Amsterdam is one of my favourite cities to visit. I had already been twice with friends for the usual experience (coffee shops & clubs) but a while ago my children were mentioning that they wanted to go. My daughter Jordanna had been learning about Anne Frank at school and so I decided to take them.
Is it for Children?
When I mentioned to friends and family that I’d be taking all 3 kids to Amsterdam, I was met with shocked reactions, “why are you taking kids there” or “why when it’s all about drugs and sex” this coming from people who have never been and just heard rumours. The fact is Amsterdam is very family friendly and there is so much to do and explore. Much more than getting stoned in a back street coffee shop or glaring at half naked women in red light windows.
We live in Bolton, there are two main options to get to Amsterdam. You can go by boat, usually via hull or Newcastle. This is no good for me as I don’t drive. Or you can fly. It’s just over an hour from Manchester meaning once your at altitude you’re literally coming down to land.
Where to Stay
Amsterdam is packed full of hundreds of hotels and hostels. We booked via Love holidays and had zero issues with this booking. I chose the XO city centre hotel due to its very central location. You can see Amsterdam central station from here. It’s a street away from all the big shops and five minute walk from the red light district. We had a large family room with 4 single beds, basic bit comfy and very cheap. I paid just over a grand for four nights at this hotel with flights.
City Card is a must
I did my research prior to going. I looked into all the places and activities that I knew we’d enjoy as a family. When pricing these up, one thing kept popping up – The I AM AMSTERDAM CITY CARD. Buying one of these will save you a lot of money and hassle. One of these cards gets you into so many of amsterdams museums and attractions. You choose how many days you want one for and can collect at the main central station plus a few other outlets around the city. It’s worth every penny.
Our Mini Tour
I could write forever about everything we did, but I don’t want to bore you. We crammed in so much in just four days but enjoyed every minute. So here is a shortish run down of what we got up to. With pictures.
- Ripley’s Believe it or not – located just a few minutes walk from our hotel. This was our first stop, just a few hours after arriving. Like most places in Amsterdam, this place is huge. I think it’s 3/4 floors full of oddities and weird things. It’s lots of fun, and takes a couple of hours to get round it. You can’t use the city card in here but I did find an offer on Groupon to get us tickets for much cheaper.
- Nemo science museum – We were awake nice and early on our second day and had a nice 20 minute stroll over to Nemo. If you have the city card then you get free entry to Nemo but may have to book a slot during busy periods. Nemo is great for families and kids. It’s a multiple floor interactive science museum. There is so much to look at and touch. Adults and bigger kids will love it too.
- Artis Royal Zoo – Yes that’s correct, Amsterdam has a zoo. I didn’t know that either until I looked into family activities. The zoo is about a 20 minute walk from Nemo. There are trams and trains to get there too but more on that later. Entry is included with city cards. Artis is a large zoo which takes up about 3 hours of time. There is a large selection of animals including elephants, giraffes, lions, smaller animals, birds, insects and a crocodile which my daughter thought was a statue, I bet she wouldn’t say that if she was right next to it. Artis also hosts some smaller attractions including Groote and Micropia which focus on microbes and germs and smaller species.
- Canal Cruise – A good way to experience this amazing city is to take a canal boat cruise. Amsterdam is surrounded by canals which form its unique history. There are many canal tour companies across the city. If you have the city card then a few of these are included for free entry but you will need to book. We chose Lovers canal cruises. And we chose an evening cruise, mainly due to it being August and not wanting to get sea sick during the very hot days. You are given earphones and can select preferred language. The tour lasts about an hour and you get to see many famous landmarks and places.
- Upside Down Museum – This looked like a really fun place, and I wasn’t wrong. On our 3rd day, we boarded a short train over to Europaplein and had a short walk over to this awesome museum. This is actually the largest interactive social museum in Amsterdam. It’s a total unique experience like nothing else I’ve ever been too. It’s hard to explain but there’s a lot of colour and patterns. Many photo opportunities and you also get photos taken along the way which are sent to your phone for free via email. This is not included with the city card but it’s well worth a visit.
