We say huge cathedrals, amazing museums and the burial place of Charlemagne during our day trip to Aachen in Germany with our Kids.…
Europe with kids
In all of our years of travel, the suitcase has been the bane of our existence. Between perfect size, shape, durability, and price, there are few that truly make us happy. Our experience with luggage is the same as anyone that travels frequently; hotel hopping, trains, airports, cruises and road trips. Schlepping our luggage around the city getting to our accommodations is equally taxing on the body and the suitcases themselves. We have learned a few things about choosing the right travel luggage.
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Choosing the Right Travel Luggage
Luggage Tips and Recommendations
When you are hopping from one hotel to another, it’s easy to be discouraged by luggage. The idea of being forced to pack and repack every other night and keeping track of the clean clothes vs dirty laundry can seem like an impossible task. While I won’t disagree with you; hopping around is not easy, the fewer pieces the better. You don’t want to be carrying half a dozen bags to and from the car, or even worst – on and off trains/buses – every few days. Having lightweight luggage is the best way to minimize your efforts and ensure nothing is forgotten. With the limited amount of space available in your luggage, you will know if you have forgotten the medicine bag on the counter or your favourite book on the nightstand. This also has the happy accident of minimizing your spending, since you won’t have that much place to store it in.
On the other hand, if you are staying in a single location for the entirety of your vacation, by all means, pack the whole house up and in multiple suitcases. Just kidding. You won’t have to worry as much about being overburdened with too many pieces so feel free to have a full-sized suitcase per person.
Pack smart, not hard. When packing your suitcase, make sure you are only packing the essentials. Just because you want to wear those cute flip-flops doesn’t mean your vacation destination will give you the opportunity to wear them. Buy consumables when you arrive at your destination and only buy as much as you plan on using while there, therefore alleviating the need to bring it back with you.
There is a hidden cost of carry-on only, however. We have all seen those parents juggling the kids’ carry on items, stroller, and personal items just to save checked bag fee, heck – some of us have been those parents (me, when I took the kids to Canada on my own and tried to manage 6 pieces of kit plus the stroller). There is no sense in straining your back, losing your cool or not having the hand of a little one, just to save a few bucks. Know your audience and what they are capable of, and make your choices based on that, and that alone. Money, sometimes, should not be part of the equation. Sometimes.
Related Article; Hidden Costs of Saving Money
What to buy
Since we are talking best carryon suitcase at the moment, I want to make a few suggestions. The Briggs & Riley Carry-On and Travelpro Crew 10 have both proven to be great travel companions. Their main body expands, the wheels are stronger (and only have two of them) and their telescoping handle means everyone from my 5-year-old to my hubby can use them comfortably. Yeah, they have a lifetime warranty, but so does my travel insurance, so I am not too worried about that.
For the first few months, we were using the American Tourister, which I have to admit – is a great brand and a sturdy suitcase, but it has spinners. Those things will drive you insane. The carts at the grocery stores in Germany have spinners and I frequently find myself struggling to push it around the store or to my car, a suitcase is no better. The wheels lock when on cobblestone (which is pretty much everywhere in Europe), spin out of control on tile (most airport surfaces) and it is surprisingly hard to roll it on just the back two wheels (like a traditional non-spinner luggage set).
As you can probably guess, we were forced to retire this suitcase because of the wheels alone – the unit itself is in perfect condition. So if you aren’t using it too often, have door to door travel plans or want to stick to a tighter budget – please, get yourself an American Tourister suitcase, they are amazing for that type of travel. They even have Disney Patterns!
Let’s recap a few general luggage recommendations
- Wheels – except when traveling to Venice – because, why not.
- Packing cubes – no need to buy a brand; we have several and they all work the same in the end
- No spinner – just plain annoying
- Soft sides – will absorb impact better and means you can stretch them to their max when packing
- No extra pockets – they take up too much space.
- Get tags that stand out – easily find your luggage amongst the others
- Ballistic nylon – prevent theft or damage in transit
- Water resistant – you never know
- The warranty is useless
The Best Light Weight Carry On Luggage
Since you are allowed a carry-on luggage and a personal item, let’s stuff as much gear into that second piece as we can. This can range from a spare set of clothes for the little ones, entertainment, work-related items, electronics – since laptops are not allowed in the hold and do you really want to trust your fragile items in the hands of the luggage handlers?
