A short(ish) cycle ride from Amsterdam’s Central Station is the wonderful medieval castle at Muiderslot. Surrounded by a moat and with battlements to explore, ‘secret’ passageways to discover and a courtyard straight out of Beauty and the Beast, Muiderslot tops our list for a quick getaway when the city is feeling jammed. With the chance to become a knight or noble lady, take part in jousting and archery or just scrabble up the 83 steps to the turret and discover the long-drop toilets, adventures are guaranteed.
Europe’s biggest playground is the headline – who could ask for more? Everything here is child-powered. For toddlers there is a large area that includes a ‘traffic village’ for tricycles – effectively a road complete with signals, crossings, a police station and a fast-food outlet. Older children get to enjoy the lake with pedalos, rope bridges, mini-golf, slides, go-karts, a train ride, a pedalled monorail, a waterpark and hundreds of other activities. So, whether your kids love balancing, pedalling, bouncing, hanging, swinging or cycling, this makes for the ultimate fresh-air getaway.
The Zuiderzee Museum, Enkhuizen
One of our very favourite day trips from the city is the amazing open-air Zuiderzee Museum in Enkhuizen. Here you’ll find the Netherlands of the past recreated in the most charming way imaginable. Explore shops and houses, old games and food, waterways, windmills, churches and school rooms. We find it almost impossible to tear our two away in time to catch the last boat back.
Zaanse Schans, Zaandam
It’s touristy. You’ll probably come home with plastic tulips and furry clogs. But our kids still love this version of the Dutch idyll just half an hour from Amsterdam. With a line of Instagram-ready windmills, Dutch treats like stroopwafels, cheese and licorice to taste, it may suffer from coach trip overload but don’t rule it out. Our top tip is the museum at the visitor centre with the recreated chocolate and biscuit factory and the chance to design your own chocolate wrapper (and take it home wrapped around a bar of the local stuff).
Volendam and Edam
Due to their proximity to Amsterdam, both Volendam and Edam can be packed with tourists, and have their fair share of touristy vendors selling souvenir kitsch (particularly in Volendam). But both these towns have lots to offer and make for a fun day out. On Wednesdays, the pretty little town of Edam sees farmers bring cheeses by boat and horse to the town centre ready to be weighed and traded, and whilst this is laid on for tourists, it’s still fun to see. At Volendam’s harbour the speciality is fish, and there’s literally nowhere better in the Netherlands to get a fresh herring, straight off the boat – assuming of course that you aren’t in town to grab a picture of yourself dressed in traditional local costume.
Gouda is a fantastic and less touristy option than Edam for a cheese-lovers’ day trip from Amsterdam. As well as a number of cheese shops and a cheese market in spring and summer, Gouda is also the home of the stroopwafel and you can watch them being made in the café which claims to have invented them. And as if that wasn’t enough, Gouda also has the most wonderful Lego shop in The Netherlands with a brilliant play area at the back.
Billed as the best children’s museum in the world (a little bit of hyperbole but who’s checking!) this rather remote museum dedicated to maps and navigation is typically Dutch in the freedom it offers kids with a chance to explore, create and discover without a health and safety officer in sight. Packed with secret bunkers and mazes this is somewhat of a hidden gem and definitely worth a day trip out of the city.
When the sun comes out (indeed even when it doesn’t) our boys love to head to the beach. Within just half an hour of Amsterdam, the beaches of Noordwijk, Zandvoort and even Scheveningen a little further afield provide hours of fun and fresh air along with some fabulous food at the many pavilions (often huddled around a fire pit with a hot Chocomel when the weather turns).
In Spring, the Keukenhof, the world’s largest flower garden, is worth a family trip. The magnificent display reaches its pinnacle over just a few weeks each year and if the hoards of visitors are too much, why not hire a bike and cycle through the surrounding tulip fields of Lisse for a bucket-list kind of experience. Once seen, never ever forgotten.
Just north of Leiden lies the wonderful Olmenhorst Orchard – a lovely family day out. In Autumn there are of course apples and pears to pick, but the rest of the year you’ll often find special activities and meals featuring organic products from the surrounding countryside. A delightful place to explore and run around, it is also home to a gorgeous farm shop packed with edible goodies as well as wooden children’s toys and gifts.
Madurodam, Den Haag
If our boys had to pick just one place on this list to visit, Madurodam would be that place. A miniature version of the Netherlands that has been one of the country’s most popular attractions for over 65 years, there is still something completely captivating about what is one of the largest model villages in the world. With moving planes, trucks and boats as well as countless landmarks, we have been here dozens of times and will probably continue to do so for many years to come.
Sea Life, Scheveningen
It’s not only the beaches at Scheveningen that we love, with their pavilion restaurants for lunch. The seaside also offers the Netherlands’ best aquarium. Children are always captivated by tanks of extraordinary sea creatures and there are no less than 45 here to enthral them as well as rays, sharks and piranhas. For something a little less fishy the otters and penguins are a delight.
Book Museum, Den Haag
Smaller than some of the other attractions on this list, the Book Museum is still worth exploring. Fantastically interactive and packed with both familiar characters and new ones, younger children will love running around and immersing themselves in the wonderful world of books.
Nijntje Museum, Utrecht
Dick Bruna, creator of the enduring and globally loved character Miffy died a few years ago, but his memory lives on. This recently restored museum is a paradise for younger kids (and their parents) packed with hands-on activities for fans of the little rabbit. With toddler-sized houses to explore, bikes to ride and washing to hang out, it’s easy to while away hours in this gorgeous little museum in the heart of lovely Utrecht.
The Netherlands' most famous theme park, Efteling is significantly more low key than many of its theme park brethren around the world. Although it would be easy to spend several days here, the queues are far less overwhelming than the likes of Disney so you can pack in an enormous amount in a day trip from the city. Droomvlucht with its scented fairies (yes really!), Fata Morgana the Arabian Nights boat ride and Carnaval Festival (much like It’s a Small World with an equally relentless song) are our boys’ favourites, along with the fairytale forest and talking dustbins!
As the mum of mini train-lovers, transport museums are always high on our list and none more so than the incredible train museum in Utrecht. This vast museum is one of the most popular in the Netherlands and deservedly so. It needs far more than a brief paragraph to convey its wonders, but arriving into an original station hall, visitors are quickly overwhelmed by full size trains, model trains, trains to ride on in the lovely outside area and countless special activities. This one is a must.
For younger kids, the fairytale park in Enkhuizen is an eternal favourite. Shunning the thrill rides of other theme parks, everything here is small, low key and traditional. The highlight of a visit is a walk through the fairytale forest to discover characters and houses from all their favourite tales. Your little Cinderella or Puss in Boots will be dreaming about this place long after you leave.
Based North of Amsterdam at Lelystad Airport, this vast aerospace museum draws us back time and time again. It’s packed with planes to clamber aboard, both inside and out, where young pilots, stewards and stewardesses can complete a series of activities and earn their flying stripes.
Ouderkerk aan de Amstel
Not packed with attractions but a huge favourite of our children when the weather is nice, Ouderkerk offers a slice of Dutch country living just 20 minutes from the city. Whether you reach it by bike, boat or car you’ll be rewarded with riverside views of the Amstel, windmills and village life and some of our favourite terraces for a bite to eat or a chilled drink.
Finally, if you have a team of little football lovers, a day out to visit one of the Netherlands' football clubs can prove a thrilling adventure. Even without a match on, many of the premium venues offer stadium tours and of course a shop with local souvenirs. So whether it’s Rotterdam to see Feyenoord, Eindhoven for a trip to PSV, or our favourite - a visit to the Johan Cruijff Arena on the outskirts of Amsterdam to see the mighty Ajax, the Dutch know a thing or three about Total Football and yours might too by the time you leave.
For loads more information on all these locations and more, visit www.amsterdamwonderland.com which is full of inspiration for the best family days out in Amsterdam and beyond.