Days out in the Netherlands
The journey time to the Netherlands is a little longer, but there are plenty of options for family outings from an illusions park featuring an upside down house, to the beautiful town of Valkenburg with its many caves and a converted quarry, plus a great double toboggan ride. Hop aboard a steam train or visit one of two zoos.
Valkenburg - caves, mines, toboggans and fun park
You can take a tour of Valkenburg castle and the velvet cave and get great views of the Geul valley and the picture-postcard town filled with bars and restaurants. The castle survived sieges, and was the seat of the Dukes of Brabant, before its final destruction in December 1672 at the hands of Willem III. Beneath the ruins, the velvet cave is a treasure trove of wall murals, strange sculptures and an impressive chapel dating back to the 18th century. The citizens of Valkenburg often hid in the caves during sieges and in both world wars.
You can buy tickets to the castle ruins online here, but tickets for the cave must be bought on site, as access is only given by guided tour, which lasts approximately an hour. The site is open daily from 10.00 to 17.30 and tickets cost €15 for adults and €12 for children aged 4-11 years. You can take a special tour on the “war secrets” of the cave, or a 1.5 hour climbing tour with harnesses (you must be more than 1.3m for this).
Valkenburg is also home to the Netherlands' last coalmine and you can visit a replica section of it, guided by a former miner, who will bring the past to life with personal anecdotes, and give demonstrations of mining machinery. Tours start on the hour or on the half hour, between 10.00 to 17.00 daily, and admission is €12 for adults and €9 for children aged 5-17 years.
For something a bit different, the Cauberg Cavern is a man-made quarry and you can take a train ride around it to witness a sound and light show, whilst you travel past murals, air raid shelters, portraits and sculptures. Train tickets cost €7.50 for adults and €5 for children, and it’s open from 11.00 with the last train ride at 16.00.
After so much time underground, check out the fantastic outdoor toboggans (325 and 375m long). First you need to get the cable car that takes you up the hill where the adventure park is located. You’ll be presented with a wristband which will allow you to purchase tickets for the toboggan (one coin costing €4,50 allows you to take a ride on each of the two lanes with up to two people from the same family on one toboggan cart). There’s also mini-golf, bounce fun, laser games and archery available on site for a fee.
A small theme park, Sprookjesbos (also in Valkenburg) is perfect for younger children, as the rides are not thrill, so much as smile. It also bills itself as Europe’s cheapest amusement park. There’s a snake rollercoaster, a cobra waterslide, a pirate-themed climbing area and a barefoot path amongst other attractions. Tickets can be purchased online in advance, and cost approximately €13-14 with discounts for those aged over 70 years.
Venlo – Limburgs Museum and Arcen Castle
Take a trip from Neanderthal man to modern-day city dwellers at the Limburgs Museum at Venlo. Kids will enjoy the kitchen area which looks at this important family room through the ages, with hands-on equipment for role play. There’s a section on knights and peasants, and another on prehistoric times through Roman conquest to the Middle Ages. Open Tuesday to Sunday from 11.00 to 17.00, you can purchase timed tickets online, with entry costs €15 for adults and €8 for children aged 4 to 17 years. The town of Venlo is quite pretty for a stroll and a bite to eat.
If you love roses, then Arcen Castle is the place for your family, with its beautiful gardens, a dedicated kids play area, beach playground and petting meadow, plus a mini golf course for all ages. Close to Venlo, the gardens have one of the most diverse plant and flower species of Europe, plus a 17th century castle. There are plenty of paths to explore and places to set up a picnic. The castle and gardens are open from 10.00 to 18.00. A family ticket for one adult and 2 to 3 children is €32,50 or for two adults and 2-3 children costs €49,95. Children under 3 years go free.
Upside down house and visual illusions – Horst
For rainy days, you can immerse yourself in the world of Siebrandt, a quirky inventor who lived in Horst, whose house was turned upside down by an enormous explosion.