What is a personal item?
A camera bag, backpack or tote (that matches the carry-on set, because, why not). A small piece of kit that can fit underneath the seat in front of you. A carry-on suitcase goes in the overhead bin. Keep this in mind when deciding what to pack into each unit. This also includes a purse or diaper bag.
Buying less expensive brands just because you don’t want to spend a fortune today on quality gear is not serving any purpose. Find a great brand, and check out their discount rack, last years model, or Black Friday Sales. There are ways. Trust me, after going thru this many suitcases, going cheap will end up costing more. Spend a little on quality and will last in the long run.
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Florence with Kids: Things to Do.…
Cunard’s Queen Mary 2 is, hands down, one the best cruise lines for families when taking a transatlantic journey. Between the amenities, the childcare, dining options and practically soundproof hallways, Cunard has a long history of serving its guests a glamorous and cozy experience, even for the children.…
Germany, oh Germany
With our contract coming to an end, and my recent trip to Canada putting this all into perspective, I have started to think about all the things that I will miss about Germany once we have moved. While it was hard to limit it to just 10, we have come up with the top 10 things that we will miss about living in Germany. We have also made a list of the top things that we won’t miss, because let’s be honest, nothing in this world is perfect.
10 things I will miss about Germany
- Autobahn no speed limit
- These people are freakin’ crazy and I love it. If the road is safe and you are a good driver, why the hell not. Drive as fast as your heartdesires, knowing that everything you do will come back to haunt you in this life, and the next. Did I mention that obtaining a Germany drivers licence is no easy feat. These people know how to drive at these speeds, that’s for sure.
- Rough translation – an outdoor Beer hangout. Because why not. Sadly, only available in the warmer months. Lucky for me, it rarely gets cold in this part of the country so we are not with out for long.
- Excessive number of castles
- And I do mean excessive. It’s like every other town has a castle or two protecting it. It’s amazing.
- Freebies for kids
- Don’t worry about feeding your kids during snack time; just head to the grocery store and walk through the various counters. They hand out sausage slices at the meat counter, cheese and crackers at the cheese counter, and brotchen at the bakery. All you have to do is order your usual groceries from those counters and voila – free snacks. Shops also hand out random toys or gummies to the kids too, but this is more fun.
- Budget airlines
- Porter has nothing on Ryan Air. The sheer number of budget airlines running around this continent, connecting every possible vacation destination, is ridiculous. They are a la carte so you pick all your add-ons based on budget and away you fly.
- Inexpensive, good wine at the grocery store
- I recently discovered a wine in Germany that sells for 4euro, goes for $14 in Canada. It’s crazy! And it’s not crap wine either; it’s Chanti, and Valpolicheli andPinot Grigio.
- Drinking in public
- I like that I don’t need to finish my beer before I can walk onto my front step. I can order a drink from the biergarten and sit next to my kids at the park. They have pop-up beer trucks everywhere in the cities. One time, we were given a free beer on May Day when we walked into a Nursery (the plant kind, not the small children kind)
- 80s mentality on personal safety
- Take care of yourself and don’t be stupid. The government isn’t going to hold your hand and tell you how to live your life or raise your kids.
- While Canada is taking away train tracks, Germany is installing more and growing their network everyday. There are very few towns that can’t be accessed by train – it may require a transfer or two, but they can be reached sans personal vehicle. Check out more about traveling by train.
- No plastic bags
- The stores don’t provide them!They are at the end of the check-out counter and cost between 50cents to 1.50euro for fabric bags. The bakery has paper bags for their items and those still cost 10cents per. They don’t mess around with garbage (or rubbish, as they call it) – with a population this size (81.4 million in case you were wondering – that’s 2.5 times more than Canada), you can’t blame them for wanting to cut down on unnecessary waste.
Also see; 18 Cool Travel Gadgets
10 things I wont miss about Germany
- Complicated highways and exits
- When the GPS says things like “take exit left, and keep right, then keep left”… I question my decision to drive
- 20 letter words
- As if learning the German language wasn’t hard enough, there are literally words that translate into an entire sentence.
