Visit the Keukenhof Tulips

Visit the Keukenhof Tulips

This post contains affiliate links. Should you click on one, I will get a small commission at no extra cost to you. 

I have always loved tulips, so visiting the largest flower garden in the world, planted with millions of bulbs and only open a few weeks a year, was a dream of mine. This past spring we spent a glorious day exploring Keukenhof, and were pleasantly surprised to find out its an easy way to see spectacular tulips with kids along for the ride, and even when the weather is against you. 

Brilliant tulips at Keukenhof

Brilliant tulips at Keukenhof

A little history

The Keukenhof name actually refers to the kitchen garden of Jacqueline, Countess of Hainaut, as the original gardens incorporated this area and the hunting grounds from her 15th-century estate. A succession of merchants held the lands after the Countess’ death, but it wasn’t until 1949 that the Mayor of Lisse created the gardens in their current form. It was originally created to showcase the wide array of Dutch flowers available for export. It has grown to be the one of the largest flower gardens in the entire world, with 7 million tulips newly planted every year. Truly, I have never, ever seen flowers like these. 

I think these were possibly my favourite tulips at Keukenhof

I think these were possibly my favourite tulips at Keukenhof

When to visit Keukenhof

This is the most important piece of information: the gardens are only open for a few weeks a year, mid-April to mid-May. There are different flowers blooming at different times of that visiting window, so there will always be something to see. However, if you’re also aiming to visit the surrounding fields of tulips, aim for mid-April. You can check this flower radar site for community uploaded photos of the flower fields to see what’s happening, too. Obviously the weather plays a part in this too, and when we visited in mid-April in 2018, the long cold winter had delayed the tulips out in the fields. Keukenhof was still gorgeous, however, and well worth the trip.

More little canals and colourful plantings

More little canals and colourful plantings

Finding your way around Keukenhof gardens

Pick up a Keukenhof map just past the entrance gates. The gardens are arranged into smaller areas and special vistas, but there’s no real need to plan it out. You can wander the paved paths and take in the incredible plantings as you go. The gardens are large, but you can easily see it all in a day, with time for a leisurely lunch and some playground time. There aren’t guided tours unless you’re booking with a large group, but regardless with a little reading beforehand and a map, you will be fine. 

The gardens open early, at 8am, so if you’re really keen to get photos with no one else in them, I’d say arrive as early as you can manage. At the end of the day, the visitors tail off as well and the garden closes at 7:30pm, so you can catch golden hour on the tulips. Ideally, staying close by makes this more feasible, of course. All that being said, we had a bit of a disaster of a morning, and didn’t get to the gardens until 10am, and left around 3pm, but it was completely manageable, and not that busy. I think this was partially due to the surrounding tulip fields not being out yet, but still, the gardens are large, if you walk into the park a bit straight off, you’ll find a quiet spot quite quickly. 

Look at that delicate purple on these ones.

Look at that delicate purple on these ones.

What to see at Keukenhof

There isn’t a bad vista at Keukenhof, really. The gardeners plant over seven million bulbs every year, so scale is impressive. It’s large, but not huge, so it’s easy to wander a bit and then check the map to see what you’ve missed. It’s not like Kew Gardens in London, say, where if you don’t concentrate you can miss half of it. However, I would say make sure you make time for the central pavilion, that’s where I saw some of the most incredible tulips I have ever seen in my life. Reds so red they would not show up properly on my camera, dozens of frilly tulips all with perfect perfect edges, variegated (mixed colour) tulips that would blow your mind, and the biggest flower heads ever. I also particularly enjoyed the Tulipmania exhibit, and the cross-section tulip pot that showed how the flowers grew up from the bulbs. 

How cool is this cross-section of tulips growing in a pot?

How cool is this cross-section of tulips growing in a pot?

I would suggest heading over to the big windmill and booking your spot on a whisper boat tour as soon as you arrive if the surrounding fields are in bloom. There is no point in doing it if they are not, speaking as someone who sat there frozen on the boat staring at dirt fields for 40 minutes. But even though there was nothing doing, we still had to wait for an hour for the next available tour, so I can imagine it books up quickly when everything is out and blooming. 

 

Where the whisper boats start their tour from Keukenhof

Where the whisper boats start their tour from Keukenhof

The windmill at Keukenhof

The windmill at Keukenhof

The plantings change every year, so even if you’ve been before they gardeners will have thought of some other incredible way to display their flowers. It blows my mind that they dig up, and then plant again anew, over seven million bulbs. 

