So it’s your third or fourth day in Amsterdam with kids, and the big highlights are in the books. You’ve made the heart-wrenching walk through the Anne Frank House, chased a soccer ball in Vondelpark and spotted sunflowers at the Van Gogh Museum. Perhaps you’ve even seen the cheese market in Edam and the tulips at Keukenhof. It’s time to dig deeper. Here are three off-the-beaten-tourist-track family excursions that add an extra layer of discovery to an Amsterdam escape.
With its moat, drawbridge and turrets, Muiderslot lives up to kids’ fantasies of what a castle should look like. The 14th-century structure anchors the pretty little town of Muiden, a short ride from central Amsterdam by public transport plus a pleasant 10-minute walk. From mid-spring through late fall, visitors can also take a ferry from east Amsterdam — approaching Muiderslot from the water is an extra-majestic treat.
A guided tour is the only way to see the castle’s furnished rooms. Tours are in Dutch only, but the staff provides laminated packets in multiple languages so that everyone can follow along. Families can also choose several different routes to learn more about the fortified towers, small armory and more. Those who complete a set of medieval-style games and challenges along the way earn their very own knight’s medal.
When the kids need a break from history, the onsite gardens make for a delightful spot to stroll. A hedge-covered tunnel leads to the vegetable and herb gardens, laden with plants that are true to the castle’s era. The resident falconer also offers regularly scheduled demonstrations during the warm months. Muiderslot is an extremely popular outing for local schools, so if your visit falls outside the summer holidays, your kids will have a great chance to interact with Dutch peers.
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The Hague may be the seat of the Dutch parliament, but there’s much more to this attractive city than politics. It’s under an hour by train from Amsterdam and well worth a side trip. Kids will enjoy the Madurodam, a park full of miniature replicas of iconic structures throughout the Netherlands, and the Museon children’s museum. But the real highlight here is the Mauritshuis, home to a well-curated collection of Dutch paintings that includes such stars as Johannes Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring and Carel Fabritius’ The Goldfinch. Dutch art is accessible for kids, and you can easily see the collection in an hour, so it’s less overwhelming than many museums of this caliber.
A visit to The Hague pairs nicely with a stop in Vermeer’s hometown of Delft, which is just 15 or 20 minutes away. Delft is famous for its fanciful blue-and-white pottery, and the signature attraction here is the Royal Delft Experience, the last remaining 17th-century Delftware factory. It’s on the outskirts of town; a shuttle leaves from the main square to take guests to the factory and back.
Although it may not sound exciting for kids, the Royal Delft Experience tour is surprisingly engaging and not too long. The highlight is watching artisans meticulously hand-paint the intricate designs for which this style of pottery is known. A little cafe and adjacent garden make for a lovely spot to relax over a cup of coffee and a stroopwafel (the classic caramel-filled Dutch cookie) while the wee ones run around.
Stand-up paddleboarding in Amsterdam? Yes! Morene Dekker, owner of M&M SUP, is passionate about bringing this white-hot water sport to the Netherlands, and offers gear rental and family-friendly lessons (no minimum age, but kids need to be able to maneuver the board on their own). Although she leads paddleboarding groups through the canals of central Amsterdam, these are for very experienced paddlers only — it’s simply too dangerous for beginners to navigate boat traffic.
A better choice for kids: her location at the IJBurg harbor, part of a purpose-built floating residential development on the eastern edge of the city. IJBurg is known for its modern architecture, and the contrast with Amsterdam’s traditional canal houses reveals a fascinating new side of this venerable city.
If you get lucky and the weather is fine, spend the afternoon at Blijburg aan Zee, IJBurg’s man-made stretch of sand and the main urban beach in Amsterdam. The Caribbean it isn’t, but the water is swimmable (albeit chilly), snacks and beverages are available to buy, and the overall vibe is one of relaxation and communal cheer. Live music performances take place regularly in summer, and beachgoers gather around bonfires as evening falls.
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Editor’s Note: Lisa received complimentary passes for certain activities to review them for Ciao Bambino. As always, our opinions are our own. Photos by Lisa Frederick except where noted.
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