Amsterdam, my hometown. Though I really love living in Ticino, Switzerland, I do miss having the variety of a big(ger) city. A big zoo, kids friendly cafes, a library with kids books in your own language, museum and theater activities for kids. Yeah, sure it exists in Ticino, but you just don’t have that much choice on that one particular day that you are looking for activities and then there’s the language…
During previous visits to Amsterdam I’d meet with friends and our little man would just tag along, but now that he’s a bit bigger and needs more active play and stimulation, I decided to plan my trip to the homeland a bit more around his persona.
So, what could an ideal trip (with kids) to Amsterdam look like? It for sure includes a bike, a tram and pancakes!
Below I wrote down some of the things we did during our last stay. It’s just a notion of what Amsterdam has to offer, but I wanted to include things we actually did in one trip. I used clear headers for each topic so you can find and read what you need and skip the rest. Under “USEFUL INFO” you can find a summery of addresses and phone numbers. I also included a map to show where all venues are.
I don’t have personal experience with B&B’s and hotels in Amsterdam, but a really kids friendly and family rich area in Amsterdam is Oud West, more particular: the Helmersbuurt (the area including the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Helmersstraat). It’s not necessarily that you will find more kid friendly activities in this area, but kids are all around, playgrounds are full in the afternoon and people are used to kids around.
Furthermore this area is only a bike ride, or a walk, away from the city center, there are bars and restaurants galore, it has amazing connections by public transport to the rest of the city and you have a perfect and fast connection to and from the airport (by public transport, but also by car and taxi – about 40 Euro) and the Central Train Station (CS).
Parking is very expensive in Amsterdam (up to 5 Euro/hour, 7 days a week), so leave your car at home or park at one of the P+R parkings at the edge of the city. They are all well connected to the center through ways of public transport and you pay 1 to 8 euro a day only! NOTE: you MUST take public transport back to your car when you pick it up and you MUST travel from a spot in the city center to take advantage of the P+R tariff! So keep your ticket and check: www.iamsterdam.com/en/park-and-ride to make sure you don’t miss out: we met German tourists who had thrown their ticket away and they had to pay 150 euro parking instead of 3 euro? Lucky for them we had a spare tram ticket and we gave that to them to claim the cheaper tariff ;-).
Now that you got rid of your car, do as the locals do and get yourself a bike. It’s cheap, safe (Amsterdam is the most bike friendly capital in the world) and kids love sitting on the back, watching the city go by.
Bike rentals can be found anywhere and renting a bike is really not that expensive. Ask for a bike seat and helmet for your little one or, if you can find them, rent a bakfiets, the number One mode of transport for families with more than one child.
Your credit card will be charged with a rather large deposit ( I believe 100 euro), which you get back when the bike is returned.
Can’t or won’t ride a bike? No worries! Amsterdam has a large network of trams, buses, a few subways and even ferries. Our son always loves going by tram, or train, as he calls it.
Trams can get busy though and usually no more than two strollers are allowed on a tram. So during rush hour be prepared that you may be denied access to the tram if you are traveling with a stroller.
Amsterdam switched to a public transport chip card a few years ago, whereby you swipe a card to check in and out of any tram/bus/train/subway (ferries are usually free of charge). Every person needs their own car. Kids under 4 can travel for free, kids between 4 and 11 and 65+ get a 34% discount (ask when you buy the card!). Get yourself a discount chip card or day pass to travel around Amsterdam cheaper. Learn more about the different cards available and where to obtain them here: www.iamsterdam.com/en/public-transport.
EAT & PLAY
When it comes to eating out Amsterdam developed a lot over the last few years. Did many people used complain about the lack of good, innovative restaurants and the fact that as a parent you had nowhere to go with your active toddler, today you will have less of a hard time finding a nice setting, good food and some sort of entertainment for your child.
What: Mainly outdoor(!), self-service bar and restaurant at De Vondelpark, the “Central Park” of Amsterdam. Next to De Vondeltuin is a large playground. The playground does not belong to De Vondeltuin, though it’s connected by a little gate.
Food: Breakfast, lunch, dinner, warm and cold snacks, pastries, kids menu.
Play: There is a large sandpit, large climbing construction with rope web, climbing constructions with one large slide and a smaller one.