- Drinking in public
- While I have no problem with moderate drinking while walking down the beach, I have an issue with drunk-ass chick buying more vodka at the corner store at noon. There are legal limits to how drunk you can be in public, mind you, but that requires the police to find you.
- Netflix selection
- It is better than Canadian Netflix, but not nearly as great at American Netflix. There are still a handful of shows we can’t get here, and they are different than the shows that we can’t get in Canada, so it’s a very real mix of emotions for my children. We have discovered a few German shows that are dubbed into English, as well as the original version of others – did you know that Octonauts is British, not American? Amazon Prime isn’t much better – most of the kids shows only have one or two season in English and the rest are German.
- Neon 80s fashion
- Between the bright colours and the accessories, I feel like personal safety isn’t the only thing stuck in the 80’s in Germany. It has made shopping for clothes a little tricky, but not impossible. It’s all up to personal taste, honestly. I don’t like standing out that much – my English-speaking rambles with the children do that enough for my taste.
- Bag your own groceries
- While it can be fun torace with the checkout lady in bagging your own items, having everyone stare at me as I fumble between packing my bags, keeping the kids from unpacking them to find their snacks, and paying the cashier, all before the next customer starts getting antsy, a little too stressful for a quick stop at the local grocery store. I can’t handle the pressure.
- When it rains (and it always rains) it pours
- I know everyone says that it rains a lot in the U.K and I’m sure they aren’t wrong, but man alive does it ever rain in Germany. After a few days in a row, every week, for months, it starts to grow old. You can easily spot the locals from the expats – the locals will jump out of their houses the moment the rain stops in order to get those few minutes of fresh air and a walk around the block before the rain starts again. There is no putting off plans, no need to consult the weather network – make your plans and just bring proper rain gear, because there is always a chance that it will rain. Even in December.
- Crazy-ass German drivers that cut at close range
- Getting cut off on the highway is scary. Getting cut-off on the unlimited sections of the highway is enough to give a young man a heart attack. They cut so close to you and without warning. I know they are good drivers and they wouldn’t do it if they couldn’t, but still – two cars length people. And signal for Gods Sake.
- No Sunday shopping followed by a Monday holiday
- I have no problem with being closed on Sunday. As a former retail manager, I appreciate having Sunday’s off as family day. What I do dislike is the Sundays that proceed a holiday Monday. The lines that form Saturday afternoon and Tuesday morning are crazy long and the shelves are never stocked enough. It’s like we can’t live with the stores closed for more than one day at a time – and you want to know why – Our fridges and kitchens are so crazy small, we can’t keep that much food in our house at any one time.
- As a Canadian, I find the German honesty and forwardness a little on the rude side. But then, I can only imagine what they think of my Canadian politeness.
Also See; Day trips from Dusseldorf
All time favourite thing about Germany
My all-time favorite thing about Germany… is all the holidays! Holy Smokes do they ever celebrate holidays. Sometimes it feels like the kids are never in school, it’s insane. Between Karnival, May Day and Saint Martin, there are so many celebrations to be had in Germany that it is hard to keep track of them all. And the Christmas Markets are amazing. They start the last week of November and some go as long as the first week of January, depending on the city – but most end December 23.
Check out my various articles regarding Christmas Markets in Germany and across Europe by clicking here.
An excellent resource for planning all of Germany can we found with the Lonely Planet GermanyGuide.
Solo-Parent’s Guide to Long-Haul Flights with Kids
There comes a time in every travelling family when one parent gets the “pleasure” of travelling with the kids sans spouse. Though I didn’t think much of it when making plans with the family to fly back to Canada while he was away, as the day grew closer, I started to have many mixed feelings about the journey. “It’s about the journey, not the destination”. I call giant BS on that. It is all about the destination. If I wasn’t visiting my parents, and meeting my new nephew, amongst other family obligations, I would not have chosen an 8-hour transatlantic flight as the first solo-parent vacation.
There were a few stages that I needed to overcome before finally feeling that I could receive this specific parenting badge. No, they are not denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance… well, that did happen but that’s for another day. I’m talking about the logistical stages.
