My 5 favorite places in the Netherlands to explore with kids

by Emiel van den Boomen on January 9, 2012

This post is part of a collaborative project by 19 family travel bloggers. Justin Mussler of the Great Family Escape came up with the brilliant idea of linking local expertise to global visibility. 19 traveling families have launched a blog post with their local Top 5 of places to explore with kids. On this blog you can read my own Top 5 for families that want to visit The Netherlands. There’s a big bonus as well. Below this post you will find links to all the other Top 5 lists! So without further ado, here is my Top 5:

1. De Haar Castle in Utrecht

De Haar Castle, Utrecht

Knights and princesses, kings and queens, which child has not fantasized about living in a real medieval castle? De Haar Castle is situated in the center of the country and dates back to the 14th century. It has been completely restored some years ago and it offers daily tours. In weekends and during holidays there are special tours for kids guided by a baroness. You can also wander around the 135 acres of French-style and English castle gardens.

2. Amsterdam

A visit to the Netherlands would be nothing without a visit to Amsterdam. Kids will love the canal tours that provide a view of the city from a totally different angle: the water. They will be surprised by the vast number of living boats (of which some own gardens and terraces). There are even boats that act as shelters for stray cats and boats that have turned into bicycle storage platforms.

Hopping on the canal boat in Amsterdam

View of Amsterdam from a canal boat

Amsterdam scenery with bridge

The Nemo science museum is great for younger kids. If you travel with older kids, don’t miss out on the ScheepvaartmuseumRijksmuseum or the Anne Frank House . As I do believe in sharing personal stories, here’s a link to a post from Michelle Brideau about her recent visit to the Anne Frank House.
Amsterdam is one big open air museum. The historic buildings and narrow streets offer a peek into history (although some alleys might be crowded with tourists). For a relaxing view of history, please go to the Begijnhof, a small hidden square in typical old Dutch style, founded as a religious community back in 1150. And don’t worry about the weather, even in winter Amsterdam is a great place to visit: Snow in Amsterdam.

3. Rotterdam, Madurodam and the beach

Rotterdam actually is the largest city of the Netherlands but lacks the historical buildings and atmosphere that you encounter in Amsterdam. The reason is tragic as Rotterdam was bombed heavily during World War II. Being completely destroyed however, it did ignite entrepreneurship and the strong will to reconstruct the city. And that sense of craftsmanship never disappeared. Today, Rotterdam is known as the city of modern architecture and building design. Next to that it owns the second largest harbor in the world (after Singapore) which is a great activity with your kids. You can book various boat trips that will take you into the heart of the harbor activity. For sure you will encounter some huge container ships!

Ships in harbor of Rotterdam

Another nice activity is to go up the Euromast, a 185 meter high tower that offers beautiful views of Rotterdam and the harbor. The top part is exciting where you twirl around the tower up in the sky. Through glass floor parts you can actually look down (quite scary for some!).

Euromast

Watching the top of the Euromast

Close to Rotterdam you must visit the miniature city of Madurodam. Madurodam is Holland in the smallest possible way. They have rebuild all the major and famous parts of the country, in miniature style.

Madurodam (parliament)

Kids in Madurodam

Close to Madurodam you can drive to the beach to end a wonderful day out. Dutch beaches are famous for being very wide and clean. You will also find sand dunes that offer wonderful hiking opportunities.

Beaches of Holland

Having fun in the sand dunes

Interested to learn about more activities in the city of Rotterdam? Please read the post about “Spectacular things to do in Rotterdam“.

4. Hoge Veluwe

We now move away from the busy Western part of the Netherlands into the more rural areas. First stop is the Hoge Veluwe. This is the biggest national park in the country and great for a day trip. Next to the beautiful landscapes, the impressive Jachthuis estate and the famous art museum (including a large garden with outdoor art objects), you and your kids can borrow the well-known white bicycles to get around and have some fun. At each entrance of the park you can find hundreds of white bicycles. Just pick one for free and start biking! There are tours available in different lengths. At some point you will take a rest in one of the restaurants or visit the museum. Just park your bicycle but don’t be surprised if someone else took it when you return! You cannot lock the bicycles as they don’t have an owner. The great thing is that you just pick whatever white bicycle you can find to continue your trip. The park offers special kids activities in school holiday periods.

White bicylces at Hoge Veluwe Courtesy DagjeWeg

Cycling Hoge Veluwe courtesy Beensbeins

Cycling at Hoge Veluwe National Park with Jachthuis estate

Outdoor art at Hoge Veluwe

If you are in the area of Hoge Veluwe National Park, you can also visit the Royal Palace Het Loo in Apeldoorn!

