Vancouver with Children

IMG_5750.jpgHappiness is getting to spend time in Vancouver BC with a 7 year old grandson. For a long time now, I had promised Nico a trip to the big city to explore and have fun. I cut up tourist brochures and glued images and words on 5 blank pages. These would act as his guide to activities and attractions. He was in charge of deciding which page we would do first. These five pages plus a city map became his most treasured possessions for our five days in Vancouver.

IMG_5835On the first day, Nico decided, we would explore Granville Island. We left our car parked in the quiet street where we stayed, bought a Compass card for public transportation in a nearby drug store, and boarded our first bus. It took us within a block of Granville Island. This small island, attached by bridges, used to be an industrial island. It still houses a cement factory and other businesses but is also home to an Art College, a hotel, and many businesses. We toured the Kids Market first. The building is painted bright yellow and houses lots of toy shops. There are fancy clothing stores for kids, a magic shop, a bookstore and more. An arcade on the top floor lures kids in to spend more money. Ultimately there is not much more to do but to shop and spend money. We rode the glass elevator and discovered the huge water playground behind the building. Now this is fun! And, best of all, it is free. Nico spent hours running in water spouts and screaming in delight as water poured from different places. IMG_5756

We also visited the Market, a huge covered market hall where you can buy foods of all kinds, including moon grapes. We had our morning coffee (and milk) with a Nutella croissant outside overlooking False Creek while buskers played music, aqua busses and pirate ships floated by and pigeons tried to steal our crumbs.

IMG_5763Instead of taking a bus to Vanier Park where the Space Centre and Planetarium are located, we opted for a water taxi. It took us under Granville Street Bridge and through a whirr of boats, large and small, to the park. We strolled to the Space Center and dished out the admission price. We watched a show in the Planetarium on the domed ceiling, about the MilkyWay and other galaxies. Nico loved every second of it and remembered much of the information about black holes and newly discovered planets. He also climbed inside an “astronaut’s suit” and touched a moon rock ad a meteorite.IMG_5795

The telescope was supposed to open at 8 PM and we passed some time after the closing of the Centre and the opening of the telescope by hanging around in the park. But when we arrived at 8 PM we were told that it might happen at 9 PM. At 9 PM they said maybe by 10 PM it would be dark enough but Jupiter would not make an appearance and it was getting cloudy… By 9:30 a disappointed little boy agreed that we would try to come back in winter when it would be dark around 6 PM….

IMG_5847Science World was high on our list and we reached it by taking an Aqua Bus from Granville Island, an ideal way to travel – cheap, fun and no parking! We cruised all of False Creek until we reached the famous landmark: the shiny multifaceted globe that is Science World. And it lived up to all expectations. We spent the entire day playing with light flashes and optical illusions. There was so much to try and explore, and Nico never slowed down or got tired of any of it. From sabertooth tiger and T-Rex skeletons to balls bouncing on air, Science World was a big hit.

IMG_5912We had originally planned to explore Stanley Park when we visited the Aquarium, since it is located in the park. But parking proved so difficult that we had to forego the totem poles, sea wall and playgrounds. The seawall is a great place for hiking or biking, but in our case of limited time, we opted for just the Aquarium. And it, too, was better than expected. We touched stingrays, admired real sea horses, watched sea otters and, the highlight of the day, saw a penguin poop.

One of the most memorable things we did was have a bento box in a tiny neighbourhood sushi place: Moon Sushi. For under 10 dollars we had a great dinner, including tempura and teriyaki. Nico was thrilled when the waitress recognized him on our second visit.

IMG_5974.jpgWhile the entrance fees to places like the Aquarium and Science World are very high, we also found some wonderful free entertainment in the city. The Pacific Museum of Earth on the UBC campus offered fun, hands-on exhibits including a meteor and a dinosaur skeleton. Nico’s favourite was a huge omni-globe where he could turn the moon into earth, into Mars, and much more. While at UBC, you can see an entire blue whale skeleton at the Beaty Biodiversity Museum, beautiful totem poles at the central mall and find a nice water playground at the Westbrook Mall.

