24 Jul Five Things to Do in Amsterdam with Kids
Of all the major European cities I’ve visited with kids, Amsterdam is easily my favorite. Yes, Amsterdam. If you’re scratching your head right now, you’re not alone. My friends did the same when I told them we were renting an apartment there this summer.
While its reputation as a playground for adults is well deserved, my kids and I found Amsterdam to be a fun family destination. Not only is it friendly, beautiful, and safe (once you master crossing the bike lanes on foot, that is), everyone speaks English, public transportation is a dream, and the train station is a major hub with great connections to all of Europe.
Featured Trip: Holland & Belgium Family Bike Tour
Not convinced? We spent a month there and didn’t run out of things to do. Assuming you have less time, here are my five favorite things to do in Amsterdam with kids.
1. A canal cruise
Many boat companies ply the waters around Amsterdam, and since they have glass tops, you’ll see them in all kinds of weather. The conventional wisdom is that you should make this tour the first thing you do in Amsterdam so that you can get oriented. I say wait for a sunny day. It’s also worth seeking out a smaller vessel for a more intimate experience. Amsterdam Canal Cruises runs a 20-passenger Blue Sky Boat that can go where the big boats can’t. Buy wine, beer, and sodas on the quay before boarding and call it happy hour!
2. A food tour
Even if you’re not a foodie, the 4-hour Eating Amsterdam Food Tour is a great way to get the flavor of the town. Appropriate for picky eaters, vegetarians, and people with food restrictions (tell the organizers ahead of time), this tour takes you through the prettiest neighborhood in Amsterdam and feeds you everything from apple pie and cheese to bitterballen and that most acquired of all Dutch tastes: raw herring. You’ll also get a liberal serving of history and locally brewed beer as well as a boat ride on a historic canal boat that once hosted Winston Churchill.
3. The Artis Zoo
I know, I know. You didn’t come all the way to Amsterdam to look at baboons and antelopes. I felt the same way. Still, the Artis Royal Zoo is a wonderful place to decompress from the cosmopolitan hustle of Amsterdam. With its rolling lawns, superlative playgrounds, and shady trees, it’s an oasis for families on a warm summer day. Kids will love being closer to the animals than they would be in an American zoo; parents will love taking a break from worrying about their kids getting hit by a bike.
4. A countryside bike ride
Speaking of bikes, you should definitely ride one in Amsterdam, with some caveats. I recommend going on a guided tour that takes you from central Amsterdam to the iconic countryside just south of the city. That will give you a very small taste of city biking, which is more than enough. We took a full-day Taste of Holland Tour with Wheely Dutch Bike Tours. I wasn’t sure we’d be able to swing a 28-mile day in the saddle, but with all the windmills, baby farm animals, and bike ferries, we took it mile by mile and made it just fine.
5. The Anne Frank House
Depending on their maturity level, kids as young as ten can visit and learn from the Anne Frank House, where the world’s most famous diarist hid from the Nazis during World War II. It’s worth preparing children of all ages with some advance reading and discussion, and the museum’s website lists some good resources. The film at the beginning of the museum route shows images of concentration camps, so skip it if your kids aren’t ready for that. Be sure to pre-book your tickets (several weeks in advance during the summer), so that you can avoid the long lines.