Throw aside all your preconceptions of Amsterdam as a stag and hen night destination and discard your memories of that hungover morning in Dam Square on an Interrailing trip 20 years ago. Amsterdam is in fact one of the best cities in Europe to head to with kids.
Amsterdam’s hands-on museums are some of the most child-friendly in the world – pick up “Vincent’s Travelling Case” and complete a series of assignments at the Van Gogh Museum; download the Family Quest app on your phone and solve the clues at the phenomenal, recently restored Rijksmuseum or enjoy the hundreds of interactive delights at renowned science museum NEMO, whose ‘touch everything’ philosophy is summed up by their mantra “discover the world for yourself”. For wannabe pirates you can’t beat shooting cannons from the deck of the full size East India ship at the beautiful Scheepvaartmuseum or for a more sober experience, introduce older children to the story of the Holocaust through the eyes of a child at the world-famous Anne Frank House.
Amsterdam’s green spaces offer the perfect respite from busy city streets. The Vondelpark is the city’s version of Central Park and is dotted throughout with cafes, playgrounds and attractions. To the south of the city is the Amstelpark which has a little farm, a playground with miniature rides, a mini-golf area and its own train that does a 20 minute circuit through some of its secret gardens. Or for bigger adventures head to The Amsterdamse Bos – a huge man-made wood with a rowing lake, open-air theatre, a climbing zone, splash pools, goat farm and even a children’s harbour for steering boats. Finally, and perhaps best of all is Artis, the city-centre zoo based in a beautiful park complete with historic buildings, butterfly houses and enclosures where monkeys swing from the trees overhead.
Whilst your kids might not be brave enough to try herring, chances are they will love Amsterdam’s more sugary specialities – stroopwafels (caramel pancakes), poffertjes (mini pancakes) and, well…pancakes. There are large numbers of pancake restaurants dotted around town as well as a pancake boat which floats around the River Ij and even has a ball pool in the hull for little ones to work off the sugar rush. Pancakes not their thing? My kids’ top tip for a treat is the eye-boggling “pick and mix” chain, Jamin. Not only do they have sweets in every shade of the colour spectrum but it’s also the place to explore the Dutch obsession with Drop (Dutch liquorice which comes in soft and hard; sweet and salty varieties!). If you’re looking for more wholesome treats, many of Amsterdam’s nicest restaurants offer kids’ menus or best of all take them to the unique KinderKookCafe (children’s cooking cafe) where they get to make their own meal as well as yours.
Amsterdam is small which makes it easy to navigate with kids. First time visitors simply have to start with a canal tour. Options are numerous but our favourites include becoming “freshwater pirates” onboard a Blue Boat Tour or opting for a private sail on an open sloop around some of the smaller canals. Landlubbers are well served by the iconic blue and white trams which are a great way to get around – if your kids are transport nuts why not take them for a special journey on board the historic tram through the woods or clamber aboard an old plane at the Schipol airport Panorama Terrace. Of course there’s also the free ferry that heads over to Amsterdam North and that all-time favourite Dutch method of transport, the humble bicycle. The city’s flat landscape and ubiquitous cycle lines are perfect for tentative cyclists or for those too young to cycle along beside you, why not hire a bakfiets – a Dutch bike with a big wooden bucket on the front into which you can pile a handful of children and cycle them around like a local.
5. City Farms
There are a remarkable number of city farms throughout Amsterdam which offer delightful hands-on experiences for children. As well as the goat farm in The Bos and the small petting zoo in the Amstel Park, there’s the Buurtboederij (Neighbourhood Farm) near the Westerpark – a charming little farmhouse unbeknownst even to many locals surrounded by fields and horses; or how about the charming farm at Elsenhove where kids can feed the animals as well as exploring their lovely playground. These and many other farms scattered throughout Amsterdam offer city kids the chance to experience a taste of the countryside.
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Finally a little extra for football-lovers, why not visit Amsterdam’s beloved Ajax football club which runs interactive tours for kids aged 5-12 on weekends and school holidays. The tour takes in all the highlights of the Amsterdam Arena as well as offering young visitors a chance to kick a ball around next to the pitch. With souvenirs included as part of the package, booking is essential. Tours run in English on request.