When you visit the Netherlands, be sure to include a few extra days to get outside of the city and see some of the other beautiful areas of the country! I'm sharing some of the best things to see and do with kids in the Netherlands besides just Amsterdam!
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Best Things to See and Do in the Netherlands
When we were planning our European roadtrip through France, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Denmark, one thing we didn't realize before setting out was that we would land ourselves in the Netherlands during a huge country-wide celebration of the King's birthday. Every year the country pretty much shuts down on April 27th (the current King's birthday) to party! There are concerts, festivals, and fireworks going on all day and night, so keep this in mind if you happen to be planning a trip during this time.
Practically every room in Amsterdam was booked, and even if there was availability we would have had a difficult time getting into the city, so we opted to skirt around it and instead discover what this country has to offer outside of the romantic canals, the Van Gogh Museum and the Anne Frank House.
And we were blown away by what we found. We absolutely fell in love with the countryside filled with windmills, tulip fields, and some of the most charming villages we saw on our trip.
Our girls were 6 and 4 years old when we visited this country. Traveling with kids is amazing and we love it because it opens you up to a whole world of new experiences and seeing things through their eyes. It also helps us to slow down a bit rather than trying to see and do it all.
The Netherlands is a super kid-friendly country with lots of hands-on and outdoor experiences. Our girls enjoyed watching demonstrations on how wooden clogs are made and trying them out to clomp around in, cheese-tasting (what kid doesn't love cheese?!), bike-riding, and admiring millions of tulips!
Where is the Netherlands?
Nestled between Belgium and Germany, Netherlands is a small country that is often informally referred to as Holland, which is actually just a region of the Netherlands on the western coast. It's actually possible to see a lot in the Netherlands in a relatively short amount of time if you have a car, given its size, although there is so much to do that you will be left with places to go see and do on your next visit since it's impossible to see it all.
If you are visiting in the spring, be sure to bring a jacket as we had some chilly days, especially in the towns that were right on the coast.
The fields of tulips of Holland are as stunning as you imagined. Maybe more.
Tulip season in the Netherlands can be different from year to year and depends on a variety of factors like the rainfall and temperatures. It can start as early as mid-March and go into mid-May, so if seeing tulips is your top priority for a trip to the Netherlands, I recommend planning on visiting in mid April for the best chances of seeing rainbow colored fields of the blooms.
Spring flower season actually starts with crocuses, followed by daffodils & hyacinths, then finally tulips. Tulips are a huge export crop for the Netherlands and they produce around 3 million bulbs a year there for export.
Every new tulip variety was declared to be somebody's favorite. Looking back on these pictures, I still don't know which flower I love best! It was torture narrowing down images to include in this post as I literally had hundreds to choose from.
One option for seeing hundreds of thousands of tulips is to go to Keukenhof Gardens, which charges an admissions fee but has manicured gardens and fields and paths where you can roam among the tulips. Keukenhof is a stop for a lot of group tours though, so you might be meandering with busloads of other tourists.
Our preferred approach was to follow the Tulip Route as part of the yearly Tulip Festival. There are fields and fields of tulips growing all over and if you have a rental car you can drive around to see and enjoy them.
Taking this approach lets you see more of the countryside and make stops along the way to at little villages to pick up a treat or have what felt to us like a more authentic experience.
The Alkmaar Cheese Market is a "Gouda" Idea
We absolutely loved visiting the cheese market in the city of Alkmaar. This historical market is only open on Friday mornings and has been operating since 1593, although the tradition of the market goes as far back as 1365!
There is also the Dutch Cheese Museum in Alkmaar that you can visit after watching the "cheese men" of the Cheese Carrier's Guild.
The market technically opens at 10:00 a.m., but they start setting up at 7:00. We were really glad we showed up early at around 8:00 because it got way crowded by 9:30 when busloads of tourists showed up. Before that though, we were free to roam around and even got to pick up wheels of the cheese to see how heavy they were.
When it's closer to opening time, the crowds are asked to stand behind metal barricades so as not to be in the way of the cheese carriers who stack wheels of cheese onto lorries and work in teams to run them out of the square for delivery.
The cheese gets inspected and weighed, and there is a lot of pomp and circumstance to the whole thing, which is fascinating to watch. If you want to learn more about the cheese market, be sure to check out this site.