Playground plus coffee hut at Keukenhof. Other botanical gardens, take note!

Playground plus coffee hut at Keukenhof. Other botanical gardens, take note!

There is quite a good playground, thoughtfully combined with a little hut selling snacks and coffee. There’s also a fun hedge maze right next to the playground, and all of this neatly appears about halfway through your visit if you’re just wandering through the paths. Be prepared to pay a bit more for your lunch, if you eat on site, and we found the food to be a bit sub-par. I’d suggest packing snacks with you, and do your best with the lunch situation. We’ve been spoiled with reasonably priced German cafes at every castle and garden, so I was not prepared for the not-great expensive food, particularly as everything had been quite good on our Netherlands road trip so far. 

Vibrant purples at Keukenhof

Vibrant purples at Keukenhof

Why go to Keukenhof when you can visit the Dutch bulb fields for free?

Good question. If you’re coming from overseas and don’t have the luxury of timing your travel exactly for the flowers, it means you can see gorgeous tulips regardless of what the weather is like. We had to work with my son’s Easter break, so delaying another two weeks wasn’t possible for us. The plantings in the Keukenhof are impressive and creative, and while the sheer number of flowers in the tulip fields are incredible, they are in rows and that’s it. The flower farms are growing these flowers for the bulbs, you see. Keukenhof is also meant as a showcase for the most incredible flowers Dutch flower growers can produce, so you will see some incredible one-off beauties that never make it to the mass market fields. Sure, if you’re not keen on paying the entrance fee, the bulb fields are definitely impressive – but to me, Keukenhof and the bulb fields are two different things… like comparing tulips to daffodils, if you will. Oh, you know I had to. 

 

Getting to Keukenhof

It’s quite easy to organize travel to Keukenhof from Amsterdam. We stayed at the Ibis Styles just outside Haarlem and they had bus services listed in the lift. It’s an easy drive, if you rent a car, and there is plenty of well-organized parking. Here is the route from Amsterdam. 

You can also take the train to Leiden, and then the special bus to Keukenhof. Buy a combi-ticket, which gets you your bus transfer and entry ticket in one transaction, and allows you to skip the ticket-buying line when you get to the gardens. 

Buying tickets for Keukenhof

If you drive and don’t arrange for a specific tour, do buy your tickets in advance. It allows you to walk up to the gate, get your ticket scanned, with a minimum of fussing. You don’t need to print them out, they can scan the tickets directly from your phone. If you’re coming by transit, either arrange for a full transfer from Amsterdam which is easiest and not much more expensive, or buy a combi-ticket for bus transfer from Leiden station, which includes your entry ticket. 

Keukenhof hotels

You can choose to stay in Lisse, the town where the gardens are located, to make it easy to arrive early or stay late. 

Booking.com

We stayed in the Ibis Styles in Haarlem, a nice town within easy distance of both Amsterdam and Keukenhof, yet cheaper and less frantic than Amsterdam itself. 

Booking.com

 

Keukenhof 

Stationsweg 166A, 2161 AM Lisse, Netherlands | www.keukenhof.nl

 

Pin for later!

 

Suitcases and Sandcastles

 

Follow:

The Windmills of Kinderdijk in the Netherlands

The Windmills of Kinderdijk in the Netherlands

I love a good open-air museum, and the windmills of Kinderdijk, just south of Rotterdam, did not disappoint. Being able to climb up inside one of the windmills, all the way to the top, was incredible. So should you make time to visit this UNESCO World Heritage site? Definitely.

Museum windmill Blokweer

Museum windmill Blokweer

What is Kinderdijk?

This area of South Holland is a microcosm of the Dutch struggle to keep their fertile farmland from flooding. Nearly 17% of the Netherlands is land reclaimed from the sea, through their ingenious dyke and windmill systems. The Kinderdijk (literally translating as ‘Children’s Dyke’) is one such area of farmland where 19 of the 20 historic windmills have been maintained and preserved. These windmills are still doing the job they were built to do, and must be kept in working condition in case the diesel-powered pumping stations lose power for any reason. So while this is an open-air museum, these incredible wooden machines are still an important part of keeping this area dry.

Wooden clogs outside Museum Windmill Blokweer

Wooden clogs outside Museum Windmill Blokweer

What are the windmills at Kinderdijk for?

