to Rozenhof, a small shopping centre. The street bends left here into Rozengracht, a paved open space. (Some days there is a street market, and if so, step off your bike).
go on to the end of the street, past the green wooden wall of the new C & A store. Turn right, and suddenly you are in the new city centre of Zaandam.
at the next corner, turn left. Step off your bike, and go up the pedestrian ramp on the right of the small canal, past The Sting store.
This is the heart of the new development, Inverdan. The pedestrian route is raised, to cross the main road toward the station. The building with the Mickey Mouse ‘ears’ is the station entrance. Beside it is the new Town Hall, and on the left the new Inntel hotel. The green gables are a pastiche of the region’s traditional architecture, which you will see later.
at the next corner, at Primark, there is a cycle path crossing. You can get on your bike again: turn left down the path. (A cycle path across the railway is planned, but at present you can only turn left).
at the end, turn right to continue: use the new cycle path. Be careful here – you cross an access road.
cross the main road: use the cycle crossing! On the other side, immediately turn right, and then left, into the cycle tunnel. This layout may change during development: follow the cycle sign for Westerwatering.
cycle through the tunnel under the railway. At the end, it turns 180 degrees, so you are facing back to the station.
turn left here, along the cycle path, cycle sign for Westerwatering. Turn next left, just after the bus stop, into Blokschaaf – the street name sign is at nr. 121.
go straight on through the new housing, crossing a cycle bridge. After a second cycle bridge, turn left, up to a road bridge (Mandela straat).
at the end turn right, along Westzanerdijk – there is no street name sign here. The street is raised, because it is the mediaeval sea dike of the northern IJ estuary.
There are stepped alleys between the houses, typical for dike settlements. Further on, the historical pattern is more clearly visible. There are sections of canal below the dike on the right, with some older farm buildings, backing directly onto the grazing land. That is the ‘old land’, reclaimed in the Middle Ages. Everything on the left is built on 19th-century polders, reclaimed from the IJ estuary. This pattern is visible at several places in the Amsterdam region: an isolated sea-dike with different landscapes on either side.
pass on the right (between nr. 306 and nr. 312) a small Jewish cemetery. About 700 m further, the pattern of dike / canal / farms is clearer. Several houses have their own entrance bridge across the canal – a typical feature of this region.
pass several weather-boarded buildings in the regional colour Zaan green (Zaans groen). Just after them is a pumping station, Gemaal Overtoom, with buildings on both sides of the road. Stop to look into the pump building on the right, with two electric pumps.
just after the pumping station, cross an old lock, and then continue along the dike road.
after another 200 m, turn right into Zuideinde. This is the start of Westzaan, a linear polder settlement.
After the first house right, there is a map. You can see the line of the sea-dike, the straight line of the North Sea Canal, and the linear structure of Westzaan village itself. The village extends 4 km, from the old sea dike northwards. This is exactly the same structure as the village of Oostzaan, on the other side of the Zaan river. Both are aligned parallel to the river, the pattern of mediaeval reclamation of the peat bogs.
cycle on along the long village street. The housing is concentrated at both ends – in the middle there are fewer houses, and some working farms.
Several channels cross the village street at right angles. This is part of the mediaeval reclamation pattern: broad channels parallel to the Zaan, villages parallel to the Zaan, smaller ditches and canals at right angles to them both. Even the small channels were used for transport of hay and cattle.
cycle on into the oldest part of Westzaan, Kerkbuurt (the ‘church quarter’). At the centre of the old village, in the middle of the road, is the old town hall.
Westzaan was also absorbed into Zaanstad in 1974, and the old town hall is relegated to a heritage wedding location. The inscription above the door is a chronogram – add up the letters which correspond to Roman numerals, and you get the date of construction.
continue along Kerkbuurt: then suddenly the village street is cut by the provincial road (Provinciale weg). Visible on the left, the water tower of Assendelft.
cross the road, and turn right, in the direction of Koog a/d Zaan (= Koog aan de Zaan), along a broad cycle path.
after 700 m, the main road turns right: you cycle straight on, past a windmill. (This is the abandoned route of the provincial road, which was relocated to make a junction with the motorway).
This windmill is a unique paper mill – De Schoolmeester. Before steam engines, wind and turf were the energy source for the early industries of the Zaan region. Open most workdays from 10.00 to 16.00, entrance € 2,50.
the old road stops dead, as it reaches the motorway embankment: cycle on along the path.