One attraction that I would not have known about without my Vancouver friends, is the Kitsilano Showboat. This permanent stage on the beach offers free entertainment all summer long. Music, fireworks, concerts… Be sure to check the schedule if you are visiting the Kitsilano area of Vancouver.

And, of course, no visit to Vancouver is complete without a stop at KidsBooks. Their two locations offer to most fabulous selection of (Canadian) children’s books for all ages as well as anything book related. The best place to find a gift for your favourite child!


• Vancouver public transit pass:

• To plan your public transit in the lower mainland (the entire region around Vancouver):

• Vancouver Aquarium:

• Planetarium/Space Centre:

• Granville Island:

• Museum of Earth:

• Beaty Biodiversity Museum:

• Kitsilano Showboat:

• Moon Sushi:

The Netherlands with Children: A Small Country for Small People


The Netherlands is likely one of the best countries in the world to visit with children. There are so many special facilities and attractions for kids, that it is hard to select just a few.
It already starts at the airport: Touch Down restaurant offers pancake and chocolate milk together with the best views on planes taking off and landing from the Panorama Terrace. There are also playgrounds and family washrooms throughout this attractive airport.
Once in the country, there are restaurants everywhere with elaborate playgrounds. It is very common to find special children’s menu’s. Attractions are too numerous to mention in one article, including Artis, a well established zoo in the heart of Amsterdam or tropical swimming pools everywhere.

We chose to visit a larger zoo called Ouwehands Dierenpark.
Ouwehands has roomy pathways through various parts of the zoo that each have a specific theme like ‘jungle’ or ‘bears’. Almost every section has an extensive playground so that you are not just walking from one animal to the next but kids can climb, swing and slide everywhere. In fact, the zoo includes one of Europe’s largest indoor playgrounds, complete with a pirate ship, sand and water playpark. A small train takes you around a portion of the zoo – all at no additional cost. When you arrive at the zoo you can rent, for a small fee, a wagon to pull the kids in all day:
We also visited a park we remembered fondly from the past: Apenheul:  
Apenheul features monkeys and primates of all shapes and sizes. The unique feature is that the smaller monkeys are not in cages but loose throughout the park.They might sit on your shoulder or swing from branches just inches away.
However, this time around the park was incredibly crowded, making it difficult to even walk on the paths and to see any animals. This was due to the fact that holiday time in The Netherlands is very concentrated. Most people get a specific time of the summer during which they can go on their annual holidays. Two of the three regions overlapped during August so 2/3 of the country still had school holidays and were making the most of the last warm summer days. 
A major attraction for kids in The Netherlands is Madurodam:
This miniature city features well known Dutch buildings and scenes, roads, trains, even a ‘working’ airport – all built in miniature. You can hear a street organ and see lights inside houses. We chose not to visit this site, this time around, because we weren’t anywhere near the vicinity and a
lso because our grandsons, at 3 and 5, are a bit young. You can’t touch much in this ‘eyes only’ attraction. But when our own kids were around 9 years old, they absolutely loved it and it was definitely worth a visit
In The Netherlands you can rent bikes everywhere: at hotels, at train stations and, of course, at bicycle repair shops. You can rent bicycles with a child’s seat on the handlebars and/or on the luggage carrier behind you so that you can ride with two children on your bike. But you can also rent a bike trailer in which the kids can sit. Or, best of all, you can rent a ‘bakfiets’ in which the children sit in a wooden container in front of you, in seatbelts:
Overnight accomodations can also be specifically attractive to children. We stayed in one resort, a park with cottages close to the beach in Noordwijkerhout. They are part of this chain:
The bungalow had everything we needed, complete with dishes and bed linens, a fridge and dishwasher. Outside we had our own lawn with lawn furniture. The restaurant had both an indoor and outdoor playground. And the resort had an indoor swimming pool with waterslide, included in the price of staying overnight. When we ordered a children’s menu, the kids also receive their choice of gift ( in our case felt markers and a pirate gun with gold coins).
All in all a very successful place to visit with children!