Amsterdam is well-known as a grown-up destination due to its exciting nightlife and particular coffee shops. However, labeling the capital of the Netherlands as the Sin City of Europe can be unfair. There is so much more to do than that in this historic city. Among several other attractions, you will find beautiful parks and canals, world-class museums, fascinating architecture, old windmills, and good food. Amsterdam is indeed a fabulous place for families with kids of all ages.
We had a connecting flight in Amsterdam on our way to South Africa. We didn’t want to miss the opportunity to see the city. During our three-day vacation in Amsterdam, we were immersed in the city’s laid-back atmosphere and found plenty of ways to entertain ourselves as a family. We had a lovely time. Would you like to know more?
Getting around Amsterdam
The city core is compact and easy to navigate, so we walked and biked almost everywhere. However, if you plan to use public transportation, take advantage of the Iamsterdam City Card which will give you unlimited access to all public transport, including trams, buses, and metros. Buy it according to the length of your trip (24, 48, 72, 96 or 120 hours.) The card will also give you free access to main attractions such as the Rijksmuseum Museum and Van Gogh Museum, plus a discount on the canal cruise.
Here is our ultimate family-friendly itinerary in Amsterdam when visiting it for the first time:
1. Discover Begijnhof
An inconspicuous entrance by the American Book Center will lead you to a surprisingly quiet escape in the middle of busy Amsterdam. Begijnhof is an old courtyard comprised of historical buildings around a grassy area, built during the middle ages for a group of unmarried religious women who didn’t want to live in a convent. And to this day, single women still live there, so people walk around and take pictures quietly to respect their privacy.
2. Stroll along the Flower Market
Located in the heart of the city, along the Singel Canal between Koningsplein and the Muntplein is the world’s only floating flower market. Although often crowded, it still deserves a quick stroll along the colorful shops that sell mainly fresh daffodils, orchids, carnations, violets, geraniums, snowdrops, and of course tulips which take the spotlight of the narrow alleyway. From beginning to end, we enjoyed each smell and color of this beautiful place. The shops also sell clogs, wooden tulips, gardening pots, and all sorts of Dutch souvenirs.
3. Go on a canal tour
After long walks around the city center, we realized our feet needed a break. How could we enjoy the city without requiring too much effort? A guided canal tour was the answer.
Amsterdam is called the Venice of the North for a reason. The 165 canals combined have a length of over 62 miles with countless gingerbread-like buildings alongside. While we journeyed through the waterways, we not only relaxed but also learned some interesting facts about the local history. It gave us a different perspective on the city. Amsterdam is one of the most picturesque places I have visited, and the canal tour became one of our favorite memories. It is definitely a must-do in the city. In 2010, Amsterdam canals became part of UNESCO World Heritage.
4. Visit Anne Frank’s House
The Anne Frank House is a place full of stories. Using a free audio tour, quotes, photos, videos, and original items, we toured the secret annex where Anne Frank, her family, and four others were in confinement for two years during the World War II. We had a historical glimpse of what it was like to be a Jew during the Nazi occupation of Europe. It was heartbreaking, but it was at the same time an important history lesson for all of us.
During that time, Anne kept a diary in which she wrote about the horrors of war and the everyday problems of being a teenager. Anne Frank’s diary became a symbol of life under German occupation.
Note: There is almost always a long queue to visit Anne Frank’s House. I highly recommend getting tickets in advance.
5. Snap a picture at “Iamsterdam” sign and explore Rijksmuseum Museum
No trip to Amsterdam will be complete without a visit to the world-class Rijksmuseum Museum. We visited it early in the morning, and because it hadn’t opened yet, we walked around for a little bit. The iconic slogan, “Iamsterdam” sign located behind the building was inviting. After taking a few pictures, we walked back to the museum.
The collection of paintings, sculptures, manuscripts, and artifacts was quite extensive and impressive. The museum owns over a million works of art. Depending on how much you would like to see, it can be a whole day activity. We chose two tours: Highlights (90 min), which included the well known Night Watch painting, and Special Collections (45 min), displaying locks and keys, dishes, and very intricate model ships from the 19th-century. We finished up with the musical instruments, and armor and guns from the 18th century.
