Holland is a family holiday favourite – make the most of it with our handy guide
Where to go
Amsterdam is the focal point for visitors to the Netherlands and it’s a great family holiday destination. Trams and hop-on hop-off canal boats are child-pleasing ways to get around this compact city. Or else how about cycling round lovely Vondelpark? The big attractions for kids, the NeMo hands-on science centre in its ship-shaped building, and the Artis Zoo with its zoology and geology museums, aquarium and planetarium, are pricey, but a Museum Jaarkaart (day pass) will quickly pay for itself if you visit several. These include the world-renowned Rijksmuseum of art and history, the Rembrandt House, the Van Gogh Museum, and the Anne Frank House, where the Jewish girl and her family hid from the Nazis. There’s more historical food-for-thought at Muiderslot, a medieval castle 10 miles southeast of Amsterdam, with arms and armour, falconry and children’s trails and activities. Beaches within easy reach of the capital are the hectic Zandvoort and the stretches north of IJmuiden that are more suitable for family holidays in Holland.
Many think of Amsterdam as the country’s capital but the Government and the Queen, Beatrix, actually reside at The Hague, less than 20 miles from the ferry port of Rotterdam. There’s plenty to keep kids happy here too, in particular Madurodam, a miniature city full of typical Dutch buildings, landmarks and canals. The resort of Kijkduin, smaller and more low-key than Scheveningen, makes for a pleasant beach break and just north of The Hague, Leiden, birthplace of Rembrandt, is smaller but no less compelling, with three superb national museums. The natural history museum is especially child-friendly along with the quirky windmill museum too. In springtime Leiden is also a good base for visiting the Keukenhof tulip gardens.
For the Netherlands of picture postcards, seek out North Holland’s Waterland and Zaan region, a land of wooden houses, weathered fishing boats, dykes and colourful blooms, or South Holland’s Kinderdjik, a UNESCO World Heritage Site by virtue of its many windmills, which you can tour by boat or bike. It’s also worth venturing to the east, for its historic cities and vast forests, and to the sparsely populated north, where you’ll find the laidback beaches and resorts of the West Frisian Islands and the watersports paradise of Sneek, a good starting point for a family-friendly boating holiday run by Le Boat.
Cyclingis of course a popular – and low-cost – pastime in this largely flat (or sometimes sub-sea-level) country. One of the best places to pedal is Hoge Veluwe National Park an hour southeast of Amsterdam, with forests, trails, lakes and dunes to explore on free bicycles, and wild boar, deer and moufflon to spot en route. For a cultural interlude, the park is home to Europe’s biggest sculpture garden and to the Kröller-Müller museum, housing the world’s second-largest collection of Van Goghs.
Great Places to Stay
The popular Centerparcs family resorts took seed in the Netherlands more than 30 years ago, and Centerparcs Europe now has eight parks in the country, including De Eemhof 30 miles from Amsterdam, the ‘action resort’ of De Huttenheugte in the rural north, and De Kempervennen in the southern Netherlands, offering year-round real snow for skiing and snowboarding (the southern Netherlands is easily accessible from the Belgian ferry port of Zeebrugge). Alternatively, Canvas Holidays has a mobile-home campsite within a nature reserve at Wassenaar close to Amsterdam, with a tropical waterpark and an adjoining themepark – Read our guide to camping in Holland for more information.
Major cities offer hotels to suit every budget, B&B ‘inns’ (usually in residential areas), apartments or canal houses, and often houseboats; recommended firms include www.houseboathotel.nl and http://www.shortstay-apartment.com/amsterdam. If you’re feeling even more adventurous, just over 50km north of Amsterdam the Controversy Tram Hotel offers reasonably priced themed bedrooms in old city trams, within a farmyard created from abandoned objects.
Eating Well on a Budget
The Netherlands is famed for its wheat beers, coffee and hot chocolate, with its cuisine taking somewhat of a backseat – a typical main course is a hearty meat or fish stew with potatoes. Pancakes, which the Dutch do well in both sweet and savoury guises, are perennial child-pleasers, and inexpensive pancake-houses abound. Some of the country’s famed cheeses are best sampled as part of a Bittergarnituur – a sharing plate with sausage, bitterballen (deep-fried breaded meatballs), breaded chicken and mini spring rolls. For something more exotic, the country’s colonial history has endowed it with lots of good, inexpensive Indonesian restaurants.
For other family holiday ideas read our guide to family holidays in France or our guide to family holidays in Spain.
P&Os family holidays Expert
Rhonda has written and edited for most of the big-name travel publishers, including Time Out and Lonely Planet and is the author of three Frommer's family travel guides - London with Kids, Normandy with Your Family and Brittany with Your Family. She’s married to horror novelist Conrad Williams and along with her sons Ethan (7), Ripley (5) and Zac (2) she regularly travels to all manner of places as commissioning editor and main features writer for www.takethefamily.com.