Looking to take some fun day-trips to help entertain your little one over the summer holiday but don't want to venture too far outside the city? Ellen Duckenfield shares some of her favourite spots around Haarlem.
Three years ago, while pregnant with my second child and living in a one-room apartment, my partner and I found ourselves faced with a dilemma: should we sacrifice space and any chance at a garden and stay in Amsterdam, or risk the provinces, gaining space but potentially sacrificing our image of ourselves as the worldly-wise urbanites we obviously thought we were?
When you live in the city, being outside of it is a scary prospect. What we actually found was more outdoor space and the welcoming town of Haarlem. There even other international families on our street! We may have lost some of the hustle and bustle of the city, but we've discovered a new found love of the country.
Now that the holidays are here and your local paddling-pool is bursting to the brim, here is a quick round up of my favourite family day trips in my 'adopted' neck of the woods.
't Wed: A natural lake in the dunes, a friend of mine describes 't Wed as Ibiza for children (without the commercialism, banana-jet-skis or drug-fuelled full moon parties that is!) Being such a kids' paradise, be warned it is always busy in the summer.
The lake is perfect for swimming, surrounded by sand, and the kids can dig to their heart's content with no tide to destroy their tunnels and fortresses. Walk along to the furthest end for a quieter spot. I find it easier and safer to negotiate with small children than the sea.
There are beautiful walks through the dunes nearby and you can run back down from the highest spot skidding down through the sand into the water.
Bezoekerscentrum Kennemerduinen: A new building just next to 't Wed is finished, complete with a roof full of solar panels, and open Tues-Sun. It's a favourite spot for children on a rainy day too. There is a child-friendly cafe, interactive exhibitions and information about local wildlife and a play corner with colouring and books. And the best part is, it's free!
Address: (car park) De Koevlak. Zeeweg 12, Overveen, towards Bloemendaal aan zee.
Beach/dune pavilion Parnassia aan Zee is in the National Park the Kennemerduinen. If you want a change from Zandvoort and Bloemendaal, take the exit just before you see Bloemendaal looming ahead of you towards Parnassia. The beach feels a bit wilder, more rustic and less crowded. You can escape a bit of the commercialism of Zandvoort and you notice the presence of nature with the Kennemer National Park encircling the beach. The huge Parnassia Pavillion (PaZ) serves decent organic pancakes and general beach food and in the evening you can eat around a cosy open fireplace, or sit at one of the giant windows for a view of the dunes. In front of the pavilion, there's also a small but appealing wooden play structure.
Address: Zeeweg, Overveen
Elswout Forest is an 85-hectare estate on the edge of Overveen. It's free to visit. There are deer in the centre of the park and some really picturesque walks through the forest. Rambling paths up and over wooden bridges, plenty of birds and other wildlife. If you go at the right time you might see spawning toads hop across the path into the water. Here and there you'll find random wooden huts that look like 'kabouter' houses. In the car park, there is also a puppet theatre. The details of shows and timetable can be found on their website.
Address: Elswoutlaan 12a, Overveen
Groenendaal is a brilliantly well-kept petting zoo in Heemstede. It's less the cows, pigs, goats, ducks, chickens, rabbits, and guinea pigs that make it worth the trip than its lovely woodland location that kids can explore the forest paths on the 'kabouter' walk. Buy a booklet in the visitor's centre and follow the route (in Dutch). There is also a playground just along from the kinderboerderij, but it is paid entrance.
Address: Burgemeester van Rappartlaan 1, Heemstede
This one feels like a cheat because I haven't even been myself yet! I'm waiting for the day my youngest gives up the daytime nap, as it's the only one of my tips you have to pay for. Still, it comes highly recommended and as I understand it you'd want to make a day of it. Linnaeushof is an enormous playground complex with everything you could wish for to entertain children big and small. Water slides, islands, bridges, helter-skelter, roundabouts, trampolines, train rides, the works. Check the website for pictures. Entrance is €12.50 online and €13.50 at the ticket desk. The complex opens from end of March to end of September, weather depending.
Address: Linneaushof, Heemstede
Situated in the beautiful recreation area of Spaarnwoude, north of Haarlem, is this wonderful nature playground. It offers a variety of exciting activities perfect for a family day out, complete with treasure hunts, farm animals, interactive farming experiences, and a spider and play forest where kids can discover, climb, swing, and crawl. Zorgvrij can even organise a stress-free birthday party. Entrance is free.
1 March - 1 November: Tuesday to Sunday from 10.00 - 17.00 hours
1 November - 1 March: Wednesday to Sunday from 11.00 - 17.00
Ellen Duckenfield is an expat mama and blogger. You can read more about her daily life over at Run of the Windmill.
Article updated for 2021.
photo credit: Pixabay. All other pics -Ellen Duckenfield