We haven’t done a family city break, but Amsterdam was high on our travel wish list, so when we spotted cheap flights on Skyscanner we snapped them up. The twins have only just turned seven, so we needed to plan a trip that would engage them, and that we would all enjoy as a family. As a family we have a love of all things creative, so I wanted to find things to do in Amsterdam that would feed into that. Instead of buying a guide book, I turned to the internet to find the best attractions Amsterdam has to offer for families who don’t necessarily want to follow the well-worn tourist trail. I trawled Pinterest and blogs to find points of interest and cafes that looked interesting, and that I thought would be a hit with the kids too. Once I’d drawn up a shortlist, we talked through the choices as a family, and between us we settled on a hit list of places to see and things to do, and I worked out an itinerary based on those (our itinerary is at the bottom of this post).
TOP TIPS FOR A FAMILY CITY BREAK TO AMSTERDAM
Create a personalised google map. I created a new map of Amsterdam, and added all the points of interest I came across when researching. I went one step further and colour-coded the points by category – coffee spots, attractions, restaurants, shops. I added as many points as I possibly could, so that if we found ourselves in an area desperate for a sit down and a drink, we could check the map for our nearest place, rather than wandering around hoping to happen across somewhere. I made the map available offline, so I didn’t even need to be connected to the internet to be able to check it, and I shared it with Ben so we both had it on our phones. Plotting all the points on a map also helped us sketch out an itinerary, because it gave a much better picture of the activities in a particular geographic area, rather than us constantly criss-crossing across Amsterdam (something we wanted to minimise with two walking-averse seven-year-olds in tow).
Invest in I amsterdam city cards. The best thing this offered for us was free, unlimited use of the GVB public transport in Amsterdam (bus, tram & metro). The card also gives you free entry to a lot of the city’s top museums and attractions. We actually skipped a lot of the most popular attractions, but we did use the cards to get free entry to Stedelijk museum and to the Botanical Gardens. We didn’t get cards for the kids because they go free at a lot of the attractions anyway, and an unlimited travel card for them cost 2,50€ per 24 hours. The I amsterdam website also has a wealth of information about the city, including places to visit and a guide to the Amsterdam neighbourhoods.
Get the lowdown from locals. I bought a little book CITIX60 Amsterdam – 60 local creatives bring you the best of the city, which was really handy for local knowledge, and I also downloaded the Spotted by Locals app and added the spots handpicked by locals to my google map. This was particular great for coffee spots and restaurants.
Remember you can’t do it all. This was something we accepted before we even arrived in Amsterdam. There is just too much to see and do in a short trip. Plus there are museums that the kids are still a little young to appreciate and understand, but which I think they’ll love in a few years time when we can come back again. One of the best things we did was to build some downtime back at our hotel (I’ll share all the details of our V-Loft in a separate post later this week) in our days. Exploring a city is exhausting, both for the kids and for us parents, so some time to sit down and play card games or do some colouring in, or just chat about everything we’d seen so far that day meant we could regroup and head back out full of enthusiasm once again.
5 TOP ACTIVITIES FOR CREATIVE FAMILIES IN AMSTERDAM
Canal wandering We had originally planned to do a canal cruise, but in the end we preferred to stay out in the fresh air (the boats all have transparent roofs) and wander along the canals instead. We mainly explored the stunning Prinsengracht canal and walked along this until we reached Nine Streets, where we ate the best pancakes we’ve ever had at Pancakes Amsterdam! (no queues for an early mid-week lunch) and window shopped. There was so much for all of us to see and take in – the bikes whizzing by (all ideas of a leisurely family cycle along the canals were swiftly shelved as soon as we saw the reality of the bike lanes and how fast and frenetic they are), all the different shapes of the gable facades (which prompted the kids to try sketching the shapes back at the hotel later), the houseboats, the boat cruises going by, the doorways. I absolutely loved it, and it was a great way to get our bearings and soak up the beauty of Amsterdam.
EYE Film Museum A quick hop over the IJ river on the ferry from behind Centraal Station (5 mins) will take you to this architecturally striking museum, opened in 2012. Designed to be a ‘house of film’, the building houses four modern cinemas, a riverside restaurant with an amazing view over Amsterdam and lots of film-related things to see and do, including exhibitions and a brilliant trail for the kids. The twins were completely engaged and loved the puzzle tour that took them around all the black devices dotted around the building, such as a camera obscura, plexioscope and much more. We also had fun creating our own flip book, which you can pay to have printed at the gift shop for just under €5. We wanted to catch a showing of a kids’ film (which happen regularly), but there was nothing on while we were in the city.