5. Giethoorn

How typical Dutch can you go? Next stop: Giethoorn . Giethoorn is an unique place, a small village crossed by canals. Not like in Amsterdam, but more in a typical rural style. You can rent so-called whisper boats (electric boats that hardly make any sound) and navigate whatever route you like. Don’t worry if you get lost in the networks of canals, there are many people out there to help you.
You will pass cows in meadows, beautiful farm houses, bars and restaurants and one big lake. Try to stay during the evening when most of the tourists have left the village. Have dinner on one of the terraces and enjoy the relaxing evening atmosphere.

Through the village of Giethoorn

In a boat around Giethoorn

Cows in meadows, Giethoorn

I could have picked a dozen more great family trips in the Netherlands: the enchanting Efteling amusement park, the traditional Open Air Museum in Arnhem, the UNESCO protected Wadden islands (Dutch-Frisian-Islands) in the North, the surreal Radio Kootwijk, the city of Leiden with the amazing Naturalis museum (Netherlands Centre for Biodiversity; check the picture below) and the close-by Noordwijk Space Expo (Europe’s first permanent space exhibition). Or what about my historical hometown of Deventer? Our country is not that big (I refrain from using the word small…) and many trips can be done within a day. Don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any specific questions about visiting The Netherlands. Another option is to visit this Dutch site offering guides to all major cities.

Naturalis museum, Leiden

Hope you liked the shortlist! Now that you have discovered great places in The Netherlands, start clicking on the links below to read about other fabulous Kids Travel tips from around the globe!

Europe & the Middle East
5 Things to do with kids in London – Theodora Sutcliffe – Travels with a Nine Year Old
5 Activities for kids in Fethiye, Turkey – Renee – ramblecrunch
The Holy Land: our Favorite Family Things to do – Israel – Gaby Klaf – Nomadic Family

Asia-Pacific
5 Things to do with kids in Brisbane, Australia – Tracy – OurTravelLifestyle
Chiang Mai for toddlers, Northern Thailand – Barbara – The Dropout Diaries
Central Australia for families – Jarrad Page – Wandering Photographer
South Australia for families – Amy Page – Livin On The Road

North-America
My top 5 things to do with kids in Boston, USA – Justin Mussler – Great Family Escape
Our New York City family favorites, USA – Diya Luke – A Minor Diversion
5 Favorite places to visit with kids in Washington, D.C. U.S.A. -Susan Verbeeck – Grow in Grace Life
5 Favorite places for kids in Seattle, WA, USA- Keryn Means- Walkingon Travels
5 Favorite places for kids in Sunset Coast, Michigan, USA – Jessie Voigts – WanderingEducators.com
5 favorite winter activities for families in Vancouver, B.C. Canada-Jess Farrugia – With 2 Kids In Tow
5 Favorite places in Kingston, Ontario, Canada-Jennifer Miller- EdventureProject.com

Latin-America
5 Best places for kids in Costa Rica- Mary-Bohemian Travelers
5 Great activities for kids in Lake Chapala, Mexico – Alisa – Living Outside of the Box
Fun kids outings in Antigua, Guatemala -Lainie Liberti – Raising Miro
Activities for kids on Ambergris Caye, Belize – A King’s Life 

More stories about family traveling will be posted on this blog in the coming weeks. Follow the ‘Family’ tag on this blog to read them all. 

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  • With2kidsintow

    While we’ve been to The Netherlands before, you’ve highlighted some great ideas for kids too. Hopefully we’ll be able to check them out someday!

    • http://www.actoftraveling.com Emiel van den Boomen

      Thank you Jess and Jim! Hope you will make it back to our country someday, but in the meantime I have checked your upcoming itinerary for 2012 and sounds really awesome as well! Enjoy South-East Asia!

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  • http://www.greatfamilyescape.com/ Justin

    I love it Emiel – and the photos!  Everything looks so perfect!  So much to offer.  Now, when we come we have this great list to follow!  Really nice post.

    • http://www.actoftraveling.com Emiel van den Boomen

      Thanks Justin. We do tend to forget about great things to do in our own country, so listing some of them was a very good excercise!

  • http://twitter.com/tweetthemap AllOvertheMap.net

    Fantastic!  Can’t wait to dig our heels in when we get there this fall!

    • http://www.actoftraveling.com Emiel van den Boomen

      Yes Paige! And my wife just told me I forgot some more great tips….must keep you updated :)

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  • Anonymous

    Thanks for the mention Emiel! 

    I think most of us are kids at heart and all of the above are great trip ideas for any age.  I suspect travelling with kids helps you to remember to keep a reasonable pace!I have disagree about Rotterdam being the second largest harbour in the world though, because that’s a title my home town Halifax proudly carries :)  Possibly Rotterdam is the second busiest?