When the Dutch people built the dykes this enclosed land for farming, but it was still flooded with water. The windmills (molen, in Dutch) power large Archimedes screws that pull water out of the farmland, and drain it into canals. Rain and natural groundwater seepage keeps threatening to drown the fields, or polder, requiring the windmills to keep the balance. In the event of a drought, the windmills can provide water from the canals as well. 

For those of us not used to living near these magnificent buildings, we might be tempted to think of them as cute and small. Up close, they are huge, powerful, and very dangerous. A common hazard of living and working near the windmills was getting hit by one of the sails. I stood mesmerized by the whoomp-whoomp-whoomp of the passing sails, and shuddered at the thought. The power they can generate is tremendous. 

A view down the Kinderdijk

A view down the Kinderdijk

What is there to do at Kinderdijk? Is it for kids?

The name ‘Kinderdijk’ is the name of the area itself, and it definitely is not just for children. The story goes after a terrible flood in 1421 that killed thousands of residents, a baby’s cradle was spotted floating on the flood waters, with the baby crying inside. The child was saved, and the area renamed the Children’s Dyke. 

The museum is definitely family friendly, but on our visit we saw mostly adults visiting the area, so don’t be turned off if you’re not traveling with children. 

There are 19 windmills on site, but you can only go inside two of them. There are two boat tours along the canal: one will take you on a full circuit, and one is a hop-on, hop-off affair. You can definitely walk all over, but the boat makes it quicker. Unsurprisingly for a place with 19 windmills, it is very, er, windy, so you might want a break from walking along the dykes. 

Inside the Museum Windmill Nederwaard

Inside the Museum Windmill Nederwaard

Museum Windmill Nederwaard

This windmill was built in 1738, and one family lived and worked in it for many generations. At one point 13 children lived here! Inside, you can see how the living areas were set up, and climb the very steep staircases. You can climb into one of the beds built into the wall, and imagine if you could sleep with the sails spinning outside. It sounds like you’re on a ship, the way the creaking and groaning of the wooden gears and ropes carry on. And carry on constantly – all through the night and day. I can imagine you’d get quite used to it, even find it soothing. 

The bed built into the wall in the Museum Windmill Nederwaard

The bed built into the wall in the Museum Windmill Nederwaard

All around there are photos of the Hoek family who lived in this windmill, along with clothing, dishes, and stories. It was impossible not to get a sense of the lively group of people who spent their lives here over hundreds of years. Sadly, one of the Hoek mothers died after getting hit by the windmill’s sails while chasing after one of her children. In one of the photos, all the children had shaved heads, which I can imagine was to combat lice… I don’t know how they managed to keep that under control in such a tiny and crowded living space. 

I particularly loved this museum windmill, and how much the photos made me think of the people who lived there in their groaning and creaking home. My son loved getting into the bed, and poking his head up through the top floor to see the workings of wooden gears in the attic of the windmill.

Woolen underthings and clogs in front of the little stove in the Museum Windmill Blokweer

Wool underthings and clogs in front of the little stove in the Museum Windmill Blokweer

Museum windmill Blokweer

This smaller windmill looks quite different than the other Kinderdijk windmills, because it was built in 1631, and has a movable top that can turn to face the wind. Outside, there is a chicken coop, vegetable garden, and a goat pen. Millers still needed to feed their families of course. There’s also an outdoor kitchen, where someone in costume was preparing food. There’s also a small gift shop and cafe next to Blokweer. Inside the mill, the kitchen is beautifully preserved and set up as though the owner has just stepped out. In the shed just adjoining the door, you can see a selection of wooden clogs hung up on rails. What is it about shoes that conjures up an image of their owners so immediately? 

Embroidery hanging in one of the windmills. Rough translation: 'The wind that blows, the mill that turns, the blessing of the Lord that makes the small increase.'

Embroidery hanging in one of the windmills. Rough translation: ‘The wind that blows, the mill that turns, the blessing of the Lord that makes the small increase.’

Clog shelving in the Museum Windmills at Kinderdijk

Clog shelving in the Museum Windmills at Kinderdijk

The other windmills

They may not be museum windmills, but you will notice by the windowboxes and curtains that people do still live in them! That’s why you’re not allowed to walk up to all of the mills on site. 

