Have you got creature-crazy kids? Here’s a list of animal-oriented Amsterdam adventures sure to please fauna enthusiasts of all stripes.
Visiting and interacting with animals can make for great family outings. One thing to remember – it is important to be respectful of the animals and their living quarters. Always check rules and inform your children of behavioral expectations before you go. And then, have some furry fun!
The premier place to see animals in Amsterdam is, of course, the zoo. With regular family tours on the weekend, frequent animal feedings, and zookeeper talks (as well as special events on every school holiday) you are sure to have a fantastic time at Artis. Additionally, you can let your own monkeys play in its big playground, visit its planetarium, and get joint entry to Micropia, the world’s first museum devoted to the tiniest of animals, the microbes.
If you want a more hands-on animal visit, Kinderboerderijen (children’s farms) can be found all over the city and provide a variety of opportunities for children to learn how to care for and interact with a variety of domesticated animals, from goats and cows, to pigs and chickens. Many also have playgrounds and sell refreshments to make for a lovely afternoon out.
If you are a horse-lover, this is the place for you! A stone's throw from Leidseplein, a discreet entrance near the Vondelpark gives access to the oldest riding school in the Netherlands. The Vondel Carousel, a historical horseback riding show, happens once or twice a month on a Sunday afternoon at 13.30. If you see the show, a tour of the historic building is included.
Special Pony Plezier Middags are scheduled periodically with pony rides, brush and play games, french fries, and a goodie bag. Similarly, for the itty-bitty-est riders there are special days with half-hour walks on a nice pony under the guidance of a 'ponyjuf' while a parent/guardian holds the lead.
Cats might not love water, but they love the Poezenboot, a cat sanctuary on a woonboot (houseboat) right on the Singel. The Poezenboot helps get stray cats neutered and vaccinated, as well as caring for the cats while trying to find them forever homes. Some of the cats are permanent residents. You can read stories about the cats living at the shelter online. The Poezenboot has hours for visitation and, if you want to visit often, they are always looking for volunteers.
If you need even more kitty time, feline-lovers can (for a small cover charge) spend 2 hours with a 'catuccino' while enjoying lunch or sweets. The eight resident cats are carefully selected from two shelters in Amsterdam to live there. Up to 20 people can pet and play with the cats at one time. The café is open from Wednesday to Sunday and asks guests to reserve a two-hour spot on their website before stopping by.
Amsterdam’s own fairytale castle, Muiderslot, has a regular falconer available from Tuesdays to Sundays from April 1 to November 1. The falconer might be in the tent on the bastion, where you can see the birds-of-prey up close and ask questions. From May to September there are demonstrations of the birds in flight on Wednesday and Saturday afternoon (weather permitting). Of course quest booklets are always available as part of the castle tour, and special medieval-themed activities are frequently scheduled. Add to your adventure by arriving by boat or bike, though car and bus are also easy.
Did you know that Amsterdam has two bee parks and a bee museum? The Oude en Nieuwe Bijenpark contain community run garden plots dedicated to growing plants for bees. The beekeeping association museum is open and a beekeeper is on hand the first Sunday of every month from 11.00-13:00 and there are also several open days throughout the year with demonstrations and lemonade. The beekeepers are dedicated to helping people learn to raise and protect bees. Gardeners cannot use pesticides or power tools, and no barbequeing or musical devices are allowed, so this is a special, quiet excursion.
There’s so much to do in the Amstedamse Bos: visit a working goat farm, get pancakes at a kinderboederij, ride horses at the Amsterdamse Manege. But for something a little different, let one of the foresters of the Amsterdamse Bos lead you on an excursion by foot, bike, or boat. You will get detailed information on the animals that live in the Bos, and hopefully see a few while you are there. You can book excursions at the Boswinkel, the Forest Store, which is the source for all information and reservations relating to the Bos.
Start from your own balcony, garden, or front doorway and go further afield as you wish to see how many different birds you can find and name. Lulu’s Leafy Walks lists some nice short routes through pleasant parts of the city and a slew of birds you might find on your way. You might have to look up some pictures of birds and their names together, to discover what you’ve found.
For incredible up-close shots of city wildlife, you can still catch the award-winning documentary De Wilde Stad (The Wild City) in theaters. Cat guide Abatutu takes you around Amsterdam to see inside views of bird nests and rodent dens, underwater views in the canals, and surprising views of wildlife you wouldn’t necessarily expect to find in the city. Great fun not only for the amazing animals, but also to spot landmarks you recognize, enjoy speeded-up time-lapse sequences, and groove to the great soundtrack by local musicians. It will eventually be sold on DVD so you can do some local animal-watching without leaving the comforts of home!
Lori Evans is a writer and musician/piano teacher from the USA, heading into her third year in the Netherlands. She lives with her techie husband, her delightfully grumpy teenager son, and two snuggly cats, and thanks technology for keeping her in touch with her daughter in college in NYC.