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Booking Flights as a Solo-Parent with two Little One
Fly during natural sleep times. Our 2:30 pm flight time meant that we needed to be at the airport at 11:30 am. While this is smack in the middle of nap time and not ideal, the connecting flight was at 6 pm and was the long transatlantic portion of our flight, which meant they would sleep the whole time. I much preferred to have her sleep on the other side of security and awake during the short flight, then awake during the long flight.
Do I really need a stroller for the airport?
This is a big fat YES! While I wasn’t sure if I really wanted to or not, by the time I arrived to the airport via train, Baby Girl was already passed out in the stroller. This made the check-in process so much easier, only having to deal with one kiddo instead of being outnumbered.
Once she woke, we went through security – since they scan the stroller separately – and found our way to our gate. It was half way across the terminal and I wouldn’t have done it so smoothly without the stroller. Their bags hung off the mommy hook, the Travel Snug hung off the hook, and she sat comfy while eating the rest of the her lunch. Both flights allowed me to gate check the stroller and it was returned at the arrivals gate. I was barely out of the plane when I saw my stroller waiting for me. It was amazing.
Just because you are allowed that many bags, doesn’t mean you should
We had the right to 3 personal items and 3 carry-on luggage. This is a lot of kit to bring on the flight. It took a lot of soul searching but I decided that there just wasn’t enough stuff that I needed to have at my finger tips to justify that many pieces.
That leads to my second point; do I even have enough hands to carry it all? What if they rebel and don’t want to pull their rolling suitcases between flights? What if I forget that we have 6 pieces on the first flight?
For these reasons, we only took one backpack each. The kids had their kit, and this also helped prevent over packing; colouring items, Kidz Gear headphones – check them out here , tablet, snacks, change of clothes (you never know), small toy, sippy cups, Travel snug – which they carried in their arms.
My book bag had the “other stuff”; snacks, charge cables, phone, change of clothes (you never know with kids sitting that close to you), paper and pen, wallet and other documents. My bag was also large enough to hold my baby carrier; more importantly, the carrier was small enough to fit in the bag. The Rose and Rebellion Pre-school Carrier was a life saver in Rome and is a life saver on a plane as well.
Logistics of a flight transfer
Because my stroller was available at the gate, I didn’t have to juggle both kids walking across the terminal. Had I not received the stroller, I planned on using the carrier to care for Baby Girl and let Munchkin walk. He would carry his bag and Travel snug, I would get to hold her bag and her snug, as well as my backpack and purse while I carry her front facing. It wasn’t an ideal situation but it would have worked out – this is why I didn’t want then to have any sort of suitcase in the plane – just not enough hands to drag it all around me.
The carrier was definitely handy when collecting my suitcases in Toronto. Take a few minutes on the plane to ask a Flight Attendant to help with the carrier, then wait in a large crowd for our lonely suitcase. I wore her, still asleep, he ran for the stroller and acted as a great counter-weight for the kids backpacks and snugs on the mommy hook. He fell back asleep shortly after Customs
I didn’t think that I wanted the CARES harness until a few days before our departure date. I remember my son at that age, flying to Cardiff, on a 2 hour flight. His whole body moved so much one he was asleep. It was easier if she was still, like in her car seat, in her CARES Harness and the travel snug. You can find out more about the harness by clicking here.
It was a little tricky to make it stay still. I wasn’t securing it properly before she started pulling on it. Baby Girl also wasn’t interested in wearing, since the chairs were nothing like her car seat. Especially for long-haul flight with kids, I wanted to make sure she wasn’t going to bounce around when turbulence hit around Greenland.
Is a car seat really needed for the long haul?
Until it was nearer to our departure date, I didn’t think much of it either. I was sure that if it was really necessary for her safety, then the airline would have required it. I have asked many parents that have done this trip before, with children this age, and their opinions are varied and polarized. Each is sure that their way was the best way. For me, it was not practical to bring a car seat. Now, if I owned a car seat trolley, like this one, then I would have given it more thought, since it essentially is a stroller and car seat in one, and would be with me during a transfer, but there wasn’t enough time for my purchase to arrive and I can’t be sure that my car seat is airline rated.
