This is a post I've been meaning to write up since we got back from our holiday in August, so it is a little out-of-date. But it might be useful to anyone else heading to Amsterdam with children.
Amsterdam's reputation for drugs and red lights might not make it seem the obvious place to go on a family holiday, but we'd never visited before and the airline we flew to Europe stopped there, so we decided to stay for five nights to break up the flight before we continued to London. I am so glad we did! It is a magical city and has lots of wonderful things to do with children.
Something else, which was a nice surprise, was how much more affordable Amsterdam is than other European cities (especially London and Paris). The strong Australian dollar at the moment helps too, but it was a real bonus when we started booking accommodation and while we were there.
So, my suggestions for Amsterdam with children are:
- Stay in an apartment, especially if your children are small and like to go to bed early and eat early. And stay centrally. (I would suggest this for going anywhere with kids, not just Amsterdam). In Amsterdam we were in the Jordaan area which is central, very charming and not seedy at all.
We stayed at Maes B&B which I found through Tripadvisor, and I think that made the holiday for us because it was so well set up and it was in a great location. We stayed in a self-contained apartment a few doors down from the main B&B, with a kitchen, roof terrace and living area downstairs, and then upstairs there were two bedrooms. The stairs were STEEP so it was a bit of a juggle to get up and down with bags and small children but once we were up there it was perfect. We had a great view and it was so convenient to be able to make meals for the children when it suited us, and to have room to spread out. Ken and Vlad, who run the B&B, were very helpful and told us where there were a couple of supermarkets, a laundromat and chemist etc. all within a few minutes walk, so it was a very easy way to stay with children. Herenstraat had lovely shops, boutiques and restaurants, and after the children were in bed Mark and I could get some takeaway from one of the restaurants nearby and eat on the roof terrace - like going out to dinner, without the hassle of finding a babysitter.
- Hire bikes. The city centre is flat and compact and bike riding is a perfect way to cover lots of ground without tiring out small legs.
- Eat pancakes. We went to the Pancake Bakery one night, because it was right near where we were staying and while it is not the most glamorous food the children absolutely loved it (Ali got a pirate pancake complete with spyglass) so it made a very easy dinner out. And pancakes are a traditional Dutch food, so it's kind of cultural, right? There are other pancake restaurants all over the city.
- If you are going to attempt museums, pre-book. The Van Gogh Museum, Anne Frank House, Rijksmuseum and Rembrandt's House all offer prebooking online. This saves queuing time and means your children are less likely to be grumpy before they even get in the door. There is a playground in the big square between the Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh museum, which is good for burning up energy pre/post museum visit.
- The Vondelpark! This is a beautiful big park not far from the museums. It has a lovely playground with a paddling pool, and is also a lovely spot for picnicking and riding bikes. There is a big cafe right next to another playground, too.
- The nice thing about staying is an apartment is being able to cook for yourself if you want to, and a trip to the supermarket can be a cultural experience in its own right. Spending time looking at the things that are different from at home, and letting children help make decisions about which brand of cheese or type of yoghurt to buy make it a fun excursion.
- The Miffy shop. I love Miffy. And the Miffy shop is a little out of the way, in a more residential neighbourhood, so it's a good excuse to explore a different part of the city. We picked up a few Miffy souvenirs, and then went across the road to this very child-friendly cafe for lunch.
- Go see some windmills. The town of Zaanse Schans is a short train ride from central Amsterdam but feels a world away from the city. It was great to be able to look inside the windmills at all the moving cogs, and then climb up to enjoy the view. Ali is completely fearless with heights and got up and down the ladders far more easily than a lot of adults.
- Don't take a huge pram. Footpaths are narrow, streets are cobbled, and shops and restaurants don't have a lot of space inside. This is not the place for a giant 3-wheeler. We had a folding Maclaren and an Ergo baby carrier, which worked out pretty well. Usually Milla (who was 9 months old) went in the stroller, but if Ali (who was 3 and a half) got really tired we could put Milla in the Ergo and let him have a turn in the stroller. The trams in the city are easy to take a small stroller on and off.
- Pack raincoats. Another thing I hadn't realised about Amsterdam is that it is WET. However it seems like the rain tends to be light and drizzly, so if you have a rain coat or rain cover for the stroller you can still get out and about easily. We made sure that on dry days we did things outdoors, and saved museums and indoor excursions for when it looked overcast.
Those are just some suggestions of things we enjoyed and what worked for us, but we were only there for a short visit and did things that were appropriate for very young children, so I'd love to hear any suggestions or comments that other people have. We really loved Amsterdam, and I'm sure we'll visit again before too long.