Traveling with Kids | Amsterdam
When people ask me my favourite city to visit with kids in Europe they are often quite surprised to hear it’s Amsterdam. I guess images of those ever famous “coffee shops” and the Red Light District immediately come to mind for many. But besides the space cakes and Peep Shows Amsterdam is a veritable paradise for families and kids of every age.
Last year I took my twin daughters on a surprise trip to Amsterdam as a special gift for graduating from primary school to middle school. We spent three gorgeous days wandering along the canals, visiting museums, eating our favourite Dutch street food and soaking in the laid back vibe that the famous city has to offer. They immediately fell in love with the city just as I did many years ago.
Here are a few top sites, bites and things to do while visiting Amsterdam with your kids:
It’s hard to think about Amsterdam without images of tall blond Dutch people riding their bikes along quaint narrow canals. Throw a bunch of tulips and a wheel of gouda cheese in their bike basket and you’ve got yourself the iconic (stereotypical) image of Holland.
Biking really is the perfect way to see the city and get the full Amsterdam experience. There are well signed bike paths on almost every road and I’m pretty sure bikes outnumber cars by a lot.
You can find bike rental shops throughout the entire city for adults as well as for kids. It’s affordable, keeps the kids busy and allows you to see off-the-beaten-track neighbourhoods and parks. For families traveling with little ones a bakfiets (cargo bike) is the perfect way to cycle around the city. We actually saw some mamas transporting up to 3 happy little kids in their bakfiets. Rent them here.
The Dutch love their (thin) pancakes. Whether they’re served with cheese and ham, applestroop or just dusted with sugar it is one of their all time favourite things to eat. And fortunately Amsterdam has many ways to enjoy this delicious and kid-pleasing food.
My kid’s favourite restaurant when we visited Amsterdam was by far The Pancake Bakery. Located down the street from the Anne Frank House and halfway underground in a long narrow room this restaurant is world renown for their savoury and sweet pannenkoeken (even celebrities such as Alicia Keys and Paris Hilton love it). Booking ahead is advised.
Another way to enjoy Dutch pancakes that your kids will love is the 2 1/2 hour family cruise on De Pannenkoekenboot. This cruise includes all-you-can eat pancakes and ice cream buffet. Can you think of a more perfect way to see Amsterdam as a family?
One last pancake tip would be to try the famous Dutch poffertjes which are small dollar sized fluffy pancakes served with butter and powdered sugar from street kiosks. You can even purchase a poffertjes pan to take home and make your own.
Winter is a magical time of year for families to visit Amsterdam. Especially if you happen to be there around November/December when the much adored Sinterklaas visits all the little Dutch kids and leaves them sweets and presents.
The Sinterklaas hype usually starts mid-November when he officially arrives in Holland with his helpers the Zwarte Pieten (translated roughly as Black Peters) by steam boat from Spain (this is called the Sinterklaasintocht). Families line up along the canals and cheer and scream when the boat drifts by. It really is a site to be seen and experienced. Make sure to try the famous pepernoten cookies that the Zwarten Pieten throw into the crowds. (Read about the international controversy involving the Zwarte Pieten here)
*Other family friendly winter activities include ice skating on open air rinks and frozen canals and The Amsterdam Light Festival which transforms the city into an open air light installation.
The Diary of Anne Frank is one of the world’s most translated and read books and the house where Anne hid with her family is located in the centre of Amsterdam. The Anne Frank Museum is suitable for older kids, especially if they have read the book and know the story behind her life. Visiting the actual house where she hid with her family is a thought provoking and educative experience for everyone.
I took my 11 year old daughters there last year and the museum moved them more than I could have anticipated. Walking up the creaky narrow staircases and through the rooms where she hid for two years with her family was emotional but a highlight of our trip.
Booking online in advance is highly recommended to avoid lineups of up to three hours.
Nijntje was created in 1955 by Dutch artist Dick Bruna. This little minimalist bunny played the leading character in over 30 books and is a huge part of most Dutch kids’ childhoods (as well as many children around the world).
So when in Amsterdam a must-see shop for families is De Winkel Van Nijntje (The Miffy Shop). Pick up a perfect Dutch souvenir for the kids and browse around the large array of Miffy merchandise. Located on Scheldestraat 61 and open daily from 10-18:00 (closed on Sundays and Monday mornings).
In addition to The Anne Frank House Amsterdam offers so many interesting and diverse museums that are geared towards kids or are family-friendly.
It’s a good idea to do your research beforehand and make a list of the ones that would be suitable for your family. If possible make sure to book them online ahead of time as we all know that waiting in line for museums with kids is the worst.
Some kid favourites include the hands-on science museum Nemo, Madame Tussauds wax museum, The Amsterdam Dungeon geared towards the older kids and the Tropenmuseum which is dedicated to showcasing non-western cultures.
The Van Gogh Museum offers great family activities and workshops, the Rijksmusem has a multimedia family tour that has you solving museum mysteries and the Stedelijk Modern Art Museum houses some of the most interesting pieces of modern art and installations of our time (kids enter for free!).
If your kids like zoos, the Artis Royal Zoo offers over 900 species of animals, several playgrounds in beautiful gardens and even the chance to look under the water of an Amsterdam Canal.
Additional Information for traveling families to Amsterdam
Festivals: Hemeltjelief Festival (music, theatre and family festival), Cinekid Festival (Kid’s Film Festival), Grachtenfestival (classical music including dance, theatre and baby concerts) and Het Hoofdgerecht Food Festival, King’s Day (a day dedicated to yours truly) when the Dutch line the streets selling their old toys and whatever else they can find – kind of like a huge country-wide street party.
Restaurants: Kinderkook Cafe (Cooking Kids Cafe), De Taart Van M’n Tante (quirky tea house with delicious cakes), Groot Melkhuis (casual cafe in Vondelpark with outdoor playground). For street foods try out the gebakkramen (pastry stands) that serve the much loved oliebollen (translates to oil balls, which are a sort of donut), the raw herring served with onions and the world renown frietjes met mayonaise (french fries with mayonaise).
Shopping: De Negen Straatjes (shopping district with quirky shops and restaurants), HEMA (stylish and very affordable department store offering housewares, clothing and food), Kitsch Kitchen (very colourful and fun toys, housewares, stationary and fabrics), Bloemenmarkt (perfect place to buy some tulip bulbs to plant at home).
Accommodations: Lloyd Hotel (situated in an ex-prison this hotel offers everything from 1 star rooms to deluxe rooms all designed by different well known designers), House-boat Hotel (take your pick from many different house-boats along Amsterdam’s canals) or even one of the many budget family-friendly hostels.
*Special tip: Don’t forget the ultimate Amsterdam photo op at the i amsterdam letters behind the Rijksemuseum. Feel free to climb on them too!