There are only so many types of car seats that will fit in the seats. This car seat was purchased 4 years ago, and that part of the tag has since worn out. It is not clear on the website if it is or not, and I don’t want to find out the hard way (i.e. on the plane, as I try to fit it in the seat) that it needs to be checked (and therefore no longer a stroller during transfer, just a sad looking trolley with no function).
Either way, I adapted the Travel snug to fit with the CARES harness and all was well.
How much to pack for 15 days with kids
Just like my carry-on allocation, I have the right to 3 checked bags. With the cars on either end of my airport visits, I wasn’t walking too much with my luggage but 3 pieces would have meant that I needed a cart.
The bigger question though, is do I really need to bring that much stuff? Even if I wasn’t visiting my parents, destinations have laundry facilities. I don’t need to pack their entire wardrobe. They each had one large packing cube to themselves. Plus my two medium packing cubes, I only filled half of my hard-shell suitcase. The other half was filled with Florentine wine for my parents and hand-me down clothes for my nephew.
Since it is (apparently) late spring in southern Ontario, a jacket isn’t necessary but there are still frost warnings in between 22 degrees days so we had a sweater in our carry-on’s and a waterproof light jacket in our suitcase. I also purchased travel umbrellas/compact umbrellas, however, those did stay in our luggage instead of the carry-on like many would suggest, only because my kids love to play with umbrella’s. I’m not really sure why that is, maybe because it rains so darn much in Germany that they now feel it is a toy, but it isn’t safe in my carry-on; they will find a way of getting their hands on them.
What to pack for 15 days in Canada during spring?
After much deliberation and discussion, it was decided that a healthy mix of warm and cold weather clothes were necessary. You may think every Canadian stereotype is just that; a stereotype, not exactly the truth. Well, I am here to break your bubble. Depending on where you visit, every single Canadian stereotype is accurate. It can snow during the summer, and it can be scorching hot the day after a snow fall. It happens, get over it.
For each of us, we have packed the following
7 pairs of socks
7 pairs of undies
7 bottoms; 5 shorts, 2 trousers
7 tops; 5 short sleeve, 2 long sleeve
2 pairs of shoes; 1 sneakers and 1 solid sandal
Swim suit and flip flops
Waterproof spring jacket – to be layered with a long sleeve and sweater if it really gets cold
I could have paid 30 euro per seat (times 2 legs, each way) at the time of booking, or wait until 4 days before departure and it is done automatically for free. My family uses KLM to fly back and forth between Canada and Germany and we appreciate this service. Most airlines have some form of family waiver, especially when solo-parenting 2 under 12 years old. If you don’t already know, check their policy before booking your flight. The last thing I want is to be treated like a solo traveller and separated from my kids; I have heard this happening to a family with a 5-year-old and no one wanted to move seats. The flight staff aren’t required to make them move, so the child was sitting with strangers for the entirety of the flight. These are the types of deal-breakers that make me shout “HELLS NO” at travel agents and company representatives.
Window, aisle or middle seat?
Munchkin is 5 years old, and thus potty trained – I had him in the aisle seat. Baby Girl was next then I was in the middle. I had to score seats right behind the toilets and therefore extra leg room. Proleg room for them to stretch, can’t kick anyone and can walk a little without running off. Con – no storage space so everything was stored in the overhead bin, they kept wanting to walk around since there was room for it, I had a neighbour that wasn’t too thrilled to be sitting next to us.
For the long-haul flight with kids, I wanted to be sure they weren’t going to get anyone more upset than they already were, just by being alive – essentially. I have found that adult passengers travelling without children, even if they have children at home, have very little patience for children. While I try not to let it bother me, I do try to make an effort to lessen their impact on their fellow passengers. This way, I know I have done everything I can to make the journey as pleasant as possible – if the kids have something else in mind, there isn’t much I am able to prevent it – just go with the flow and try to sooth them.
Should kids board first or last?
There are several pros and cons of each.
Boarding first – there is less stress. Take as much time as needed to find the seats, and settle down. Maybe even colour while you wait for the rest of the plane to board. This also means you can be sitting for 20 minutes or more, not moving, while the kids are anxiously for it to start.
Boarding last – no sitting around for too long, and the kids can continue walking/running around while everyone else boards. You do run the risk of no overhead cabin space for any of your carry on bags.