Pick up a Souvenir: Delft Blue Pottery
We don't tend to buy many souvenirs when we travel, but the one thing we did pick up in the Netherlands was a beautiful blue and white Delft Blue pitcher. The city of Delft is famous for it's pottery, which they have been making since the 17th century.
There are shops with expensive antique pottery for sale, and modern shops around the central market square (the "grote markt") with fairly reasonably priced pieces as well. You can even visit an operating Delft Blue pottery factory and see where it is made!
But the historical part of the town is a lovely place to spend the day walking around enjoying the canals, shops, and cathedrals. We were glad to see the canals since we missed out on the more well-known ones in Amsterdam on this trip!
Ride a bike at Kinderdijk and see the windmills!
There are windmills dotting the countryside of the Netherlands everywhere you go! We made a game of spotting them and counting how many we saw each day with our girls, which they loved.
But our favorite place for seeing windmills was the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Kinderdijk where there are 19 historic windmills located close together. Much of the Netherlands actually lies below sea level, and would be flooded or at risk of flooding if it wasn't for the system of handling water and draining the soil that the Dutch came up with in the Middle Ages.
The path along the canals is totally walkable, but for a small fee you can rent a bike at the entrance and cover a lot more ground. They even had bikes with child carriers for our non-rider, which worked out perfectly. The girls had a blast and we didn't have to carry them or deal with complaints about little legs being "too tired".
And because the Netherlands is so flat, riding is painless and easy for pretty much anybody! If you really enjoy cycling, maybe even consider a full day of it and doing a longer route through surrounding towns!
Wooden Shoes, Fishing Villages, and More Cheese: Marken, and Volendam
Day trips out of Amsterdam are extremely popular to the outlying cities of Edam, Marken, Volendam, and Zaanse Schans since they are all so close together in an area known as Waterland. Cruise ships like Disney Cruises stop at Amsterdam and offer day excursions to Marken, which is a tiny village of less than 2,000 residents who live in quaint wooden houses that were mostly built in the 18th and 19th centuries.
Marken isn't far from Volendam, which has a nice harbor and is a bit bigger, with lots of places to eat, but it is definitely very touristy. But there are lots of places there to eat fresh fish and browse shops selling wooden clogs and gouda cheese.
There is even a photo place where you can dress up in the traditional custom of the Volendamers and have your picture taken. It's so cheesy, but I have to admit that we loved it and laugh every time we look at the photo.
We didn't make it to Edam, Hoorn, or Zaanse Schans, but each of those towns are supposed to be lovely and interesting as well. Edam is well-known for its cheese, Hoorn for it's beautiful houses and old town center, and Zaanse Schans for it's windmills and proximity to Amsterdam, so if you find yourself with some extra time, you might want to consider adding these to your list!
What to eat in the Netherlands
We didn't do quite as much eating out in the Netherlands as other places on our extended European roadtrip and instead opted to shop at the local market and cook for ourselves at our AirBnB. But there are still a couple of foods that were a must for us and we got multiple times while out and about!
Poffertjes: Easily, hands down, our favorite treat while in the Netherlands. These are like puffy silver dollar size pancakes cooked in a special pan and then topped with butter and powdered sugar and eaten hot. We saw street vendor stands in almost every location we stopped where you could get these and they were absolutely delicious!
Stroopwafel: This thin, soft, waffled treat is cooked fresh then split down the middle while hot and filled with caramel. They are best enjoyed hot and gooey and the big ones that you can watch made in front of you are so incredibly good! Although you can buy smaller packaged ones basically anywhere including including grocery stores and souvenir shops that are chewy and tasty too.
Apple Pie: I've got to admit, the Dutch know how to do apple pie right! We grabbed a slice from a bakery one day and it was delicious. We actually make our own version of Dutch Apple Pie at home since it's Paul's favorite!
Additional places we would like to visit next time we go
We didn't make it to Rotterdam, the Hague, or Amsterdam on this trip and would love to see more of the sights there, although we were extremely pleased with the experiences we had in the Netherlands.
We know we missed out on culture and art at the Rijksmuseum, the Van Gogh Museum, and the Anne Frank House. But it gives us just one more reason to return!
Have you been to Holland? What places, foods, or experiences did you love? Let me know in the comments below!
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