The Netherlands will always hold a special place in my heart as our first international vacation with Evan and Claire. We went for a week and had such an incredible time. I will be sharing our experiences in a series of posts along with recipes for some of our favorite foods. Today, I am starting with Amsterdam’s Vondelpark, The Heineken Experience, Albert Cuyp Markt, and Foodhallen along with a recipe for Bitterballen (Dutch Fried Meatballs).
Disclosure: I received media tickets to the Heineken Experience. All comments and opinions are my own. This post contains Amazon affiliate links. If you purchase something through the link, I may receive a small commission at no extra charge to you.
Check out my other posts on the Netherlands here:
- Beschuit (Dutch Rusk) and Amsterdam: Het Scheepvaartmuseum, NEMO Science Museum, Verzetsmuseum
- Speculaas (Dutch Spiced Cookies) and Amsterdam: Zaanse Schans, De Pannenkoekenboot, Muiderslot
- Hutspot (Dutch Mashed Potatoes and Carrots with Meatballs) and Amsterdam: Rijksmuseum, Anne Frank Huis
- Patatje Oorlog (Dutch War Fries) and Rotterdam: Maritiem Museum, Markthal
We took an overnight, nonstop flight to Amsterdam’s airport, Schiphol. I was nervous about the long flights with a 4 year old and 20 month old, especially overnight, but they both did really well. We actually liked the overnight flight better, since they slept for most of it. The kids did well on the flight back too, but it was during the day so it was 9 full hours of mostly one-on-one attention in a small space. Each child had a backpack filled with crayons, paper, stickers, books, headphones, and snacks.
To be honest, I probably packed too much (except the snacks- the snacks were definitely needed). Especially for Evan. I had 3 sticker books and a couple of coloring books for him and he barely used any of it. He mostly looked out the window, watched movies, played with his small windmill, and even spent a couple of hours just pushing his headphone jack in and out. We arrived in Amsterdam at 7 am (1 am our time), made it through customs, and picked up our checked luggage.
The original plan was to take the sprinter train to Lelylaan Station, then the tram to our house. With two kids, all of our stuff, and overall being tired from the flight, we instead decided to take a taxi. Walking through Schiphol, it was easy to find one with the marked path on the floor that led us outside to the licensed taxi pickup. If you have less stuff to tote than us, the public transportation system in Amsterdam is excellent and the 9292 website makes it easy to plan your trip.
After checking in and dropping off our luggage at the house, the plan was to eat lunch at Vondelpark to help the kids run off some energy after a long flight (and to keep them awake).
Vondelpark is the most popular park in the Netherlands with 120 acres and 10 million annual visitors. It is located in Amsterdam-Zuid just west of Leidseplein and Museumplein (Rijksmuseum and Van Gogh Museum). There are multiple entrances with nearby tram/bus stops.
The park was named after Joost van den Vondel, a Dutch poet. It opened in 1865 (named Nieuwe Park until 1867) and is home to many playgrounds, restaurants, and activities year-round. During the summer, there is an Openluchttheater (Open Air Theater) with music and dance performances. Even during the off-season, the park is a wonderful area to relax and explore with a rose garden, other plants/trees, sculptures, and birds along the many winding paths.
Evan’s favorite part of Vondelpark was the trees. Due to the high moisture content of the soil, many grow at an angle with the roots exposed since the ground level is constantly lowering (regular renovation is often required). To help preserve them, some of the trees are supported with posts (some beautifully carved). The bottom tree in the photo above is known as the Omgevallen Boom (Fallen Tree) and is located near the Koninginneweg entrance.
We walked to Groot Melkhuis for lunch and unfortunately realized it was closed. Turns out, they shortened their hours for the winter with closures on Mondays and Tuesdays starting the day we arrived. So we came back on our last day in Amsterdam for an early dinner. Other places to eat in Vondelpark include De Vondeltuin (closed during winter) and ‘t Blauwe Theehuis with many others just outside the park.
Groot Melkhuis is located towards the center of Vondelpark. The closest entrances are from Kattenlaan and Gerard Brandtstraat. It is a self-service cafe with a large fenced-in playground attached to the outdoor seating. It was perfect for us to enjoy our snacks (Bitterballen, Poffertjes, and Friet) while keeping an eye on Evan playing. The restrooms also have a changing station. We were there on a Saturday afternoon and there was a bounce house along with an arts and crafts table set up in the playground.
Since the Groot Melkhuis was closed on our first day, we left through the Koninginneweg entrance of the park, hopped on tram 16, and took it straight to my backup, Blender.