We choose to board first. Since Baby girl is only 2 years old, we sit as close to the desk as possible. When they start to call priority seating, we are either flagged down to join this line or join it anyways. We have only been turned down in Nice, France – but that airport is all kinds of strange in other respects so I wasn’t surprised by this.
FYI Dusseldorf and Amsterdam have a children’s priority policy – they actively searched for me at the front of the line and asked me to step up into the priority line in order to be seated right away. I wasn’t about to turn them down.
While it is certainly easier said than done, if you stress, they will stress. They can sense that something is wrong and they will get worked up in anticipation. Overseas flights provide wine with the meal; take it. Once the kids are asleep, charge the electronics, de-stress with a video, book or writing of your own, and just relax. They are out for the night, the hardest part is over.
Please share your thoughts in the comments or reach out on social media...We would love to hear from you.
An excellent resource for planning all of Canada can we found with the Lonely Planet Canada.
With these 10 day trips From Amsterdam, you can explore the heart of Dutch culture and experience some of the most interesting aspects of Dutch culture, and history.
Home to more than 1 million people, Brussels, Belgium is a perfect little capital city to explore with the family. There is a little something for everyone; history, culture, fun and food/drink. When vacations days are pressed and you don’t have much time to see everything on that mile-long to-do list, visit be sure to visit these top 10 things to do in Brussels with kids and you will be satisfied with your stay and can finally check Brussels off of your bucket list. Don’t forget to purchase the Brussels card for discounted entrance.
When thinking about a day trip to Amsterdam, Kinderdijk quickly comes to mind. It is a UNESCO world heritage site for its beautiful 18th-century windmills. It can be a bit of a drive from downtown Amsterdam (1.5 hours), but it is easy to spend a day at Kinderdijk and the surrounding towns.
Here is how we spent our day at Kinderdijk: We arrived early in the morning to beat the crowds and easily found street parking in the town (to avoid the paid parking areas at the entrance). It is free to walk around the windmills, but if you’d like to tour inside the three windmills that are open or take the boat ride, you’ll have to pay an extra fee. We decided to pay the fee so that we could see the inner workings and living conditions inside the windmills. It is something NOT to miss.
We learned about the water management system with its mills, pumping stations, dikes and reservoirs to control flooring in the low lying land. We walked along the waterways on the small footpaths and saw plenty of bikes (another great option). There was also plenty to explore and see for our young son (and it was manageable with strollers). It gave us a wonderful glimpse into the daily life of families; from their small bunk beds tucked under the wheel mechanisms, to the gardens and animals they would tend to.
Delft is an amazing canal-ringed city in the Netherlands and is well known for its manufacturing of Delftware, the blue and white pottery is meticulously hand-painted. It is also a lively town at just over 100,000 people, and a hub for young people with the largest and oldest public technical university in the Netherlands (17,000 students).
We had the pleasure of visiting during their annual Kings Day in April. It is the Dutch national holiday in honor of King Willem-Alexander. The people in Delft celebrate similarly to those in Amsterdam, with a few less people. The day starts with an open flea market of sorts. Families bring their good to sell and a blanket to display them on. Everyone arrives early in the morning to stroll after a bit of coffee. There are bands playing in the open square near the Stadhuis Delft (City Hall). The restaurants are all open and people are singing and dancing in the square. The party continues on into the night.
After we enjoyed a bit of shopping and people watching, we headed over to Delft Pottery De Delftse Pauw to get a tour of how the pottery is manufactured and painted. Our children actually did really well on the tour for how young they were and we didn’t make a reservation. There is also a lovely park just down the street if you need a break for the city.
Cologne (Koln) is a 2,000-year-old German city well known for the magnificent twin-spired Cologne Cathedral an epitome of glorious gothic architecture. There are several prime museums like Museum Ludwig and 12 Romanesque churches spread across the city which can be easily explored on foot.
Dusseldorf is the beautiful home of over a half million people. It is also the capital city of the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia and the seventh most populous city in Germany. It has also been my home for the past 3 years and I love finding new and interesting things to visit with the kids, or when family comes to visit.