    • http://www.actoftraveling.com Emiel van den Boomen

      That’s true Michelle, we also enjoyed every bit of it! Let’s discuss that harbour thing when you’re back in Amsterdam, shall we? Data out there is competing and we have to defend our nation’s pride LOL

      • Anonymous

        Fight it out in person! I will let you know when I’m next in town! ;)  

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  • http://www.livinontheroad.com.au Amy at Livin On The Road

    This really made me long for Holland.  I spent a while there back in the late 90s, and really felt like I was coming home.  I just loved it. 
    Now, if only I could speak Dutch … it would have made it even better still.  Learning Dutch is very high on my “to do” list (I am the first person in my family to be born outside of Holland.  My family was from Rotterdam, though my mother was born in Amsterdam).  

    • http://www.actoftraveling.com Emiel van den Boomen

      Amy, you are the first one of your family to be born outside of the Netherlands, wow. Don’t you have someone over there who can speak Dutch to you? I have to warn you, it’s one of the most difficult languages in the world (far more difficult than learning Japanese, and I speak from experience). Hope you make it back to Holland someday (home is where the heart is :)

      • http://www.livinontheroad.com.au Amy at Livin On The Road

        My family chose to stop speaking Dutch when they came to Australia, and even requests to speak it to the kids fell on deaf ears.  I found that French was a much harder language to learn than Dutch – or at least, I seemed to pick up a bit of Dutch quicker than French.

        I will definitely get back there some day, it is such a beautiful, friendly country.

  • http://www.gonewiththefamily.com/ Lisa

    I’ve always wanted to visit Amsterdam – thanks for sharing some of the other spots in the Netherlands that should be on my list.  Love the bicycles!  When we were in Copenhagen my North American kids were most impressed by the number of bikes parked at the train station – a very different lifestyle from what we are used to in suburban Toronto.

    • http://www.actoftraveling.com Emiel van den Boomen

      Thank you Lisa. It is indeed great to see how many tourists / travelers photograph all the bikes in a city like Amsterdam. I hope you make it to Amsterdam someday…it’s only 4,5 hours by train from Paris (direct connection!). Love the St. Peterburg stories on your blog!

  • http://thisismyhappiness.com/ Jenna

    Great list, and I love your photos.
    Coincidentally, I am actually planning a similar post of things to do in California with kids since I have been exploring so much with my kids recently. As you said, bloggers are a great resource for information!

    • http://www.actoftraveling.com Emiel van den Boomen

      Hi Jenna! You should really write that post about California (I guess we even miss that state in our list, don’t we?) We are a great resource, but you know, content is everywhere and you just have to collect and present it. And that’s what bloggers do very, very well :)

  • http://livingoutsideofthebox.com/ Living Outside of the Box

    Wow…you had me at the castle!  My girls would die…and every bit of advice was great!  They are on the list!!  Thanks for sharing!!

    • http://www.actoftraveling.com Emiel van den Boomen

      That castle indeed, great isn’t it? Glad you liked all the tips. Now I’m off to read your list about Lake Chapala in Mexico!

  • Mary

    Great post!  The Netherlands has been on our list but I think all we were thinking was Amsterdam.  This post opened our eyes to the fact that we may need to spend quite some time there.  Now to figure out how to deal with Shengen:)

    • http://www.actoftraveling.com Emiel van den Boomen

      Don’t worry Mary, many people think only about Amsterdam when they talk (and fantasize) about Holland. Your comment is one of the best, because every blogger hopes that the content they’ve written really opens someones eyes. Thank you very much!  

  • http://ramblecrunch.com/ Mark

    You are right about Amsterdam… it is one big open air museum. I love Amsterdam. The canals, old houses, museums, restaurants… I could go on. Combined with friendly, relaxed residents the city simply feels very comfortable. 
    I was also struck by is the amazing bike culture in The Netherlands. As a cyclist, I find it inspiring. I realize Holland is flat and compact, but is there anything like it in the world? The “white bike” concept is so cool. 
    Madurodam looks like a fun place to check out for both kids and fun-loving adults. The detail is amazing and the fact that it displays historical or famous places means it is more compelling to see.  Reading this post makes me realize, the next time I am in The Netherlands (which is soon), I need to get out into the Dutch country-side more.

    I must add one more comment. Your photographs are beautiful and show off the country at its best. 

    • http://www.actoftraveling.com Emiel van den Boomen

      Thank you for that compliment about my photography Mark! I love Amsterdam as well. Although I don’t actually live their, I love every minute of it when I visit the city. The atmosphere is great, winter or summer. 
      Let me know when you guys hit Dutch ground and enjoy it! 

