When it became clear that my husband wasn’t going to be able to join us on spring break, I became clear on two things. We would definitely be taking the train on this adventure and I really wanted to bike through the tulips with my kids.
Seeing the tulips in Holland in the weeks surrounding Easter is popular. I thought I was planning ahead when I was booking our trip in November or December for our April trip. Perhaps I was picky because I was looking for a vacation home near Leiden or Lisse but nothing was available. Everything in the heart of the tulip fields was booked so we were forced to look a little further away. I had considered the beach towns but that would have been tricky on the trains.
My parents were with us for the first five days and then the girls and I would be on our own. Despite the strikes in France, we made it to our sweet AirBnb in The Hague without a problem. It had enough room for all of us including bunk beds for the kids, tons of toys and a backyard with a trampoline. The girls were delighted and it was indeed close to shops and the tram.
TULIPS AT KEUKENHOF FROM THE HAGUE
My main reason for choosing The Hague was because it was an easy train ride from the central station to Leiden where it would be easy to transfer to the bus for Keukenhof. Though I was eager to go to other less popular places and had been checking to see where flowers were blooming, Keukenhof is perfect for grandparents. Even in the early season, you are guaranteed to see a lot of beautiful gardens. It’s a bit of walking but it’s not too much. It’s just enough.
I was glad that I took the advice to go early. We woke up really early to get to the gardens by nine 0’clock in the morning. This was a challenge because the train that was supposed to be so easy had been derailed the day before in a terrible accident. There was someone in a yellow vest in the train station whose entire job was to help people find the right connection. She told us which bus to take and we only needed to run up the stairs to catch the next bus. It took longer than the train but it was easy. It was not so crowded when we arrived at the gardens. Within an hour, there were tons and tons of people.
After finding coffee, we gave the girls the map and asked them where they wanted go. They saw the playground on the map and instantly directed us there. There are a bunch of other things they could have chosen including a treasure hunt, petting zoo and a maze. We didn’t make it to all these things but managed to play on the playground twice. Early in the morning, they had the place all to themselves.
From there, we headed to windmill and grabbed the first boat tour we could get on. This is one of those things that is very highly recommended but it was cold. It was interesting to hear all of the history of the gardens in the audio headset especially since I’m not sure how else we would have gotten this information but the fields themselves were only beginning to bloom.
I was happier walking around the gardens and seeing all that was already blooming. We were especially exceed to see the gardener who rush to take care of any ailing flower as quickly as possible. We ended our early day with some French fries from a food truck near the playground (and one more play) before getting back on the bus.
EXPLORING THE HAGUE
We considered many other day trips while we were in The Hague including a train ride to Delft, seeing the windmills outside Rotterdam, and if my husband had been with us we definitely would have gone to Legoland in the Hague. In the end, we decided to explore the city we were in and head to the MC Escher Museum.
Housed in a former royal winter palace, this museum leads you through the mind of this Dutch artist and all his amazing drawings and prints. The girls got their own scavenger hunt to lead them through the artwork and were awarded a prize for finding all of the clues. I love when museums offer these options for kids as it engages them in looking in a whole new way. It also meant we could linger longer looking at the artwork.
Just outside the museum, we found a market or festival or something that included rides and food and a flea market to explore. We spent some time in the sun enjoying just being in this moment and seeing what treasures we could find before sitting by the water and enjoying an ice cream cone. It was the perfect unplanned day.
After living abroad for as long as we have, I was most excited to celebrate the resurrection in an English-speaking church. There are actually two in The Hague: Church of St. John and St. Philip and American Protestant Church in the Hague. I opted for the Anglican Church because it was easier to get to on public transit and it was a delight. I walked back to our AirBnb and was glad I got to see a little but more of the city. It was a place I thought I could easily call home.
MAKING OUR WAY TO HAARLEM
My parents returned to Paris while the girls and I spent an extra lazy hour in the AirBnb before checking out. Then, it was time to get on the train and head to Haarlem for the next part of our adventure. We took a longer train ride stopping in Utrecht because of the track problems after that terrible accident. There was a more direct route with a bus but buses didn’t guarantee us a seat and that was a dealbreaker with my kids.
I had booked us at a bed and breakfast called Park 43. Though I was a tad nervous when I realized it was such a short walk from the train station (because the area around train stations are not usually child-friendly), this was a gem. It was really a studio apartment with lots of space. It was so clean and so cozy. The hosts were lovely even if they raised their eyebrows at me when I shared our plans for the next few days.
After checking into the hotel, we head into the center city on foot to have lunch at Meneer Paprika, a combination of a cafe with a kids playground and a toy store in one. The tables are all centered around the train track in the center of the play area. There were so many toys that my baby girl got so overwhelmed that she crawled into my lap and fell asleep. I had an absolutely amazing asparagus salad from the specials and picked a peanut butter and jelly for each of the girls off the kids menu.
It started pouring while we were in the toy store part and so we decided the guided boat tour I had thought might be next was a terrible idea. We opted instead to grocery stop and head back to the bed and breakfast for an early night.
BIKING INTO THE TULIPS FROM HAARLEM
We reserved our cargo bike with Rent a Bike Haarlem for a two-day rental starting the next morning. It was a super quick 4 minute walk to the bike rental place and it was indeed easy to find their yellow and black logo.
