AMSTERDAM -- Because of Holland's diminutive size, -- about half of
the state of Maine -- even families under time constraints can
venture out of Amsterdam for a day trip or an overnight in the
Whether you are chasing windmills, looking for amusement parks
or just admiring the scenery, choosing from among the possibilities
will be the most difficult part.
Based on a recent journey here, the following are the top picks
chosen by my 10-year-old son, Cole, and me:
Located about 20 minutes north of Amsterdam, this picturesque
area seems at first glance to be an open-air museum along the lines
of Sturbridge Village in Massachusetts or the seaport of Mystic,
The difference here, however, is that real folks live in the
green, 17th and 18th century houses that line the Zaan River.
In addition to the picturesque homes, Zaanse Schans has a
year-round visitors center, a cheese farm, a wooden shoe factory
and working windmills that children can explore.
Mills and shops are open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. during the
summer and from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m,. weekends only, the rest of the
Kids can climb into one of the windmills for a demonstration of
peanut oil production.
They also can visit shoe shops to see wooden shoes being made
and purchase the finished product.
Adults, be warned: Not one child in our group left without a
pair of full-sized wooden shoes to show friends back home.
Zaanse Schans draws 800,000 visitors a year and is the
second-largest tourist attraction in Holland.
This well-known miniature city in The Hague, a little more than
an hour away from Amsterdam by train, is an attraction especially
suited to younger children.
Continually updated, Madurodam features waist-high versions of
Holland's most famous buildings and attractions, from gloriously
intricate castles and cathedrals to working canal locks, trains and
even a tiny version of the airport, complete with taxiing
Some of the exhibitions have moving parts that can be activated
with local coins; visitors shouldn't miss the chocolate factory,
where kids can get a sample after inserting a coin.
Madurodam has a spacious snack bar with rest rooms and outdoor
Open year-round, admission is about $7 for children ages 4 to 11
and $10 for those 12 and up.
This will be a sure hit with children, although U.S. travelers
will find this a very different species of theme park.
Gnomes, trolls and gnarled houses will draw children into the
Fairy Realm section of the park, where familiar tales are told and
retold in an unfamiliar tongue by talking mirrors, toadstools and
Adults will find acres of flower beds, ponds and serene vistas
interspersed among the rides and fairy-tale castles.
Rides range from the expected, such as the Python roller coaster
and the appropriately titled Rocking Ship, to those a bit more
The Pagoda, for example, is a Thai temple that stretches high
into the air and lowers again, and Fata Morgana takes visitors
through a dreamscape of Arabian settings.
We especially liked the Bobsled ride, which offers thrills
without whiplash, and the Eagle, where, except for laser effects,
the sudden turns are conducted in complete darkness.
We also liked the "Efteling Fairy Tale" show, performed daily,
which featured a mix of traditional fairy tales, ballet, singing
and laser effects.
Efteling, situated in Kaatsheuvel, about an hour south of
Amsterdam by train, is open from April through October from 10 a.m.
to 6 p.m., Mondays through Saturdays; from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. on
Sundays and holidays, and from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. during July and
The entrance fee is about $16 per person; children under age 4
are admitted free.
The National Heritage Museum
Located in Arnhem -- less than an 90 minutes from Amsterdam --
this complex is worthy of a full day's excursion, with such
attractions as HollandRama, a new, high-tech diorama depicting the
history of Holland, and an open-air museum that includes farms, 80
historical buildings and an exhibition hall.
Kids can play on antique cycles and stilts in the re-created
Zaan town square and visit a children's farm where they can try
washing clothes on washboards; milking stationary "cows," and
making paper, which they can take home as a souvenir.
Best of all, the various stops are accessible via antique tram,
complete with a conductor.
The museum is open from April to October from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Admission is priced from about $7 for kids ages 4 to 12 and from
about $11 for adults; kids under age 4 are admitted free.
National Park De Hoge Veluwe
Holland's largest nature reserve with 13,000 acres of woodlands,
the national park is a good choice for families who enjoy rustic
The reserve, home to such animals as red deer and wild boar,
also features a cycle track network.
There are 900 white bicycles at the park entrance that visitors
can use free of charge. Visitors can simply take one -- children's
sizes are available -- and drop it off wherever they make a stop.
If someone takes it, pick up another one and carry on.
A favorite destination within the park is one of Holland's top
depositories of modern art, the Kroller-Muller Museum, which boasts
a sculpture garden with works by such artists as Rodin and
The museum features an astonishing 274 paintings by Van Gogh as
well as works by Picasso, Mondrian and Seurat, among others.
The park is open year-round except for Mondays, with extended
hours during the summer.
Admission is about $4 for adults and $2 for children ages 6 to
13; prices are $8 and $4, respectively, with admission to the
Located in Gelderland, the park is accessible by bus, car or
rail. It is open daily from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.