Gouda, Keukenhof, Clog & Cheese Farm & Amsterdam in the Netherlands!
We recently enjoyed a four-night itinerary to the Netherlands in the spring that checked all the quintessential Dutch boxes! Obviously all of these things are wonderful for anyone – not just families with kids – but I’ll highlight each place from a family perspective. Mix and match to meet your wants and needs, but don’t just do what we did – read on to learn about lots of family-friendly fun in the Netherlands…Amsterdam and beyond!
Example Itinerary 1 (what we did):
- Day 1: drive to Gouda, Gouda Cheese Experience museum, explore town, dinner in Gouda, stay in either Gouda or drive to Lisse to stay (closer to Keukenhof).
- Day 2: early arrival at Keukenhof (2-3 hour visit), drive to Clara Maria Cheese and Clog farm (2 hour tour and visit), then to Amsterdam to stay, dinner in Amsterdam.
- Day 3: NEMO Science Museum (3-4 hours), late lunch at sidewalk cafe, wander canals.
- Day 4: Canal boat tour in the AM, Van Gogh Museum in the afternoon.
Example Itinerary 2:
- Day 1: Spend the morning in Gouda, visit Gouda Cheese Experience, then drive to Keukenhof in the afternoon, spend golden hour with the tulips.
- Day 2: Head to Amsterdam, visit NEMO Science museum (2-4 hours), spend the late afternoon wandering the city.
- Day 3: Morning pancake canal tour, afternoon visit to Rijksmuseum
- Day 4: Head to Noordoostpolder for an early morning to drive on the tulip route, then down to Clara Maria Cheese & Clog farm for an afternoon tour before heading home.
Gouda, or “Howda” as the Dutch say, is a must-see town in the Netherlands. Not only was the history of Gouda cheese established in and around the town, but it’s home to one of the oldest town halls in Holland.
🧀 Not to be missed is The Gouda Cheese Experience, an immersive and hands on museum where you learn the origins and production process of this famous cheese from grass to glass. The kids loved the exhibits, treasure hunt and quiz – and we all loved the taste test. We left with so much delicious Gouda cheese – I don’t think we ate one we didn’t love!
After the tour, the kids earned their “Cheese Master” certificate which gave them a discount in the shop. The girls loved to play dress up, too, and we all worked together to answer the quiz questions throughout the exhibit halls. Overall we learned so much and highly recommend this must-see experience in Gouda.
City of Gouda
The city of Gouda is ancient, but throughout the first millennium it was totally devastated multiple times by fires and plagues. Today, however, Gouda cheese accounts for 50-60% of the world’s cheese consumption, so clearly it has made a vibrant comeback! Also of note around town are the canals, shops, charming colorful buildings, St John’s Church (the longest in the Netherlands), the Gouda Museum, and Holocaust memorial “stumbling stones” underfoot. Be sure to say hello to the oldest town hall in the Netherlands!
We ate the Light Factory (De Lichtfabriek) with reservations and it was delicious. A bit pricey, but highly recommend – what an atmosphere! We also really enjoyed our lunch at Bagels & Beans, as it’s rare to find good bagels in Europe!
There are a couple of nice places to stay in Gouda, but I recommend planning this as a stopping point instead of a home base. You can spend a morning or afternoon here and get a good feel for the city. Be sure to ask for a map in the Gouda Cheese Experience and keep an eye out for local festivals.
The Netherlands is perhaps most famous for tulips – besides cheese, windmills, clogs, canals, bicycles, and certain legalized activities – so if you’re visiting in the spring from the end of March until mid May, definitely make a point of tulip peeping!
The best known tulip gardens in the whole world belong to Keukenhof – a grand destination that is open from the 23rd of March and runs for 8 weeks. Tickets need to be purchased online as they do sell out, but I have heard stories of people showing up and being able to purchase same-day tickets even when big signs said “sold out,” so don’t give up hope. Keep in mind that this is a massive landscaped and well manicured garden park – not tulip fields. However, nearby you can rent bicycles and bike around the fields if you were hoping for that, too. Another option is to take the little 45-60 minute whisper boat tour around the canals for €9/adult and €4.50/child and you will see surrounding tulip fields as well.
