In 2018, we did a 2-week “house swap” with a family in Leiden (30 mins from Amsterdam). We all fell in love with the Netherlands and decided to maximize our time spent there for the following summer. So this year we swapped with a family in Amsterdam-Noord and they stayed in ours in Harlem.
Here’s some of the stuff we got to do and some hacks we wanted to share.
- House Swap: One of the key ways we are able to keep our vacation costs really low is by swapping homes with other families around the world. It’s basically free, it’s totally legal (unlike AirBnb in NYC, for example), and it’s superior to hotels or BnBs because these are actual, lived in homes with families who have kids (which means they have toys, bikes with kid seats, etc). Swapping a home also creates a unique kind of friendship with the other family.
- Museum Card (Kart): This family happened to have a special Amsterdam museum pass that gets them free access to almost all museums. They have photos on them but we all kinda looked enough alike (also no one here checked our IDs). On their end, in NYC, we gave them our Cool Culture Pass which, likewise, gives free access to virtually every museum in NYC (and the zoos). This saved us probably hundreds of dollars.
- Bikes: This family had 2 adult bikes that each had baby seats in the front and one had a kid cushion on the back (so Jack who is nearly 6 could happily sit on the back and hold on). They also had a bakfiets (cargo bike) that easily held both kids (who often slept) and was incredibly useful for many adventures and grocery trips. Renting bikes wouldn’t have been too expensive but this was free!
Live like a local
One of the key goals we had on this trip was to really focus on living like a local. That included:
- I spent the 2nd and 4th week working out of the WeWork office alongside 3 other full time ClassPass employees who work here in Amsterdam. These were the weeks we sent our almost-6-year-old son to day camps.
- Lego Camp! Our Lego-obsessed son spent 4 days, 9am-3pm, at the Young Engineers Lego camp. He got to hang out with Dutch kids and build sets every day. It was an opportunity for me to hustle out of bed, get ready, get Jack ready, jump on the bike, get to the NDSM ferry, bike to camp to drop him off, then bike over to the WeWork to start my day.
- Nature Camp! For the 4th week, we sent Jack to a 5 day, 8:30am-3:30pm, nature camp called Terragon. He could not get enough. They got to build forts, tell stories, run around in a forest, find insects, compost stuff, ride ziplines, you name it. He got stung touching some bug, he got a big scrape trying to jump from one rock to another, he was covered in mud every day. It was awesome.
Here are some of the biking adventures we went on.
- Amsterdam forest & Goat Farm Riddammerhoeve (a place where you just hang out with super friendly goats that you can pet). Took about an hour to bike and on the way back I found myself biking 2 kids in a cargo bike during rush hour in the middle of Amsterdam, so that was a tad stressful at first but awesome.
- Muiderslot castle. Super cool castle with falcons and a little Dutch theater.
- Westerpark. This was more of a local Amsterdam day. Went to the petting zoo and splash pad.
- Marken (and Durgerdam). Marken is a really nice little town out on a peninsula. You pass wind turbines and lighthouses on the gorgeous bike paths.
- Het Twiske. A gorgeous, large park with lakes, canals, and adventure playgrounds. Our first attempt to visit we got caught in a downpour and spent 3 hours drying off and eating bacon pancakes at a cafe nearby. But the 2nd attempt was super fun and our son met a local friend.
- I ate bugs. Dried crickets and mealworms! They tasted basically like roasted soybeans. Kind of bland.
- Tried an “Impossible Burger”. Very good!
- Grocery shopping without bags, with a cargo bike. We made several 150 Euro shops and moved all items from checkout to cart to cargo bike to kitchen. It was easy to go entirely bag-free!
- Zaanse Schans, Zaandam. A historic, (fake-ish) town with windmills. Felt like walking around an old Dutch painting as it is basically an open-air museum where you can see little shops like a clog-maker, etc. Pretty touristy but still, beautiful.
- IJ-Hallen flea market in NDSM. Europe’s largest flea market with 750+ vendors/stalls.
- Pride! We attended the Amsterdam gay pride parade on the canals.
- Haarlem. Maddy and Sloane visited a mom-friend who used to live in NYC’s Harlem.
- Oosterpark. Big splashpad and sand playground.
- Gouda. About 30 mins by train. Saw their Thursday morning cheese market, played at a Lego store, lunch in a library.
- Alkmaar. About 30 min by train. Saw their Friday morning cheese market (we enjoy cheese markets).
- A LOT of playgrounds.
- Toost brewery
- Oedipus Brewery for beer and burgers
- Cafe Modern — a very nice restaurant where there is basically no menu because you get the 5 courses that the chef decides to serve that day! Reminds me of “My Cousin Vinny” where they consider the menu that only says “Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner”
- Van Gogh Museum
- Amsterdam Museum
- Het Scheepvaartmuseum (Ship museum)
- Tropin Museum (got to play a bunch of video games for free)
- Amsterdam Zoo & Aquarium
- Gouda Museum
- Sint-Janskerk (Gothic church in Gouda)
- Nationaal Biermuseum De Boom (beer museum in Alkmaar)
- Openbare Bibliotheek (amazing library)
- Mouse House (not a museum but whatevs)
- Tolhuistuin (outdoor place to listen to live music)
ClassPass launched in Amsterdam in April 2019 so we got to enjoy a great selection of posh gyms and studios. I was able to get some good workouts in.
- Velo (spin)
- Saints & Stars (Barrys-esque, extremely posh)
- PLTS (mega reformer)
- Rebase (HIIT)
- Freezlab (cryo)
- City Alps (bike + weight stations)
Bonus: Fun similarities between NYC and The Netherlands
Upon returning to NYC, we noticed tons of Dutch names in NYC.
- Harlem, NYC: There’s a gorgeous city near Amsterdam called “Haarlem”, which we called “the original Harlem”.
- Canal street: Yeah, except the Netherlands has about a billion actual canals. The Canal St in NYC has no canal or water. Just tons of cars.
- Bergen Street: A stop on the F train, this NYC street’s counterpart is a beautiful beach town called Bergen, about 40 min outside of Amsterdam.
- The Holland Tunnel: There’s very little that is Dutch about this NYC tunnel that is known for awful gridlock and fumes and provides no additional pathways for cyclists or pedestrians who may also want to get to/from NJ.
- Brooklyn: We all know this NYC borough but did you know about Breukelen, a lake town near Utrecht.
Turns out, there’s an amazing list of all the NYC streets and names and their Dutch origins. I only touched on the ones I noticed.
You made it this far… now here’s an assortment of photos. Of course I took hundreds more photos so this is just a small selection.