Okay yes, so this is “The Escape Roomer” and yes, we almost exclusively review UK escape rooms. That is, barring the few awesome “play at home” ones which we invariably did play from the comfort of our homes here in the UK… But then sometimes you go on an ‘escape room road trip’ to another country and are just so downright blown away by what you experienced you immediately come home and open up a “New Post” to start writing about them. This is one of those times.
So, if you’re reading this blog looking for a good escape room to play in the UK – stop what you’re doing and book a train to the Netherlands instead!
I’m sure this list of rooms will come as a surprise to absolutely no-one, since our trip was “Let’s play as many of the best escape rooms in the Netherlands as we possibly can“, but there are of course a number of rooms we just didn’t get round to playing this time. So this list isn’t an exhaustive, complete list to ‘the best’ rooms, but more a general look at what we loved most about the ones we played.
If you want a complete list of the best rooms to play, I highly recommend checking out the latest TERPECA winners. Simply head to this page and CTRL+F “Netherlands” and you’ll quickly see how well represented this fantastic country is in the rankings. At the time of writing, the Netherlands has, in the global rankings:
2. Down the Hatch’s “Molly’s Game”
3. Mama Bazooka’s “The Dome”
9. Darkpark’s “Stay in the Dark”
32. Kamer 237’s “Lost and Found”
35. Darkpark’s “The End”
40. Epic Escape’s “Illusion”
74. Rock City Escape’s “Soup du Jour”
82. Escape Room Junkie’s “Corpse Inc.”
95. Kamer 237’s “Room 237”
99. Logic Lock’s “The Amsterdam Catacombs”
10 out of the top 100 escape rooms in the world are here. For the 22nd smallest country in the world (and 6x smaller than the UK), that’s not bad. Not bad at all.
The Netherlands Escape Room Itinerary
Comprised of a team of myself, Alice & Ash from Escaping the Closet, and our good friend Tasha, we took the overnight ferry from Hull to Rotterdam on Thursday night. We checked into our Airbnb in Rotterdam, and then hurried off to play our first game.
- Mama Bazooka @ Bunschoten
- Rock City Escape @ Amersfoort
- Darkpark @ Zoetermeer
- Next Level Escapes @ Eindhoven
- Darkpark @ Vlaardingen
- Darkpark @ Delft
- Down the Hatch @ The Hague
In terms of transport, the Netherlands is incredibly well connected by train, bus and tram. In fact no two escape rooms we needed to travel by took more than 1 hour, or cost more than about €14. We stayed in Rotterdam which is South-Central, and a lot less expensive than somewhere like Amsterdam.
Escape Rooms in the Netherlands – General Observations
Before I get into the details of each room, I wanted to share a few observations we noticed about Dutch escape rooms in general.
Firstly, there’s this amazing trust system in the lobby that simply would not work in the UK, and that is that you can help yourself to drinks and snacks before and after. Usually the lobbies are unmanned, but you can pick up a little checklist if you plan to take a bunch of stuff. This includes alcoholic drinks, and often merchandise too. This was a really nice touch. In the UK you’re lucky if there’s an old vending machine in the corner. In the Netherlands it was much more “please make yourself comfortable” and I loved that.
Secondly, briefings are given in-character. We often (but not always) arrived to be greeted by someone absolutely in character, not breaking for a second. It was interesting seeing how people offered us the use of lockers and bathrooms ‘in-character’. I enjoyed this, although we did get caught out with a “you’re late!”, only to start to argue that we were 20 minutes early, before realising this was part of the briefing.
Thirdly, many rooms were ‘self-triggered‘. What do I mean by this? After your briefing, we were told to enter the room by ourselves, without the Games Master around. I’m sure it’s because the Games Masters were off getting set up in their office, but it always worked so well in the theme. Go up to a door and knock three times? Or solve a puzzle to actually ‘get into’ the game. Excellent!
A final point to raise is that Dutch escape rooms – or at least the ones we played – tended to be more expensive than the average UK escape room. Yes, even more expensive than London. We paid in the region of £30 – £50 per person, per room. That said, they were all absolutely worth it – but be sure to factor that into your budget!