Kinderdijk opening hours, ticket prices and how to get there

The Kinderdijk is open all year except December 25th. 

January & February, 10am – 4pm

March – October, 9am – 5:30pm

November & December, 10am – 4pm

Ticket prices

Adults €7

Kids (4-12 years old) €4.50

Kids under 3 are free

Boat tours are €5.50 for adults, and €3 for kids, again under 3 are free. 

Maps cost €1.

You can order all of these tickets ahead on their website, but you do have to choose which day you will be visiting. You save €1 per adult by booking online, so it’s definitely worth it, even if you just do it that morning. 

Getting to Kinderdijk

Kinderdijk is a very easy day tip from Rotterdam.

You can drive to the Kinderdijk, as we did, but be warned that you will have to take a very short car ferry. It was a bit of a surprise to us, we came over the hill and there was the boat! It didn’t show up as such in the satnav. 

From Rotterdam, it is a 30-minute journey on the WaterBus, and you can buy a combination ticket online here, which gives you a discount on entrance to Kinderdijk as well, though you will still need to buy a boat tour ticket when you arrive if you’d like to do that as well. The return ticket, is €11.70 for adults, and €8.55 for kids – this doesn’t include the entry fee, but upon showing your ticket you will get 20% off. 

PS – We stayed in a castle in the Netherlands too, it was amazing! And if you’re going to Amsterdam, here’s our one-day guide.

Fifi and Hop
Follow:

Stay in a castle in the Netherlands? Yes please!

Stay in a castle in the Netherlands? Yes please!

There is something incredible about driving up to a castle, and knowing you will be staying there that night. For someone as castle-obsessed as I am, it gives me goosebumps. What if I told you that I found a castle you can stay in for 130€ a night for a family of four. Breakfast included. That’s the total, not per person. And it’s a 40-minute train journey from Amsterdam.

I know. I know!

You can get a good sense of the castle and grounds from this drone video my husband shot while we were there.

On our last visit to the Netherlands, we bounced around a lot, staying in a few hotels, and a couple nights in the StayOkay Heemskerk hostel – which is in the Assumburg Castle. There are pros and cons to staying in a hostel, and I’ll go through those too.

This post contains affiliate links. Should you click on one, I will get a small commission at no extra cost to you. 

The impressive Assumburg Castle and moat in Heemskerk, the Netherlands.

The impressive Assumburg Castle and moat in Heemskerk, the Netherlands.

A bit of history

The Assumburg Castle was built in the 15th century as a showpiece for the van Velsen family. At this point, castles were not necessary for defensive purposes, so this one is more on the fanciful fairy tale end of the castle spectrum, compared to the squat protection-from-cannons kind of buildings. Like most castles, it has been through several families and, consequently, several rounds of renovations. 

One of the great things about its current function as a hostel, is none of the furnishings or decorations are too fragile. The tables in the pub and restaurant rooms are big functional wood ones, and there’s just enough suits of armour and decorative swords around to make you feel like you’re in a castle. Which you are, for real. 

The gorgeous interiors of the Heemskerk hostel in the Netherlands.

The gorgeous interiors of the Heemskerk hostel in the Netherlands.

What you should expect staying in a hostel

Now, a hostel is not a hotel, and there are important differences. The rooms are barebones, in a sleepaway camp for kids type of barebones. The beds are all single indestructible bunkbeds, and the bathroom is very no-nonsense. There are cubbyholes for your belongings. You pick up your sheets and towels from a giant wooden wardrobe when you check in, and dump them in a giant wooden chest when checking out. No one cleans your room when you’re out. To a certain extent, I don’t mind this for a short stay because while it’s not cushy, there is literally nothing for rambunctious children to break. All the corners have been rounded off already. 

Was it noisy?

Well… I will be totally honest with you here and say yes. But not with partying 22-year-olds getting drunk. We had the misfortune of staying in the room below two different groups of traveling schoolchildren, so we had rooms full of 12-year-old boys above us. Was it loud? Oh yes. It ended around midnight though, and because I’m also a parent of an eight year old it didn’t really wind me up all that much. I was prepared for noise. If you have very small children, or a baby, this may not be the place for you. School-aged children and older will be fine, and having the run of a castle at night makes up for a lot. 

We hung out here with our wine (and Fanta) by ourselves for an hour or so one evening. How cool is that?

We hung out here with our wine (and Fanta) by ourselves for an hour or so one evening. How cool is that?