Efteling Park is one of the world’s oldest theme parks. In May 1935, the creators of Efteling opened a Sport Park. A year later, they added a playground, carousels, pony rides and a slide. Over the next few decades, the park continued to expand, adding the Efteling Nature Park Foundation in 1950 and by May 1952, the Fairytale Forest was opened, with ten fairy tales “huts”. More attractions were added in 1984 and finally a hotel in 1992. Exploring Efteling Park with kids has since become easier and more fulfilling for the whole family.
Read our Adventures at Efteling Park
The Hague (Dan Haag) is a quick drive from Amsterdam and sits nicely along the North Sea. The beach at Scheveningen, the name of the district within Dan Haag, is incredible. There is an incredible pier, a carousel, and terrific boardwalk to take an evening stroll. Further, into the city, there is the gorgeous Binnenhof – former center of the Dutch government, as well as the Madurodam. It holds a miniature model of Dutch landmarks, buildings, and cities. It was a huge hit with the kids and we loved the walk from the Japanese gardens to the Madurodam first thing in the morning.
For English speakers, you will have the opportunity to experience a majority Dutch-speaking city, the sites and sounds of this port city are prime for a day trip from Amsterdam. Between the Pannenkoekenboot, and Amphibious Bus through Splash tours, there are numerous ways to explore the city. The Euromast is a great way to get the bird’s eye view is you aren’t interested in a cruise, though it is not very handy or stroller friendly. Diergaardeblijdorp (Rotterdam Zoo) and Mini world Rotterdam are practically beside each other and could easily take up a whole themselves. Take a walk through Delfshaven and find yourself along the beautiful canals with traditional boats and an amazing windmill at the end of your journey.
A quick train ride from Amsterdam Central will lead you to the town of Zaanse. Follow the tourists or the handful of signs down a few streets, and try not to be too distracted by the amazing smell of chocolate and waffles in the air. Just over the bridge, you will start to see the fields of windmills. The entire area is free of charge, but there is a Zaanse Schans pass available for purchase at the entrance. Each building or museum has a different rate, while some are free. The windmills themselves cost 7 euro to enter and climb. The clog house is free of charge and this is where we spent most of our time; watching them make clogs from blocks of wood, then running around their shop trying to find the most “authentic” (aka cliché) Dutch souvenir for the family. There is also a pancake house (better known as Crepes in Canada as they are flat, not fluffy) and enormous clogs for that perfect photo. Windy days are great as you will see the windmills in action, so save those perfectly calm days for another town.
One of my favorite day trips from Amsterdam is a visit to Amsterdam Forest (Amsterdamse Bos). Amsterdam Forest is a huge artificial park, just 15 minutes by bike south from the city. The park offers something to all of us and is especially great for families! My favorite spot in Amsterdam Forest is Goat Farm Riddammerhoeve where kids can feed baby goats and cuddle with chickens. Although I don’t have kids, I love to go there too and spend some time with the animals.
Furthermore, Amsterdam Forest is great for walking, cycling, spotting Scottish highland cows, admiring a cherry blossom park in Spring. I hope to inspire travelers to leave Amsterdam for a day and take the opportunity to explore the Dutch landscapes. Last but not least the park is home to a pancake restaurant and the goat farm has delicious Dutch apple pie with whipped cream.
A day trip I’d recommend from Amsterdam is a visit to Volendam. And what better way to do this but by bike! The bike route to Volendam mainly follows the driveway and passes through a few other small towns. I loved that it was very well separated from the majority of the traffic and very well marked with directional signs. Volendam is a small fishing town on the shore of the Zuiderzee and a popular tourist destination close to Amsterdam. So expect many tourists there around lunch time, filling the cafes, souvenir shops, and fish stands (don’t forget to try the herring!).
After tasting the local treats, make sure to take a short stroll away from the crowded shore area and into town. Even though we initially planned to get back to Amsterdam on the same route, we discovered a ferry in Volendam and decided to hop on it to get to the nearby peninsula of Marken and ride to Amsterdam from there. The bike route was going to be a bit shorter and we would also see something new. Marken is a tiny village that boasts its characteristic wooden houses. We got there late and most of the touristy things were closed. So we headed out and first made our way to the lighthouse on the far end of the peninsula for some cool photos. The bike route from Marken to Amsterdam crosses some farmland and small villages. Some of it is also shared with cars, but there were very few of those. So it was quieter and we got to enjoy the sunset 🙂
Haarlem is a medieval city, lively and less crowded than Amsterdam. The Grote Markt is always full of little tables with people sipping coffee in front of the Grote Kerk (the main Church) and others just cycling about. You will probably recognize this area because it has been featured pretty often on several travel guides for The Netherlands. Saturday brings a street market selling just about everything you desire, from wooden clogs to clothes, Dutch cheese, and flowers.
