The Netherlands is well known for cheese and clogs but many people don’t realise that this is where some of the happiest children live! What is it about little Dutch children that make them so happy? Could it be that they’re allowed to have chocolate sprinkles for breakfast on a daily basis or just the serene yet stimulating nature of the quaint little villages around them?
While I’m no longer a child, living in the Dutch city of Nijmegen for six months has certainly taught me a lesson or two about appreciating the smaller and simpler things in life. Filled with plenty to see and experience, from historical squares to zoos and museums to beaches and markets, The Netherlands should be on every family’s bucket list when looking for a fun-filled vacation that has something for everyone to do.
1. Best regions
The Netherlands has some of the most kid-friendly cities. Visit the quaint old towns of North Holland filled with cows and museums; the cool canals of Utrecht and the fun amusement park in Den Haag. The windmills and beaches of Zeeland are also a fun option.
2. Dining out with children
While Europe is famous for its bars and pubs, there are tons of child-friendly cafés and restaurants with kiddies menus and play areas that can be found everywhere in The Netherlands. Dutch delicacies can be found in almost all cafes and are always a hit with the little ones.
Let kids try pofertjies topped with a dollop of melting butter and dusted with confectioner’s sugar, friets (fries) met mayo, flavoured cheeses and stroop wafels placed over a cup of something warm.
3. Exploring the coast
The Netherlands is well known for its beautiful beach towns. The best beaches are found in Zeeland and Texel so pack up, hop on a train and head to the cities of Zandvoort or Bloemendaal for a day at the seaside.
Here you will also find the Ecomare Nature Reserve which is not only a great place to see but also teaches kids about conservation though various activities.
4. Indoor activities
If there’s one thing I learnt about The Netherlands during those six months, it’s that rain is unexpected. Having an umbrella or poncho with you at all times will help but there are those days that you just want to avoid the wet weather altogether. For days like that, there are a host of indoor activities available that will keep both parents and kids happy.
Try visiting the NEMO museum in Amsterdam which has a host of child-centred hands on laboratories inside. The famous Rijks museum is well known for its child-based audio tours. For something a little more adventurous, try taking a walking tour of the Maastricht Underground Caves which is sure to spark any teenager’s interest.
Many hotels offer family rooms that can accommodate a family of four while many upscale hotels offer babysitting services should you need them. Be mindful of the city you choose and the location of your hotel as there are a few Red light districts, some known and others unknown, in the bigger Dutch cities.
Do some online research or alternatively contact the hotel beforehand to ask about the area you will be staying in.
6. Getting around
The Dutch are famous for riding bikes everywhere! Why not adopt the ‘When in Holland’ attitude and have the family rent a set of bikes and spend a day out cycling? Most bike rental places have a host of bicycles available with child seats attached. Bear in mind that there are designated bike lanes everywhere and hardly anyone uses helmets so be sure to ask about biking road rules and hand signs.
Most trains have silent areas where you can escape the noise, should you or the younger ones need a nap while on a long journey. Bear in mind that you will have to be completely silent in these carriages.
7. Outdoor activities
Wandering around quaint Dutch towns soaking up the fresh air as you explore the multitude of squares, parks and endless canals is definitely a fun day out. Visit the Keukenh of Gardens for a walk among millions of brightly coloured flowers and a huge playground or spend some time exploring the Artis Royal Zoo in Amsterdam.
Hop on a house boat or take a ride along the many canals in Den Bosch. During winter, you can also visit the outdoor ice rinks and various moving carnivals that pop up in many Dutch cities and towns.
8. Just relax
One of the best things about a family vacation is finding time to relax with complete peace of mind, knowing that the kids are occupied, safe and having fun. Amsterdam is surrounded with parks that have lots of green spaces and playgrounds: Vondel park, Wester park, Beatrix park and Rembrandt park are some of the best.
9. Amusement parks
Dutch amusement parks have always been a hit with the little ones. Madurodam in Den Haag allows you to see and walk around a miniature version of the Netherlands while Efteling in Kaatsheuval is filled with rides and cartoon characters. For an educational and fun-filled day out, visit the famous water park, Waterland NeeltjeJans in Zeeland which tells a kid-friendly story of how the Dutch have fought of the sea.
10. Family bookings
The great thing about the Netherlands being such a family orientated city to visit means that family bookings for attractions are common place! Most museums and tourist attractions offer either half-priced or free entry for kids under a certain age.
In addition, children between the ages of 4 – 11 can travel on trains heading out to anywhere in the country for a reduced price of 2.50 euros while those under three can travel for free, provided you have a Rail runner ticket.