On the right, some grassland has been abandoned deliberately to revert to New Nature (a pseudo-natural landscape). The reed-covered marsh, with scrub and low trees, is similar to the original vegetation of the region.
at the end of this cycle path, turn left under the motorway.
pass the regional police headquarters, and turn right at the cycle sign, direction Zaanse Schans.
cycle on toward the Olam Cocoa factory – you may have smelled the cocoa already. At the end of the street are the Amsterdam-Alkmaar railway, and the parallel main road. Together, they form the axis of Zaanstad.
at the traffic lights, cross the main road: use the separate traffic lights for cyclists. On the other side, immediately turn left, along the parallel access road (ignore the sign for Zaanse Schans here).
after 100 m, turn right into Linden laan.
at the end of Linden laan, go straight on into Park straat, not Park laan. The houses get older here.
at the end of this narrow street, turn right. This is the oldest part of the settlement Zaandijk – as the name implies, it is built on the Zaan river dike.
continue towards the windmill De Bleke Dood – ‘Pale Death’. Just before it, there is a bakery, Het Zaanse Bakkertje, where you can buy something to eat at the Zaanse Schans.
turn left before the windmill, and cross the Zaan river by the new bridge. Use the cycle path! The mixture of heritage and working industry, along the river, is typical of the Zaan region.
turn left at the cycle sign after the bridge, into the Zaanse Schans architectural heritage collection, and cycle on past the row of wooden houses. There is a map at the entrance, by the steps.
This is the prime windmill-and-wooden-house tourist destination in the Amsterdam region. Here almost everything is in Zaan green. The buildings themselves are mostly authentic, but none of them stood here originally. They have all been re-located, renovated, and given tourist uses. Near the entrance, at nr 5, is the ‘first Albert Heijn’ – a replica of Albert Heijn’s grocers shop in Oostzaan, as it was in 1887. In the farm buildings you can sample Dutch cheese, and buy wooden shoes. But continue to the windmills, as all visitors do…
pass first a mustard mill, then a saw-mill, a paint mill, and an oil mill.
Windmills were not only used for pumping water and milling grain, but as a source of industrial power. Although these mills have been re-located here, the location is authentic. The banks of the Zaan river formed probably the largest proto-industrial concentration in early modern Europe (German: Theorien der Proto-Industrialisierung). It was probably the largest collection of windmills ever constructed – several hundred in the 17th century. Specialised windmills such as sawmills, oilseed mills, paper mills, and hemp mills were concentrated in different locations. The Zaan is still an industrial river, as you will see on the return route.
after you have seen all the windmills, turn back. Back at the entrance, follow the signs for Het Kalf and long-distance route LF 7a, and cross the road. Use the cycle crossing!
on the other side, go on past the factories and sheds. You now detour around an inlet, De Poel. The industry was originally located here for water transport.
at the end of the road, continue on a short cycle path. Again follow the cycle sign for LF 7a, turn right onto a narrow street, with Zaan-green weatherboarded houses.
at the end of the street, cross the narrow lifting bridge: from here the whole inlet is visible.
from the bridge, turn right: the road is simply called ‘Kalf’. When you reach a grassed riverbank with trees, opposite the Tate & Lyle starch factory, you leave the inlet, and you are on the bank of the Zaan.
The riverside industry is part of the second industrialisation of the Zaan. In the proto-industrial period (1580-1700), shipbuilding and associated trades were dominant. A long period of decline followed. In the late 19th century the region re-industrialised, processing colonial imports and industrial crops. That gave it the regional smell: starch and cocoa.
continue past the Gerkens Cacao factory. At the next corner (street name is Jonge Abraham), turn back toward the river. Go toward the building with the stylised letters ZOR.
go on past the ZOR or Zaanlandse Olie Raffinarderij BV. (The ‘dead end’ sign is not for cyclists). You are now back on the riverside road: the non-tourist industrial riverside.
pass under the motorway bridge (A8, the one you passed north of Westzaan). After this is more housing: very little of it looks planned.
The riverside mixture contrasts with the usual strong functional separation (‘zoning’). By Netherlands standards, Zaanstad has a very amorphous urban structure. There is industry, 19th-century housing, older wooden heritage houses, and expensive new apartments.
go straight on across a bridge access road, pass another Gerkens Cacao factory, and then go under the rail viaduct of the Zaandam-Purmerend line.
pass another stretch of grassed riverbank with trees. On both banks are new apartments – the probable future of the entire riverside, after the factories have been relocated.
continue under the newest bridge (opened 2006) across the Zaan: the riverside road is now called Oost Zijde.