If you have small kids it’s important to know you cannot see them from the terrace of De Vondeltuin. I did see some parents with their beer near the sandpit, so my guess is you can bring your beverages over.
The big slide and climbing constructions look very nice, but are not really suitable for under 4 year olds (they simple cannot get up and it’s hard for parents to get in and help them) and personally I would feel that below 6 year olds still need some sort of supervision and/or help to get up and down these constructions. For the slightly older kids it’s a nice challenge and welcome change from the boring toddler constructions. This playground gets really crowded on sunny days during holidays and after school hours.
Amenities: High chair, drawing materials.
What: A 75-minute classic boat cruise over the IJ (prenounced [ɛi̯]), the main waterfront of Amsterdam situated behind Central Station, during which you can eat as many pancakes as you can and like! Boats depart on Wednesdays and Fridays afternoon (two departures) and on weekends (four departures). It’s recommended to make a reservation online.
You can reach the departure dock by free public transport ferry-boat (by foot or bike only), which leaves from behind the Central Railway Station (CS) from “Waterplein West”. Take the ferry with destination “NDSM-Werf”. The ferry departs every 30 minutes.
While waiting for the Pancakeboat to arrive, check out the left side wall of the flower shop, 24Flower across from the ferry: they have a, direct-from-the-greenhous-“help yourself”-flower-wall where you can insert money, open a hatch and take out a bunch of color coded flowers. Green stands for “First Class Fresh” (€ 10), which will last for at least 10 days, blue stands for “The Original Fresh” (€ 7), hich will last for at least 7 days and Orange means “Too Fresh Too Trash” (€ 4) en guarantees the flowers will at least last for another 4 days. From every bunch of flowers bought from the wall 24 cents is donated to Villa Joep, a fund against neuroblastoma children’s cancer. The daughter of one of the 24Flower employees has a terminal form of this cancer.
Food: Pancakes, Pancakes, Pancakes! Dutch kids love their pancakes with stroop (syrup), apple or brown sugar and adults with bacon or cheese, but on this boat you can decorate your pancakes with more sweet and savory topics than you can think of (including mini marshmallows and M&M’s, which I thought was a bit strange, but tasting rather nice of course).
Play: When entering the boat all kids get a coloring sheet and pencils and there is a large “ballenbak” (pool of balls) under the restaurant deck that opens once the kids ate at least two pancakes. This rule definitely makes it easier for the kids to sit still and eat…
Amenities: High chairs, changing table (much like an airplane changing table: a shelf in a cramped space). If you plan on bringing a stroller, make sure to check if you can take it on board. Disabled people might have a hard time making use of the bathroom as these are on the upper deck and can only be reached by stairs.
De Food Hallen (Website in Dutch only)
What: De Food Hallen are part of De Hallen, just off the Ten Kate street market in Oud West. De Hallen is a renovated and repurposed monumental building (built between 1902 and 1928) where once the first electric trams in Amsterdam were serviced. Currently it’s a center for media, culture, fashion, food and crafts.
De Food Hallen itself is an indoor food market, inspired by the Torvehallerne in Kopenhagen, Mercado de San Miguel in Madrid and the Borough Market in Londen. At least 20 different food stands offer their makings. As the stands are all set around a court with tables and chairs, every family member can pick their own favorite meal and still sit together to eat it. It’s not tailored to kids, but due to the huge choice in food it’s ideal for families with picky eaters.
Food: From pizza to oysters, from falafel to hamburgers, from fries to sushi; there is something for everybody and in my experience the quality is good! Don’t think it’s like an American shopping mall food court with McDonalds or Burger King type of places, it’s more upscale and trendy. Definitely worth a visit!
Play: No toys as far as I could tell, however the hallway in front of the food market is used by kids to ride their mini scooters, run around and play.
Groot Melkhuis (Website in Dutch only).
What: Large playground and self-service terrace at De Vondelpark, the “central park” of Amsterdam. Playground can be used without purchasing food or beverages. Though you can have breakfast and lunch here, I find it’s more a place to play and have a drink than to sit down for a meal.
Food: Breakfast, lunch, snacks, kids menu, poffertjes (mini pancakes), ice cream.
Play: Every weekend (when weather is good) they have inflatables to jump on, large playground set in sand, a cable way and several constructions and electrical toys.
Amenities: High chair, changing table, easy stroller access, loads of stroller space.