The Dome – Mama Bazooka
We started and ended the trip with the two rooms that have been ‘competing’ for the number 1 spot. The Dome, and Molly’s Game. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves, and first lets talk about The Dome.
The Dome is a ‘sci-fi’ escape room. Well, sort of. In fact, it’s the kind of room that really defies categorisation because a week later and I’m not even totally sure I understood the things that happened to me in that room. You enter the experience as laboratory assistants, but things take a surreal turn when you accidentally ingest an hallucinatory substance. From this point onwards there’s a “wait, what?” level of disbelief and astonishment. The physical space is impressive, it’s twisting and turning corridors that do not take you to where you expected to go, and those moments of looking back at something you’d already completed only to find subtle, eerie differences that leave you questioning your sanity. There’s a good amount of physicality to the experience, but you’re mostly running on pure excitement and adrenaline. What it lacks in a complex narrative, it makes up for in visual, thematic and technical impressiveness. For that, I absolutely adored this room. The focus was squarely on the puzzles – as brilliant as they were – and the set design. It was a fantastic room.
It’s best played with very little expectations (though I suppose being for a while #1 in the world does come with it a certain level of expectation), so I’ll leave the review with just one final question:
Does it live up to the hype? Absolutely.
Soup Du Jour – Rock City Escape
Next up on our itinerary was “Soup Du Jour”. I approached this escape room with a very uneasy feeling in my stomach. I’m not a fan of scary or horror games and this one certainly verges on the side of “creepy”.
We approached the unusual building (a hidden door tucked away in something that looks a lot like an actual monastery), and were greeted by our stern Games Master who boldly barked “you’re late”, before giving us a nun outfit each and ushering us into the Monasterie Restaurant to help set up for the day. But something peculiar is afoot at this restaurant Nuns have been going missing. As we explored the physical space, we couldn’t help but shake the feeling that we might be next on the menu.
Soup Du Jour is a creepy room. There are a few more ‘jump scare’ elements than the average room (including one hilarious one we all screamed our heads off at), and a definite feeling of tension throughout. Where Soup Du Jour really shined for me were the puzzles. There’s a mix of linear, non-linear, and really creative solutions. Whether I’d personally agree it’s the 74th best escape room in the world… I’m not sure. It’s certainly better than the hundreds of others I’ve played in my life so far, and it certainly brought us a lot of delight, but it’s hard not to compare it to the other Dutch rooms. If this were in another country it would be exceptionally outstanding. Because it’s in the Netherlands, it’s simply “brilliant”. Make of what whatever you will!
In this room we ‘escaped’ with a comfortable time of around (I forget exactly) 45 minutes. Success!
Honeymoon Hotel – Darkpark
More horror?! For this scaredy cat?! It’s likelier than you think. But thankfully after a stormy and atmospheric day, the sun finally decided to come out and so the approach to our final room of the day wasn’t quite so creepy.
Honeymoon Hotel was my first taste of the infamous Darkpark… A company I’ve loved since I played their at-home puzzle game The Witchery Spell. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about Darkpark that is they do horror really well, and Honeymoon Hotel is an excellent opportunity to “dip your toes in” to the theme and style the company goes for to see if their other (scarier) games are for you.
The game begun as H. H. Holmes’ latest bride entering his infamous murder hotel. So far, so good. Our goal was quite simple – to try not to die. What followed was a lot of darkness, loud jump scares, and creeping banging noises looming all around us in the dark. In fact, the best (or funniest) jump scare came when we’d forgotten to lock the main door behind us and the Games Master has to creep back and close it loudly behind us.
As with many Dutch rooms, Honeymoon Hotel is a multi-space experience that takes you on a visual and puzzling journey through the depths of the hotel as you try to find your way out. It has a labyrinth-like quality to it, confusing and horrifying in all the best ways. There isn’t a live actor in the room, but there’s something about the impressive atmosphere they’ve created that really makes you wonder “wait a second, is there actually someone in here with us?!”
