With its beautiful canals dotted with houseboats, colorful 17th-century merchants’ mansions, and magnificent green parks, this city, owned by bicycles, makes for a memorable trip for the most discriminative and fussiest of travelers. Yes, even that little one currently attached to your hip drooling on your sleeve.
Having visited Amsterdam several times pre-baby, I wasn’t sure what to expect with three kids in tow; kids being my husband, Jason, my step-son, Chris, and my 7-month-old (at the time), Violet. I am the type of traveler who does minimal research in advance of my travels; I prefer to wait until I get to my destination and snag recommendations and ideas from the locals. Without further ado, we’re off to the city of arts, parks, bikes, and trikes: Amsterdam!
Simply put, you can’t go to Amsterdam and not go on a boat tour of the canals. Most canal tour companies offer both day and evening tours, some are small boats that offer private, customizable tours, others are covered passenger boats. We booked the latter though Lovers Canal Cruises. Don’t worry, despite the name, this boat isn’t racy with red-light district divas or other erotic relations. Offering a GPS Audio Guide in over 19 languages, this relaxing tour lasts an hour and takes you through many of the iconic sights and landmarks Amsterdam is known for. The ambiance of the historic bridges and greenery will have you feeling dreamier than Ariel and Eric’s grotto boat scene.
Lovers Cruises, Prins Hendrikkade 25 (near Central Station
Adults: €16 | 4-13 years: €10|0-3 years: Free
Although the best memories I have of Amsterdam is wandering aimlessly through historic Dutch brick neighborhoods with the kiddos in tow, it is so, so, worth it to take an official walking tour. There are many walking tours, but this one is the best—and it’s FREE!
The walking tour that departs from Dam Square is not only great for families interested in history and culture, but a perfect match for those seeking a laugh, chuckle, or snort! Knowledgeable and entertaining, the guides will teach you a thing or two about Dutch history, expose you to true local flavors (no, not the reefer), and may even show you funky pottery from hundreds of years ago that was recently dug up. If you’re already an Amsterdam history buff, opt for the food tour instead.
Free Walking Tours, Dam 1, Tours depart at 10:30 13:30 and 16:00 from the national monument on Dam Square on Saturdays and Sundays.
I absolutely adore museums, but dang Sheena, those ticket prices can add up quick. The two best museums in Amsterdam are the Vincent Van Gogh Museum and the Rijksmuseum; and fortunately, they are right next to each other. Our son had recently studied the works of Van Gogh in school, so we headed in that direction. The staff take really good care of families with strollers and little ones. We were whisked in separate entrances and ushered in ahead of lines, it was surreal. We were super impressed. The Rijksmuseum is another excellent option that offers an amazing perspective on Dutch art and history and provides several interactive activities for families. It is easy to spend hours in each of these museums, the perfect place for a typical, rainy Dutch day. While we opted not to visit Rijksmuseum this time around, I have been there before on a previous trip and it was a memorable experience. Also, don’t forget, the famous “I am Amsterdam” art installation is located across the street from Rijksmuseum. You’ll want to take your family’s picture on it.
If you want to spend time in museums here, choose what you’re most passionate about or interested in, then roll with it. Once you decide, book your ticket online in advance! You’ll save time, money, and your sanity. And, who doesn’t need to save every drop of sanity a bit more, nowadays?
Adult: €18 |Visitors aged under 18: Free *Separate fee for the multimedia tour
Adult: €17.50 |19 and under: Free *Separate fee for the multimedia tour
Luscious green grass, fragrant, colorful flowers, walking and biking paths, ponds, and playgrounds, Vondelpark is adored by all, especially this people-watching mama. After exploring the nearby museums (a short walk away from the above museums), you may enjoy just sitting on a bench with an ice cream cone in hand watching the business suits cruise by on their bikes. If you get lucky, you may also catch one of the free concerts in the open-air theater located inside the park. Along with several cool statues, Vondelpark offers six play areas and one huge playground near Groot Melkhuis (beautiful waterside café in the park). If you want to mimic Austin Powers in Goldmember, you can rent skates at Snoephuisje (Vondelpark 7, near Amstelveenseweg entrance). This mama is too clumsy for that stuff.
The fact that my last name means “windmill” in Polish had nothing to do with wanting to see the colorful looming towers with their spinning blades in the peaceful village of Zaanse Schans.
A short 20-minute ride from the city center, the countryside literally beckons you to seek and explore.
Offering distinctive green wooden houses to reconstruct the look of a late 18th-century village, you will feel transported through history as you meander its gardens and paths. As you tour the old windmill, your nose will perk up at the scent of chocolate wafting through the village. If you have time, there is a local museum with provincial costumes, model windmills, and exhibits on chocolate making.
Close to the windmills is a seaside fishing village, Volendam. This city offers winding brick paths, cheese tasting at a local cheese factory, local bakery fare, perfect photo shoots, and delicious seafood. After a short drive, you can hop on a boat located on IJsselmeer Lake to the former island of Marken to watch an intriguing demonstration by a traditional clog maker. The kids will love modeling all the clogs and they offer great souvenirs at cheap prices. Go for the prepackaged tour from Tours and Tickets, it is cheaper than renting a car, and the transportation and fun tours guides will make this expedition the highlight of your European adventure.
Tours & Tickets
Adult: €59.00 |Child 4-13: €29.50 |0-3 years: Free
Holland offers a vast array of festivals, markets, and parades for families from all walks of life. You learn the most about the country and its peoples through its community events. Love cheese? Check out the bustling folkloric cheese markets in Alkmaar. Love the colors and scents of flowers? Check out the tastefully decorated floats and theater performances at the Flower Parade Rijnsburg! Interested in listening to live classical melodies while basking in a private garden of a canal house, a glass of wine in your hand (apple juice for the kiddos, of course)? Take in the Canal Festival, a four-day classical music marathon scattered throughout unique locations in Amsterdam.
We enjoy experimenting with different types of food, so we opted for a quirky food truck gathering, Festival Trek, in Nijmegen, a short 1-hour train ride from Amsterdam’s central train station. Offering delicious treats for every palate, children’s theater, cooking workshops, old fairground games, and the most euphoric backdrop, we were in a foodie culture paradise.
We ALMOST “accidentally” missed our train back to Amsterdam.
- Most restaurants and cafes do not have baby changing tables. Make sure you have a portable diaper pad with you (or reclining stroller) when you’re trekking through the city. There is an abundance of benches in Amsterdam. They will be your diaper changing table throughout your trip.
- If you are going to be in Amsterdam for two days or more, opt for the multi-day transport pass. The multi-day pass provides you with “unlimited travel on all GVB trams, buses, and metros, both day and night.” This pass will save you lots of time and money. Just don’t forget to scan your ticket when boarding and exiting the tram or bus!
- The Dutch love their babies so much, they bike around with them as early as 6 months old! Bike rental agencies in Amsterdam will rent Dutch-manufactured baby front bike seats and inform customers that they can be used for babies 6 to 9 months old, or, to be more precise, when a baby is able to sit upright on its own. Although most of us foreigners hear 1 year old and above for baby bike seats, if you are itching for that family bike ride in Amsterdam, it is possible and legal.
Have you been to Amsterdam? What were your must-see spots?