When I told friends I was going to Holland on holidays this summer a lot of them just assumed I was sneaking off on a mini-break with Daddy Chambers and leaving the kids at home. Au contraire my friends! The four of us took off and spent a week exploring the North Brabant region of the Netherlands. So I thought I’d share our experience, where we went, where we stayed and how much the beer is (us parent’s have to have some fun, right?!)
When people think of holidays to Holland many would be forgiven for thinking about the sex shows of Amsterdam, Anne Frank’s gaff and the smoking of substances that are illegal to smoke in Ireland! However, we saw none of that because that wasn’t what we went in search of.
In 2013, a Unicef report rated Dutch children the happiest in the world. According to researchers, Dutch kids are ahead of their peers in childhood well-being when compared with 29 of the world’s richest industrialised countries and I can really see why. Children are welcome anywhere and everywhere in Holland it seems. Aidan and Sarah were greeted with a smile and a pat on the head wherever they went. A lot of restaurants we visited had play areas for children, while there seems to be endless amount of places to visit for top quality family days out. So much so, in fact, we didn’t get to see half as many as we wanted and we’ll be returning again next year to fit in even more.
So, we flew from Dublin to Eindhoven with Ryanair. Last year I read an article in the Irish Times that Tuesday is generally the cheapest day to fly so we took their advice and went from a Tuesday to Tuesday. Return flights for the four of us (two adults and two children, aged 2 and 4) cost us just over €300. To keep costs down we just brought four pieces of hand luggage but did pay for our seats for fear of being separated on board.
Accommodation wise we rented our first ever Airbnb property because the idea of the four of us being holed up in a hotel room for a week sent shudders down my spine. The house we rented was actually in Belgium but it was literally just a kilometre from the Dutch border.
It was absolute bliss to have a big house for the week. It had a fully equipped kitchen, a utility with a washing machine and a tumble dryer, a huge living room, a separate TV room, a big family bathroom and four big bedrooms. In addition there was a tree house, a hammock and two pretty outside entertaining areas, one just off the kitchen and the other out in the back garden. The house was in a small village called Meerle, which has a local shop, a bakery, an off-licence, a pharmacy and a few pubs.
We hired a car for our stay from Budget at Eindhoven airport, which cost us €186 plus a €100 deposit, which we got back when we returned the car. Technically you could get away with not hiring one as cycling is huge in Holland but I wouldn’t be the most confident cyclist and that’s putting it mildly!
Holland, though densely populated, is only around the size of Munster, so you’re never far from any of the major cities. However, we mainly stayed in the North Brabant province which includes cities such as Eindhoven, Tilburg, Roosendaal, Den Bosch and Breda. Myself and Daddy Chambers visited the latter back before we had kids and totally fell in love with the place. It’s for that very reason we returned with the kids this year.
Breda is a reasonably small city but it’s oh so pretty. The architecture is stunning, while sitting out in one of the squares with a some food or a coffee is so relaxing. In the middle of the city is a huge park with a coffee shop, a playground and a lake with plenty of duck for kids to feed.
While in the city we visited the Reptile House which is home to lizards, crocodile, snakes, turtles, frogs, spiders and scorpions to name but a few. Daddy Chambers plucked up the courage to hold a snake during our visit, much to Aidan’s delight!
On a rainy morning Google led us to a play centre in Breda called Monkey Town and I was suitably impressed. It puts Irish play centres to shame. It was huge, cleaner than clean, offered really good coffee and had so much more than the norm to entertain Aidan and Sarah.
One of the highlights of our holiday was our trip to the Efteling Theme Park, Holland’s answer to Disneyland. It truly was one of the most magical places I have ever been. First up it’s huge and it’s jam packed with fun for the small ones and for adults. The price of entrance isn’t cheap but believe me, it is totally worth it. To actually go through all of the attraction in this post would take forever, but the big highlights for us were the Fairy Tale Forest, the River Rapids Ride, the Bobsleigh Ride, the Haunted House, the 3D experience and the Thai Temple. I reckon you could spend three days at Efteling and not see it all. There’s playgrounds galore, shopping, old time carousels and even the bins were pure entertainment!
Our second favourite day trip was our visit to the Beekse Bergen Safari Park, in which we did a car safari through the plains. Giraffes, zebra, lions, cheetah and elephants just went about their business as we drove through their pad. The kids were in awe at every corner and I don’t think they could quite believe that such animals were just outside the window of our hire car.
After the safari we entered the park itself, which is like a zoo but in no way as confined as other zoos I’ve been to. We saw baboons, ostrich, penguins, camels, meerkats and pandas to name but a few. Poor old Sarah was less than impressed to discover that baboons roam round with their pink bums on show!
If there was one criticism I have of Beekse Bergen it’s that the food available is pretty rubbish. It’s mostly deep fried, fast greasy food so I would recommend bringing a picnic if you want something that won’t clog your arteries! You can view ticket prices here and once you’re in you can stay until the park closes at 5.30pm.
Our trip was mainly Holland based but at the weekend we did stay local in Belgium and discovered a local amenity by the name of De Mosten, which is run by the local council.
It was out of this world. There was a man made beach, two huge playgrounds, a restaurant, big Connect Four games all over, slides in the water, benches galore, green space, volleyball courts, tennis courts and basketball courts. It was so relaxing. The kids had so much to do they didn’t know what way to turn and myself and Daddy Chambers got to do a lot of relaxing too.
On a practical level eating out in Holland isn’t cheap but it’s no more expensive than Ireland. We had our breakfast in the holiday home, brought picnics with us for lunch and ate out for dinner. Food in supermarkets is cheaper than here. Aldi and Lidl are all over, while Jumbo seems to be a popular supermarket with the locals. If you are a fan of bread and cheeses than Holland won’t disappoint.
Alcohol is way cheaper in Holland and Belgium, especially in supermarkets. I’m a big fan of Belgian beer Leffe and it’s only €1 a bottle locally. I was only delighted to discover that! Wine is also cheap. Expect to pay about €5 per bottle for brands that are also available in Ireland and if you buy German wine it’s even cheaper (and comes in litre bottles in some cases).
Weather wise it seems to be similar to Ireland but the temperatures cranked up to the late 20s some of the days. I’m not great in the heat, the same applies to my ginger husband and to Sarah who is allergic to being too hot! The climate suited us perfectly but if you are planning a trip just be aware that you will not be guaranteed that the sun will split the stones while you are there.
Last year we went to Cambrils Park and weren’t totally mad about it. We were totally mad with Holland and the North Brabant province and I think we’ll be going back again next summer.
So there you have it. I hope some of you find the details in this post helpful if you are considering a trip to Holland with the family. However, if you want to ask me any further questions about our trip drop me an email on firstname.lastname@example.org or get in touch with me on Facebook.
If you’re planning on staying on home soil for your holidays why not consider Birr as a destination. It’s way better than you might think.