My favourite thing about Honeymoon Hotel by far was the finale. All that atmosphere, all those noises, culminating in something seriouslty impressive. I won’t spoil it, but I will say I squealed with delight when I realised what was happening. Not exactly the noise I expected to make in a ‘scary’ room, but I was thrilled!
We finished with 44:20 on the clock!
The Suspicious Farmhouse – Next Level Escapes
Day two and we were off to Eindhoven – a fantastic city in the South of the country. But unlike other cities, there was just one escape room company on our list: Next Level Escapes. Next Level is located behind a very fun looking bar / social space, and up some stairs. Their two rooms:
- The Suspicious Farmhouse, and
- Catch Me if You Can
are sequential, one after the other. The characters you meet in the former will make a reappearance in the latter. That’s not to say you couldn’t play them out of order… But for the best experience, I recommend doing them this way round.
In the former, you enter what is essentially your grandma’s farmhouse. Think kitsch furniture, cute wooden shelves, and some very fun light-hearted puzzles about looking after the farmhouse. At about the 50% mark, the game turns out to be about something very different indeed. I knew there was something “suspicious”, but the twist took me by surprise in all the best ways. I loved the reveals and hidden details which turned out to be important, and the final puzzle really brought the whole experience together in one fell swoop.
I don’t know if I was just a little out of sorts in The Suspicious Farmhouse, but I would say that of all the rooms we played, this one didn’t totally click with me. This was a room in which we ended up asking for many hints, and at times I felt like due to the linear-nature of the experience, there was always one of us (usually me) not contributing to an active puzzle solve. There was also a lot of searching. If we needed a hint, the answer was usually “have you searched more in this place”, only to find something that was almost impossible to spot without help.
That said, we immediately followed it with Catch Me if You Can which was, to me, a stellar room. So they balanced out in the end.
We finished with 02:28 left on the clock!
Catch Me if You Can – Next Level Escapes
After a quick break between the rooms, in which we almost lost Ash (see below, oh no!)
We were once again called back in and ready to take on the sequel – Catch Me if You Can. Now I’ve never seen the film of the same name, but I think the story in this room is something similar – except we were playing the FBI agents! The experience began with us hot on the heels of the criminal we were uncovering in the first game. Unlike the first one, I immediately fell in love with this escape room from the moment I stepped foot inside. Then, if you can believe it, the experience kept getting better and better.
After having played multiple horror rooms, I was secretly thrilled to be playing a super high quality escape room that is about as far from horror as you can imagine. Furthermore, Catch Me if you Can featured one of the most impressive ‘sets’ I’ve ever seen. I really don’t want to spoil it because the reveal of “wait, surely they don’t have…” is well worth the anticipation. There’s a certain cinematic quality to this escape room that I appreciated a lot. It felt like more than just being ‘in an escape room’, we were quite literally the main character in our own film for the duration of an hour. It also allowed me to fulfil one of my bucket list items for my life. Not something I expected I’d be saying about an escape room trip, but there you go!
In terms of puzzles, with a few exceptions we required a nudge for, Catch Me if You Can really stood out in these. As with it’s predecessor we finished with an almost picture-perfect 2 minutes on the clock, which really added to the heightened tension of racing to the end. If you can’t tell from the jubilation on our faces in the photo, Catch Me if You Can was a real stand out in it’s genre!
As a brief non-escape room recommendation, after playing at Next Level Escape we stumbled upon the most fantastic eatery about 1 minute around the corner: Down Town Gourmet Market. This is a marketplace that has a bunch of different hot food stands and you can order from any of them all from your table!
Stay in the Dark – Darkpark
Okay, lets get one thing straight. None of us slept well the night before. Tasha even stayed up until 1am reading every single review on EscapeTalk.nl trying to anticipate what this experience would be like. On the train there, we all sat in stony silence, occasionally saying things like “pozzy vibes” to brighten the mood. But all that to say, we were really nervous going into Stay in the Dark.
For anyone who doesn’t know, Stay in the Dark is probably one of the scariest escape rooms out there. It certainly has the reputation for being so. It’s also won a lot of awards and one of those “you absolutely must not miss” rooms, and so there was no chance we weren’t going to do it. In fact, we planned our whole trip around securing a booking for Stay in the Dark. So there you go.