Muziekgebouw aan ‘t IJ (Website in Dutch only)
What: Muziekgebouw aan ’t IJ, near Central Station at the IJ waterfront, calls itself the “most important stage for contemporary music, as well as for classical music with a modern twist” in The Netherlands. They organize Kindermiddagen (kids afternoons) during which there are concerts for kids from 2 and up (against a fee). As it’s all about music, these events are perfect to visit as a non-Dutch speaker as well. The one we went to was and interactive performance for 2 – 4 year olds with flute, singing and dancing.
Food: We have not been here, so cannot say anything about the quality or child friendliness of this place, but Restaurant Zouthaven is located at the ground floor of the building. They serve lunch and dinner (mainly fish) and the terrace is large and directly at the water, overlooking the IJ.
Play: After the concerts there are activities for kids throughout the building (free of charge and open to the public without having attended a concert!) where kids can create their own instruments, join a workshop “making music” or attend the Klankenspeeltuin (Sound Playground – picture) where kids can learn how to compose their own music through a few very smart and innovative sound installations. The installation on the image is a touch screen that produces music when drawing on it’s surface.
What: The National Maritime Museum “shows you how the sea has shaped (the) Dutch culture. Stimulating, (interactive) exhibitions allow visitors to explore 500 years of maritime history.”. The building itself is already worth a visit: it’s beautifully renovated (2007 – 2011) and combines the old stone building from 1656 with super modern glass and steel structures with the courtyard glass roof as the center piece of it all. Free audio tour available in 11 languages and truly a fun place to visit from age 3/4 and up, but also a perfect place to go with small baby in a stroller. All exhibitions are accompanied by English explanations.
Food: Restaurant Stalpaert is a modern space overlooking the water. You can get fresh, tasty and good quality sandwiches, salads and soups here. For the kids they have a separate menu, which is slightly less healthy. A wide selection of cakes put the perfect finish to your lunch. They have coloring pencils and paper. You are also allowed to bring your own food, which you can eat in the open courtyard, jetty and pontoon.
Play: The museum shows many items that were used on the boats sailing to the west indies and scale models of the various ships. Kids will love walking around here. There are various interactive exhibitions, quite a few of which tailored to kids. Screens take visitors on a voyage, tell stories or are used to play interactive games. I was truly surprised to see how perfect the exhibitions are for small kids! Note: The virtual adventure Voyage At Sea can only be attended by kids age 8 and up.
The best thing though is the ship moored alongside the museum, the Amsterdam! It is an exact copy of the famous East Indiaman that was lost on her voyage in 1749. You can see what life on the ship was like, fire a canon, sleep in a hammock, sit in the galley, hoist cargo and steer the boat. Kids can play and touch things, exactly what you want and need on a ship like this! It took me quite some convincing to get my son back on land again.
Ammenities: Stroller and wheelchair accessible, changing tables, high chairs and kids menu (restaurant), free WIFI, free lockers (large and small) to store bags and coats, free wheelchairs.
Food: They serve a small lunch selection: tosti’s (toasted cheese bread), panini, sandwiches, croissants, mini pancakes (poffertjes), soup (only on weekend), healthy snacks, fresh juice, smoothies, etc. It does not make for a extensive lunch, but you won’t starve either. It’s not allowed to bring your own food!
Play: What don’t they have! Trampolines, various soft play constructions for different age groups, skatekarts, panna pit (small football court – open during holidays on weekends), the place is huge! In winter it can get a bit chilly, so bring an extra sweater or jacket.
Ammenities: High chairs, changing tables, low kids toilets, spare diapers (for sale), bottle can be warmed at restaurant and for the adults free WIFI, ear plugs (!) and reading table with magazines. Our 3,5 year old son played here independently for 4,5 hours, with only a 20 break total for bathroom and lunch, so WIFI and reading table were welcomed!
COFFEE (and small bites)
What: Kids concept store and café near Albert Cuyp street market, that targets moms (and dads) who’d like to have a coffee with a friend or browse for kids toys or clothes (kids and adults), while their babies, toddlers and perhaps even pre-schoolers can play. Every Saturday they have a children’s hairdresser (17,50 euro, reservations needed).
Food: Healthy sandwiches, cakes, coffee, juices. You won’t starve and it’s fine if you are on the go, but it won’t make for an extensive lunch.