DID YOU KNOW? Keukenhof has been open for over 70 years (73 years in 2022, opening in 1949). Each year almost 1 million visitors rush to the tulip gardens during the 8 weeks they are open. All the bulbs at Keukenhof are donated by local growers – that’s over 7 million bulbs – and they are dug up and destroyed after every single season. Imagine! It takes 3 months for 30+ growers to plant the gardens each season, always in a new design and theme. If you’re lucky enough to visit in the last 10 days it is open, you will also witness the world’s largest lily show! Keukenhof means “Kitchen Garden.” Although the Netherlands are most well known for tulips, they actually originate in the Himalayas, and they came to Holland via Turkey in the 16th century. Today 8.5 billion bulbs are produced each year in the Netherlands (this includes other varieties like hyacinth, lily, and gladiolus) and about half of those are exported.
Prices (vary each season): €19/adult, €9/children, free up to age 3.
Although most will recommend visiting early to “beat the crowds” (and that’s what we did), it is actually crowded from the moment the gates open. Instead, do what my friend Lori did, and arrive later in the afternoon – say, 2-3PM – and hang out until the park closes. The last hour or two of opening hours is definitely the best and the least busy, with perfect late afternoon light. It sounds like the difference between night and day, so plan accordingly! Keukenhof is also more than just tulips. There are food trucks and little cafes you can eat at and plenty of seating in various pavilions and across the park to take a break. There is even a small farm the kids loved, and a great playground area. Don’t miss inside the pavilions and greenhouses as that’s where the most interesting bulb varieties are blooming – and of course, check out the windmill!
*Note for Americans visiting the Netherlands from overseas: we checked this everywhere, and everyone said the same thing. You can’t buy the tulip bulbs they have there to bring back to the states with you legally. Instead you can order bulbs online that have been treated properly and then they can be sent to your house through the mail. This is the safest bet and also a way to save space in your luggage AND get more tulips! If you live in Europe, you’re in the clear.
Another terrific (and free!) option for seeing millions of tulips is to head over to Noordoostpolder and drive the famous Tulipenroute! Each year a “tulip festival” takes place in this region and the roads are labeled well to take you through all the best fields. Here you can also see special tractors “beheading” tulips – a process that removes the flower so all the remaining energy in the plant goes to the bulb instead of being wasted on the bloom. If you’re there to stop and see the tulips, it will take you a few hours to drive this route and enjoy. If you are just out for a joy ride you can do portions of it in an hour or two. When we were there we could tell most fields on the southern portion had already been decapitated (or de-headed) so we were bummed … until we reached the northern section and were blown away! It was so fun to see all the varieties the farmers planted and learn more about the process. Keep an eye out for signs as not all fields are appropriate to stop at, but they’re labeled well when you can! You just pull over, hop out, and get a load of all those tulips. It is possible to buy/cut your own in some spots, too!
PHOTO TIP: It is hard to take good photos of tulip and flower fields. Often the bulbs all blend together or it feels like the angles are all wrong. One of my favorite views of the tulips are from above, straight down into the flower. Play around with it – look for a perspective from above or way down below. When taking a photo with people in it, hold your camera a bit higher than the subjects and take the shot angling slightly down to get the best “full” background of tulips. And as always – clean your lens and straighten that horizon!
Clara Maria Clog + Cheese Farm
This was recommended to me by my friend Callie who visited with her family and loved it. I didn’t have much for expectations – especially as the place is quite humble on the outside when you arrive. We ended up being totally enthralled by our tour guide and demo guy Ruben, who took us on a hands-on journey to clog making (even giving us the clog he made!), cheese making, and then farming with the cows! Each kid had a chance to swing the axe, spin the lathe, and pick out a wheel of cheese they wanted to try. The coolest part? The whole experience was FREE. (We tipped Ruben, but he didn’t ask for it.) This motivated us to buy souvenirs and cheese in their shop too, and there are SO many wonderful varieties! We got to try them all before we bought (we chose 6) and there wasn’t a single one we didn’t love. Gouda is a terrific cheese because it lasts a long time and continues to evolve in flavor as it ages. Also it is shelf stable so buying lots of wheels is no big deal if you have a tiny fridge. If you want to see some of these demos in action, check out “Netherlands Story Highlights” on my Instagram @homebasebelgium for videos.
