Possibly the most perfect family day out ever; Deborah Nicholls-Lee explains why a boat trip to Muiderslot castle ticks all the boxes.
There are some family outings that leave you frazzled: walking tours where everyone is grumbling about their sore feet, gallery visits where your toddler rushes towards the grand masters at terrifying speed, and adventure playgrounds so vast that you wish you had micro-chipped your kids at birth. And there are others that just work for all involved. The boat trip to Muiderslot was one such trip.
The Boat Trip
The day began early. We packed snacks as well as pens, puzzle books, and paper to occupy the children on the boat trip. We made our way to Amsterdam Centraal Station and then took Tram 26 to the last stop, Ijburg, only a short walk from the harbour. We had a bit of time before departure so we took the children for a hot chocolate at Café Nap while we waited.
Soon, Elvira, an attractive 1938 Swiss saloon boat, was ready for us to board. The children (aged 4 and 6) enjoyed choosing a window seat and getting their colouring equipment ready on the table. Elvira was a cosy little set up and it was easy to keep small children from exiting the main room and going up on deck. There was a toilet on board and a bar selling hot and cold drinks.
A small group of children were holding a birthday party on the boat. They all made a beeline for the bows as we went through the lock, eager to see how it worked.
The boat's skipper and owner Imre Leenhouts was happy to answer questions about the Ijmeer and the boats that we passed. A boat race was taking place. The traditional flat-fronted yachts, with their varnished leeboards and billowing white sails, criss-crossed in the distance, giving us glorious views worthy of an oil painting.
Fresh Air and Space
After 30-40 minutes, we could see the 13th century castle in the distance. It was a magnificent sight and, as it loomed closer, it built a real sense of anticipation in the kids.
The castle is in a stunning location, surrounded by meadows of grazing cattle, which slope down to a sea that – on a fine day – is dotted with sailing boats. There was plenty for the kids to take in, including distant wind turbines, flocks of geese flying overhead and stacks of bird life in and around the shore.
My children enjoyed running around the ramparts and letting off steam while taking in the views and exploring nature. There was more shape and contouring than you typically see in this region and the fresh air and space was a welcome break from city life.
We spent a long time enjoying the castle grounds, including the ornamental gardens, with their statues, sculptures and topiary. We visited in autumn and the golden leaves, red berries and various chunky gourds that were growing in the allotment were a particularly attractive and colourful sight. The vegetable and herb gardens were beautifully tended and their neatly-labelled specimens made it an interesting and educational experience for the children. The children also enjoyed looking at the insect hotels, spotting garden birds, and hiding in the gazebos.
Close to where the boat drops you off is a falconer's tent. Children can visit the birds of prey and learn about falconry from April to October. During the summer, there are falconry displays. Check the opening times for details.
Built in 1285, Muiderslot is perhaps the most beautiful example of a High Medieval castle in the Netherlands, and is listed as a UNESCO world heritage site. It forms part of the 135km Defence Line around Amsterdam, where forts and water systems were used to deter attacks on the city. Children can visit the water shield behind the castle to take part in a treasure hunt and learn more about how the surrounding water was both friend and enemy to the castle's inhabitants.
The castle's winding staircases, dungeons and exhibition rooms really captured my children's imagination and there was plenty to entertain them. They particularly enjoyed dressing up in medieval costumes, trying on some chain mail, having a sword fight, and taking part in a jousting simulation.
If you want to get the kids in the mood prior to the trip, or get more of a tour while you're there, download the free app before you go. There is also wi-fi in the Tavern, if you want to do this on site. On Wednesday afternoons there are special family tours. On other days, you can do the Tower Route or Knight's Route through the castle. A guide book can be purchased from the ticket office for a small fee. Kids who complete the Knight's route are knighted and receive a medal. If you are doing the boat trip, time at the castle is limited, so start the tour early if you want to complete it.
The castle also hosts medieval-themed parties for children aged 5-11. We saw a table set up for a group in the Tavern and a party of girls in pointed hats and swishing gowns making their way down from one of the spires. The costumes and authentic setting make it really special and they seemed to be having a great time.
When does the boat sail?
The boat service (veerdienst) from Ijburg to Muiderslot castle runs from the early April to late October. They operate one boat trip per day, Tuesday to Sunday. Boarding begins at 10.30am and the boat departs at 11am. The boat departs from Muiderslot Castle at 3.15pm. The journey takes around 45 minutes.
Where do I board the boat?
How much does the boat trip cost?
Combined tickets for the boat and castle are around €20 for adults and €15 for children, but you can roughly halve the cost if you have an IAmsterdam City Card, Museumkaart, Stadspas or Holland Pas. Children aged 3 and under are free. It is best to book your ticket in advance to avoid disappointment.
When is the castle open and what does it cost?
The castle is open from April to October, 7 days a week. Outside this period, it is open at weekends only and closed in the morning. Admission prices vary, with a reduced rate for children aged 4-11. Children 3 and under and Museum Card holders are free.
How else can I reach the castle?
The castle is located around half an hour's drive from Amsterdam. Take the Muiden exit from the A1. Car parking at the castle is very limited. Disabled visitors can park by the castle for free but need to display their permit. There is paid parking about a 10-minute walk from the castle.
The no. 110 bus stops around 10 minutes' walk away.
If you would prefer to travel the 17km by bike, this route map has a list of sights for the kids to spot on the way.
Where can you eat?
There is a café inside the castle which serves simple food like sausage rolls, sandwiches, and croissants. The café itself is rather dark inside; if it’s a warm day, it’s much nicer to sit outside in the central courtyard and soak up the atmosphere of the castle. There are picnic benches stationed around the grassy ramparts if you prefer to bring a packed lunch.
Deborah Nicholls-Lee is a freelance journalist who moved to the Netherlands from the UK in 2009. She was formerly the general content manager at Amsterdam Mamas and is the founder of Clean Page Copy, a proofreading and copywriting service for non-native speakers of English. See her website to find out more about her work.
photo credits: Deborah Nicholls-Lee