By Rick Steves
Any Netherlands native will tell you: to really experience everyday Dutch life, take a day trip out of Amsterdam. In a country as tiny as Holland, it's easy to do. Within a half hour of leaving Central Station, you can be deep in the Dutch countryside — lush, green, and filled with tulips and black-and-white cows. It's a refreshing break from urban Amsterdam.
And while you're enjoying the Dutch countryside's dairy air, visit one of these excellent open-air folk museums for a slice of Dutch life and history — including, of course, cheesemaking, windmills, and wooden shoes. The Netherlands are tiny; any of these three sights is an easy day trip by bus, train, or car from Haarlem or Amsterdam.
Enkhuizen Zuiderzee Museum
This lively, open-air folk museum has a low-key village patterned after a salty old Dutch fishing town, populated by people who do a convincing job of role-playing no-nonsense 1905 Dutch villagers. No one said "Have a nice day" back then. You can eat herring hot out of the old smoker and see barrels and rope made. Children enjoy playing at the dress-up chest, trying out old-time games, and making sailing ships out of old wooden shoes.
Zaanse Schans Open-Air Museum
This 17th-century Dutch village turned open-air folk museum puts Dutch culture — from cheese-making to wooden-shoe-carving — on a lazy Susan.
Located in the town of Zaandijk, this is your easiest one-stop look at traditional Dutch culture and the Netherlands' best collection of windmills. Take an inspiring climb to the top of a whirring windmill; gather a group and ask for a tour. Zaanse Schans is your typical big-bus tour stop. To avoid the masses, visit early or late.
Within the village is the Zaanse Museum. Its fresh, modern multimedia presentation explains Holland's industrial past and present with the help of a fine, included audioguide. The Pannenkoeken Restaurant de Kraai offers delicious traditional sweet and savory pancakes — coming with all the fillings you might select for an omelet: cheese, ham, mushrooms, and so on.
Arnhem Open-Air Folk Museum
Arnhem has the Netherlands' first, biggest, and best folk museum. You'll enjoy a huge park of windmills, old farmhouses (gathered from throughout the Netherlands and reassembled here), traditional crafts in action, and a pleasant education-by-immersion in Dutch culture. It's great for families.
Visit the Entrance Pavilion to get a free map or buy the English guidebook. Consider seeing the multimedia exhibit "HollandRama." Ask about special events and activities (especially for kids) as you enter.
The park has several good budget restaurants and covered picnic areas. Its rustic Pancake House serves hearty (splittable) Dutch flapjacks. The De Kasteelboerderij Café-Restaurant at the Oud-Beijerland Manor is a friendly place that can feed 300 visitors at once (traditional dagmenu, or plate of the day).