The Netherlands is one of Europe's most kid-friendly countries. The famous Dutch tolerance extends to children, and locals are exceptionally welcoming towards them (and their parents). Many attractions are tailored to or specifically designed for younger visitors, and enduring icons such as castles and windmills captivate all ages.
Best Regions for Kids
One of Europe’s most kid-friendly cities, with an atmosphere that’s cheerfully accommodating to children. In fact, most areas – except the Red Light District, of course – are fair game.
- North Holland
Cute old towns, lots of cows, some fun museums and the island of Texel, a huge sandy playground with plenty of cycling trails and easy walks.
Cool canals to explore, castles to bike to and the fantastic 'Dom Under' archaeological adventure trail that takes young trigger-happy explorers 5m underground, armed with a smart-torch audio-gun.
- South Holland
The neatest old Dutch cities, a fun amusement park in Den Haag, ubercool things to do in the increasingly happening city of Rotterdam, plus windmills and beaches in Zeeland.
The hottest summer spot for Dutch holiday-makers: think fields specked with black and white cows, beautiful islands laced with golden sandy beaches, sailing and water sports galore, kilometres of quiet and scenic cycling paths.
The Netherlands for Kids
Children's needs have been thought of at every turn in the Netherlands.
Children are welcome in all but the most formal restaurants. In fact, the trend towards stylish bistro-style eateries with high ceilings and a slightly raucous atmosphere is all the better for little ones. Everyone is pretty tolerant of any antics children may get up to when dining out. You'll see Dutch families enjoying meals inside and out at cafes, pubs and restaurants, as well as sitting on benches sharing a quick repast from a fish stall, frites (French fries) stand or sandwich shop.
Kids' menus are common and often include deep-fried treats that always go down well. You can also ask for high chairs and crayons in many restaurants.
Facilities for changing nappies (diapers) are limited to the big department stores, major museums and train stations, and you'll pay to use them. Breastfeeding is generally OK in public when done discreetly.
On the Road
Most bike-rental shops have trailers for towing younger children, bicycle child seats and kid-sized bikes. Few offer helmets (for any age) so you might want to consider bringing your own.
Trains have 'silent' cars where people can escape noise and everyone (youngsters included) is expected to be quiet. In contrast, other cars can be noisy, including kid-noisy during school holidays in particular.
Green spaces, parks, windmills and canals galore add up to plenty of fresh-air fun with the little (and not so little) ones. During winter kids will love the skating rinks and outdoor merriment at the carnivals that spring up in many Dutch cities and towns.
- Vondelpark, Amsterdam This vast play space, with leafy picnic spots and duck ponds, has cool space-age slides at its western end and a great playground in the centre.
- Westerpark, Amsterdam Kids can splash about in the summer paddling pool.
- Amsterdamse Bos, Amsterdam Tykes can feed goats and climb trees in the woods.
- Apenheul, Apeldoorn A habitat for apes and monkeys, where children get a chance to observe the primates.
- Keukenhof Gardens, Lisse The millions of flowers might delight kids for a while but they'll really love the huge playground.
- Canal Bike, Amsterdam Take a unique pedal-powered ride through Amsterdam's beautiful canals.
- Canals, Den Bosch Most canal towns have short canal-boat tours; those in Den Bosch travel through underground waterways.
- Artis Royal Zoo, Amsterdam The big cats, shimmying fish and planetarium will keep young eyes shining for hours; teenagers and adults will love the beautifully landscaped historical grounds.
- Ecomare, Texel A nature centre with all sorts of native island animals, including injured seals recuperating, and lots of exhibits designed for kids.
- Zaanse Schans Explore windmills north of Haarlem, with gears, pulleys et al.
- Watertaxi, Rotterdam Sail at speed, beneath bridges and past every other vessel afloat on the Maas River, aboard a nippy black-and-yellow water taxi.
- De Zelfpluktuin, Texel Kids love picking their own fruit, vegetables and flowers at this family-friendly Texel farm.
Sand & Surf
- Beaches Texel and the Frisian Islands have excellent beaches for kids. Much of the west coast is one long beach; Scheveningen near Den Haag is well suited to families.
- Horse Riding & Surfing Stables on the island of Texel offer beach rides and surfing for kids.
- Windsurfing Amsterdam's newest neighbourhood, IJburg, offers great windsurfing, with rentals available from Surfcenter IJburg.
- Mudflats North of Groningen, you can spend a day playing out on the mud. Wadlopen (mudflat-walking) lets you head out to sea when the vast tidal areas are clear of water at low tide. It's hours of muddy enjoyment, and you're expected to get dirty.
Pancakes, frites, cheese, ice cream – even adults love fun Dutch food. Every city and town has at least one weekly outdoor market where there are often stalls selling all sorts of tasty items; don’t miss the unique holiday treats such as poffertjes (tiny Dutch pancakes), which are served up in winter.
- Albert Cuypmarkt, Amsterdam For stroopwafels (caramel-syrup-filled waffles), fruit smoothies, chocolate, sweets and fresh fruit.
- De IJsmaker, Rotterdam A trio of urban ice-cream parlours serving absolutely fabulous, Italian-style gelato.
- Oudt Leyden, Leiden Some of the biggest, best traditional Dutch pancakes around.
- Villa Augustus Restaurant, Dordrecht Delicious, healthy dishes made from ingredients growing in the organic garden out front; kids can run around alfresco.
- Oost, Vlieland One of the country's hippest beach restaurants on the sand; kids can hone their sandcastle-building technique while parents feast on top-notch seafood.
- Vleminckx, Amsterdam This hole-in-the-wall is an old frites standby; part of the fun is deciding between dozens of sauces.