We visited in early April; we were the only ones there and the cows had not yet been put out to pasture. When visiting later, there are usually lots of tours and people, and the cows may be out in the fields (so visiting them in the barn won’t happen). Just keep this in mind.
Amsterdam with Kids
Amsterdam may have a reputation as the “city of sin,” with a laid back and anything-goes atmosphere, but it is so much more than that. The ‘Dam is a terrific city for families! It is one of the few places where the massiveness of the place is neatly partitioned into hundreds of little quaint and charming neighborhoods to make Amsterdam feel at once grand and charming. With kids, focus on the museums, food, parks and experiences. I plan to write a separate post soon about “Adults-only Amsterdam,” but every single one of these things would be fun for people without kids, too, so don’t be deterred.
Amsterdam has so many awesome museums, and most of them are great for kids. Pick and choose from the ones below but pleeeease do not miss NEMO. It is the absolute best for families!
📍NEMO MUSEUM: Get tickets online here. €17.50 age 4+ one full day entry. Visit the museum early (opens at 10am-5:30pm) and plan to have lunch there – bring a lunch and store it in the free lockers or enjoy something from the rooftop terrace. There are four floors of fun at the NEMO, and at 11AM they have a chain reaction demo in the atrium area that’s not to be missed. Our kids especially loved the science lab and our youngest (age 7) did every single experiment there for over an hour! We could have easily spent 4-5 hours here, but had other plans for the day and left after 3 hours. The kids can’t wait to go back!
📍VAN GOGH MUSEUM: Although this is an art museum and my kids tend to get bored fairly quickly (unless I have given them something to focus on which takes a lot of effort and planning) at art museums, Van Gogh Museum (open 9am to 5 or 6pm depending on day) does a great job of engaging kids. Not only do they have an age-appropriate interactive audioguide, they also have a booklet that’s a quiz-like treasure hunt through the museum that the kids had so much fun racing around doing! Be sure to ask for it at the desk where you pick up the audioguide, which is included in your ticket. The best part is, once the booklet is complete, you can bring it to the information desk for lots of great prizes including huge rolled up Van Gogh coloring sheets, post cards, stickers, and more. Reservations are required at this museum and again, it fills up quickly. Book here (€19 per person, under 18 free).
📍ANNE FRANK HOUSE + MUSEUM: This is one of the most difficult places to get tickets any time but the off season. Make sure you book as soon as possible! Buy tickets here – it includes a free audioguide. Opening hours are from 9am-6pm during the week and 9am-8pm on the weekends. The Anne Frank House is a tastefully done museum and memorial site that is striking in its simplicity. Be sure to read The Diary of Anne Frank before or after your visit and remember that it is a home with steep stairs and no elevator – so not appropriate for wheelchairs or strollers. The museum recommends a minimum age of 10, but it is ultimately up to parents to decide if their child is ready for such a heavy topic. Note: no photography is allowed inside. Read more about the Anne Frank house in my friend Jessica’s post here. Tickets are €14 for adults and €7 for children 10-17. Age 0-9 is €1 including booking fees.
📍RIJKSMUSEUM: Perhaps the most famous art museum in Amsterdam is also the largest in the Netherlands. The Rijksmuseum was founded in the 1700’s but came to occupy this spot near Museum Square in the late 1800’s. Filled with masterpieces of art and history, you can view paintings by Rembrandt and Vermeer and over a million objects in total. Rijks offers a digital family game to help engage children. Don’t forget to look for The Night Watch, The Milkmaid, the Dolls Houses, the library, gardens, and if you’re lucky, the Michelin Star restaurant! Opening hours are from 9am-5pm. Tickets are €20 for adults and free under age 18. Buy tickets here.