- Rijksmuseum – To be totally honest, I wasn’t too sure whether we would enjoy this one, but as it was close to other attractions I thought I’d give it a go. I’d describe this huge place as your typical museum. The sort of place you imagine a museum to be. It’s 800 years of Dutch history with a massive showcase of art and artefacts, many of them look very expensive. Both me and all the kids were actually quite impressed with this place. Not boring at all.
- Moco museum – Moco is art but forget your hundred year old paintings, this is modern art, funky, colourful and a little out there. This is Banksy, Andy Warhol and other modern artists. It’s a bit smaller than the other places we visited but still so much to see.
- This is Holland – This is a totally unique 5D experience. Think huge indoor ride. You can’t take pictures once inside but it’s certainly a great experience. Once fastened in sears, the floor disappears and it actually feels like you’re flying over Amsterdam, there’s even real scents and water, wind etc in your face. We loved it. This place is located across the water. There is a free ferry that takes you there.
- A’DAM Tower & Swing – Located close to I Am Holland is the A’DAM tower. It’s a huge 100 meter high building which you access by elevator to the top. From there you get the most amazing views of the city and can sit and chill with food and drinks. The views are quite spectacular but for those feeling a little more brave (or crazy) there is the extra option of the Over the Edge experience. You get to sit in a big swing right at the top of the tower. This then swings back and forth over the edge of the building. Of course I had to have a go. Yes I absolutely crapped myself (not literally) the moment I sat down. It did make me feel a little nauseous too but the whole thing didn’t last too long.
- Vondelpark – Our last place on our mini tour was Amsterdams famous Vondelpark. It’s a beautiful park and makes a lovely walk on a hot day. The size of it meant we didn’t get around all of it but again it was worth the visit. This is the only park I’ve been to that has an outdoor pool. It’s very shallow, more of a splash pool and it’s great for cooling down in. The park has many waterfalls, water features, flower gardens, park rides, cafes and things to see. There is a tram stop close to the park.
- Anne Frank House – One of the main reasons for our trip was to visit Anne Frank house. Unfortunately taking photos anywhere inside the house is prohibited and can lead to you being thrown out. Many of the original documents can be destroyed by camera flashes and of course the experience is unique and they don’t want it spoilt for others. The tour is self guided via an audio device in your own language. This is the actual house where Anne Frank and her family lived and hid during WW2. You get to see the bookcase , the hiding areas and original features plus diary entries. I found it a very emotional experience. You have to book this online and well in advance as it sells out very fast.
Those are the main attractions that we covered in our 4 night stay. Of course there are multiple other things to see and do and when I go again, I’ll hopefully get to to do a bit more. See a few other useful pointers below.
If you’ve never been to Amsterdam then you may feel a little overwhelmed on how to get to places. I’d advise staying in a city centre hotel so that you are close to everything. Getting around is actually easy. You can rent a bike or scooter. Then there are trains to local attractions plus trams, both underground and overground. There are regular buses and ferries. Many signs and notices are in English as well as Dutch. City card holders can benefit from free or reduced travel on trains, trams and buses.
Food & Drink
Amsterdam has many food options to suit most budgets. You can go all in and dine out five star if you wish. But there are many quick fast food options too. Lots of McDonald’s, kfc and kebab places. I recommend visiting a FEBO restaurant just for the experience. These are places with vending machines containing take away food such as burgers, nuggets, fries. You put your money/card in and hot food comes out. It’s really cheap and the food is just like Mcdonalds.
If you fancy something sweet then there are many patisseries, cake shops, waffle restaurants around. The windows alone will no doubt tempt you inside. Also many supermarkets to pick up snacks and drinks. As I was with my children I didn’t really visit pubs and bars but you’ll be spoilt for choice with these.
One thing you can’t escape from here is shopping. There are shops everywhere. A huge primark with five floors, next to a huge TK MAXX. Hundreds of souvenirs shops too. However if you get offended easily then beware as many of these gift shops also sell cannabis products such as lollies, and space cake, Adult toys and products are often on display too next to the mugs, kids toys and windmill ornaments. Of course as usual I spent too much. The sweet shops are an experience by themselves by the way.
Amsterdam is an amazing unique place to be enjoyed by all. There is so much more to it than just drugs or partying. My kids loved every minute and the only complaint being toger they’re feet hurt from walking about too much. So much to see and do and I’d happily take them again soon.