Toddler-friendly museums in the Netherlands

Hi there! Hope you are doing good.

We are! I finally overcame a 3-week cold and can breathe through my nose again, which is excellent and not to be taken for granted. So I decided to make good use of that week, before another cold strikes, and took Loulou Maya to two museums in Leiden, while we went altogether to a third one this Saturday. All three were very toddler-friendly, which inspired me to make a list of other museums we have visited with Loulou Maya and did not regret it.

Museum Card

Here in the Netherlands you can get for 60 euros this amazing pass called a “museumkaart” (museum card, obviously), that allows you to enter 400 museums for free. If you love museums, like we do, it’s a great offer, as visits to the largest museums are often more than 15 euros. So we did the wise thing and both me and N. have a museum card. Luckily Loulou Maya is still young enough to get in for free. I am clarifying the museum card detail here, because it allows you to just walk out of a museum if your toddler has a horrible day and just go another day, without worrying about losing any money. That’s a big plus as it takes so much of the stress out of the picture.


museums_3The Museums

I really like the overview that the museum card website gives you, because just by looking at the museums that we visited this last year, it brings back memories of our Texel holidays, our outings in Haarlem and our move closer to Leiden.  There are TONS of child-friendly museums in the Netherlands and the purpose of this post is not to talk about all of them (as we haven’t been to all of them) but rather to share with you our experiences in the ones we have actually visited.

Naturalis, Leiden

Naturalis is actually currently closed for renovation work until 2018 BUT they are filling the gap with temporary exhibitions. The one we visited is about dinosaurs. Our toddler is 2 years and 8 months and she found the moving, realistic dino-robots a bit too loud, too big, too… in general. However she loved the interactive games and information booths in the other areas of the museum. And we do have friends with dino-crazed 3-year olds who couldn’t drag them out of there. The exhibition is short enough for the attention span of small kids, yet very impressive and filled with information. The museum cafe is also very pleasant, filled with natural light and with enough lunch/cake options. Heads up: you need to have booked your tickets online before going to see Trix, the T-Rex. And you need to select a specific time slot. Don’t worry, if going with a toddler just calculate 3 hours later than you wish you could be there and it will all work out just fine!

Volkenkunde Museum, Leiden

The National Museum of Ethnology in Leiden is a wonderful one to visit with toddlers. Most of the exhibits are behind glass, so you don’t have to worry constantly about an alarm going off. There is currently a temporary exhibition about the use of feathers in different cultures, that I found particularly fascinating and LM seemed to like all the colors and birds too. The Volkenkunde museum has always great activities for kids, though they are more for the 6-year old ones and older. Still, “De Wilde Bus”, a wooden bus with all sorts of buttons and sounds and moving parts situated in the museum cafe is great entertainment for the little ones. I thought that LM would get tired after a while but she kept repeating “I want you to explain eeeeeevrything… this.. and this… and this…”. We stayed at the museum for 4 exhausting (for me) hours and saw exhibits from all around the world. Africa, Japan, China, Korea, North, Central and South America as well as the Polar regions are just some of the permanent exhibitions. If your little one gets tired easily, bring a carrier. The two great cafes (one inside the museum, the other at the entrance) are a bonus.

Rijksmuseum van Oudheden, Leiden

The Dutch National Museum of Antiquities has a very interesting temporary exhibition at the moment, called Queens of the Nile. We figured, after LM got confused about Dinosaurs getting extinct and Gods that look like animals (that Ganesha statue made a great impression on her), why not take her to see some sarcophagi? She loved this museum as well and luckily most exhibits are behind glass here as well. There are also two small permanent collections of ancient Greek statues, which were of interest for her, being a Greek raised in the Netherlands. She doesn’t grasp the whole concept yet, but she knows she is Greek and all things Greek seem to capture her interest. The top floor of the museum is housing an exhibition called “Archaeology in the Netherlands” and is very toddler-friendly in the sense that there are soft pebble-like pillows to sit on and the exhibits unfold along a long ribbon-like structure that moves on various heights, creating interesting spaces for kids. At the foyer of the museum there are many child activities, like “mummify your lovey” or “how to make an Egyptian Beetle pendant” or “how to build a pyramid with Lego”. They might be for a bit older kids but LM did enjoy playing with the lego bricks for quite a while.

NEMO, Amsterdam

NEMO is technically not a museum, but a science center, fun for kids and adults alike. DO NOT go on a weekend or during the school holidays as it can get way too crazy. There are tons of experiments for kids to perform and live demonstrations by the museum staff as well. The amazing rooftop has a great cafe as well as more exhibits that explain how sustainable energy works. Tons of fun during the warmer months for the little ones, who get to play with water, while the adults can chill with a coffee or beer. I love that at NEMO you are very welcome to bring your own packed lunch and enjoy it at designated spaces. I am guessing that tons of school visits led to that policy. You might wonder if it’s a bit too much for toddlers, but I assure you, it’s not. We went there for the first time before LM was even two and she really enjoyed climbing up and down the stairs and other constructions and watching older kids or us interact with the exhibits. The second time she could try out more things on her own already.

Kinderboekenmuseum, The Hague

I love love love this museum and Loulou Maya is really in love with it as well. It is the Children’s Book Museum and it features many interactive spaces filled with the favorite characters from Dutch children’s books. It is great for toddlers as they are invited to crawl, jump, slide through it in various ways, as well as for older kids. The interactive element is very much present here as well. I am sure it would be interesting for any toddler visiting, not just Dutch-raised ones, as the colors, spaces and characters are so aesthetically pleasing and inviting. What I miss in this museum is a child-friendly cafe. But I can live with that, as it is just 5′ walk from The Hague central station, where various cafes and places for lunch are situated.

