Amsterdam may be renown for promiscuity and various vices but we were there for other reasons.
Other than the Netherlands being my mother’s country of origin, we were excited to explore Amsterdam as a family destination, not just one for the single backpackers.
And we did it.
Here some ideas for your next family holiday in Amsterdam.
Stay on a Houseboat
One of the best places you can stay is on a houseboat. It’s a fun way to step into the relaxed Dutch pace of life and get connected with the waterways this city is so well-known for. Along the canals you’ll find some of Europe’s best and most expensive houseboats. There are only around 2,500 permits allowed in Amsterdam and the city isn’t issuing any more so houseboats are in very short supply.
Nevertheless, when you have a bucket list item to live on one in Amsterdam like we did, it has to be done.
NEMO is the largest science centre in the Netherlands. We arrived by canal boat which dropped us at the entrance but alternatively it’s only a 10 minute walk east from Centraal Station.
NEMO is five jam-packed floors of exciting things to do and discover for any age visitor. Exhibitions, theatre, films, workshops, demonstrations and more give kids the opportunity to learn by touch, sight and sound.
There are interactive displays like producing purified water or hoisting your own body weight with pulleys. Our kids enjoyed the science lab where we were provided with lab coats and clipboards and undertook various experiments. We watched how one colour separated into two using only water – fascinating!
Curiously, there was a 12 to 18-year-old section which was filled with dolls in risqué positions and puppet tongues to demonstrate French kissing. Not entirely appropriate in my opinion for any 12-year-old and was certainly causing many of the adults to blush.
Near the exit on the top floor there’s a café along with a kids water playground. The top of the building provided a glorious view of the surrounding canals, harbour and city.
In addition to shaded seating, various games were scattered around the rooftop which could be utilized without even needing to visit inside (or buying an entry ticket).
Anne Frank’s Huis
At Prinsengracht 263, a young Jewish girl, Anne Frank, lived in hiding with her family for more than two years during World War II. Her situation was finally revealed, she was deported and ultimately died in a concentration camp.
Her father was the only surviving member of the family and went on to discover her journey during the period by reading her diary. He had it published into an international best-selling book and her story has lived on ever since.
Visiting the house is a sobering experience detailing the confines the family and friends shared and snippets from her diary.
While not overly kid-friendly, it was an important experience to share with the children. It’s a must when visiting Amsterdam. Make sure you purchase tickets online in advance as the entry queues are can be long.
To be honest, this was not high on our list of things to do but we were so glad we did it. It was so much more than just wax statues.
It’s an interactive experience to test your soccer skills, dress-up like royalty, pose with ET on a bike, take a “smooth criminal” photo with Michael Jackson and so much more.
And when you get to the top of the building, the views over Dam Square are pretty special.
This café is a wonderful addition for families in Amsterdam. It’s a unique concept that we haven’t witnessed anywhere else in our travels. Not only was there an outdoor playground and an indoor play area but kids could cook their own meals.
There was a series of photos along the front counter area showing various items that could be made and what ingredients were needed.
Our kids chose to make a pizza. They were given a tray and instructions to select all the ingredients shown on the picture – dough, flour, tomato sauce, vegetables and cheese.
With their cute little aprons and chef hats, they sat down to create their culinary masterpiece. They then passed it to the staff to carefully place in the oven and went off to play. Once the pizza was ready, they ran back inside to gobble it all down.
This discovery centre is just outside of town but very easy to get to by metro or tram.
The kids were provided with a clipboard that had quite a number of different jobs on it. They could choose what they wanted to do and the staff member would then cross it off the list and hand them any tools or items they needed to complete the mission.
Our first task was making potato chips.
We tried lots of activities from building a dam (can’t visit Amsterdam without building a dam) to making music (stamping a music sheet with holes), writing with ink and a quill, making sailboats, roasting coffee beans and plenty more.
It is an incredible place to spend more than a few hours. Bring lunch and stay longer.
Most of Amsterdam is best seen from the canals. The Canal Bus provides four routes and 19 stops using a hop-on, hop-off arrangement. Stops include the main museums in the area, shopping areas and attractions. It’s a great way to get around and explore the city for the day.
Not quite in Amsterdam but not too far out is the delightful village of Zaanse Schans on the banks of the river Zaan. From Centraal Station, take the regional bus and you’re there in less than 40 minutes.
This is the place to go for your windmill experience or to try on clogs and to eat lots of delicious cheese.
Zaanse Schans features green wooden houses, cute gardens, small hump-backed bridges, tradesmen’s workshops, historical windmills and even a goat or two.
We climbed a windmill for an unbeatable, stunning vista of the Dutch countryside then dropped by the clog shop to watch how they were made.
In the tourist centre you can also visit the Verkade museum, which demonstrates the long tradition of biscuit and chocolate making … and you get to try some, yum!
We haven’t even covered bicycling around Amsterdam, visiting Rembrandt Square, meeting locals, floating flower stores and so much more but it’s a nice starter if you’re travelling with kids.