Amsterdam, with its famous canals and gable-roofed buildings, is one of Europe’s most picturesque cities. Flat, small and easy to navigate on foot, Amsterdam is home to numerous parks, attractions and boasts more museums per capita than any other European capital. All of these attributes make it a great destination for a few-night stay with kids.
Day 1: Anne Frank House, Canal Boat Ride, Bloemenmarkt
Though it deals with a heavy subject matter, the Anne Frank House is a must-see. Visitors can tour the actual house, including the hidden rooms upstairs, and get a very vivid portrayal of life and the conditions endured by young Anne and her family and friends.
I highly recommend this museum, particularly for children old enough to read and write creatively. For those concerned about the gravity of the subject matter, the gift shop has several versions of her diary more suitable for younger children. I’d read a picture book about Anne Frank with my younger daughter which helped make the museum more palatable for her.
Tip: Avoid long lines at the Anne Frank House by buying tickets online.
After a morning of grappling with such a lofty subject matter, the girls need something more light–hearted, as do I, and a canal boat ride is the perfect solution. Amsterdam is known as the “Venice of the North” because of the number of canals, and the four main ones Singel, Keizersgracht, Herengracht and Prinsengracht are on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
An audio guide gives commentary in English and several other languages, we prefer to point at sites we find most interesting, making our own commentary, or take a nap, as my 6-year-old often does when confined to a moving vehicle for a long period of time.
The later part of the day was spent meandering through the Amsterdam Bloemenmarkt (flower market). Walking along the floating flower market situated on barges on the Singel Canal and filled with an impressive array of plants and flowers, including the famous Dutch tulip, was a perfect ending to our first day in Amsterdam.
Tip: For a few euros you can pick up a bunch and liven up your hotel room.
Day 2: Van Gogh Museum, Vondelpark, Rijksmuseum
We start our second day with a visit to the Van Gogh Museum, which not only contains the largest collection of the artist’s works, but also works by some of the Netherlands’ most famous painters. An audio tour that’s available for children aged six to twelve and a scavenger hunt through the museum entertained the girls long enough to allow me ample time to take in the extensive collection. There are also weekend children’s sessions that begin with a tour of the museum and end with your little artists creating their own work of art.
After looking at the sunflowers, we head to Vondelpark, convenientally located right around the corner. Vondelpark is Amsterdam’s most popular and has several play areas, an open-air theater that stages free children’s shows on Wednesday afternoons, a film museum that has performances for children on Wednesday and Sunday afternoons, and several cafés.
Tip: Enjoy a Dutch pannekoek (pancake) at the park’s Restaurant Snoephuise.
The Rijksmuseum is also in the Museum Quarter, but after a morning in the Van Gogh museum and an afternoon in the park, we decided to leave it for another time. Instead we do a little window shopping in Oud Zuid, a posh neighborhood that runs parallel to Vondelpark and P.C. Hoofdstraat, the high end shopping street that is the place to see and be seen, on our way to the square where the I Amsterdam sign is located. The girls loved doing cartwheels on the grassy square and splashing in the small fountain.
Day 3: Science Center NEMO, Artis Royal Zoo
Another day begins with a visit to a museum. This time it’s the kid-friendly NEMO. The Science Center NEMO is the biggest science museum in the Netherlands. Housed in a ship-shaped building, this museum is “all hands on deck,” with five floors full of hands-on activities designed to engage four of the five senses.
It would be easy to spend an entire day here and at € 12,50 from age 4, you’d probably want to. We decided instead to spend half the day at NEMO and the other half at the zoo. As I mentioned before, it’s very easy to get around Amsterdam on foot so we walked to the zoo, which is a few blocks away.
Tip: Enjoy beautiful views of Amsterdam during the summer when the rooftop of NEMO becomes a city beach, with lounge chairs, refreshments and more opportunities to learn about science and technology.
The Artis Royal Zoo is the oldest zoo in continental Europe, and unique in that many of the animals are separated by a moat instead of bars. Artis has an aquarium, botanical garden, planetarium and butterfly pavilion where we spent a large portion of our time.
Though we covered a lot of ground during our 72 hours in Amsterdam, there is still so much more to see. I predict we will be “going Dutch” for another weekend break very soon.
Ciao Bambino recommended family hotels in Amsterdam