Blender is a Kids Conceptstore & Café west of the Albert Cuyp Markt. It is another perfect place to grab a bite with little ones. The café has an indoor play area with toys and slides (perfect for young toddlers), plenty of room for strollers, high chairs, and a free restroom with a changing table. It was a great place to relax and enjoy some food, plus a lot warmer than outside. There is also a store next to the cafe with clothing, toys, and furniture. They often host activities and parties, such as dance classes, haircuts on Saturdays, cooking classes, and craft workshops.
They are open Monday-Saturday from 9 to 5:30 and Sunday from 10 to 5:30. If you are interested in this type of café, I came across another one while researching called Wijs West. I unfortunately didnt get a chance to visit it on our trip, but it is in Amsterdam-West on Bilderdijkstraat.
The Heineken Experience
After Blender, we hopped back on tram 16 for two stops to get to The Heineken Experience (or a 10 minute walk).
The Heineken Experience is located in De Pijp on Stadhouderskade. They are open 365 days a year from 10:30 to 7:30 on Monday-Thursday and 10:30 to 9 on Friday-Sunday (check here for hours). Adult tickets are 16 euro and 12.50 for children 12-17. Children 11 and under are free. I haven’t tried it, but you can also book a VIP tour & beer tasting for 49 euro to get a behind the scenes guided tour and access to an exclusive bar for a sampling of 5 beers with a selection of cheese and bitterballen.
The Heineken Experience is housed inside the historic original Heineken brewery. It was built in 1867 and was a working brewery until 1988 when production was moved to a more modern building on the outskirts of the city. It opened to the public in 1991 for tours and was revamped in 2008 with more attractions to create the “experience.” Inside, you can go on a self-guided tour through the 4 story building that houses a museum with the history of the company and artifacts, interactive games, and beer drinking.
To help enhance your tour, there is the Heineken Experience App for the Android and iPhone which provides an audio and visual guide in English, Italian, Russian, Dutch, German, French, Portuguese, Chinese and Spanish. For those without the app, you can also rent devices for a small fee.
This was a great start to our trip for a beer lover like Chad. It also worked out well that Claire fell asleep just as we were heading into the building. There (obviously) wasn’t much for young toddlers, so we were able to focus more on the exhibits. Evan enjoyed “the big room with all the wheels.”
I also loved “the big room” with the large copper vats and beautiful windows. You will learn about how beer is made and there are plenty of places throughout the tour for some fun photo ops.
Chad learned about the proper way to pour a beer (and drink it) and how to say cheers in Dutch- Proost. There are some fun games that include dancing, how well you can pour a beer, and sports. You will also see how the bottles and advertisements have changed over the years and can create your own personalized bottle. The tickets include two glasses of beer at the end of the tour (for those 18 and over). The kids’ wristbands are good for two sodas or other nonalcoholic drinks. After enjoying some beer, there is a gift shop with a variety of Heineken memorabilia before leaving the building.
There is a room at the entrance for checking coats and strollers before entering the experience. Walking through takes about 1 1/2 hours. Try to arrive earlier in the day. It definitely gets crowded later afternoon, particularly during the summer and holidays.
Albert Cuyp Markt
The Albert Cuyp Markt is in De Pijp just south of the Heineken Experience. It first came together in 1905 and has grown to the largest outdoor market in Amsterdam (and perhaps in Europe) with around 300 stalls down both sides of Albert Cuypstraat. The market has been open six days a week since 1912 (Monday-Saturday 9-5) and is closed to traffic during this time.
Our favorite food in the market came from Original Stroopwafels. The founder, Ruud, runs the stall with the help of his son, Dennis, and son-in-law, Alex. There isn’t much better than a fresh, hot traditional stroopwafel with a syrupy caramel center. You will also find waffles, herring and other seafood, cheese, chocolate, nuts, poffertjes (mini pancakes), fruits, vegetables, and more food items among the stalls between the flowers, clothing, shoes, jewelry, souvenir stands and other goods.
The market area is also home to a few restaurants. We didn’t get a chance to visit any, but I had Bazar Amsterdam (North Africa/Middle Eastern), Moksi (Surinamese) and Bakken met Passie (Bakery) on the list while researching.
Want even more food? North of the Vondelpark in Amsterdam Oud-West is the Foodhallen, an indoor food court with a variety of stalls featuring food from around the world. It is also across the street from the market, Ten Katemarkt (an outdoor market with over 100 stands).
