*Updated October 2018*
Planning a family city-break can be overwhelming. Once you’ve figured out the logistics and hotels, the quantity of information about what to do can feel like total overload, and if you aren’t familiar with a city it can be incredibly hard to gauge distances and how much time to allow at different attractions.
With that in mind I thought it would be worth pulling together a 48 hour itinerary for a family trip to Amsterdam. I’m going to assume it’s a first visit, that the weather is warm (Spring to September let’s say) and that you have a couple of kids who are somewhere between toddlers and teenagers. The itinerary will work for kids that are younger and kids that are older too, but given that babies and teens come with their own set of challenges I’m going to stick at those ages brackets for now. I’ll also assume that your children don’t want to walk for hours on end and, just in case they are like mine, I’m definitely going to assume they are slightly fussy eaters!
Kick off the day with a sunny breakfast at the lovely Corner Bakery. The freak shakes and doughnuts are outrageous, but there are healthy options too. The cafe is cosy, local and relatively untouristy and offers one of the most Instagrammable breakfasts in town.
Time to walk those milkshakes off, so take a 10 minute stroll up through the Museumplein. This large open area houses a skating rink in Winter and as the name suggests is surrounded by some of the City’s most famous museums.
Stop off at our favourite touristy activity and take some pictures at the I amsterdam sign. It gets super busy here but the morning is your best bet. Kids love it and it will make for a great memento.
Next walk about 5 minutes further to the Blue Boat Company. Book in advance for a 75 minute Freshwater Pirate Cruise. Our boys LOVE this and its a great way to keep younger children in one place whilst still seeing the glory of Amsterdam’s wonderful canals. There are toilets on board, an open area at the back coupled with a glass roof to keep you warm, and you’re welcome to take your own snacks and drinks with you.
Alternatively consider taking a private cruise of the canals. Small boats can travel where the big boats can’t and tailor a unique experience just for you. We recently had the most incredibly child-friendly cruise with the incomparable Pure Boats Amsterdam who are beyond brilliant with kids on board. Read about our amazing trip here.
Head back on yourself and right next to where you started for breakfast you’ll find one of our favourite restaurants, Loetje. Whilst I wouldn’t say the food is massively kid-friendly, our boys love the kaasstengels (fried cheese sticks), croquettes (which are typically Dutch) and of course chips with mayonnaise. For grown-ups the steak is a must. This is probably our favourite branch of our favourite restaurant and there’s even outside seating on the terrace if the weather is good.
Walk back through the Museumplein and make your way to the magnificent Rijksmuseum. It’s surprisingly brilliant for kids (download the app before you go) and enjoy the stunning space and some extraordinarily beautiful works of art.
Feeling peckish? Stop off in the gorgeous light-filled museum cafe for a coffee and cake, and let the kids enjoy Haagelslag – a very Dutch treat of chocolate sprinkles on bread!
If you like to do things at pace, you could also pack in a visit the Van Gogh Museum in the afternoon which is just down the road. Be sure to have booked in advance.
Afternoon – alternatives
If your kids aren’t art fans, there are a range of other great options available:
In need of a good run around? Wander across into nearby the Vondelpark which is packed with playgrounds and cafe’s and is the perfect place to let off steam
Looking for a central Amsterdam playground but don’t want to head deep into the park? Check out the much loved urban ‘speeltuin’ (playground) UJ Klaren which is just a hop skip and jump away across the canal from the Heineken Brewery at the Weteringcircuit. Our mini’s adore this one which is great for younger and older kids and also has a football ‘cage’ usually with obliging young locals and a ball.
Or head a little further into town and check out the completely brilliant kid-friendly science museum NEMO which lives and breathes its “touch-everything” philosophy. A firm favourite amongst Amsterdam’s young locals (even the roof is an adventure!)
Alternatively, if the morning’s pirate cruise has left them wanting more watery adventures, make tracks to the fabulous Scheepvaartmuseum and let them loose on board the full size reproduction ship before heading inside the beautiful museum building.
