The Holland Handbook: Fun kids activities in the Netherlands
Stuck for fun kids activities in the Netherlands? Here's a comprehensive children's guide for extracurricular activities, scouts, petting zoos, museums, rainy day options, and more!
Some of you may be used to extracurricular activities arranged by the school – unfortunately, most Dutch schools do not have such programs. On the other hand, tuition is free if you send your child to a local school, so this may have something to do with it.
Yet this does not mean your child has to twiddle his or her thumbs all day, once school is out. In almost all municipalities you will find organisations or private persons offering all sorts of activities, such as carpentry, painting, music, dancing, art, cooking, etc. Just ask around, check your gemeentegids or give your municipality a call. And, perhaps even the best fun, is just playing with the kids in the neighborhood – something that is still very popular in the Netherlands.
Furthermore, there are several sports organisations: the more popular ones being for tennis, field hockey and gymnastics, though there is also judo, basketball, baseball, soccer, dancing, horseback-riding, cycling (of course) and much, much more.
One vital extracurricular activity (that is sometimes arranged through schools) is swimming, particularly important in this country of canals, rivers, lakes and the sea. There is a well-regulated system of swimming classes to take and diplomas to aspire to – a program that virtually every child follows and takes pride in completing.
A very popular item of entertainment for younger kids in the Netherlands is the petting farm, to be found in almost every town and city. They usually have goats, sheep, rabbits, guinea pigs, chickens, ducks, pigs, a pony, some cats and the occasional donkey. Kids love it, and often learn something about the animals while they are there. Also, if you are looking for a family pet rabbit, this is a place to ask as they tend to have a few extras hopping around.
Aside from the petting farm, many towns also have a so-called hertenkamp; an enclosed area with deer who peacefully graze their way through life, and who enthusiastically welcome a handful of leftover bread should you and the kids care to visit them. It is not quite clear what the origin of these deer camps is; are they a reminder of the days when deer roamed around freely? Or were they once the private parks of the well-to-do in a time when it was the thing to do to populate these parks with something a little more dainty than a woolly sheep? The answer to this question remains a little elusive, but the sight of these elegant animals is nonetheless a pleasant one – and they are quite friendly.
Playgrounds can also be found in various locations in towns and cities, with swings, slides, seesaws, a sand box, and more. And, of course, most zoos (see further on) also have great (and large) playgrounds for your children to let off steam, while you sit and enjoy a well-deserved cup of coffee. You can find more on zoos a little further on.
Another staple activity of Dutch summer time is the travelling circuses and fairs (kermis), whose arrival is announced well in advance so that you can set aside time for a fun day out with the kids. You buy an admission ticket to the circuses. The fairs sometimes charge an entry fee, but mostly you pay for the rides and attractions you choose to enter.
For rainy days (of which there will be plenty), there are the covered playgrounds – such as Ballorig, Playcity, or Kidzcity – which are huge covered areas with an amazing amount of things to do: humongous slides, intricate rope-climbing contraptions, merry-go-rounds, trains, you name it. In some of the bigger cities you will find activity centres, where children learn to build tree houses, floats and other complicated contraptions.
A great source of information on these activities and centers is the so-called Kids Gids, which publishes a book for each of the bigger cities, listing petting farms, indoor and outdoor playgrounds, child-friendly restaurants, birthday party activities, (puppet) theatres, courses (dancing, circus acts, acting) and dozens of other things to do. Unfortunately, it is out of print but it can be ordered second-hand via www.bol.com. The Kids Gids does still publish a ‘holiday edition' of the guide, in English.
Scouts and other camps
Boy and Girl Scouts (called scouting) are very popular here. They get together almost every Saturday afternoon and engage in fun and educational activities. Occasionally, the groups go camping for an entire weekend and they also organise week-long summer camps during summer vacation. Check the telephone book or your gemeentegids for your local chapter.
Other popular camps are for horseback-riding and sailing, and you can always ask some of the international schools whether they are arranging anything for the summer (or know of someone who is). Some municipalities arrange a day-camp during the summer vacations with a full program of activities for the children; drop-off time early in the morning, pick-up time late afternoon. Once again, your gemeentegids or someone at the municipal offices should be able to tell you whether there's something like that going on in your town or one nearby.
Amusement parks and museums
The Netherlands has some great amusement parks and museums, such as:
> De Efteling: a huge park offering several days' worth of entertainment in fantasyland, with fairytale woods, wild rides on rollercoasters, castles, fairytale figures and more.
Europalaan 1, Kaatsheuvel (near Tilburg), | www.efteling.com
> Corpus: a ‘journey through the human body' during which the visitor can see, feel and hear how the human body works and what roles healthy food, a healthy life and exercise play. Educational and entertaining, as well as a vast number of permanent and variable exhibitions.