First things first, there is a live actor. Secondly, it’s 2hr30 long. Thirdly, if you need to leave the experience there’s no going back. That’s it.
In honesty, I’d probably say it isn’t really an escape room. It’s a live immersive experience much closer to something like Burnt City, or Colab Theatre’s Spy City, or a Swamp Motel immersive experience. I say this as throughout the experience I counted maybe three, maybe four “puzzles” in the sense of the word. There’s about one puzzle per “area”. But for an experience like this where you feel like you’re fighting for your life, that’s a good level. There were moments when we got slightly stuck on a puzzle, but this had more to do with the environment around us than the puzzles themselves. In short, it’s not terribly puzzly.
But what it lacks in puzzles it makes up for in immersivity. There’s sequence of pitch blackness, there’s strobe lighting, and there’s a horrifying somebody or some-thing following you. There’s strange blood spatters I’d rather not think of. The whole thing is utterly immersive. From the distant creaking of a door, or a dog’s bark, or a shadow crossing across your vision, the whole thing is thrilling. My favourite ‘part’ of the experience is towards the end and it involved the largest room (and largest props) I’ve ever seen in any escape room ever. Whilst my teammates were solving a puzzle I had my face pressed up to a window saying “wow I hope we get to go in there!!”. Sure enough, the puzzle’s success state unlocked that very door and off we went.
Is it scary? Oh yes. Is it unsurmountably scary? No. Should I book it if I don’t like horror? Yes. -Wait, what? Well, the reason I think everyone should book this is because they actually tailor it to your comfort level. Yes it’s terrifying but if you’re full of bravado, they’re going to dial it up. If you’re crouched in the corner screaming, they’ll dial it down. And if you’re so scared you can’t move, somebody will come in and help you out. At the end of the day Darkpark are escape room designers and they really want you to have fun, so they’re going to make it fun. The worst part of the whole thing was the beginning- and that’s really just the fear of the unknown. Once you ‘know’, it’s not so scary anymore. And this is coming from someone who is mortally afraid of scary escape rooms.
As a final note on this mini-review of Stay in the Dark, I want to give a particular shout-out to our host Ruud. Ruud absolutely made the experience as perfect as he was. He was flawless in his judgement of how much scare we could handle as a team, his acting was fantastic, and his upbeat personality really brought such a smile to our faces. I always try to remember our host’s names but sometimes days later they’ve slipped my mind, but it was impossible to forget Ruud. We’re planning to come back some day and I am hoping with all my might that the next time I play a Darkpark game we’ll have Ruud as our host once again.
The Dentist – Darkpark
From one Darkpark to another. There was no way anything else could possibly be scary to us after having played Stay in the Dark, so off to Darkpark’s Delft venue we went, full of a newfound bravery. The first escape room on our list at their venue was The Dentist. The Dentist is one of the first ever escape rooms in the Netherlands. As such, it’s fairly Gen 1 in terms of it’s use of puzzles and locks. That said, Gen 1 usually has negative connotations of being basic, but I think the Netherlands needs its own category of escape room generations, because a Dutch Gen 1 room is as visually and immersive-ly impressive as some of the escape rooms opening around the world today in 2023. Despite it’s age, The Dentist was… Awesome!
As the name suggests, you go to visit the Dentist. His room has all the familiar tropes of a creepy dental worker – strange contraptions, blood spattered all over the walls, and dark and sinister secrets to uncover. Nothing like my dentist whose name is Anthony. Anthony is a lovely lovely guy. Shout out to him if he’s reading this.
Our main goal of the experience was to ‘escape’, but along the way we found a myriad of unique and exciting puzzles. There were plenty of ‘search and find’ ones, and some fun physical manipulation and button pressing. We didn’t take any hints on the game until the very end when our host opted to give us one as we were going round in circles on one particular puzzle. The most impressive thing about The Dentist, besides it being a very early escape room to the Dutch escape room industry was again, the atmosphere. Atmosphere is one thing Darkpark does really, really well. Lighting, auditory additions, and an exciting intro delivered in-game makes for a *chef’s kiss* experience.