- Friture Reitz, Maastricht A favourite for frites.
- De Haerlemsche Vlaamse, Haarlem Local frites institution.
- IJsboerderij Labora, Texel Working dairy farm where you can see the cows that help make your ice cream.
- IJs van Co, Hoge Veluwe National Park Admire Van Gogh masterpieces in the Kröller-Müller Museum, then pedal to this ice-cream shop to devour the country's finest soft ice cream (and local, syrupy sweet strawberries in season).
Kid- & Teen-Friendly Museums
While dragging museum-resistant kids through an exhibition of sombre Dutch Masters' paintings might give parents nightmares, ample museums are accessible, educational and fun.
- NEMO Science Museum, Amsterdam Tailor-made, kid-focused, hands-on science labs inside; a splashy water feature and amazing views on the roof outside.
- Het Scheepvaartmuseum, Amsterdam Climb aboard the full-scale, 17th-century replica ship and check out the cannons.
- Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam Lest the kids be left out of the masterpieces, children get their own audio tour to explore the museum's treasures.
- Maastricht Underground, Maastricht Explore 2000-year-old tunnels and caves underground. It's spooky and very cool – literally.
- Maritiem Museum, Rotterdam Bags of hands-on fun (drive a virtual forklift, work out the best locations for wind turbines in the North Sea, take a seafaring safety quiz) at this maritime museum, with historic boats in the neighbouring harbour to scramble on post-museum.
- Miffy Museum, Utrecht Miffy is one of the most beloved cartoon characters in the Netherlands and you can see a lot of her and other characters at this museum aimed at toddlers.
- Natuurcentrum Ameland, Nes The seaquarium here has more than 200 North Sea species, including barracudas and manta rays, plus a viewing theatre.
- Fort Kijkduin, Den Helder Hilltop fortress with military museum and a subterranean aquarium full of Waddenzee and North Sea marine life.
- Markiezenhof, Bergen op Zoom Miniature versions of rides from the southern town’s famed Carnaval celebration.
- Model Train Museum, Sneek Woo-hoo! Trains roll over bridges and through mountain tunnels in a series of incredibly elaborate dioramas.
- Nederlands Stripmuseum, Groningen Besides the comic strips by leading Benelux artists, there are films, figurines and more.
- Natuurmuseum Fryslân, Leeuwarden A fish-eye stroll round a Friesland canal and a simulated bird flight are among the highlights at this kid-friendly nature museum.
- Nederlands Openluchtmuseum, Arnhem Like a set from a period film, this village-sized open-air museum recreates the Netherlands' past with plenty of hands-on activities.
The ultimate kid attraction.
- Efteling, Kaatsheuvel This is the most popular amusement park in the Netherlands and it seems every Dutch person of any age has memories of the fun they've had here. Thrill rides, cartoon characters and more. It's in the south near Tilburg.
- Madurodam, Den Haag See the Netherlands in miniature outdoors at Madurodam; it's what a kid would build with unlimited time and cash.
- Miniworld Rotterdam See the Netherlands in miniature indoors at Miniworld; a huge model train layout duplicates much of the country.
- Waterland Neeltje Jans, Zeeland Amid the amazing and vast Delta Project, kid-friendly exhibits here tell the story of how the Dutch have battled the sea; there are also seals, a water park and rides.
For all-round information and advice, check out Lonely Planet’s Travel with Children.
When to Go
The Netherlands is an all-year-round affair, although families may appreciate the warmer, drier months the most – from Easter to September – when the climate is more conducive to outdoor action, be it on the beach, cycling, sailing or simply frolicking in a city park.
The Dutch festival repertoire is another planning consideration: cold wet February ushers in kid-friendly street parades during carnival season; Sinterklaas brings presents to kids on 5 December; while summer translates as a bonanza of fun festivals and sporting events.
Very few hotels have a 'no kids' rule; those that do are more upmarket addresses mostly in areas of Amsterdam that you wouldn't consider taking children to anyway.
Countrywide, family rooms sleeping four are common and most hotels will happily add an extra bed (for a minimal extra cost) or a baby cot (free of charge) in a double room. New-wave design-driven hostels, with private rooms sleeping up to five or six, are a handy alternative for families with more than two children.
Camping is big with Dutch families, especially on the Frisian Islands and other coastal areas.
Upscale hotels often offer child-minding services.
What to Pack
Babies & Toddlers
- A front or back sling for babies.
- Portable changing mat, handwash gel etc. Baby-changing facilities remain a rarity outside of cities and large towns.
- Canvas screw-on seat for toddlers. Only some restaurants have high chairs.
- Car seat. Rental companies lease them but at proportionately extortionate rates. In the Netherlands children less than 1.35m in height must, by law, be strapped in an appropriate car seat.
- Warm, wind-proof clothing, should you intend popping your young child into the front- or rear-mounted bike seat of your bike. Bike trailers and cargo bikes offer a little more protection from the elements, but can still be chilly for young children.
Six to 12 Years
- Bike helmet. The Dutch generally don't wear helmets and not all bike rental companies can provide helmets (for adults or kids).
- Binoculars. For young explorers to zoom in on canal-side wildlife, windmills, etc.
- Pocket video camera. Inject fun into 'boring' adult activities.
- Activities. Books, sketchpad and pens, travel journal and kid-sized day pack.
- Fold-away microscooter and/or rollerblades for scooting along silky-smooth towpaths and cycling lanes.
- Netherlands-related apps.
- Dutch phrasebook.
- A copy of The Diary of Anne Frank (1947), written by a 13-year-old in hiding from the Nazis in Amsterdam during WWII.
- Kite (for windy beaches in Friesland).