First trip to Europe for our family of 4! Our kids are 10 and 13, and we have 10 days in late June to split between Amsterdam and Paris. We plan to travel by train only (no rental car). Any suggestions on places we might visit en route, or day trips from each city? We're interested in museums and historical sites, but past experience suggests that we'd be wise to alternate those visits with more active, outdoorsy things for our kids. Recommendations appreciated. Thank you!
Versailles, but instead of the palace, rent bikes and pedal around the huge park and gardens behind it.
Vondelpark in Amsterdam, same deal.
When I saw your question I just had to reply :-)
We took our first trip to Europe as a family in February. Our kids are 13 and 10 (two boys) and we visited Amsterdam and Paris and travelled by train without renting a car!
We also flew from the West Coast (YVR) and we were quite jet lagged for the first two days. Our smarthphones are unlocked so we each picked up a Vodafone prepaid SIM just after getting our luggage in Schipol. Vodafone NL prepaid SIMS work beyond just the Netherlands so it was a good choice for us. The boys were happy to have data to hunt pokemon.
In Amsterdam the boys liked the Maritime museum. if they are digitally inclined the museum has kiosks where they can email themselves their path through the museum. We skipped the Nemo (the Science Centre) since we have a good one in Vancouver. The Rjiksmuseum has a wonderful family app that takes visitors on a scavenger hunt through the museum. We skipped Vondelpark since it was cold and snowy in Feb. We also enjoyed a canal cruise. It left from just outside Anne Frank House (another must see). in the same spot (in the Jordaan neighbourhood) you can also walk through the Westermarkt cathedral. Our boys really enjoyed taking trams and figuring out routing. We were staying in the Jordaan in a private flat so everything was close by. We recommend walking around Dam Square and people watching. You definitely don't need a car in A'dam. Wine is inexpensive at Albert Heijn but the adjacent liquor store will have a better selection. Make sure to visit a cheesemonger for excellent cheese.
We did many daytrips to the surrounding area (Utrecht, Rotterdam etc) Rotterdam has good walking art/architecture tours with info available from the tourist booth right in Rotterdam Central Station. Make sure to see the Markethall and the adjacent cube houses. The harbour cruise is just OK. There is a longer cruise available in the summer. Food is available for purchase on the cruise - we didn't know that so we scrambled and overpaid at a local restaurant.
Everyone in Amsterdam under 40 speaks English well and is usually completely fluent, especially if they encounter tourists regularly.
Trains in NL are cheap for the 10 year old, 2.5 Euro for unlimited use in 24 hrs. For the rest of us, we got rail cards that we could top up but you need a minimum 20 euro on the card to tap in and out so we ended with about 14 euro left on each card, which can only be refunded to a dutch bank account. NS should hire Starbucks to make a good payment app ;-)
We took Thaylis to Paris. The kids loved seeing the speed display on my phone showing that we were travelling at 304 km/h. In paris we stayed at a VRBO close to the Eiffel tower (about 400m away). The kids loved the metro and figuring out routing. Our VRBO was about a 15 min walk to Rue Cler. The kids enjoyed Notre Dame (including the tower tour), Saint Chapelle, Sacre Coeur, the Eiffel Tower, and Musee d'Orsay (much more enjoyable than the Louvre). Be prepared to walk, a lot. Get a Museum pass to reduce the lineups. At the Eiffel Tour there a very long security line-ups to just get under the tower. We has a reserved behind the scenes Eiffel tour with https://www.cultival.fr/en/visites/behind-the-scenes-of-the-eiffel-tower-01092015 and the boys really liked seeing the bunker, the elevator mechanical room etc. Highly recommend it, especially since the "reservation" security line up was 2 minutes compared to 2 hours for the no reservations line up. We got a metro pass for our stay just to make it easier, you need to do at least 4 metro/bus legs to get full value out of it. Most people we encountered could speak English, but there were times when it was easier for me to speak French than to try to explain in English (I still remember a lot of my Canadian High School French). Please let me know if you have any other questions.
In Paris, Seine River cruise (Les Vedettes du Pont Neuf). Most kids (boys and girls) like the Paris sewer tour (it is interesting and not nearly as gross as it sounds). There's the Musee de la Poupee (with mostly dolls, but lots of other toys). You can rent bikes and spend hours in the beautiful Bois de Bologne. Fat Tire Bikes has bike tours of Paris.
In Amsterdam, a day trip to Madurodam in The Hague. Rent bikes by the day and get around the city on bikes, like the locals.
I'm not sure renting bicycles for getting around in a unfamiliar city with unfamiliar traffic conditions is a good idea, especially not when riding around in a group of four.