  • http://harindabama.com/ Bama

    Oh The Netherlands. I only made it to Schiphol airport (only for transit during my trip to Europe in 2007) and the last thing I remember about Amsterdam is seeing AmsterdamArena from a KLM plane on my way back to Jakarta. I really wish one day I can go back to Europe and visit your country, Emiel!

    • http://www.actoftraveling.com Emiel van den Boomen

      Please do Bama! Although we, from our side, dream of countries like Indonesia. It’s the longing to discover new places that’s important. 
      Amsterdam Arena must have been a funny sight from above. Some say it looks like an UFO.

      • http://harindabama.com/ Bama

        It looked funny and incredible at the same time. I knew about the stadium when Euro 2000 was held in Belgium and The Netherlands. So, when I flew back to Jakarta, I was searching for any building in Amsterdam that I recognize from up in the air…and there it was, Amsterdam Arena with its unmistakable retractable roof.

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  • Emily Cannell

    This is a great post Emiel! It`s bookmarked for future reference!

    • http://www.actoftraveling.com Emiel van den Boomen

      Emily, please also bookmark that I will guide you in my hometown Deventer!

  • http://www.minordiversion.com/ Diya

    I didn’t realize The Netherlands was such a diverse place! Those white bikes are a fabulous idea, and I see that some even have baby carriers on the back. That’s a tip other places should definitely take. 

    • http://www.actoftraveling.com Emiel van den Boomen

      Thank you Diya. They tried the white bike concept in big cities as well (Amsterdam, The Hague and Rotterdam). That failed, as students all painted them and called them their own :) But at the Hoge Veluwe it’s a famous and successful concept, indeed ready to be copied.

  • http://travelexperta.com/blog Marina K. Villatoro

    HOw much fun is this! I was in Amsterdam years ago – BK (before kids) and don’t remember seeing what you saw.

    Is it that kids always push you to see the really cool stuff or was I just enjoying the coffee shops too much ;-)

    • http://www.actoftraveling.com Emiel van den Boomen

      Ha ha Marina! Kids can indeed push sometimes, but mostly there are just overwhelmed by a city and its peoples. But hey, you ‘did’ the Amsterdam coffee shops, that’s one thing you can cross from your bucket list! 

  • http://www.WanderingEducators.com/ Wandering Educators

    oh WOW!!!! i soooo want to go – especially to that miniature city. it’s SO Cool!

  • http://www.actoftraveling.com Emiel van den Boomen

    Waiting time is over Susan, just do it and go! Now I know why your last name sounds so very familiar! Thanks for the great comment.

  • http://ourtravellifestyle.com Tracy Burns

    I love the sound of all of those activities but the last one and the castle just look amazing. We’re hoping to spend a few days in Amsterdam next month. I’m book marking this so I can look your post up again when we get there. 

    • http://www.actoftraveling.com Emiel van den Boomen

      Hi Tracey! I hope you will be able to spend some days in Amsterdam. Please let me know if I can be of any help!

  • http://www.wrapnlosefat.com/ It works body wraps reviews

    As like you these all are also my favorite place as well as for kid explore. Really good from all side. Thanks mate. 

  • Anonymous

    How did I miss this post when it was first published?  Emiel, you are creating our itinerary!

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  • Penny

    Where would you recommend a family stay, Emiel, to visit such places? I want to stay in Amsterdam, my husband wants more room so wants to go outside. Our  kids are 7 and 3 so probably would appreciate the extra space but I don’t know how much of a hassle it is to rent a car and drive in the Netherlands as a foreigner. And I wanted to soak  up the atmosphere of Amsterdam but having it on our door step. What do you recommend?! Best wishes!

    • http://www.actoftraveling.com Emiel van den Boomen

      Hello @c5aade4c5e5bf7437ed85d149b1e0502:disqus ! 
      It is not such a hassle to rent a car and drive in the Netherlands, not at all. Train connections between the large cities are also very good. If you want to go to Giethoorn and/or the Veluwe, you definitely need a car though. 
      Where to stay? Well, staying in Amsterdam is great but expensive. I would suggest to at least stay a couple of days in the centre of Amsterdam and after that move to another place like Delft, Deventer or even smaller.
      Netherlands is a small country so every destination can easily be reached within a day.  Let me think about it a bit more and I will send you some suggestions by email soon.

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  • http://villasspain.clubvillamar.co.uk/findAllVillas.php?region=Ibiza villa in ibiza

    Netherlands is really nice place to travel with kids..Because there re so many for all age of people, whether thats a young person or a small kid..Everybody body can enjoy here.

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    Thanks for making planning my next trip way easier:)

    • http://www.actoftraveling.com Emiel

      It has been my pleasure! :)

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