📍MOCO: If the Rijks is about history, the MOCO is all things modern, contemporary, and even street art! Check out the MOCO museum for a fun and colorful journey that includes the likes of Banksy, Jeff Koons and Andy Warhol. Open from 9am-7pm weekdays and 9am-9pm weekends, this private museum offers tickets online here. Ticket prices are €15.50 for adults, €12.50 youth age 10-17 and free up to age 9. Its sister museum is in Barcelona if you don’t get a chance to visit it here, which is understandable as all of these fun activities really start to add up in a family of five! You have to pick and choose.
📍NATIONAL MARITIME MUSEUM: The National Maritime Museum is a great place for kids! Experience the Story of the Whale, do the junior audio tour or visit ‘the big ship’, the East Indiaman VOC ship Amsterdam. There are sometimes special activities offered here as well, so check their website before your visit. Opening times are 10am-5pm except Mondays. Ticket prices are €17.50 for adults and €8.50 age 4-17. For tickets and more info, click here.
📍WONDR EXPERIENCE: The motto at Wondr is “experience the art of play.” The whole goal is to stimulate your senses and inspire creativity, fantasy and joy. Walk through the exhibits and interact with them (take allllll the selfies). This is a great place to host an event, too – very instagrammable! Opening hours are 11am-6pm during the week and 10am-7pm on the weekends, with special mid-day times for kids. Tickets vary from €26.50 to €24.50. See more info here.
📍RIPLEY’S BELIEVE IT OR NOT: Ripley’s Believe It Or Not is in the UK, Netherlands and Denmark in Europe. Visit in Amsterdam to “Venture through 19 themed galleries to see artifacts, incredible art, animal oddities, pop-culture memorabilia, interactive games, and stories of people and places that are incredibly hard to believe, but undeniably true!” Open daily from 10am-10pm, tickets can be purchased in advance here. Tickets are €21.50 for adults and €13.50 for kids. Consider the “fast track” tickets if it’s busy!
📍BODY WORLDS: Body Worlds: The Happiness Project is a unique experience that takes you through a unique exhibition with real human bodies (plasticized) that help us understand how our choices about health impact our happiness. Children will learn about all the systems of the human body with over 200 models doing various poses to help us understand how the body works. You will even see the effects of smoking on the lungs! Such a cool concept. Body Worlds is appropriate for kids ages 6-17. Opening hours are 10am-10pm and tickets are €21.50 per person, with a discount for school groups (€8.75/student). For more information or to buy tickets, check out their website here.
📍Take A Canal Tour: One of the iconic things to do in Amsterdam is a canal boat tour! There are many companies who offer tours and they vary from intimate and romantic private boats to large glass top tour boats. I recommend something in between with the family – a luxury open boat city canal cruise for ages 4+ starting at €19.50 for adults and €11.50 for kids, booked here. Another fun option is the all you can eat Dutch pancake boat canal tour starting at €21.50 for adults and €16.50 for kids (book asap unless you want an evening slot).
📍Rent an Electric Boat: If you don’t want to do a tour with a guide and are comfortable as your own skipper, go ahead and rent your own boat! Read up on the rules, and book a private electric boat for €65 per hour (up to 12 people) with a €150 refundable deposit. Check it out here.
📍Rent Bikes: For about €10 per day, you can rent a bicycle and have the best mode of transportation in the city. Cruise around and cover more ground, seeing the sights at your leisure. The entire place is made for bikes – in fact, they have the priority even over pedestrians! For a guide to bike rentals in Amsterdam, click here.
📍Swing at the A’DAM Lookout: One of the iconic things to do in Amsterdam is head to the top of the A’DAM Lookout and swing on Europe’s highest swing – Over the Edge! You do need to make a reservation to do this activity but there are usually plenty of slots. You need to buy a ticket to enter the tower (€42 for 2 adults and 2 children), then add on various activities like the swing (6), Virtual Reality ride or 360º meal. For more info and to buy tickets, click here.