A nice day trip from Amsterdam is the famous windmill complex of Kinderdijk. In season there is the direct Waterbus ferry from Rotterdam. Wonderful trip. After visiting you can go on with the same Waterbus service to Dordrecht, which has loads of history (it is the oldest city of Holland, as the western part of the country is called) and a lively river front. Get back to Amsterdam by train.
This public transport planner gives you all the details. (The schedules for June are not yet in the system, but will be when you're around.)
Get your Thalys tickets from Amsterdam to Paris as soon as they become available to enjoy the huge discounts which come with advance buying.
I would split it 4 nights in Amsterdam and 6 in Paris. A great day trip for kids this age would be Provins from Paris; it is medieval and has activities in summer that are great for kids. There are literally dozens of great day trips from Paris. I might actually not do Versailles but pick Vaux le Vicomte or Fontainebleau because of the crowds or Chantilly. But if you do Versailles, do a tour of the Kings apartments as when those are booked you enter through a different entrance and avoid the very long security lines at the main entrance. The cost if 7 Euro a head -- above the entry fee for adults (kids are free). The grounds are also interesting and doing a fat bike tour there might be fun for the family and they manage the logistics of getting the bikes there.
A day trip from Amsterdam to Delft might be interesting. And when in Amsterdam, the canal boat tours are IMHO a must.I would not bicycle unless the family is very adept; most Dutch bike and it is like jumping on a high speed freeway the first time you drive a car. Be sure to have a rice table INdonesian meal. We enjoyed Kantjil et Tiger.
Many thanks, all! I'm taking lots of notes -- these are great suggestions. I appreciate your help!
No matter what you decide to do, you'll have a great trip! My sister and I just traveled with 4 kids (11, 10, 8 & 3) for 2 weeks in Amsterdam, Belgium and Paris and it was amazing!
Suggestions for Amsterdam:
- Madurodam was fun for all of us. It's pretty small and although there are plenty of interactive displays, it is easily combined with another excursion (afternoon trip to Delft?) if you got started early enough in the day. Madurodam only took us about 3 1/2 hours.
- a bike ride north of Amsterdam to Broek in Waterland was a highlight for us and took us all day. I recommend MacBike for bike rentals.
- Anne Frank Huis was wonderful. If possible, I highly recommend reading her diary before you go. The kids were able to understand and recognize so much because we did. Get tickets for the earliest time as it gets really crowded around 10am.
- We didn't make it to Vondelpark, although it was on our list. We heard from multiple people though that its a great place for kids.
- The Dutch Resistance Museum (across the street from the zoo; tram stop Artis) has a wonderful kids interactive display. We got kicked out when it closed at 5pm and I really wish we'd had more time (2 hours wasn't enough!)
Suggestions for Paris:
- Eiffel Tower. This is a no-brainer, really. The kids loved just seeing it and next time I'll get tickets for going up. I also highly recommend seeing it at night. It's lit up all night but every hour at the top of the hour it "sparkles" for 5 min. and the kids thought that was so cool!
- The Arc du Triomphe is fun to climb and see the city (all the streets spread out like sun rays with the Arc at its center)
- We tried getting tickets to the Catacombes but couldn't figure out the online ticket system. This will definitely be a priority the next time we visit. The kids were pretty bummed to not see all the skulls.
- In Amsterdam everything shuts down around 5 - 5:30pm. The only thing open after that are cafes and parks. So get started early and prioritize so you don't run out of time.
- If you eat at a cafe, expect to be there for an hour+. People don't rush their meals so if you are just wanting to grab a quick bite, then get something at a stand (frites, crepes, waffles, hotdogs).
- Public toilets are few and far between so use it when you see it. Also, do NOT use the free ones unless its an emergency....the pay toilets are clean and maintained and well worth the money spent. (I write this because traveling with a 3 year old really makes you appreciate the availability of a good toilet!)
- In my experience, jet lag takes about 2 days to get over. Depending on when you arrive at your destination, that first day will be exhausting but stay up as long as possible (don't go to bed any earlier than 7pm!!). On day #2, we always wake up early so I recommend grabbing something at a market the night before so you aren't all starving at 4am before anything opens (or if you're at a b&b and breakfast is served). Usually, day #3 finally seems more normal.
- Public transportation in Europe is a breeze once you figure it out. Don't be shy and ask the info desk if you aren't sure how it works or can't figure out the kiosks. If you aren't sure where to get off the tram, just ask the driver. Paris has discounted children carnet tickets (1/2 price of the adult tickets) and they are a great way to use the Metro. Depending on how long you are in Amsterdam the OV-chipkaart is an economical way to get around (not worth it for the kids tho.)
- Take your time. If everyone is exhausted then sleep in. Don't push to try to get everything in. Assume you will come back. Trying to squeeze too much into one day makes people (us at least!) cranky and then no one has fun. If its a nice day, get an ice cream cone, sit on a bench and enjoy the sun. You are in Europe!