Amsterdam may have its renown for sex and drugs, but we were there for other reasons. Other than the Netherlands being my mother’s country of origin, we were excited to discover Amsterdam as a family destination, not just one for the single backpackers.
And we did it.
Here are 10 things we found for your next family holiday in Amsterdam.
When visiting Amsterdam one of the best places you can stay is on a houseboat. We provided more details of our experience in a separate post. It’s a fun way to step into the Dutch relaxed pace of life and get connected with the waterways this city is so well-known for. Alternatively if being on the water isn’t for you try searching for a hotel.
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. It’s 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 science 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 sexual 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 was 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).
Despite the sexually provocative exhibit, NEMO was a fun place to take the kids for an exciting few hours of discovery.
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 meal.
There was a series of photos along the front counter area showing varies 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.
The place was a little worse for wear, it had rained heavily the night before and the building was still slightly flooded. The grass in the garden needed to be cut and some of the play equipment was worn, but making your own food is the stuff of dreams for my kids and they had a thoroughly wonderful time. I highly recommend it.
Slightly outside of town, but very easy to get to by metro or tram, is this discovery centre. It was like a smaller, simpler version of KidZania.
The kids were provided with a clipboard with 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 job was making potato chips. The kids were both given a potato and piece of paper. We walked over to a station, which instructed the kids how to make a cone out of the paper.
After that we went to the next station, which had a peeler. The kids peeled the potato and then carefully cut the potatoes with a small knife. After that they put the chips in a deep fryer.
Yes, it was hot oil and relatively unsupervised so make sure you are with the kids every inch of the way. Once the chips were ready we helped them take the fryer out and empty their chips into their paper cone.
Despite (and possibly because of) the knife and hot oil, the kids absolutely loved it and the chips were pretty tasty.
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) and to writing with ink and a quill, making sailboats, roasting coffee beans and plenty more.
The kids were saying “one more” the entire time and we finally really had to say “one more” as we were getting hungry.
We saw a school group there (there was a very unique, groovy system for holding bags) and it is an incredible place to spend more then a few hours. Bring lunch and stay longer.
5. Anne Frank’s Huis (The Anne Frank House)
At Prinsengracht 263 in Amsterdam there was a young Jewish girl, Anne Frank, who lived in hiding with her family for more than 2 years during World War II. She was eventually ratted out, deported and 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.
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 lesson to share with our kids. It’s a significant journey that is simply a must when visiting Amsterdam. Make sure you purchase tickets online in advance as the entry queues are phenomenally long.
6. Pannenkoekenboot (Pancake Boat)
We never made it to the pancake boat in Amsterdam. Unfortunately we thought the boat had a 5:45pm boarding time for a 6pm departure. When we arrived at 5:50pm they had already departed. So don’t be late.
We did, however, do a similar experience with the same company in Rotterdam and it was loads of fun. Cruising around the harbour for 75 minutes while having all you can eat pancakes is fabulous, but mix into that a kids ball pit in the bottom of the boat and this activity has the family fed, the adults touring and the kids playing. Triple win!
To be honest, this was not high on our list of things to do in Amsterdam, but we were so glad we did it. It was so much more then just wax statues. Famous for it’s wax museum celebrities you will be tempted to photograph yourself with every single one.
But it’s a lot more than wax models; there is an interactive experience to test your soccer skills, dress like royalty, pose with ET on a bike, take a “smooth criminal” photo with Michael Jackson on a green screen, and so much more.
Plus when you get to the top of the building the views over Dam Square are pretty special.
Oh, and on the way out there’s a cheeky surprise.
8. Canal Tour
Most of Amsterdam can be best seen from its canal system. The Canal Bus provides 4 routes and 19 stops using a hop-on-hop-off arrangement. You know how much we love those. Stops include the main museums in the area, shopping areas and attractions. It’s a great way to get around and explore Amsterdam for the day.
9. Eating Amsterdam
What’s a family holiday without holiday food? The streets of Amsterdam are filled with delicious Dutch food that will enrich your Amsterdam experience. Check out our full post on 10 Dutch foods you have to try.
10. Zaanse Schans
Not quite in Amsterdam but not too far out, is this delightful village on the banks of the river Zaan. From Centraal Station you can take the regional bus and be here in less than 40 minutes.
This is where you 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 workshops, historical windmills and even a goat or two. The whole village is aimed at pleasing the tourist from its kid-friendly game area where children can try stilts or hula hoping to the little stores offering samples of cheeses and chocolates.
We climbed a windmill for an unbeatable, stunning vista of the Dutch countryside, then hitting a clog shop to watch how they were made and perhaps buy some for your best friends (because heaven knows you’re not going to wear such uncomfortable shoes).
In the tourist centre you can also visit the Verkade museum, which demonstrates the long history of a biscuit and chocolate making factory… 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 this at least gives you a small taste of just how family friendly Amsterdam really is.