📍Dungeons Tour (older kids only!): This is a frightful, fun, and educational experience but it’s probably only appropriate for older kids (parents use precaution). For €22 per person, take a tour of the Amsterdam underground and be startled and amazed! Learn more here.
📍Football/Soccer Game: Soccer games aren’t cheap, even for the nosebleed sections, but if this is on your bucketlist, the Netherlands is one of the best places in Europe to catch a match! Look for Ajax tickets here if you are visiting during the August-May season. If attending a game isn’t in the cards or doesn’t fit your schedule, you can still do a tour of Johan Cruijff Arena – learn about that here.
📍Visit the ARTIS Royal Zoo: This is a great zoo right in the city that also has a botanical garden, arboretum, aquarium and planetarium. It is the oldest zoo in the Netherlands and one of the oldest in Europe! Tickets are €25 for adults and €21 for children age 3-12 and can be purchased here.
📍Wander the Canals on Foot: The best thing you can do in Amsterdam is just walk and wander. The best neighborhoods to explore are highlighted by Santorini Dave in his infographic below. I recommend the City Center of course, but also Jordaan, the Western and Southern Canal Belts, Oud-Zuid, and De Plantage.
There are so many great places to eat in Amsterdam that you really can’t go wrong. I can recommend a few we enjoyed, but at the very least do not leave the city without eating Dutch pancakes, stroopwafels, and Gouda cheese! (Edam cheese is also great.) Here are the family friendly places we recommend:
- Bussia cafe and bakery: try the focaccia + cruffins.
- Tacos & Tequila: homemade corn tortillas and great atmosphere.
- The Avocado Show: great for lunch, healthy and creative dishes.
- Van Holland Stroopwafels: iconic spot to snag specialty stroops.
- Joe & The Juice: various locations, a great stop for healthy bites.
- Fou Fow Ramen: homemade noodles, and sister restaurant Fou Fow Udon also delish!
With kids (or pets) we all need to factor down time into the schedule. Here are the best parks and recreation areas in Amsterdam. Mark them in your google maps!
- Vondelpark (look for the tree house)
- Bouwspeelplaats Het Landje
- De Ruige speelplaats
- Het Amsterdamse Bos (petting zoo inside forest)
- Natureluur Park
- Bloesempark (go in April for the best cherry blossoms)
- Amsterdamse Bos (forest)
- Beatrixpark (good for biking)
- Gaasperpark (swimming)
- Nelson Mandelapark
- Keep an eye out for small playgrounds all over the city!
For more details on all of these parks, click here.
OUTSIDE THE CITY:
If you have more time you can venture outside the city for a few more classic Dutch things to do. Each of these can be reached by public transport, but travel times indicated are by car.
📍Efteling Amusement Park: Located 1h15m from Amsterdam by car, this is one of the best roller coaster amusement parks in Europe for families! Definitely don’t miss it if you and your kids are roller coaster fans. The park theme feels like a fairy tale. Learn more and book your tickets here. You can also spend the night there.
📍Zaanse Schans (windmills): Located 20 minutes outside the city by car, the iconic windmills of Zaanse Schans await. Cycle or boat through this charming community to experience the best of one of the most recognizable symbols of the Netherlands. There are more than 600 windmills, and in the spring they’re also surrounded by tulips! This would also be a really lovely place to stay. Learn more on their website here.
📍De Haar Castle: Located 30 minutes outside the city by car, Kasteel de Haar is gorgeous and sure to impress! It translates to “Hair Castle,” it’s open from 9AM to 5PM each day. The original house dates back to the 13th century, but the current structure was refurbished 100 years ago. It is truly a fairy tale castle and well worth the visit! Learn more about De Haar Castle and book tickets here.
Ultimately, Amsterdam and the surrounding Dutch countryside provides many wonderful activities to do for families looking to visit for 1-10 days. Feel free to reach out if you need help narrowing down the right activities for your family!
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