Amsterdam, with its famous canals and gable-roofed buildings, is one of Europe’s most picturesque cities. Flat, compact and easy to navigate on foot, Amsterdam is home to numerous parks and attractions and boasts a wealth of museums that suit multiple interests, including some that appeal to kids. All of these attributes make it a great destination for a few nights’ stay on a family vacation.
Although it deals with 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. Her original diary is on display as well.
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 onsite bookshop has several versions of her diary more suitable for younger children. I’d read a picture book about Anne Frank with my younger daughter that helped make the museum more palatable for her.
TIP: It’s essential to avoid the long lines at the Anne Frank House by buying advance tickets. Ticket sales for the ensuing six weeks open every Tuesday at 10 am Amsterdam time. They can sell out very quickly, so it pays to get online early.
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After a morning of grappling with such lofty subject matter, the girls needed something more lighthearted, as did I, and a canal boat ride was 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, but we preferred to point at the sites we found 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).
You can purchase a Canal Cruise Ticket that allows you to hop on board at any of the major canal tour operators, no reservations needed. For a private or small-group cruise on an open boat, Pure Boats is a wonderful option. While some of their tours have minimum ages of 14 and up, others, like the Highlights of Amsterdam route, are open to younger kids.
We started 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 for children ages 6 to 12 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 masterpiece.
After looking at the sunflowers, we headed to Vondelpark, conveniently located right around the corner. Vondelpark is Amsterdam’s most popular park and has multiple play areas, an open-air theater that stages free children’s shows and several cafés.
TIP: Enjoy a Dutch pannekoek (pancake) at Snoephuisje, the park’s restaurant.
The famous 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 did 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.
Begin the third day with a visit to a museum — this time, the kid-friendly NEMO Science Museum. The biggest science museum in the Netherlands and housed in a ship-shaped building, this museum is “all hands on deck,” with five floors full of activities designed to engage four of the five senses. It would be easy to spend an entire day here and inexpensive enough that you’d probably want to. We decided instead to spend half the day at NEMO and the other half at the zoo. 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 from NEMO’s rooftop, which includes an open-air square with special exhibitions, a restaurant and more.
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, a botanical garden, a planetarium and a butterfly pavilion where we spent a large portion of our time.
Although 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.
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