The NEMO Science museum in Amsterdam is one of our favourite places to visit with the kids. It's also one of the premier attractions for families who live in The Netherlands or are just passing through as tourists. So, in normal times, it is stupidly packed with kids... and being an interactive science museum, it means that there are many activities that are hard to actually have a turn on. Especially if your kids are not the pushy type....
Situated a short walk away from the Amsterdam Centraal station, it is quite easy to get to if you are travelling from one of the other Dutch cities. Public transport in The Netherlands is pretty good, so it is a much better option than trying to drive into the centre of Amsterdam with a car... it's also much less expensive!
On previous visits to the museum, we've chosen to avoid the school holidays as those tend to be ultra crazy times... and end up being a little less fun for the parents (I'm not sure the kids really mind that much..). If we have gone during the holiday periods, we try to aim for hot days... when other people are going to head to the beach or something like that!
In The Netherlands, each province has slightly different school periods, so we can also choose to go when Zuid-Holland (the province where we live) is on holidays, whilst Noord-Holland (where Amsterdam is) is still in their school period. Otherwise, schools have various student-free days throughout the year which are not co-ordinated with other schools... which make these days the perfect days for going to otherwise busy attractions.
However, during these periods... there are always still school excursions from the local Amsterdam schools that populate the museum. In some ways, these can be much worse, as the teachers aren't always able to hold back the worst behaviour of some students in the same way that parents can (or should...).
One of the benefits of the limited Coronavirus openings (not the full openings and not the lockdown periods), is the fact that museums have restricted numbers whilst still being mostly functioning. You have to register a visitor place and time before the day that you visit, and you have a few hours window for the visit as well. The numbers are heavily restricted to comply with the Coronavirus regulations.
Oddly enough, this makes for a perfect visitor experience! There are no crowds of kids pushing and shoving to do the most fun exhibits... and there is ample space and time to explain to your children (and sometimes partner...) how everything works!
Of course, there are some drawbacks to the limited hours and limited numbers. It means that the staff numbers of the museum have to be also limited... which means that some of the more interesting exhibits or displays are not possible for the museum to run.
The ketting-reactie (chain reaction) display in the main atrium is always a big hit with all the kids. t would run roughly on the hour, and the area would be packed with kids all trying to get a view on the Rube Goldberg chain reaction.
Many of the exhibits are primarily designed in Dutch, but all of them also have English translations in the explanatory display or have English options if it is an electronic display.
These hands-on science museums have been a real hit with children around the world... a sort of gateway drug to pique their curiosity about why cool and interesting things happen. I don't know if it really translates into a lasting desire to investigate STEM subjects... but I do think it is more interesting than the museums of old.
The museum itself is a well laid out multi-story building with a central stairwell which allows for easy access and sight-lines to the whole museum.
Each floor has a different theming, with exhibits and subjects geared towards different age levels. The higher up the building, the more older the topics... oddly enough, when we first visited the museum, we had a toddler who was bizarrely captivated by the puberty display!
There is a little cafe on one of the mid-way levels and very nice rooftop restaurant on the very top level. Unfortunately, on this particular visit, they were closed. I can highly recommend the rooftop restaurant... even if you are just visiting for food and to sit out on the wide open area on top of the sloping roof of the museum. Definitely a pleasant place to pass the morning or early afternoon!
Many of the exhibits are interactive in nature... very few are the old style of look and read. The mileage that you get out of it will vary... if your kids are older, then they can probably manage on their own. However, I do see that many parents use the museum as a sort of indoor playground... it's a bit wasted. If you aren't there to help your kid understand what is happening, and are instead just sitting on the sidelines with your phone... well, you are better off just going to a real playground!
Of course, there are a few of the exhibits that really have a Dutch flavour to them... the ever present struggle against the water!
I'm always quite amazed by the amount of effort and ingenuity that goes into designing these exhibits for kids. An intersection of interesting ideas, attention grabbing features, educational content and more than a little bit of durability!
Of course, there are always little things that are interesting for the older crowd as well... lines of exhibits that display artefacts and interesting knowledge that are geared towards the parents!
... you know you are in a science museum when even the act of going to pee in the toilet gets you interesting additional knowledge!