Learn about him and his inventions at Mind Mystery, which presents a collection of visual tricks on the mind through various installations such as a mirror maze and the brilliant photo opporunities of the upside down house.
Go into the distorted looking Ames room, and try a number of tricks and puzzles – during a recommended 2 hour visit. Tickets are just under €15 for those aged over 12 years and €11 for children aged 5-12 years. Parking is free.
Animal life - Gaia Zoo and Monde Verde
Travel around the animal world in one day at Gaia Zoo in Kerkrade, from the African Savannah filled with giraffes, cheetahs, lions and rhinos, to the rainforest populated by squirrel monkeys. Exhibits are natural, shaded, and come with hiding spots for animals.
Open daily from 9.00 to 17.00, entry costs €18,50 for children aged 3-9 years and €23,50 for older children and adults.
Monde Verde combines gardens with different themes from around the world, animals and amusement attractions, making it a gentle day out, that won’t pump the kids’ adrenalin too much. It is a bit tired and in need of a lick of paint, but many of the rides are self-operated (not the log flume, which also gets you quite wet). Children will especially enjoy the birds of paradise, capuchin monkeys, porcupines, and alpaca, and the big animal highlight - the white lions.
Entry costs €25 for adults and €16,50 for children aged 3-12 years. This includes all you can eat in terms of pasta, sandwiches, fries, hot and cold drinks, and ice creams. Open daily from 10.00 to 18.00.
Fun parks – Toverland
Toverland is considered a good value-for-money theme and amusement park, and a place you can take both your teen and toddler.
There are 35 attractions in six unique worlds, including Troy – the fastest, highest and longest wooden rollercoaster in the Benelux region (travels 90km per hour), the gentle sailboat ride on Merlin’s quest, the wing coaster ride Fenix, and the Djengu river raft that skirts the park. The Park is open from 10.00 to 18.00, with food services and souvenir shops.
Tickets cost between €25-35 and can be purchased at the park or online with a specific date for a discount.
Three country points maze and quests – Vaals
Get a panoramic view of Belgium, The Netherlands, and Germany from the observation deck at Drielandenpunt, at the corner of the Netherlands where the three countries meet at Vaals. There’s a giant labyrinth which is made all the more interesting because some of its walls spray water, and at the entrance there is a water playground housed under an enormous butterfly.
Open daily from 10.00 to 18.00, entry is €5 for children up to 12 years and €6 for adults and older children. There’s also a nice little playground (suitable for younger children), but older kids will enjoy the quests. You can purchase them from the gift shop. One sets you out on the secret route of a smuggler who was always crossing the borders, and your family must use clues and old photos to find this route and then the code that opens his treasure chest in a quest of 45 minutes (walking about 2.5km). The second quest is to secure the Dutch borders by finding secret checkpoints, and takes slightly less than 2 hours (walking about 4.5km).
Steam train ride - Simpelveld
Fancy a ride on a steam train (not unlike the one at Fonds du Gras)? Well you can hop aboard De Miljoenenlijn at weekends. You can take one of two return trips from Simpelveld to Schin op Geul, or Kerkrade, whilst there are 3 round trips to Vetschau.
You need to be at the station at least 15 minutes before the departure of the train. Tickets cost €17,50 for anyone aged 12 years or more, €7,50 for children aged 3-11 years, and are free for children up to 2 years old. Family tickets for two adults and two children are €43. There are good discounts if you order tickets online for a specific date.
Water sports, paintball, indoor play and kid’s beach – Fun Valley
If you want a bit of beach life with water sports but don’t want the hassle of driving to the coast, you can opt for a day at Fun Valley Maastricht. A recreational park, it offers paintball, laser tag, escape rooms and Kids Valley, which has a large indoor and outdoor playground, a kid-friendly beach and boat rental. The Cuba Bar, fitted out with hammocks, lounge music and a cocktail menu, is reserved for those aged 18 years and over.