If Amsterdam Isn’t on Your Family’s Bucket List, It Should Be.
Looking for a European family adventure, but not sure where to go? Pop Amsterdam right to the top of your bucket list. With kids in tow you might not be able to frequent marijuana cafes or venture into the red light district, but you’ll find a plethora of options with great family appeal. The city of Amsterdam is breathtaking with a canal system that sweeps through the city, distinct architecture, bicycles, museums, boutiques, concert halls and outdoor cafes. You’ll also have the opportunity to introduce your children to famous artists, important dates in our history, and classical music.
Here are 10 reasons you need to visit Amsterdam now and what to see — from must-see attractions to lesser known things to do:
1) Canal rides with some of the most dazzling scenery in the world.
Often called the ‘Venice of the North’, Amsterdam features over one hundred kilometers of canals and over 1,500 bridges. They continue to define the city’s landscape and have literally been designated a UNESCO world heritage site. Hit the canals first thing to orientate yourselves to the city. Blue Boat Company takes visitors on seventy-five -minute, kid-friendly rides that meander under picturesque bridges and past 17th-century buildings, all narrated by an audio tour through headphones in seventeen languages. It’s a great way to get plugged into the city’s history, and if you’re lucky, you’ll catch a major event on the water like a classical concert or the annual Canal Parade, featuring decorated barges.
2) Family bike rides that give kids a sense of adventure and exploration.
The streets of Amsterdam were made for cycling, and if your kids are old enough, they’ll love riding through as much of the city as possible. It’s flat and has relatively little traffic…because everyone rides bikes. The downfall with that is that kids have to be really good bikers so that they can maneuver between other riders and be ready to make quick stops. It’s the cheapest and easiest way to get around, and bikes are rentable at relatively low cost. If you want a referral, pick up a bike at Mike’s Bikes. Their bikes are top quality and the staff gives good local direction on where to go with kids. Note: They don’t offer kid’s seats or tandem seats.
3) Museums: to visit masterpieces by the Dutch greats.
If your kids can sustain a museum experience, the museums in Amsterdam are really some of the best in the world. We suggest spreading out your visits over the course of your trip, with plenty of outdoor exercise and pancakes between. Most museums offer children’s tours and many are either free or discounted. The Rijksmuseum features Rembrandts, Vermeers, and 750 other masterpieces. Don’t miss the famous iAmsterdam sign outside the museum, which kids often enjoy posing in front of. The Van Gogh Museum offers another important lesson on a legendary artist. They feature a free treasure hunt for children between six and 12 years of age. Word to the wise: book tickets online well in advance as lines can be painfully long. Also be sure to get an audio tour at both museums– it helps keep kids engaged for longer periods and gives an in-depth history.
4) Educate your kids about Anne Frank and the Holocaust.
No matter how old your kids are or what religion you might be, take the opportunity to visit the Anne Frank House. If your children are old enough to understand her story, it will resonate quite deeply. If not, read basic books about Anne Frank in advance of your trip or have a chat to explain what happened. Together you will walk through the house where Anne Frank and her family and five others hid during the course of World War II before being sent to die in concentration camps (barring Otto Frank, who later published the book that became a world renowned tale of one person’s harrowing experience). You’ll also be able to see Anne Frank’s original diary. Be aware that there are very steep stairs… a lot of them. Here too, we suggest you book your tickets in advance as lines can be long and exhausting, especially for young children. There are many other sites of Jewish interest like the city’s Jewish Historical Museum, the Portuguese Synagogue, and the Holocaust Museum.
5) A classical concert at The Royal Concertgebouw (Royal Concert Hall)
If you haven’t taken your kids to a classical concert before, then the Royal Concertgebouw (Royal Concert Hall) is a great place to start. Located near Museumplein, the concert halls are exquisite with beautiful décor and names of famous composers on the walls. It’s home to the famous Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra. You’ll also find chamber music performances like string quartets, piano recitals and piano trios, or jazz music on Friday nights. Saturday afternoons are dedicated to concerts for kids. Kids over 6 years old are welcome to attend the nighttime concerts. A great tip: They offer free lunchtime concerts every Wednesday (except in July and August).
6) Experience Dutch delicacies.
Amsterdam has its fair share of culinary treats for adults and kids alike. From Dutch pancakes from a pancake house or street vendors (try Poffertjes, small pancakes covered in butter and powdered sugar) to stroopwafel with sweet syrup for breakfast to deep fried meatballs (Bitterballen) or french fries with mayo to a sampling of Dutch cheese in one of the city’s markets, everyone’s taste buds will be singing. Apple pie, licorice (drops), and chocoladeletter (chocolate candy) are also quite popular with kids. For more adventurous taste buds, head to an Indonesian restaurant where you’ll find food that is both local and authentic, and very inexpensive.
7) Stay in a converted conservatory of music.
Built in 1897, the Conservatorium Hotel is situated in a beautiful Neo-Gothic building that was originally the Sweelinck Conservatory of Music. It was transformed into a deluxe hotel brand a few years ago and is the first member of The Set, a collection of of hotels that welcomes sophisticated travelers. However, the hotel is also very family-friendly. The rooms are spacious and have all the modern technology kids love, like digital drapes. The hotel has a swimming pool in the spa/wellness area and lovely onsite dining. There is also a small shopping mall inside the hotel, with one shop dedicated solely to kids’ clothing.
8) Play and run around in Amsterdam’s version of Central Park: the Vondelpark.
Located right smack in the middle of the city, the Vondelpark attracts 10 million visitors per year and proudly displays English-style gardens, ponds, lawns, footbridges and walking paths for a good stroll (equipped for a stroller). It offers kids a chance to run around when the weather is nice. You can enjoy skating, walking, cycling and concerts and films in the summertime. When it’s warm, it’s a great destination for a picnic and is very close to canals, restaurants, and the city’s great museums.
9) See the spots filmed in the motion picture The Fault in Our Stars.
If you are traveling with older kids who loved the John Green book, The Fault in Our Stars, you’ll definitely want to tour around the city to see where key scenes were filmed for the cinematic adaptation. Easily found spots include the bench in the Canal District where the couple shared a famous embrace in Leidsegracht 2, the Anne Frank House where the main character struggled up the steps, the famous Rijksmuseum’s tunnel where the couple walked hand in hand, the American Hotel where they stayed, and the stand in for the Hotel De Filosoof and the home of Peter Van Houten, the famous author that brought them to Amsterdam in the first place.
10) Venture through the Nine Streets for a bit of Dutch-style shopping.
And last, but not least, just two minutes from the Royal Palace in the Dam Square sits Nine Little Streets, an area of designer boutiques and art galleries around 17th Century canals that divide the Central Canal, which makes for a great afternoon of exploration and moseying around. The area also boasts loads of Dutch cafes and restaurants, as well as bakeries and pastry shops. Street names allude to the artisans and craftsmen that once practiced their trade in the neighborhood. Kids will find treasures and adults will enjoy exploring the area, which is closer to the Anne Frank House.