Het Tropen Museum, Amsterdam

Belonging to the same family as the Volkenkunde Museum in Leiden, this ethnology museum also offers a wide range of cultural and historical exhibits from around the world. At the moment two temporary exhibitions are on display, the one being about music, called Rhythm & Roots, and the other one, especially for the little ones, called ZieZo Marokko. I truly appreciate the fact that in times of increased racism and xenophobia (especially Islamophobia here in the Netherlands), National museums make the effort to educate the new generation on similarities as people and on the beauty of other cultures. Did Loulou Maya feel as moved as I did by this initiative? Nope, but she surely appreciated the small shadow puppet theater, the nicely done informative videos and the child-friendly spaces. Even in the permanent exhibitions, you don’t have to worry about your toddler ruining everything. The exhibits are well protected and every now and then video or audio info spots offer a resting point. Creative activities for kids from 4 till 12 are also available daily.

Artis, Micropia, Amsterdam

The Artis Amsterdam zoo is one of the oldest and most visited ones. What is even more interesting than elephants feeling miserable in their way too small enclosure though, is the Micropia exhibition. You can visit it independently from the zoo and we are talking about a totally different scale. Depending on your personality and interests, you will be either thrilled and fascinated or totally grossed out by this one. I personally found it amazing. It is all about microbes, bacteria, viruses and other small stuff that lives on, in and all around us. Will your toddler understand? No, but they will most likely enjoy all the cool shapes, microscopes and play with light and darkness. If you have older kids, you might want to buy a microbe stamp card. There are various stamp points in the exhibition that allow you to collect all your favorite microbes! I am guessing this could lead to a meltdown though, in case your darling can’t find that one precious microbe missing from their stamp card. I do have an adult friend, who is a mom herself, and rumor has it she was quite bothered by the fact that there was a microbe missing from HER card at the end of the visit.

Teylers Museum, Haarlem

I love this museum. It has a bit of everything: fossils, gemstones, paintings, coins, scientific instruments, a wonderful library. Again, toddler friendly as most things are behind glass. There are many children’s activities offered, but mostly during school holidays (which happens to be this coming week for the Northern part of The Netherlands). I really like their cafe, where you can often see school craft exhibitions hanging on the large wall. There is an outdoors space for the cafe as well, but you are not allowed to step on the grass so with a toddler it kind of defeats the purpose. I find this museum a great choice for toddlers because it offers variety that keeps grabbing their attention.

Historisch Museum Haarlem, Haarlem

I know, the website doesn’t seem to appealing and it’s rather old-school and only in Dutch BUT it is very child-friendly as there is always a special room with tons of activities and props for the kids to play with, relevant to the exhibition. We went a few months ago and the exhibition was about fashion in Haarlem through the last centuries and kids could dress up in that room or play with puzzles and coloring pages and Montessori-inspired toys that teach you how to tie laces or button and unbutton shirts. Loulou Maya really enjoyed it. There is also the permanent exhibition, narrating the very interesting history of Haarlem, as well as a selection of paintings from Dutch artists (my impression is that the art exhibitions are temporary).

Kaap Skil, Marinemuseum, Redding Museum, Den Helder and Texel Museums

I am putting these together, as it’s been a while and I don’t remember enough to describe them separately. I have this general impression of them being kid-friendly, cause they are filled with nautical theme exhibitions and toddlers can run and climb on ships and boats and see marvelous ship models and recreations of scenes from the life of seamen many years ago. The Kaap Skil has an amazing building by Mecanoo architects and there is also a windmill that you can visit at the back of the museum, surrounded by a wonderful outdoors area. The highlight of the Marinemuseum is probably the submarine. I didn’t go into this one as LM was asleep in her stroller and it was one of those moments that I just needed some peace, but N. did and said it was very impressive. The Marinemuseum and the Redding museum are situated quite close to the area where you get the ferry to cross to Texel. It’s a wonderful area full of exhibition spaces, cafes and restaurants, that makes Den Helder worth a visit. Obviously, if you are taking your kid there, you should take them to Ecomare, to see the seals and stroll through the dunes as well. Museums are great but some fresh air every now and then helps too!

There are a few more museums we visited but I felt more stressed there with Loulou Maya. De Hallen in Haarlem is an excellent museum featuring mostly modern or contemporary art exhibitions. No glass. The security staff only came to us twice, which I consider a great parenting success on my part, taking into account there is no glass to protect ze artz anywhere and there were floating light tables on her eye level. Poor kid really tried to behave but the temptation was just too much. The Frans Hals museum in Haarlem is more toddler-friendly in the sense that there is glass or the exhibits are hanging high, but we had security guards asking us if “everything is alright” when LM had a meltdown in a tone that implied “get your kid out of here”, despite the fact we had already taken her out of the main exhibition hall and next to the toilets, so that we wouldn’t bother other visitors, while trying to help her calm down. And it general, I feel the atmosphere here is more “formal” in a way. More like “kids are welcome, BUT..”. Still, a beautiful museum with many nice exhibitions, worth a visit.

I hope these short descriptions inspired you. I will soon be back with a more practical post, explaining how we plan museum visits with our toddler including timing, food planing, pit stops and so on. Till then, have fun!



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