Finally, if your minis are animal lovers you could always tram your way east to Amsterdam’s world-famous and beauiful zoo Artis, or why not jump in an Uber – 15 minutes out of town you’ll find the sweet children’s farm at Elsenhove.
Take the free ferry across the River Ij from Central Station for dinner at IjKantine. The short journey packed with bike commuters is half the fun and you’ll find yourself on the North side of the city before you know it. The Ijkantine’s huge, industrial room is a real favourite and there’s a kids corner for little ones to run around as well as a nice children’s menu. Before catching the ferry back, why not grab an ice cream at Ijscuypje from the dock.
Start the day at one of our favourites – the Bakkerswinkel in the gorgeous Westerpark. Hire bikes for half a day from the end of the lovely Haarlemmerplein and cycle in. The Bakkerswinkel is perfect for kids and a lovely to spot to hang out.
If you’re really lucky it will be the first Sunday of the month when the Westerpark hosts the Sunday Market which is a real favourite, but if not, get back on the bikes and explore the park. Kids’ bikes are widely available or why not reserve yourself a Mamafiets (a ‘mum-bike’ – with a seat at the front, the back or both. You could even ask for a typical Dutch bakfiets which has a wooden “bucket” to accommodate a brood). In the park, you’ll find the amazing Westergasfabriek which has some wonderful cafes and our very favourite little Tony’s Chocolonely store. Hang out and grab a coffee at the Westergasterras restaurant, or head deeper into the park and explore the little children’s farm. There’s even a splash pad if the weather is hot.
Cycle out the Southern side of the park and settle down for lunch at one the city’s most fabulous child-friendly eateries. Cafe Restaurant Amsterdam is based in a former pump station, the building is a delight for kids and they are well-catered for with a super child-friendly menu as well as colouring-in. Though to be honest, our kids just love exploring the turbines and machinery. Make sure to leave room for dessert though because you’re about to set off on a food safari…
So you’ve trammed, floated and cycled – time to get back to exploring the rest of the city centre on foot. Walk back into town along the Haarlemmerdijk and discover the unique boutiques and cafe’s on offer. Then turn right on the Prinsengracht canal and wind your way through the historic Jordaan for dessert at Winkel 43 – the world’s very best apple pie. After gorging yourself on a slice of heaven, make a beeline (or should that be mouse-line) to our kids’ very favourite shop/studio the extraordinary and uniquely charming Mouse Mansion which is just footsteps away.
You’ll definitely struggle to drag them away, but drag you must because there’s so much more to see. Don’t worry about little feet getting tired, there are heaps of food incentives on offer. Follow the Prinsengracht canal once again and perhaps stop for a mid-afternoon “broodje haaring” – a herring from a street side stall. They’re all completely safe to eat from and you’ll always find locals in the line. If your kids aren’t that keen on the idea of raw(ish) fish, grab them some kibbeling whilst you’re there – hot crispy battered chunks of white fish served with mayonnaise. If they’d prefer something sweet, grab an authentic stroopwafel from Lanskroon; a cone of chips from Vleminckx or a sit down for a hot chocolate and a cake at Pompadour.
If you aren’t completely stuffed to the brim by the evening, head to the West of the city early to the fabulous De Hallen complex for dinner. As well as being a gorgeous cultural centre, the showpiece food market Foodhallen has become the go-to place for dining groups when everyone wants something different. I’d generally suggest this as a lunch destination for families as it can get hectic in the evening, but if your action-packed agenda doesn’t accommodate a lunchtime stop, go early and you should be absolutely fine. If you find that things are getting too busy in the food market, head to the Kanarie Club at the back of the hall for a booth a little away from the buzz or pop down the road to the sweet little Casa Sabatelli for a totally kid-friendly bowl of pasta.
Wow, that’s it! Your 48 hours are up.
You’ve packed a lot in, but you haven’t had time to ride the Historic Tram; eat pancakes in the wonderful Amsterdam woods or on board the pancake boat. You haven’t had licorice from Jamin; visited the Anne Frank House, jumped in Amsterdam’s splash pools, made food in the Kinderkookcafe (Children’s Cafe) or been to a match at Ajax….
You know what? You’ll just have to come back for longer next time….