The side streets at right angles replicate the older field pattern, itself the product of mediaeval reclamation. The river bank was settled first, the reclamation went inland from there: the alignment of Westzaan is part of the same pattern.
at nr 82, pass an octagonal 19th-century church, opposite new apartments. Just after this church, turn right into a car park, its street name is ‘De Werf’
go to the riverbank, and go left onto the boardwalk along the river. Don’t cycle, but walk along the boardwalk. Visible opposite is the Verkade biscuit factory (1904) – once the largest factory in Zaandam.
at the open space (with children’s play area), turn off the board walk. Back at the street, turn right to continue
pass the church of St. Bonifatius – part of a complex of Catholic religious buildings and schools, built around 1900.
Beside the door is a war monument, thanking Christ the King for preservation in times of war. On the priest’s house (right) is a plaque, commemorating the Catholic resistance group based here during the German occupation. This ‘catholicising’ of the war is probably a reaction to communist influence in the post-war years – the industrial Zaan region was by Dutch standards ‘red’.
at the traffic lights, just after the church, turn right, over the bridge. On the left is the main Zaan river lock.
Beside it are the oldest surviving Zaan locks, with two lock-houses, and a stone coat of arms on each side. This is the approximate site of the original dam in the Zaan, built around 1300. The dam isolated the river from the tidal IJ estuary, and gave Zaandam its name, just like Amsterdam. In both cases, the spelling has changed over the centuries: originally Aemstelredam and Saendam.
turn first left after the bridge, at the bus stop, into Dam straat. Go straight on through the square called ‘Dam’.
This is the exact equivalent of “Dam Square” in Amsterdam, which is also simply called ‘Dam’ in Dutch. Both were the main square of the mediaeval settlement, both were located next to the dam in the river, which was the only river crossing in both towns. The undistinguished 19th-century buildings around the square are now cafes: this is the heart of Zaan night-life, such as it is. In the middle of the square is a statue of Tsar Peter, a gift of the last Tsar, Nicholas, in 1911.
go straight on past the statue, out of the square. At the street (Czaar Peter straat), turn left, back to the river.
cross the river again. Beside the locks is the Zaan gemaal, a pumping station which now drains the river – natural flow is no longer sufficient.
across the bridge is a prominent white building, the former Town Hall of Zaandam (1848). Pass it, and immediately turn right into Zuiddijk, on the cycle path.
continue along the cycle path, and on through Zuiddijk, ‘south dike’.
This too is a raised sea dike: the tidal estuary was on the right, but the difference in height is most visible on the left. At nr. 220 you cross a lock, access from the estuary to the small canals inland. Many of the houses are small and run-down: toward the end, there is new housing on the harbour side.
the street ends abruptly, at a bridge approach road. Turn right here along the cycle path, past the new apartment tower, onto the bridge.
cross by the new cycle bridge, next to a motorway link road. From the bridge there is a good view of the former Zaan estuary.
When the North Sea Canal was built, the entire IJ / Zaan estuary was regulated, and ceased to be tidal water. That allowed the development of its banks as a port zone. Housing is now displacing industry here.
200 m after the bridge, make a U-turn, down to the waterside road. Turn right, to go back to the ferry.
pass the entrance to the almost abandoned military complex Algemeen Verdedigingspark – Militair Complex Hembrug.
It was planned as the strategic centre of the Amsterdam defence line, the Stelling van Amsterdam. Most of the buildings date from the First World War. The site is being redeveloped and the buildings auctioned.
pass the last houses of Zaandam. As the channel joins the North Sea Canal, several port basins are visible. There are benches to sit and watch the ships.
the quayside road curves westwards: pass the former ammunition factory. The initials and date are still prominent on the facade (AI 1956 = Artillerie Inrichting 1956).
at the last gate of the complex, you are back at the ferry, where you crossed on the outward route.
The public gate for cyclists is near the ferry. The site is open on weekdays from 07.00 to 19.00 but development is in the early stages, and there is not much to see.
cross by the ferry, and cycle back toward Amsterdam: back past the oil tanks, the power station, the motorway junction, the Mercurius dock, and the antenna mast.
pass the Amsterdam Art Hotel, and then turn next right into Zaan straat. Follow this long street, parallel to the rail line.
after a short section of cycle path, turn right under the rail bridge. At the traffic lights, turn left toward the triumphal arch, to return to Haarlemmer plein, end point of this route.