Address: Willem Einthovenstraat 1, Oegstgeest | www.corpusexperience.nl
> NEMO: a scientifically oriented play/educational centre, offering a discovery trip through fantasy and reality.
Oosterdok 2, Amsterdam | www.e-nemo.nl
> Duinrell: a fantastic water festival, with attractions, a ski valley, a wirlpool and lots of entertainment.
Duinrell 1, Wassenaar | www.duinrell.nl
> Pony Park Slagharen: a place where you can experience life in the Wild West, with an amusement park, a shopping street, Wigwam World, Colorado City and lots of entertainment.
Zwarte Dijk 37, Slagharen | www.slagharen.com
> Planetarium Franeker: where, more than 200 years ago, Eise Eisinga made a scale model of the solar system in his living room, with a mechanism that keeps planets and pointers in motion that works to this day.
Eise Eisingastraat 3, Franeker | www.planetarium-friesland.nl
> Children's Museum at The Tropical Institute (Koninklijk Instituut voor de Tropen): where contemporary non-Western cultures are brought to life for children between the ages of 6 and 12. Also available for children's parties.
Linnaeusstraat 2, Amsterdam | www.kit.nl
> Louwman Museum: the national automobile museum for anyone who is car crazy and interested in the history of automobiles, from the first horseless carriages through subsequent models of motorised, steam and electric vehicles.Leidsestraatweg 57, The Hague | www.louwmanmuseum.nl
> Walibi World: a huge outdoor swimming and water paradise, with more than 50 attractions and shows, offering entertainment and adventure.
Spijkweg 30, Biddinghuizen | Internet: www.walibi.com/holland
Open air museums (openluchtmuseum)/parks
There are many, even where you can make a trip through time, such as:
> Nederlands Openluchtmuseum: daily life in the Netherlands between 1600 and 1970
Schelmseweg 89, Arnhem | www.openluchtmuseum.nl
> Orientalis: for a glimpse of the world 2,000 years ago in the Middle East, focusing on Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
Profetenlaan 2, Heilig Landstichting | www.museumparkorientalis.nl
> Zuiderzeemuseum: life in a fishing village around 1900.
Wierdijk 12-22, Enkhuizen | www.zuiderzeemuseum.nl
> Safari Park Beekse Bergen: a place where you can take a drive (or walk) among more than 100 wild animals, a trip that you could easily take more than a day.Beekse Bergen 1, Hilvarenbeek (near Tilburg) | www.safaripark.nl
> Madurodam: a miniature version of the Netherlands, including Schiphol airport, the Delta works, the center of Amsterdam and more.
George Maduroplein 1, The Hague | www.madurodam.nl
This is but a small selection. Ask around among other parents or at the VVV (Tourist Information Office; there is one in almost every municipality) what tips they may have. A great site is: www.uitmetkinderen.nl (a day out with children), where you can search for museums, amusement parks, pools, zoos, playgrounds, etc., according to age, zip code, price range, and alphabet.
Animals are always a great success with children and what makes the Netherlands such a wonderful ‘zoo country' is that there are so many of them, and that a lot of effort is put into recreating the natural habitats of the animals so that both we and they can enjoy their stay here. As mentioned earlier, the zoos all have extensive playgrounds for when your kids need to blow off steam, as well as indoor facilities for rainy days and child-friendly cafeterias.
> Amersfoort Zoo: This large zoo near Amersfoort has provided its animals with increasingly spacious and comfortable habitats over the last decade, bringing it on a par with all the other large zoos in the Netherlands. It has a Savannah, encircled all the way around, allowing you to circumnavigate the area and enjoy the animals as they graze and drink peacefully; a Night Area, where you can wander the jungle at night; a Japanese Garden; a Medieval City; and of course, plenty of animals.
DierenPark Amersfoort, Barchman Wuytierslaan 224, Amersfoort | www.dierenparkamersfoort.nl
> Apenheul: Apenheul has 30 species of apes, monkeys and prosimians – some of which are allowed to roam free! Their group areas are extensive and imaginative, providing them with familiar surroundings and all manner of activities to keep them occupied. But monkeys and apes are not the only animals you will meet at Apenheul. The zoo also provides a home to macaws, pudus, anteaters, gundis, tortoises, and many other creatures.
Apen-Natuurpark Apenheul, J.C. Wilslaan 21 (Park Berg en Bos), Apeldoorn | www.apenheul.nl
> Artis Zoo: Artis was founded more than 160 years ago, and its winding paths, majestic trees and the monumental historical buildings still give it a special, 19th-century atmosphere. There are more than 8,000 animals in the zoo, as well as two museums (the Zoological Museum and the Geological Museum), a very sophisticated Planetarium and a magnificent, recently renovated Aquarium.
Plantage Kerklaan 38, Amsterdam | www.artis.nl
> Avifauna: Avifauna is one of the largest bird parks in the world. The birds come from the tropics or from the cold Northern Hemisphere. There are more than 450 species of birds in beautiful settings, which are expertly and lovingly taken care of. Avifauna is not only a bird zoo, it is also actively involved in endangered species breeding programs and bird protection activities. In 2003, it opened a Philippines area (in honor of several types of birds that exist only there) in its tropical hall, aimed at educating the children on nature protection programs. It also has special Australia and Cuba sections.
Vogelpark Hotel Rederij Avifauna, Hoorn 65, Alphen aan den Rijn | www.avifauna.nl
> Blijdorp Zoo: At Rotterdam Zoo you can walk from continent to continent, meeting fascinating animals that feel perfectly at home in the surroundings that emulate their natural habitat. The covered facilities, in case of rain, include Taman Indah, the bat cave, the nocturnal house and the Rivièrahal complex with a wide range of fresh and saltwater fish, reptiles, amphibians, birds and tropical plants. Rotterdam Zoo also has the 'Oceanium', a huge water paradise for fish.
Rotterdam Zoo / Blijdorp, Blijdorplaan 8, Rotterdam | www.rotterdamzoo.nl
> Burgers' Zoo: a modern, but genuine jungle! This zoo, located near Arnhem, covers more than 45 hectares and houses more than 3,000 animals. It has a spectacular tropical rain forest, a living desert and a large animal population to be admired in their natural surroundings, such as bighorns and red lynxes. Furthermore, a large number of hoofed animals and birds live with the lions in the Safari Park and there is a wonderful indoor water world.
Burgers' Zoo, Antoon van Hooffplein 1, Arnhem | www.burgerszoo.eu
> Dolfinarium Harderwijk: At Dolfinarium, you can visit the new Lagoon, a biotope with dolphins, fish, seals and sea lions all living together. The Lagoon is a 15 million-litre closed saltwater ecosystem. Also, you can touch and feed the stingrays at the Ray Reef, walk through the Seal Wetlands, visit the modern rescue and research center for sick or injured dolphins or see the walrus and seal shows. Weather permitting, you can sunbathe, swim or ride in a paddle boat near the Park Beach. Dolfinarium's program is continually changing, so be sure to check the website to see what's going on.
Dolfinarium Harderwijk, the World of the Sea, Strandboulevard Oost 1, Harderwijk | www.dolfinarium.nl
> Emmen Zoo: famous for the manner in which the park's habitats reflect the continents of the world. The animals reside in the part of the world where they belong. The zoo has a very spacious feel about it and all the animals enjoy a great amount of freedom in their enclosures, allowing them to behave as naturally as possible. You can spend hours enjoying the butterfly and hummingbird garden, the rats' sewer, and the exciting exhibitions in the natural history museum. The zoo's second location, ‘location Es', can be reached via a pedestrian bridge. The zoo has a 17,000sqm indoor playground: Play Expedition Yucatán. The entrance fee covers both locations.
Noorder Dierenpark Emmen, Hoofdstraat 18, Emmen | www.dierenparkemmen.nl
> Naturalis: nature is exhibited in all its colors and diversity. The museum is a combination of natural history and high-tech multi-media in a modern, artistic and technologically advanced setting, representing but a selection of two centuries' worth of collecting animal and plant specimens, fossils, stones and minerals. Exhibition rooms have seven permanent displays (including a walk through the Ice Age, with dinosaurs), while Naturalis hosts many fascinating temporary displays as well. There is also a Nature Information Center where amateur researchers can search through a wide range of books, magazines, slides, photographs, videotapes, computer files and reference collections.
Naturalis, National Museum of Natural History, Darwinweg 2, Leiden | Museum entrance: Pesthuislaan 7, Leiden | www.naturalis.nl
> Ouwehands Dierenpark in Rhenen: This is a wonderful family zoo, close to Arnhem, but off the beaten track. It was established 75 years ago and has retained that early 19th-century cozy feel. It has a huge bear habitat with rescued circus bears, and a gorgeous polar bear pool – where kids can press their noses up against the glass and be inches away from these huge white animals – a seal show, and much more. Extra-special is its huge, indoor, all-wood-mulch-and-sand playground for children (RavotAapia), with rope-bridges, sand games, waterplay, huts, caves and slides – at no extra charge. Even if the weather doesn't clear up all day, making it impossible to see the animals, you can still spend a full day in this indoor children's habitat and have the children begging you to go back soon!
Ouwehands Dierenpark, Grebbeweg 111, Rhenen | www.ouwehand.nl
Reproduced from The Holland Handbook by kind permission of XPat Media.
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