A visit to the Grote Kerk is the first thing I would suggest you explore, as the cathedral is magical and definitely worth your time. It dates back to the 14th century! Be sure to have a stroll through the shopping area, with there narrow streets called “de Gouden Straatjes” (streets of Gold in Dutch). Near Haarleem one can see the Molen the Adrian, a very nice windmill open for guided tours with a small fee. From up there you will be able to take some amazing shots of the surrounding area.
For dining, you can’t miss De Jopenkerk, the best brewery I’ve found in the Netherlands. Located in a former Church in the city center, its beautiful original appearance is preserved here, with fantastic beer you can enjoy a delicious platter of cheese and sausages.
Forget what you’ve heard about Amsterdam. Sure, it has the red light district. Ok yes, marijuana is readily available. But there is something else growing all over Holland that brings even more visitors from around the world. Just outside of the heart of Amsterdam, even non-flower lovers can find delight in The World’s Largest Tulip Festival where not one, not two, but SEVEN million tulips can be found in beautiful, arrangements rivaling art decor! But be sure to get there during prime time tulip season, which is approximately late April to late May.
Read our Keukenhof day trip
How about a day trip to Edam, one of the two main cheese towns in The Netherlands. Edam is only about 30 minutes from Amsterdam. The town itself is a beautiful small town with very cute bridges, narrow cobbled streets, and beautiful houses. Getting around town with young children is a breeze. With the main attraction being cheese there are quite a few shops in town for sampling and buying cheeses. With luck you will explore this corner of the Netherlands in July or August, where they have a fun market every Wednesday.
Only half an hour by intercity train from Amsterdam, Utrecht is a beautiful medieval city also set on canals. The canal area of the city is the perfect place to wander looking up at the centuries-old houses above. You can even hire boats to explore the waterways. Don’t miss the impressive Dom Tower – the tallest bell tower in the Netherlands. If you are visiting the area with small children the Miffy (Nijntje in Dutch) Museum is an absolute delight. Children can explore Miffy’s world with lots of pretend play, arts and crafts. Across the road, at the Centraal Museum, you can discover more about Utrecht’s art and design heritage and the work of Miffy’s creator Dick Bruna.
Sprookjeswonderland (literally ‘fairytale wonderland’) located in Enkhuizen is a perfect day trip from Amsterdam for young kids. It’s a fun theme park for the little ones. Cute ladybug boats, a mechanic horseback ride and automated oldtimer cars instead of thrilling rides, loud music, and sensation. Kids will love exploring the enchanted forest with gnomes, elves, wizards and lots of familiar fairy tale characters. In several locations in the park, you’ll find shows, all automated with puppets. Kids up till the age of 7 will love this cute fairy tale park.
There’s a direct train connection between Amsterdam Central Station and Enkhuizen (60 mins), from there you can either walk to the park (20 minutes) or take a taxi. In the summer months, there’s also a special Sprookjeswonderland tram to take you to the park. Compared to other major attractions in the Netherlands the park is surprisingly affordable and costs €9,95 per ticket (kids 0-2 have free entrance), with free parking. Right next to Sprookjeswonderland you find Enkhuizerzand, with the municipal pool and a beach on the IJsselmeer. Another popular attraction nearby is the Zuiderzeemuseum.
Where to Stay in Amsterdam
We have previously explored how much “fun” it is to find family and budget-friendly accommodations near the city centers can be.
If you missed it, you can find that here.
Best Budget Hotel: Dutch Masters Short Stay Apartments
Best Mid-Range Hotel: XO Hotels Blue Square
Best Luxury Hotel: Grand Hotel Downtown
Best Airport Hotel: Hilton Amsterdam Airport Schiphol
An excellent resource for planning all of Germany can we found with the Lonely Planet Netherlands Guide
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