Dungeon, winding staircases, and moats

With all that said, it was pretty incredible to wander around the castle. The breakfast room has windows that look out across the moat to the formal gardens. So many of the rooms are open to hang out in on the ground floor, it makes it easy to have a bit of an adventure on a rainy morning too. There’s a tiny winding stone staircase in the corner of the bar that is terrifying, but quite fun to explore. As we were standing outside filming the drone footage for this post, a man came over for a chat, and he told us to ask the staff about the dungeon! When we did, they laughed and said to check out the fourth floor above our room. After dinner we climbed the stone staircase and on the fourth floor, there it was… a room under the eaves with a peephole in the heavy wooden door. There was a skeleton chained up in there! Hilariously no one had mentioned this beforehand. 

The prison door!

The prison door!

View from the breakfast room at Heemskerk StayOkay

View from the breakfast room at Heemskerk StayOkay

Eating at the castle

Breakfast featured the usual European spread of several kinds of bread, buns, butter and jam, boiled eggs, sliced cured meats, fruit, muesli, and yoghurt. There were welcome Dutch additions of excellent chocolate sprinkles and the squigy Suikerbrood (sugar bread), which my son was thoroughly in love with (of course). Everything, including the coffee machine, was serve yourself, and you were expected to scrape your plates at the end and stack them in the trays in the kitchen hatch. We chose to eat dinner at the hostel one night for 20€ for the grown-ups and half that for our son, and it was fine–an Italian buffet including two kinds of pasta and two kinds of sauce, meatballs, several salads, bread, soup, and tiramisu for dessert. We ordered wine from the bar in the next room, and brought it in to have with our dinner. After dinner, we spent the evening giggling and exploring the castle after dark. There are vending machines on the main floor if you’re desperate for a late-night snack.

StayOkay Heemskerk in the early spring

StayOkay Heemskerk in the early spring

Heemskerk

The hostel is located in the small town of Heemskerk, which is nice enough but not particularly interesting itself. There are a few restaurants and some shops for stocking up on snacks. It’s worth noting you’re not supposed to keep food in your room in the hostel. The castle itself is surrounded by formal gardens, which are managed separately from the hostel, so if you want to explore them, keep in mind they are open from 10am to 6pm, and in the summer until 9pm on Fridays. 

My son looking out to sea at National Park Zuid-Kennemerland

My son looking out to sea at National Park Zuid-Kennemerland

The dunes and beaches

Heemskerk is not far from the Nordhollands Duinreservaat (North Holland Dune Reserve). It’s one of the largest nature reserves in the Netherlands, and besides protecting many different plant and animal species, it’s also where drinking water for many of the surrounding regions comes from. To access the area, you need to purchase a ‘Dune Card’ which helps to fund the non-profit that takes care of this natural resource. It only costs 1.50€ for the day, or 5.50€ for a week. You can buy it online here ahead of time, or from the green vending machines in the park. To get to the beach in the reserve, you can take a train to Castricum, and then a bus straight down to Castricum aan Zee, which is next to the beach, about 35 minutes one way. 

We were heading south after leaving Heemskerk, so we visited the National Park Zuid-Kennemerland. We had lunch at Parnassia aan Zee, though the kitchen seemed a bit overwhelmed by the sudden influx of people the sunny day brought in, and we had to wait awhile for our food. It’s nicer than your average beachside concession though, this is a proper restaurant with soups, salads, burgers, cake, and coffee. There’s a lovely Greek-inspired terrace, though most of us who tried it first came in after the wind picked up. Judging by the parking and road infrastructure into this area of the park, it looks like it gets very very busy in the summer months, so if you’re here during high season be prepared. To get to this park from Heemskerk, you take a train to Haarlem and then a bus, followed by a 25-minute walk. It’s probably best to approach it by car if possible. 

Front door of StayOkay Heemskerk. Don't you want to be staying here?!

Front door of StayOkay Heemskerk. Don’t you want to be staying here?!

Getting to the castle hostel in Heemskerk

The hostel is a 25-minute walk from the main train station, which I’m sure you’d rather not do with luggage. Unfortunately the local bus doesn’t come very close to the castle, so you’re best bet would be to take a taxi once you arrive in Heemskerk station. If you’re driving, the parking lot is a bit of a walk from the castle, as it is surrounded by public gardens –– you won’t be able to drive up to the front door, even to unload. 

