01 Muiderslot Castle
Kids can dress up as a knight or noblewoman, and even take part in a mock jousting tournament at this medieval castle, around 20 minutes from Amsterdam. Sir Noah Jackson, my son’s official name after being knighted, may not have had the strength to wear the 25kg suit of armour that real knights wore in battle, but he certainly had the energy to explore the Tower Route — a maze of surprises and traps used for repelling invaders, including hidden ‘murder holes’ (through which to drop nasty things). Adults, €13.50 (£11); children 0-3, free; 4-11, €9 (£7).
02 Anne Frank House
Stand in the secret annex where Anne wrote her now-famous diary as she hid from the Nazis with her family during World War II. Poignant and thought-provoking, this Amsterdam attraction isn’t recommended for children under the age of 10, as the concentration camp photos can be distressing.
We found it to be both a moving and inspiring experience, helping our kids to form a mental picture about Anne’s short life and the effects of the Holocaust. Adults from €9 (£7); children 0-9, free; 10-17, €4.50 (£4).
It’s hard not to fall under the spell of this magical theme park, 75 minutes from Amsterdam. Older kids will enjoy high-octane attractions like the roller coasters, but this park really pulls out all the stops to enthral younger kids, too, with carousels, fairground rides, a Fairytale Forest, spectacular shows and an animated storytelling tree. Highlights include the classic car ride that lets little ones like Noah get behind the wheel, drive around a track and attain a ‘licence’. Adults/over-4s, €34.50 (£28) online, under-4s free.
04 Artis Royal Zoo
Lemurs are just one of the many animals that roam freely at this zoo in the centre of Amsterdam. Share a banana with them at feeding times (I can guarantee they’ll get the larger half), then stroll through the tropical house, where kids can spot monkeys, bats and sloths hiding in the foliage. Outdoor enclosures house wild animals like giraffes, lions and meerkats. Highlights include a large playground, beautiful, landscaped gardens and the chance to see a baby gorilla born earlier this year. Adults and children over 10, €19.95 (£16); ages 3-9, €16.50 (£13); under-2s, free.
05 Canal cruise
No trip to the Netherlands is complete without a sightseeing tour of Amsterdam’s historic ring of canals (a UNESCO World Heritage Site). Your guide will keep the kids amused as you enjoy the views and the chilled-out pace. It’s a great way to see famous sites such as the Anne Frank House and Magere Brug (‘Skinny Bridge’), as well as give the kids a glimpse of the different way of life that comes with living on a boat. Our children were amazed: “Wow, look mum! That boat has a kitchen and a TV.” Cruises from €19 (£15) per person. iamsterdam.com
See the invisible and learn some astonishing facts about bacteria at this unusual, hands-on Amsterdam museum. Kids will learn that bacteria — despite their bad reputation — can aid the development of medicine and also recycling. Ours loved using microscopes, and filling a card with ink microbe stamps dotted around the museum. But their favourite bit? The wall of poo, with samples from over 50 animals. Adults and children over 10, €14 (£11); ages 3-9, €12 (£10); under-2s, free.
07 Zaans Gedaan Cocoalab
Arrive hungry and enjoy a delicious sweet adventure at this small workshop, nestled between stunning windmills in the historic town of Zaans Schans, near Amsterdam. For a few euros you can make your own hot chocolate or splash out and book a two-hour session learning how to make delicious chocolate bars using cocoa beans. We winnowed, cracked, tapped, ground, shred and crushed before eventually creating a small pot of thick, dark homemade chocolate to grate and sprinkle on toast (a traditional Dutch snack). 30-minute workshops, €7 (£6); 120-minutes, €30 (£24), per person. dezaanseschans.nl
How to do it
Stena Line operates crossings from Harwich to The Hook of Holland, with return tickets for two adults and three children from £264.
Places to stay near Efteling include the Woodland House at Efteling Village Bosrijk, from €1,050 (£845) for three nights for a family of five. For Amsterdam, Inntel Hotels Amsterdam Zaandam from €95 (£76) per room per night.
Published in the Summer 2016 issue of National Geographic Traveller Family (UK)