De Foodhallen opened in 2014 in an old tram service station at Bellamyplein.
We went early in the evening, so it wasn’t too crowded and there was plenty of seating but have read that it can get quite packed during peak hours. It is open from 11-11:30 (11-1 am Thursday-Saturday), though many of the stalls don’t open until closer to 12-12:30.
I loved that each of us could choose a completely different meal foodcourt-style with upscale street food offerings. Claire and I shared some bitterballen from De BallenBar. These were my favorite Bitterballen during our trip, particularly the Bouillabaisse and Goat Cheese. The other flavors included beef, tom kha kai, and truffle. Chad got a Poke Bowl from Meneer Temaki. Evan picked out a berry smoothie from Yogen Früz.
We weren’t planning on getting dessert, but were sitting next to Petit Gateau and the mini tarts were right there staring at us through dinner. There were a variety of gorgeous tarts to choose from. We decided on strawberry, chocolate caramel (my favorite), and hazelnut chocolate pear.
Other stands at the time of this post included Việt View (Vietnamese), Maza (Mediterranean), Le Big Fish (Seafood), The Butcher (Burgers), Jabugo (Spanish), Bulls and Dogs (Hot Dogs), Shirkhan (Mumbai), and more.
We went back to the house fairly early on our first day since we had to make a grocery run and settle in. It was a bit of a tram ride (tram 1: 20 minutes to Leidseplein and 40 minutes to Central Station), but Evan loves riding on the trams so that was actually a plus for him. We liked being separated from the loud, busy center and spending the evenings in a quiet residential neighborhood. There is a playground just down the street, a grocery store (Jumbo), and restaurants nearby. There is also a windmill and museum (Molen van Sloten) within walking distance. We walked in the area one morning, but never got a chance to actually go inside the windmill since we were never in the area during opening hours.
Bitterballen (Dutch Fried Meatballs)
Bitterballen are a type of Dutch croquette that is made up of a meat gravy-like filling. The mixture is prepared on the first day, refrigerated overnight to thicken, then coated in flour, egg, and breadcrumbs before frying until golden. They are a popular appetizer, often as an accompaniment to beer. Many menus will have Bitterballen as a part of a platter with a variety of appetizers called Bittergarnituur (garnish with bitters- bitters referring to alcoholic beverages). Serve them with mustard for dipping and be careful! The filling will be very hot.
Bitterballen are a great way to use up leftover beef. I used stew meat that was simmered for about 3 hours. To quickly and easily shred the beef, add the cooked meat to a stand mixer fitted with a paddle. It only takes a couple of minutes of mixing to create a finely shredded texture that was perfect for absorbing into the roux.
When coating the Bitterballen, make sure they are covered thoroughly to prevent any filling from seeping out while frying. Fry the balls just until golden. The filling may begin to seep out as they cook longer.
I made a basic Bitterballen recipe with beef, but they can also be prepared with chicken, veal, or even with vegetarian options like mushrooms.
Bitterballen (Dutch Fried Meatballs) Recipe
Adapted from The Dutch Table
Bitterballen (Dutch Fried Meatballs)
- 8 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 cup all purpose flour
- 3 cups beef stock
- 3 tablespoons finely minced onion
- 1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley
- 2 cups finely shredded, cooked beef
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Vegetable oil for deep-frying
- 1/2 cup all purpose flour
- 2 eggs
- 2 cups bread crumbs
- Mustard for serving
- In a large saute pan, melt the butter over medium heat. Once melted, slowly stir in the flour to make a paste. Cook for a minute, while stirring, then slowly mix in the stock. Reduce heat to medium low and continue to cook, stirring, until the mixture has thickened. Stir in the onion, parsley, and beef. Season with nutmeg, salt, and pepper.
- Transfer the mixture to an airtight container and refrigerate overnight.
- Once the mixture is thoroughly chilled and thickened, fill a pot or deep fryer with 3-4 inches of vegetable oil. Heat the oil to 375 degrees F. Cover a plate with a towel and place nearby.
- Add the flour to a shallow bowl. In another bowl, beat together the eggs. In a third bowl, add the bread crumbs. Place a plate nearby.
- Remove a tablespoon of the thickened filling and roll it into a ball. Coat in the flour, thoroughly in the egg, then in the breadcrumbs. Place on the plate and repeat with another 4-5 pieces. Add to the hot oil and fry until golden. While they are frying, prepare a few more balls. Remove the golden bitterballen to the towel lined plate. Repeat with the remaining mixture.
- Serve hot with mustard.