Getting to Amsterdam from Heemskerk

After the 25-minute walk to the train station in Heemskerk, there is a direct train to Amsterdam Centraal that takes about 35 minutes. There’s no need to book these kinds of regional trains in advance, the machines at the stations can be switched to English easily.  

Final thoughts

The StayOkay Heemskerk is an incredible deal for the price, but there are reasons why it is this cheap. We agreed after leaving that it was worth staying there, but one night is probably enough. Make the most of your time there and stay in for dinner so you can explore the gardens in the afternoon and the castle itself in the evening. It was fun to stay in a castle and not feel like we had to be careful of everything, or keep the noise down. If you’re traveling with a large group, this could be a great way to have a night in a real castle without breaking your budget entirely. 

Tell me what your favourite castle hotels are! You know I’ll add it to my spreadsheet…!

StayOkay Heemskerk hostel
Tolweg 9, 1967 NG Heemskerk, Netherlands +31 251 232 288

Rates range from 130€ – 150€ a night for a private room that sleeps 4, breakfast included, during high season. Triple rooms are 110€-127€. The private rooms book up fast, so book as early as possible.

 

PS – We had a great day in Amsterdam, but there were a couple of things we could have skipped

Fifi and Hop
Follow:

Amsterdam in a Day

Amsterdam in a Day

This post contains affiliate links. Should you click on one, I will get a small commission at no extra cost to you. Thank you for supporting my work!

Can you do Amsterdam in a day? Well, no. This spring we hopped around the Netherlands exploring all sorts of things, and we ended up doing Amsterdam in a day. Obviously we could never cover everything, or even more than one museum, but it was a good first taste. We are city wanderers and history lovers, and so planned our day accordingly. There were a couple things we would not have bothered with had I known a bit more, so I’ll share what we learned.

I could stand on canal bridges and photograph houses forever.

I could stand on canal bridges and photograph houses forever.

I could have spent an entire day just photographing boats, houses, and bicycles! Definitely make time to just walk and wander, this city is full of little side streets, and side canals, that are worth exploring and experiencing. I really recommend not limiting your visit to museums and sights –– take time to for an unscheduled wander and see where you end up. 

Even when the trees are bare, Amsterdam is fun to photograph.

Even when the trees are bare, Amsterdam is fun to photograph.

Hop-on hop-off… on a boat

We always like to do a city tour when we arrive somewhere new, and because so much of Amsterdam is canals, we decided to go for the City Sightseeing Amsterdam boat and bus hop-on, hop-off tour, which worked out really well. We like these particularly with kids as it allows you to grab a place to sit and still see things while kids chill out and maybe even nap. The Amsterdam City Sightseeing folks have an app, which I highly recommend downloading ahead of time (Google Play or Apple), which shows you where the buses and boats are. It cuts down on waiting times tremendously. Tip: don’t bother with their free tour of the diamond-cutting museum, it is very boring and you are herded around in huge groups, you hardly see anything at all. The boat tour itself was quite lovely, and we enjoyed sliding through the quiet Jordaan neighbourhood the most. Do check what time they finish running and make sure you’re in the neighbourhood you want to be in –– the last boat was doing its rounds about 5pm. We just hopped on a regular tram to get back to the station, but if you want to avoid paying for more transit, keep an eye on the time. 

The National Maritime Museum in Amsterdam. And yes, you get to go on that ship.

The National Maritime Museum in Amsterdam. And yes, you get to go on that ship.

The beautiful Amsterdam, a replica 18th-century Dutch trading ship built by young people in the 1980s

The beautiful Amsterdam, a replica 18th-century Dutch trading ship built by young people in the 1980s

Climbing all over the Amsterdam at the National Maritime Museum.

Climbing all over the Amsterdam at the National Maritime Museum.

There's an amazing climbing area in the cargo hold of the Amsterdam.

There’s an amazing climbing area in the cargo hold of the Amsterdam.

The crew quarters on the replica 18th-century Dutch trading ship Amsterdam.

The crew quarters on the replica 18th-century Dutch trading ship Amsterdam.