NDSM Werf A disused shipyard that’s 15 minute ferry ride from behind Centraal Station has become a gritty new arts hub. The area is pretty desolate (especially on a grey day as it was when we visited), but the amazing street art and murals bring it to life. There was plenty of space for the kids to run and around and explore, and you discover pieces of art at every turn. Then we headed to Pllek – a restaurant and performance space constructed from used shipping containers. There’s a manmade beach and tables outside overlooking the IJ, but it on a grey and chilly October day we preferred to cosy up inside, where there was an open fire pit, and a chill-out zone with cushions and board games.
Stedelijk museum We liked hanging out at Museumplein (museum square, where as well as Amsterdam’s three main museums, there’s the I amsterdam sign, some gardens with fountains, and a mini play area), but decided not to tackle the Rijksmuseum and Van Gogh museum on this trip. However, we loved the sound of the Stedelijk museum, with its collection of modern and contemporary art and design, so we popped our heads in for an hour or so. There was an absolutely fantastic exhibition of work by sculptor Jean Tinguely. His works are so striking and interactive – the artist thought that an artwork isn’t finished until it moves – so this was perfect for capturing the kids’ imaginations. The museum’s Family Lab was equally brilliant. To tie in with the Tinguely exhibition, the room was full of a moving machine (powered by a pedal bike), and the kids could create their own art once the machine was moving.
Hortus Botanicus (Botanical Gardens) Every member of our family voted this our favourite Amsterdam attraction. We arrived at 11am on a sunny Saturday morning, and it immediately seduced us with its tranquility and beauty. There was a simple activity book for children (it was in Dutch but five minutes on google translate and we were good to go), and it’s one of my best souvenirs from our trip, as we had to collect leaves from around the gardens to stick into the pages. The gardens looked stunning with their display of autumn colours, but it was the greenhouses that were a total joy. The butterfly house was beautiful, and the Palm Greenhouse (built in 1912) was a real architectural (and botanical) gem, but it was the Three Climate Greenhouse that has stuck in the kids’ minds. With three different zones with different climates – the subtropics, the desert, and the tropics – different routes take you through dry scrubland, desert, or jungle. There are incredible, towering cacti in the desert, and terrapins to spot in the tropical zone. Walkways on different levels give new perspectives, and we went round each zone at least twice. The museum cafe, housed in the striking Orangery, was the perfect spot for a delicious and good-value lunch.
EYE FILM MUSEUM
DE HORTUS BOTANICUS
OUR FAVOURITE AMSTERDAM COFFEE SPOTS
(and I mean for actually drinking coffee, not the other kind of coffeeshop)
Koffie Academie A nice little cafe not far from Vondelpark
Bocca Not the most child-friendly place, but still worth a visit if only to see how seriously they take their coffee. The interior design is stunning, and watching the baristas brewing coffee using state of the art coffee equipment was fascinating!
CT Coffee & Coconuts I was desperate to stop off at this (surprisingly cavernous) cafe with its wall of hanging planters. We scored the best table under the plants, where we relaxed on bean bags and enjoyed our drinks. The Cococut Coffee I had was so good, and I’m still day dreaming about the chocolate cookie with sea salt and hazelnut.
Pllek As mentioned above, this is a great place to hang out in NDSM Werf. Good coffee and delicious smoothies.
Wildernis I couldn’t visit Amsterdam without making a pilgrimage to fabled plant shop Wildernis. There are a couple of little tables nestled amongst all the greenery for you to enjoy a coffee while you browse.
OUR THREE-DAY AMSTERDAM ITINERARY
Arrive in the evening, check into our hotel, pop out for dinner at Burgermeester.
Day 1: Explore the canals and wander around Nine Streets. Lunch at Pancakes Amsterdam! (no queues for an early mid-week lunch). Afternoon at the EYE film museum. Dinner at Pazzi (best pizza I’ve ever had).
Day 2: Check out the street art at NDSM Werf, with coffee and snacks at Pllek. Quick stop at Wildernis and a walk through Vondelpark. Late afternoon/early evening visit to Stedelijk museum museum before dinner at Soi74 Thai Food Cafe (lively restaurant, delicious food, great with the kids).
Day 3: Coffee and a wander around Waterlooplein, then a short walk to the Botanical Gardens. Lunch at the cafe there, then more canal exploring. Quick stop at CT Coffee & Coconuts for a pit stop, then at Hutspot to use the photo booth before our flight home.
Clothing: The twins’ gorgeous duffels are from Boden (I have a matching one!)
Disclosure: We were gifted the I amsterdam city cards for our trip