The Carnival – Darkpark
As with many of these rooms, you’ll notice a theme in my reviewing. The first of each we played I’m like “this was great”, and the second I’m like “oh my god I’ll be thinking about this for the next 100 years”. The Carnival does not break this trend. After waiting in the lobby (and taking use of the self-serve drinks cabinet to have a celebratory prosecco), we proceeded to The Carnival which is easily one of my favourite games from the whole trip. I cannot get over how much I enjoyed The Carnival. However, I might be in a minority here, as for as much as I loved it, it didn’t hold the same weight for the rest of my team. But what can I say? I’m a sucker for a “wait they really want us to do this?” moment.
The Carnival also featured one of the funniest moments of an escape room. A moment where I thought a jump scare was over and went “oh look at that” to my group, causing them all to look at the exact place the very worst jump scare of the experience would pop up.
In all, The Carnival is again slightly less like a traditional escape room and more like a ridiculously fun series of carnival themed mini games. Your goal is simple – escape the carnival. But to do so you must perform, so perform you shall! Think about the most fun things that happen at a carnival and yep, this room has got them. Despite the occasional scare (though by this point we were desensitised and didn’t find it too frightening at all), this room was above everything super fun. I don’t want to give away too much, but it had us giggling and cheering for joy. The puzzles were less about locks (though there were a few) and more about performing actions and engaging with things physically, which I appreciated a lot.
It’s said that this DarkPark in Delft they’re building a third room – the upcoming Rise of the Phoenix which is set to be another ‘not to miss’. Combined with The Dentist and The Carnival, this puts this venue squarely on the map for any enthusiast visiting the country.
Molly’s Game – Down the Hatch
Last but by absolutely no means least, the final escape room on our trip was Molly’s Game. Where do I even start with this one?
10/10 for puzzles, 10/10 for set, and 19/10 for story. Molly’s Game begins with a visually amazing lobby, and a very enthusiastic greeting. After a brief introduction, we were led into the room where we had to break into a doctor’s office under the invitation of the mysterious and enigmatic “Molly”. Who is Molly? Well that was for us to find out. Molly’s Game is slightly Stranger Things themed – but only slightly, you don’t really need to have seen the TV show to understand it, I think it’s more just “set within the same thematic universe” which is pretty cool.
Again, it’s really hard not to spoil this experience as very early in the game it goes from “pretty good escape room” to “wait, what?” in all the best ways. The puzzles were extraordinarily fun and fit beautifully within the environment. There is an incredible amount of love and care gone into this escape room and I can completely see why so many people call this one their absolute favourite room in the world.
But the one thing that Molly’s Game does better than any other escape room in the world is tell a story. By now, I know every ‘escape room story’ like the back of my hand. You’re locked in a room. You escape. Sometimes you’re a pirate, other times you’re a convict. None of that at Down the Hatch. The story they tell is complex, beautiful, sad (oh yes, expect to cry in this one!), full of twists and turns, and very easy to follow. The puzzles are interwoven seamlessly through the environment and through that story. For those who appreciate the set they’ll spot a myriad of hidden clues and details which all add into that central story.
In this game you don’t “win” or “lose”, you experience something magical. It’s an escape room in the truest sense of the world, and a really special one at that.
This has been a very long review to write, and my conclusion really is: they were all amazing.
The Netherlands is a really special place for escape room enthusiasts. I’d often wondered about going – but thought to myself “Heh, how much better than rooms elsewhere in the world can they really be? An escape room is an escape room is an escape room”. But oh how pleasantly wrong I was. The ones we played were so brilliant, so utterly immersive, and so full of love I feel speechless even now.
If you had to make me choose between each escape room, I simply could not. Every single one we played brought something new and unique to the table and is not to be missed. But if you forced my hand, I’d split it by the following:
- Best Set Design – The Dome
- Most Impressive Set Reveal – Catch Me if You Can
- Best Story – Molly’s Game
- Best Puzzles – Also Molly’s Game
- Most Immersive – Stay in the Dark
- Best Host – Stay in the Dark
- Most Fun – The Carnival
With that, there’s really just one question left to ask – where shall we travel to next?