The National Maritime Museum

You can get the full description of our visit to the National Maritime Museum in Amsterdam soon, but tl;dr version: it is so cool definitely go, even if you don’t have kids. If the big restored ship in the harbour doesn’t grab your attention, know the galleries are designed well with lots of interactive pieces to explore, and story narratives to take you through the history of this sea trading nation. It doesn’t shy away from the Dutch history with slave-trading and colonialism, which I found lacking in lots of other tourist narratives around the city. You can clamber all over the Amsterdam, the incredible replica 18th-century Dutch trading ship moored outside as well, which was definitely a highlight. It’s worth noting you have to put large bags and coats in lockers downstairs before visiting the main galleries, and the ship – though you can grab your coat before you head outside to the ship. What we skipped: the NEMO Science Museum. I hear lots of cool things about it, but we had an excellent hands-on science centre in Vancouver, and incredible huge technology museum near us in Germany, so we didn’t feel compelled to go. 

The gates of the co-op playground in Amsterdam.

The gates of the co-op playground in Amsterdam.

Co-op playground in the centre of Amsterdam

Co-op playground in the centre of Amsterdam

Wandering with a goal… sort of

We walked around a section of the city and found little sidewalk playgrounds, and a wonderful co-op playground in the middle of some houses. We played in one of these in Haarlem as well, and they look like such a wonderful resource for parents with small children. It reminded me a lot of our housing co-operative in Vancouver. They are open to anyone, so definitely drop in to let your kids blow off some steam. Peering into living room windows, canal boats, and just about holding my bike envy in check, we wandered with a general direction in mind. No garden space means Amsterdammers take their container gardening to the next level, lots of front steps were surrounded by 10-15 pots of herbs, flowers, and shrubs. 

Beautiful and classic canalside scenes in Amsterdam.

Beautiful and classic canalside scenes in Amsterdam.

Super cute bottles in an Amsterdam window.

Super cute bottles in an Amsterdam window.

Floating flower market: should have skipped it

One of my goals was to visit the floating flower market. I imagined open boats with flowers spilling out everywhere… I should have checked Google Images first! It’s a row of greenhouse-shaped shops that are indeed floating, but you can barely tell if you walk along the canalside. Also, in mid-spring there isn’t much to see except bags of bulbs, and lots of tourist tat. So, if you happen to be nearby it’s worth a little look, but definitely don’t walk for ten minutes to get there! Though if we hadn’t we might not have seen the best sandwich shop sign ever.

Best sandwich shop name ever? I think so.

Best sandwich shop name ever? I think so.

Where we ate

By complete accident we ended up in Betty Blue for lunch, a quirky cafe and restaurant with a sort of Mexicanish slant. We had nachos, burritos, and a sandwich, and some excellent coffee –– fairly reasonably priced for Amsterdam. They had a great selection of cakes as well, it would have been a perfect coffee and cake pitstop as well. It’s definitely not a tourist spot. By dinner time, we slide into the back garden of Herengracht, a bit of a low-key hipster restaurant with lots of seating out front by the canal and in the back in their garden, plus a few seating areas scattered inside an old house or two. This was a bit pricier but excellent, with local craft beer and decent house wine, and great nachos (they don’t serve them much where we live in Germany, so we were taking advantage of the great cheese and going a bit nacho crazy!). My son and I split steak frites, and my husband had a burger, everything was excellent. Not geared for families in particular, but we had no trouble finding things for our eight year old. Interestingly, this seemed to be a locals place, because we heard nothing but Dutch all around us. 

Love this neon in Betty Blue.

Love this neon in Betty Blue.

A friend of ours was visiting her family in Haarlem, and canvassed her relatives for restaurant recommendations – they suggested Moeders for some classic Dutch cuisine. They were booked up unfortunately, but the menu looks amazing: rijsttafel, stamppot, and spareribs. 

Tip: if you want to eat somewhere in particular, you need to book as much in advance as you can! Several places we wanted to try were fully booked up. 

A very skinny hotel in Amsterdam.

A very skinny hotel in Amsterdam.

Hotels in Amsterdam

It’s a pricey place to stay, and there’s no way around that, but some digging on booking.com will throw up some deals.



Booking.com

However, we took the popular choice of staying in Haarlem, a short train ride away, and saved quite a bit. The Ibis Styles is a short walk from the Bloemendaal train station (one beyond Haarlem Central) and super easy with kids or without. Their breakfast is often bundled with the room rate. 

We felt like we got a good taste of this famous city, and are looking forward to coming back for a few days to really dig in. What do we need to see next time?

Fifi and HopTwo Traveling Texans
Follow: