понедельник, 11 ноября 2013 г.

Family Holidays: The Netherlands, Amsterdam

I won’t bother to ask what springs to mind when you think of Amsterdan, let’s skip over those images shall we? :). Especially because the topic of today’s post is holidays with kids in Amsterdam. I have a friend who lives in Amsterdam with his family and so I asked what advice he could give for family holidays in the city. His reply was that they prefer to leave the city on weekends or holidays... so I guess I’ll have to explore the possibilities on my own. I'm sure that Amsterdam has a lot to entertain the kids :)

When to visit?
The whole year round! As Amsterdam is coastal the climate is fairly, but the proximity to the sea can be also a disadvantage. In the coldest months of the year there can be some nasty wet weather with rain and snow.

It is better, therefore, to plan your trip in the warm season – unless you want to spend a lot of time in the museums. I guess you probably want to see the city though...
On one of our trips to Amsterdam we visited at the end of April-beginning of May. I wanted to see the blooming tulips (I’ll tell you more on that later)... But while the tulips were in bloom the Dutch were also celebrating Queen's day. It turns out that this holiday is beloved by the Dutch. It was colorful: the people walked through the streets in a bright orange wigs and dresses. But, alas, all the central hotels were full and the prices were extremely high (we eventually found a hotel near the airport, not in the city). It was very crowded and there were a lot of young people drunk on the streets – not very enjoyable for a family on vacation. So, consider yourselves warned :).

Where to stay?
I haven’t found any family hotels in Amsterdam, yet. By this I mean those that have mini-clubs/kid’s clubs and entertainment. However, there are hotels that are child-friendly and I won’t write much about them but will just name a few:

Hotel Pulitzer (Luxury Collection Hotel), 4.5 stars. This is located in the center of Amsterdam next to the canal loop in a very beautiful place. There are family rooms and the restaurant offers a children's menu.

Sofitel Legend the Grand Amsterdam: This hotel is located in the old center of Amsterdam and has cribs available and other amenities for children.
Amsterdam boasts a lot of hotels and apartments so I’m sure you’ll find something to fit your tastes and budget.
What you can do and see with the kids in Amsterdam?
- Take a boat ride on the canal and walk through the streets of the city along the canal. 

- Looking for some culture? Be sure to visit
the Van Gogh Museum.
At the entrance to the museum, kids can pick up an assignment sheet which they have to solve with the help of clues from the paintings. All efforts are rewarded with a prize at the exit.
Every year the museum arranges a children's art competition ‘Van Gogh Celebrates!’ Perhaps you have a budding artist in your brood and they could be a winner next year?
- Art lovers can also visit the State Art Museum, Rijksmuseum, which was re-opened in April 2013 after a decade of reconstruction (admission for children up to 18 children is free). The museum offers a rich collection of paintings by Dutch artists (Rembrandt, Vermeer, etc.), as well as sculptures, archaeological artifacts, and so forth.
Photo from Wikipedia
- Fans of Rembrandt can visit the House-Museum, which showcases where he lived and worked.
- A visit to the Nemo Science Center will most likely be more of interest to school-age children, although there are also things here to occupy the little ones. There are lots of opportunities to touch, see, and explore...
The Nemo Science Center is a very interactive place where you can explore different topics such as finding out about centrifuges, discovering the inside of the brain, taking a polygraph (lie detector test), seeing who can blow the biggest bubbles, understanding how the water purification system works, etc. Everything is demonstrated and explained to children in an interactive and understandable way.

In NEMO's Wonder Lab the kids can find out answers to such questions as ‘how can you make glue from a potato?’ and if there is vitamin C in oranges. It's a chemistry laboratory, where it is possible to conduct real experiments.

Finally, you should make sure you take a trip to the top floor and go out onto the observation deck. Here there are beautiful views across Amsterdam (do not forget your camera!). In summer there is also an open water area (Splashing Water Wonder), where the kids can play and splash in the water.
I believe that a trip to Nemo is an absolute must for your Amsterdam family vacation.
Other good ideas for things to do with the family in Amsterdam include:

- Going to the
Artis Royal Zoo (the closest metro station is ‘Waterlooplein’, which is about a ten minute walk away from the zoo). There is an aquarium, butterfly pavilion, a planetarium, and a zoological museum here and in summer and fall the park is especially beautiful and in bloom.
- Have your photograph taken in front of the famous letters "I Amsterdam" in the background (near Museumplein). These big letters have become a major tourist attraction in the city. There is a nice outdoor playground nearby and parents can also enjoy a cup of coffee in the café Cobra.

- Taking a walk in the beautiful Vondelpark, if the weather is nice. This is a favorite park for the locals and it is located near the center, close to Leidesplein. Although it is nice to just walk around the park, there is a playground for the kids and they may also enjoy the concerts and performances in the open-air theater.
If you get hungry, go to Groot Melkhuis where there is also a playground and children's entertainment.
In the same park there is Kinderkookkafe (address: Vondelpark 6B) where kids can have a go at being a chef!

Horse-lovers will want to visit the
De Hollandsche Manege (address: Vondelstraat 140) where you can see dressage and other horse performances.
- Kids might also be interested in the small and unusual museum: a houseboat museum. You may also be curious about what it is like to live on a boat, where you’d get your electricity, and how you’d get drinking water. Find out the answers to these questions, and more, by visiting this museum which is located at the pier near the Anne Frankhouse-museum.
- In bad weather you can go to an indoor playground or, rather, the entertainment center
TunFun Speelpark (for children aged 1-12 years) in the center of Amsterdam near the Waterlooplein.
For small kids (1-4 years) there is a small play area with safe slides.
For older children there are the standard types of entertainment – bigger slides, ropes to climb, trampolines etc. This will keep the kids happy for quite a while! There is also a soccer field and the opportunity to try skatekarts. 
You can also get free WiFI here and there are cafés in which us adults can sit and relax while the kids have their fun.
- Older children might want to visit Tussauds’ wax museum and, for brave kids, Amsterdam Dungeon where you can learn about the time of Inquisition and witch hunts.
- Children of all ages will be interested in a visit to the
Tropenmuseum. This museum houses exhibits from the former colonies of Holland. They have children's programs such as the theater of shadows and the chance to participate in construction work, etc. The café at the museum offers exotic colonial dishes.
- The kids can also visit the museum of trams (Electrische Museumtramlijn) in Amsterdam (address: Harlemmermeerstation, Amstelveenseweg 264, 1075 XV Amsterdam). It sounds boring but can actually be pretty good fun. You can go inside trams from different generations and from different European cities (even from Vienna and Graz!) and you can also take a ride on the vintage tram.

Overall, there are a lot of museums in Amsterdam: Beer Museum, Diamond Museum, etc. Most of these museums will, however, be of interest to adults only…
Practical tip: If you are planning on visiting a lot of museums on an intensive cultural program in Amsterdam then it makes sense to buy the following tourist cards:
I Amsterdam City Card: this card is valid for travel on public transport for 24, 48 or 72 hours. It also includes admission to 38 museums and discounted entry to the Rijksmuseum, as well as a free boat ride on the canal. You can buy this card at the tourist information centers at the airport or near the central train station in Amsterdam.
Holland Pass: there are different types of cards, including one especially for kids. These cards allow you to use public transport and give you free entry or significant discounts to different museums (not only in Amsterdam, but also in other Dutch cities!). It also helps you save precious time by letting you skip the queues so you don’t have to wait hours in line for the museums! 
In the vicinity of Amsterdam you can visit:
- Zaanse Schans: A museum or, rather, a traditional Dutch village where you can see how traditional Dutch cheese is made, visit a windmill museum, see inside the workshops where clogs (wooden shoes) are made, and take a boat ride on the river. This place can be reached by train (about 20 minutes from the Central Station in Amsterdam).
Photo from Wikipedia
In April/May, I strongly recommend visiting the fabulous flower park Keukenhof. I was really impressed... I love flowers, especially tulips. Prior to visiting the park I couldn’t even imagine that there is such a variety of tulips in different colors and shapes. It’s not just tulips though, there are also other flowers here... it’s absolutely beautiful!
If you are not tired of sightseeing yet and are still looking for things to do then go to Efteling (it’s quickest by car as it is about 100 km outside Amsterdam). This is a fun park with numerous slides and attractions and, interestingly, some of the attractions are made ​​in a traditional old style. Really, this park deserves a separate review :). There is a 4-star hotel close to the park, which is convenient. 

Toddlers (from 2 up to 8 years old) will enjoy visiting the fairyland
Sprookjeswonderland in the town of Enkhuizen (about 65 km from Amsterdam). 
Here they’ll be reminded about famous fairy tales including Snow White, the three little pigs and so on. They can also ride on a small train, play in the playground and eat pancakes to refuel for more adventures.

 You can visit the
Dolphinarium in Harderwijk (about 80 km from Amsterdam). It is easy to spend an entire day here seeing the shows featuring marine animals. There is even an opportunity to communicate with dolphins - just book an individual session.
You can also head underground where there is a sunken tank in which the dolphins and seals swim, allowing you and the kids to see them up close as they swim around.
There is also a playground and a café here.

Continuing the marine theme, you can also go to the aquarium in Bergen aan Zee (about 60 km from Amsterdam). The aquarium is divided into different areas: a cold zone, the Mediterranean zone, the tropical zone, Atlantic Ocean zone and the Amazonian area. There are many exotic fish, not just marine life but also freshwater fish, and a large collection of sea shells.

The aquarium is located on the sea, so you can combine this trip with strolling along the beach.
As for food in the Netherlands, there’s not really all that much to say as there aren’t really any famous national dishes. There are plenty of French fries to be had on every street corner and there are a lot of restaurants and cafés so you’re sure to find something that suits your tastes and budget... 
If you like fish, be sure to find special kiosks near the canals (or ask for the directions at the hotel), where they sell freshly salted/marinated herring. Amazingly delicious! It is served with onion, bread, and pickles and you eat it on the street – yummy, yummy…
 And, of course, the Netherlands is famous for its delicious dairy products and cheeses.
As a souvenir from Holland, we usually bring home some slippers for our daughter  - traditional Dutch shoes (not the wooden clogs), but soft shoes. Our daughter loves them...
Despite its controversial image, Amsterdam is an interesting city! I think the kids will like it!
In addition I would like to add that Amsterdam doesn’t represent Holland as a whole. If you want to see the real Holland you need to go to the countryside and visit the small and very charming towns... These towns have captivated us, and I will write more about them in a future review.

Bon voyage!
Look forward to hearing from you upon your return!

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