Staying Outside of Amsterdam? Belgium??

Hi: My 12 year old daughter is lobbying hard for a vacation to Amsterdam in the fall, with hopes to see the Anne Frank and Corrie Ten Boom houses. Her 8 year old brother just wants to ride bikes and boats and sneak some activity into every day. I had originally thought we'd split the trip between Brussels and Amsterdam as we'll only have about 7-8 nights. So I have two questions: given that we may not get another opportunity to visit Belgium within the next few years, would you recommend splitting our short trip between Amsterdam and Brussels or using the time to explore the Netherlands? Where would be a family friendly spot that you'd recommend we use as our home base and to visit Amsterdam, Leiden, Arnehm, Harlem and Efteling? Thanks so much - I really appreciate any recommendations you can make.
Gretchen

Posted by Tim
Wyckoff, NJ, USA
668 posts

I consider Amsterdam to be family-friendly. But the bikeways can be too crowded for an 8-year old, I think. I would rather wake up in Amsterdam than in Haarlem or even Leiden. But Leiden or Delft would be nice places to stay. I've never understood why Rick is so hot for staying in Haarlem. Buying all those train tickets could be annoying. If you are certain to have a car, you should choose a hotel with easy parking and highway access. That might be a less bike-friendly place than Amsterdam. It's great that you'll be visiting other places, but even an 8-year old and a 12-year old could stay 7 nights in Amsterdam without getting bored. Utrecht and Amersfoort are also family-friendly, but I just can't see staying so far out of Amsterdam if that is the real reason for the trip. Amersfoort is maybe too small to sleep in. Utrecht and Leiden have enough to do, but not nearly as much as Amsterdam.

Posted by Michael Schneider
New Paltz, NY
6829 posts

"...I've never understood why Rick is so hot for staying in Haarlem..." He has backed off on that in the past several years. Back in the mid-90s Amsterdam was a different place then it is now. NYC style graffiti covered trams and rail cars, drug dealing was everywhere-even outside the RLD, junkie panhandlers were a constant problem, and gangs had taken over large parts of the city center. Nowadays it's rare to see any of that; even drug dealing inside the RLD is greatly reduced. So in the 90s it made lots of sense to stay in Haarlem. Although he still lists it in his guidebook, he hasn't covered the place on his TV show in over a decade.

Posted by Ray
Portland, Oregon, USA
1339 posts

hi, a big +1 for NEMO. im an old fart and i just loved what they did to promote science and learning. btw, they spent alot of $$ on some of the hands on activities. just an fhi, when you go to the Anne Frank house, be prepared for long lines. ALso, just an fyi, iirc, across the canal, is a really expensive and imo delicious chocolate shop. happy trails.

Posted by Andre L.
Tilburg, Netherlands
2174 posts

I will give you some tips, since I live in the Netherlands, but first do tell me: 1) when exactly are you coming? Late Sep? Mid-Oct? Early Nov? 2) will you have a rental car (or would you consider having one) or do you want all internal trips to be done by train?

Posted by Harold
New York, NY, USA
2826 posts

I'm not sure how Brussels entered the picture, as you indicate that you and your children are interested in Netherlands destinations, not Belgian ones. The subject of Brussels is very divisive. I'm in the "mostly a waste of time" camp. As for other Belgian destinations, I loved Antwerp, had a good time in Bruges and Tournai, and warmed to Ghent. However, in a short trip like yours, and with 5 destinations listed, there's no need to leave the Netherlands.

Posted by Gretchen
Westminster
13 posts

Hi: Thanks so much for the advice. We'd likely visit in mid-to-late September. We're definitely most interested in Netherlands destinations, but when I've been looking through itineraries, it seems that a lot of people visit Belgium in addition to Amsterdam, so I was second-guessing my first instinct to just spend all of our time in the Netherlands. My husband is nervous about getting a rental car, (probably because all of our European trips have been city-based and neither of us has wanted to drive in the cities we've visited) but it seems that it might be a big help in terms of cutting down travel time, particularly since we're most interested in staying outside the city. Would a rental car be necessary? Thanks for all of the suggestions,
Gretchen

Posted by Andre L.
Tilburg, Netherlands
2174 posts

You can visit all that sites without a car. Just pick a location close to a train station then. Options (considering the destinations you mentioned) could include staying in a small town like Abcoude or Breuklaan (trivia: there the "Brooklyn" name for famous NYC borough comes from) which have plenty of outdoor opportunities for the kids in a short distance (it is very safe to walk/bike/skate) and are yet within walking distnace to the train network from where you get elsewhere. If you want a beach/dune location, you can consider staying in Zandvoort. It has a train station close by, and prices plummet after 1st week of September. I suggest you to look also into the following half-day trips that are fun at that time of the year: - Kinderdijk, with a boat trip in and out of Rotterdam (it's a very nice ride) - A visit to Pampus island - MArken + ferry to Volendam. The peninsula where MArken is located is mostly car-free and perfect for biking, walking to the lighthouse etc. - the Veluwe NAtional Park with the amazing Kroller-Muller museum, which has an interesting sculpture park, a great place to make kids more familiar with art - the museum and activity center NEMO
- the etnographic museum Tropenmuseum

Posted by Michael
Des Moines, IA
2155 posts

On the other hand, Haarlem is as nice a town to stay in as any Rick recommends elsewhere as long as you skip his hotel recommendations (dumpy) and go with something else. Haarlem is actually much larger than I thought it would be, and so with the exception of all of the shops closing at 5 or 6 (or whatever it was), there are tons of great shopping, restaurant, and café options that a lot of smaller towns simply wouldn't have. A great place to stay? Try Where Else B&B...on a very quiet, leafy, pedestrian lane off the main drag that runs from the center to the station...maybe 5 minutes from station and 10 or 15 from center. I believe it's number 1 on tripadvisor...check it out. Amsterdam is only 15 minutes by train...that's pretty easy. There is a big family room on the top floor that can sleep probably 5...maybe 6. There's a big bed for 2, a single, and a loft that can fit 2 or 3 more. There's a small fridge, a TV/DVD combo with tons of DVDs, lots of books, free mini-bar, and coffe/tea. Breakfast is included. It's a cool space...tiny, creaky, winding stairs all the way up. Hardwood floors. I had it all to myself, and it was something like €75 or €80 last September...can't recall exactly. Amsterdam lodging is expensive...cheapest I found then was something like €130/double room where I wanted to be...I found something way out for €100/double room, but it was way too far out from the center...faster to take train from Haarlem.

Posted by Andre L.
Tilburg, Netherlands
2174 posts

I'd not recommend a stay in Delft at the moment because they are reconstructing the railway across town and re-doing many streets and alleys. It will be nice when completed, but until then it will be a mess.