I had mapped this journey in Google Maps and truly believed it would only take an hour. Sure, I had read that the winds are intense and to factor that into any biking adventure but I didn’t really believe it. The winds were intense and I didn’t find the bike path that would have been far more direct. I ambled my way so that we were cold and I was already tired by the time we reached the Tulip Barn.
The night before, I had booked tickets and we were most definitely late for our appointed time. It wasn’t crowded in the middle of the week so that wasn’t a problem. As we had approached the Tulip Barn, we had started to see the fields of bright colors. It was amazing and this first stop gave the girls a chance to play with tractors, swing and get close up to the tulips. You can’t go into the fields you bike past as it harms the flowers. Here we could get close and smell as we took thousands of pictures.
From there, we biked further south past the gardens we had visited only a few ays before to visit the Kasteel Keukenhof. I suppose this is a castle but it looks like a big fancy house and it was not open. There were no signs posted to figure out if it was ever open to the public but there was also an art museum and some trails to meander with cute little gnomes leading the way. We were, however, only really interested in the petting zoo and tiny playground. It turns out the Dutch love a petting zoo. We would visit another the next day though we didn’t know that yet.
I didn’t expect that we would linger so long at either of these stops but it was nearly dinner time when we were done at the petting zoo so it was time to head back. I had thought we could also stop at Tulip Experience Amsterdam which includes an indoor picking garden and there are a bunch of other possibilities on this map following the green route but we were ready to call it a day so we started our bike ride back where we saw more and more tulips and baby lambs along the bike path. The ride back was so much more lovely on the bike path even with the winds! I loved this and was so glad I followed through on this crazy idea even if I was so very sore at the end of the day.
WHAT I HAD PLANNED FOR OUR SECOND BIKING DAY
Haarlem is close to some excellent beaches with Bloemendaal-aan-zee and Zandvoort being only a short bike ride away. Along the beach, there are apparently numerous beach clubs – almost all of which are super child-friendly including having playgrounds and swings like at Beach Club Tien, Beach Pavilion Thalassa, Ubuntu and Vooges. Reservations are recommended for each of these and I thought it would be great for lunch with a stop at Luciano Zandvoort for Stroopwafel ice cream.
I thought we might also stop at Kraantje Lek in the dunes just outside Haarlem. At the foot of a high dune you will find its spectacular wooden playground, the perfect place for children to play for hours on end. To hit all of these places without stopping would have been only an hour on the bike Google Maps told me. I was suspicious and opted to stay closer within the city because I was tired. There’s still part of me that wondered if we could have done this but then I convinced myself we would return. After all, my husband would actually love this part of the trip.
WHAT WE DID IN HAARLEM INSTEAD
In my ambitious planning, I also had a list of speeltuinen (play gardens) that we might visit on the way back from the beach including Natuurspeeleiland, Haarlemmer Kweektuin and de Glasblazers. This seemed like a great way to spend the morning especially since I’d read there was coffee (which there was not) at Speeltuin het Paradijsje. It was, however, right in the middle of the city with a large sandpit, swings, little cars and tricycles. It promised to keep younger children entertained for hours and it did indeed.
I wanted to see the iconic windmill in the Haarlem skyline so that was actually our first stop but I was informed by my tiny travelers that we were not doing a tour. We were not going inside. I was only allowed to take pictures. I hadn’t told them about our next stop yet but that was fine. I got my pictures.
I pushed the kids on the swings and watched them make mud pies and tried to decide where our adventure would take us next. I set my sights on Theehuis De Haarlemmerhouth for lunch and made a reservation for dinner at the pizza place that was walking distance from where we would return our bike. One thing I’ve learned living in Europe is that reservations at dinner are nearly essential.
The girls inhaled their pancakes at the teahouse and I got to have my cup of coffee and another delicious salad. There were even toys and coloring books for the kids to enjoy while we ate. This, of course, meant we stayed longer which was fine with me. We biked to the other side of the park to explore the petting zoo and playground which was all free. Once again, I thought how nice it would be to live in The Netherlands. I texted my husband to find a job here which of course isn’t a real possibility with what he does but a girl can dream.
We returned our bike at the last possible minute where they were aghast that we weren’t given a repair kit with the bike lock included in the rental. Thankfully we hadn’t needed it. We had some time before our reservation at De PizzaBakkers but the souvenir shop across the street that we were going to look for a magnet to add to our vast collection was already closed. So we went to dinner early and they seated us without trouble. I was tickled to see on the menu that they gave out pizza dough (or what they called “play dough”) for the kids to enjoy. They even baked it for the kids to enjoy later and the pizza was fantastic. It was a great final meal for our adventure in Holland.
All of these adventures have inspired me to imagine how we immerse our whole spirits in a place and be present to ourselves and God. I have two downloadable retreats that I hope will be releasing soon.
If you are interested to hear more about these offerings and find a spirit of adventure in your own prayers, I’ll share the news first on Prayer Threads.
3 thoughts on “Adventures in the Tulips from The Hague and Haarlem with Kids”
Spectacular … and even more fun of a ride along (love that bike with the front carrier) than Porto. Wow!
Wow! Your kids are so blessed to have such an intrepid mom, who’s healthy & happy. Gre