Visit Nemo Science Center, Amsterdam
It’s fascinating to see my daughter discovering the world. And so I’ve rediscovered a love of science museums, where the exhibits and displays help her do exactly that.
From Glasgow, where we spent a whole day playing in toddler heaven to the Science Museum in London, I’ve found that today’s interactive museums are a long way from dusty fusty cases straight from an uninspired lesson plan.
So Nemo Science Center in Amsterdam was high on our list when we visited the city. And it actually exceeded our expectations – this place was huge fun, while managing to simultaneously entertain three different generations.
Spread over three floors, they’re busy renovating the top to create a new restaurant, along with an incredible rooftop cafe and viewpoint (closed for high winds unfortunately on our visit) and a summer family space plus cafe, lockers and gift shop on the ground.
Even the sculptures outside the striking building, designed by Renzo Piano, get you in the mood to think and observe.
Then there are different displays and exhibits, themed by different branches of science, around the building.
What really stood out for me was the way it was enjoyable for the youngest visitors and worked on a lot of different levels.
So, for example, a machine teaching about DNA and hereditary traits let you choose different facial aspects throughout a family tree – an older child could see how picking blue or brown eyes in a grandparent might affect how the eventual offspring would look. An even older one might start to understand the difference between recessive and dominant genes.
Equally, Minnie had huge amounts of fun doing ‘puzzles’ – including slotting organs neatly into a body. Whether she registered anything about what they were, I don’t know, but it was a great way to test her co-ordination and awareness of shapes. She was pretty damn fast actually.
At the start, on floor 1, there’s also a succession of small displays which seem designed for a short attention span – making huge soap bubbles…
Or watching air blow a ball high in the air…
Even seeing sparks.
Some took a bit more effort, harnessing the power of water to make a doll spin, for example, or choosing a precise succession of balls to make levers open – frankly that one stumped me a bit.
Sometimes, you just have to leave it to the experts. As any parent knows, one thing toddlers need to learn about is consequences – here, they were transformed into a chain reaction which reminded me of a gigantic game of Mouse Trap.
One volunteer from the audience pushed over the first domino, and set the chain reaction going. I can’t imagine how long it took to set the whole display up, as a succession of impacts, unexpected results and a small amount of help from one member of staff watched cause trigger effect – and a rocket took off.
The demo was done in both Dutch and English, although at fairly excitable speed it wasn’t always apparent which was which – frankly we were just trying to follow everything as it moved around the space.
I couldn’t possibly list everything though, and I’ve no doubt this is somewhere you could happily spend a day – or return again and again to find something new.
Need to know
Entry costs 15 Euros for children aged over four and adults, under fours are free. You can also buy e-tickets online which are valid for one year after issue date. Or I Amsterdam card holders go free, although you need to queue to get a paper ticket.
Nemo is open from 10am to 5.30pm on Tuesday to Sunday, and on Mondays during school holidays as well as from April to August. There are lockers for big bags, and buggies can be left nearby (although not locked away).
It’s around a 15 minute walk along the waterfront from Centraal Station or take bus 22 or 48 to Kadijksplein. You’re also next door to the Maritime Museum.
Disclosure: My I Amsterdam card was courtesy of the Amsterdam tourist board. The decision to visit Nemo, all opinions and inquisitive toddlers are my own.
Images copyright MummyTravels/Cathy Winston