If you have the Iamsterdam City Card, the entrance is free of charge. However, it is necessary to check in at the counter to gain access. Plan accordingly as the midday hours can be the most crowded.
6. Rent a bike
Cycling in Amsterdam is a way of life. The city has a network of bike lanes, and we were impressed with how many cyclists there were on the streets – literally thousands. A local told us that there are more bikes than people in the city. A joke or not, they were everywhere.
Since cycling is key to the city’s character, we rented bikes to get around. We didn’t have to look hard for a rental center. Just down the street from our hotel we got a tandem and a regular bike for a 48-hour period. In the beginning, it was challenging to bike in the busy routes of Amsterdam, but soon we felt like an Amsterdammer. Stay to the right, don’t stop in the middle of the road or someone will crash into you, and use your hands to signal left or right on your turns. Do that, and you will blend in as a local.
7. Get lost in the city and find Jordaan neighborhood
There is no better way to see the true Amsterdam spirit than wandering around, whether on a bike or on foot. We did both. Without any planning, we biked and strolled through different neighborhoods admiring the narrow houses and canals that make Amsterdam a charming city. Jordaan was one of our favorite areas. In this upscale artsy district, we wandered along the most scenic canals, stopping for typical Dutch delicacies, window shopping, and to check out art galleries. Do I have to say that we made several stops for pictures?
Note: Do not forget to lock your bike every time it will be out of your sight.
8. Take a relaxing break in Vondelpark Park
We biked to Vondelpark where we shared space with locals and other tourists. Conveniently located in the center of the city, the park offers a popular but relaxing atmosphere. Small groups of people, couples, and single visitors relaxed and enjoyed the sunshine among trees and ponds on the grassy areas while sipping a drink or reading a book. Motorized traffic is not allowed in the park, leaving the wide paths free for bicyclists, runners, skaters, and skateboarders.
At the Kinderkook Cafe, located in the Vondelpark, kids can cook their own meal. There is a list of dishes to make along with the required ingredients. Our girl chose croissants. She received a tray and collected all of the ingredients: pre-made dough, butter, cheese, and ham. She assembled it and carefully took it to the kitchen where an employee placed it in the oven. Minutes later it was ready, and she proudly ate the meal “prepared and cooked” by herself. She truly enjoyed the whole process. Meanwhile, we enjoyed some good coffee.
9. Check out the Gooyer Windmill
Windmills are an iconic element on the Dutch landscape, so it was mandatory for us to include
Windmills are an iconic element on the Dutch landscape, so it was mandatory for us to include one in our itinerary. We visited the octagonal Gooyer Windmill located in the Funenkade neighborhood. Dating from 1725 as a flour mill, it is one of the sole survivors of five windmills that once stood in that part of town. The structure is now a private home, so it is not open to the public.
You can reach Gooyer Windmill by bike, hop-on-hop-off bus tours, or on foot. We biked. The bike ride not only allowed us our own pace but also gave us the opportunity to see the outskirts of the city.
10. Learn about Van Gogh’s life and work
It is no surprise that the Van Gogh Museum is the second most-visited collection in the city, after the Rijksmuseum. Hosting the world’s largest collection of works by Van Gogh, the museum is a testimonial to the achievements of Vincent van Gogh and his artistic development. We spent about three hours learning about the brilliant Dutch painter’s work and his struggle with mental illness.
In addition to the creations by the acclaimed painter, the museum holds impressive works by the painter’s contemporaries, friends, and followers. Very interesting exhibition.
Where to stay in Amsterdam
Location! Location! Location! As first-time visitors, we stayed in the Hotel NH City Centre, in the pulsing heart of Amsterdam. A short walk in almost any direction led us to picturesque canals, cozy cafes, or a famous museum. When tired due to exploring or jet lag, we had a chance to take power naps and easily step out again in the middle of the main attractions. It made life easier, especially when traveling with a child.
Nevertheless, we fell in love with Jordaan. Close enough to the soul of the city, the village-like vibe made us feel a whole lot farther away. With plenty of things to see and do it will be my top choice in our next visit to Amsterdam. Check here the top family-friendly hotels in Jordaan.