Play: There is a playroom with a climbing construction and slide for small kids. They also have some loose toys to play with, but my 3,5 year old son was not so interested in the toys. It definitely is a place for very young children.
Ammenities: High chairs, changing table, kids menu, playroom, enough stroller space, relatively easy stroller access.
What: Kids concept store and café in one of the most fancy areas of Amsterdam, De Beethovenstraat. Like Blender (see above) they target moms (and dads) who’d like to have a coffee with a friend or browse for kids toys or clothes (luxery brands), while their babies, toddlers and pre-schoolers can play.
Food: Similar to Blender (read above), though I somehow was more invited to eat here as the place looked cleaner and less messy. Try the breakfast staple Dutch kids grow up with: Bread with hagelslag (chocolate sprinkles)! And of course don’t forget the Babychino (foamy, warm, milk with mini marshmallow sprinkled on top).
Play: A Duplo corner and a large and very complete train table with Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends. Apart from laying under this table with a new found friend (picture), he played with the trains for about 2 hours! This train table was the only thing my son actually asked to go back to once we were back home after a 12-day, kids-fun-packed, trip to Amsterdam!
Amenities: High chair, changing table, play corner, toys. They don’t have an outside area, but around the corner, Correllistraat) there is an elementary school with a nice and new playground consisting of a climbing wall and construction, a slide and trampoline. We went here to blow of some steam before heading to Mini Markt.
Note: the playground is a bit tricky for the really small ones due to it’s built up (it’s on a hill, patted, but still…).
Bibliotheek De Hallen (Website in Dutch only)
What: A small (Dutch) Library in De Hallen. De Hallen in area Oud West is worth a visit as it’s the renovated and repurposed monumental building (built between 1902 and 1928) where once the first electric trams in Amsterdam were serviced. Currently it’s a center for media, culture, fashion, food and crafts.
Food: At reading Café Belcampo you can get a drink, cake or a croissant. Twenty meters down from here you will find De Food Hallen (See above) where you can find almost anything you could possibly feel like.
Play: Café Belcampo, through which you have to walk to get to the library, has a small play corner and in the library you can sit in a comfortable chair and read books with your little ones or let them browse some books for the taking from shelves built to their height.
Note: kids below 18 can become a member for free and you can borrow five books, free of charge, every three weeks. Though we do not live in The Netherlands, I signed our son up so that we can borrow books during our stay. As far as I saw they do not have other language books, though the area is very international, so they may do have some. For the little ones they have quite a few picture books and soft books to look at and play with, so no matter the language, they are set.
Kids Theater Guide/Kinder Theater Gids – An overview of all theater shows for kids in Amsterdam.
Weekend Event Calendar – A weekend round up pulled together by the organization Amsterdam Mamas. The roundup is only published in a weekly newsletter and not on their website, but I found the backdoor to the list…
Taxi Centrale Amsterdam – The biggest taxi company in Amsterdam.
www.mummytravels.com/AdamWithKids – Fellow Blogger about Amsterdam with kids
Bibliotheek De Hallen
A small (Dutch) Library in De Hallen
Kids concept store and café
1071 WX Amsterdam
+31(0)20 845 26 15
www.blenderamsterdam.nl (Page in Dutch only)
De Food Hallen
Indoor food market
www.foodhallen.nl/ (Website in Dutch only)
(Mainly outdoor) self-service bar and restaurant
1075 VR Amsterdam
+31 (0)6 27 565 576
http://devondeltuin.nl/ (Website in Dutch only)
Playground and self-service terrace
1071 AA Amsterdam
+31 (0)20 6129674
www.grootmelkhuis.nl/ (Website in Dutch only)
1018 KK Amsterdam
+31 (0)20 523 2222
Kids concept store and café
+31 (0)20 221 7615
www.minimarkt-store.com/ (Website in Dutch only)
Muziekgebouw aan ‘t IJ
Music themed “Kindermiddagen” (kids afternoons)
Piet Heinkade 1
1019 BR Amsterdam
+31 (0)20 788 2016
http://jeugd.muziekgebouw.nl/Kindermiddagen/ (Website in Dutch only)
All you can eat boat cruise over the IJ
Ms. van Riemsdijkweg
1033 RD Amsterdam
+31(0)20 636 88 17
Indoor play park
Mr. Visserplein 7
+31 (0)20 689 43 00