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Amsterdam has a bit of a reputation. When many people in the U.S. think Amsterdam, they think Red Light District, illicit substances, and X‑rated shops. Not exactly what you’d look for in a family-friendly vacation destination.
My husband and I had similar notions about Amsterdam but we were also drawn to its unique culture and architecture. So we decided to put those racy ideas aside and plan a family trip anyway. To our surprise and delight, Amsterdam ended up being one of the coolest, most unique European travel experiences we’ve ever had with many fun things to do for kids too.
With a ton of important history, amazing food, one-of-a-kind architecture, and world-renowned art, Amsterdam is a can’t miss destination for families. Don’t miss these 7 things you need to do in Amsterdam with your kids.
I don’t know about your family, but for ours, finding a place to eat that suits everyone’s personal tastes is always a challenge, especially on vacation. So, discovering Foodhallen was a god-send. It was also a really fun and memorable dining experience.
With 23 food stands, each featuring a specific type or style of food, you won’t be at a loss as to what to order. In fact, you might have the opposite problem — analysis paralysis, or the inability to choose because there are too many options. Whatever food you could possibly want to eat, Foodhallen has it. Dim Sum? Check. Fried Chicken? Check. Tacos? Check. There’s a French patisserie, a hot dog stand, a pizza joint, a sushi bar, and a pita place, just to name a few. Can’t decide on just one? You can do what my husband did and sample something from a few different places.
Once you’ve made your selection and placed your order, you can enjoy your meal at one of the distinctly European community tables. The hall is great for people watching. Our biggest recommendation? Make sure you save room for dessert!
Van Gogh Museum
Central to the city, the Van Gogh Museum is equal parts history lesson, exhibit, and living art installation. Located in a beautiful, modern building in the heart of the city, the museum is very well-curated, and one of those places where you walk away feeling much more knowledgeable and cultured than you were when you walked in.
Beyond displaying some of Van Gogh’s most notable and memorable works, you can also learn a lot about his childhood and youth, parts of his story that often get obscured by the rehashing of his adult antics, most notably the fact that he cut off his own ear. They also have rotating exhibits, many of which bring the works of Van Gogh to life in a visceral and interactive way.
When we visited, the exhibit on display was “Van Gogh Dreams”, a multisensory light exhibit about his emotional journey as an artist during his time in the South of France. While it admittedly sounded a bit boring, the gigantic light and mirrors display was fun and very entertaining, especially for the kids. We got to walk through fields of larger than life, glittering poppies that gave us Wizard of Oz giggles.
Anne Frank House
I remember first reading The Diary of Young Girl by Anne Frank when I was eleven. My copy was my mother’s — I’d found it at my grandma’s house and it was dog-eared and smelled like mothballs. Eleven was probably a little young to read it and fully comprehend the enormity of its significance. But if I’m being honest, when we had to read it again for school a few years later, I still don’t think I really appreciated the story.
I couldn’t fully comprehend Anne Frank’s story until I was standing in the stuffy and cramped attic where she and seven other people lived for over two years. Staring in front the photos of movie stars she had cut from magazines and pasted on the wall above her bed, I could relate to the hopeful teen she had once been.
Of all the things we did while we were in Amsterdam, visiting the Anne Frank House was by far the most memorable. Reading about history is one thing, being inside of it is another. You can’t understand how cramped the annex she lived in was until you’re suffocating within it. You can’t visualize how much they must’ve missed the sunshine until you see that sunlight is scant in the attic. And you certainly can’t fathom how quiet they had to be, until you’re walking across those attic floorboards, cringing with every groan and squeak of your steps. It was mind-opening and very, very sobering.
In addition to seeing the annex where the family lived in hiding, the Anne Frank House offers an incredible museum that is very well appointed and was one of the more interesting museums I’ve ever visited. If you only do one thing while you’re in Amsterdam, the Anne Frank House should definitely be it.
Boat Tour on the Canal
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If you’ve seen photos of Amsterdam, you’ve seen the winding canals that snake their way throughout the city, bordered on each side by narrow, gabled townhomes. It’s one of the hallmarks of Amsterdam and why it’s often referred to as the “Venice of the North”. If you really want to see the city from a unique vantage point, you owe it to yourself to see it by boat on a canal cruise.
There are multiple options to choose from for canal tours, but we recommend Amsterdam Canal Cruises, which offer one-hour excursions around Amsterdam’s many canals. Tour the city from the water in a large, insulated boat that’s perfect for any season. While you take in the beauty of the architecture, the guides regale you with in-depth background and stories on the history of Amsterdam.
We recommend buffering a little more than an hour for this excursion, as they sometimes run a little long, and taking the excursion at night to see the city all lit up is a must. As a bonus, kids under 4 ride free!
Say goodbye to Amsterdam’s cheeky style with this family-friendly guide to find the 7 best activities to do with kids.
If you’re looking for a museum that’ll engage and entertain your kids, you need look no further than the NEMO Science Museum. NEMO’s mission is to make science and technology more accessible and engaging for everyone, but mostly for kids.
Through interactive exhibits, lab experiments, demonstrations, and workshops, visitors get to experience the wonderful world of science and tech and how it impacts our everyday. Exhibits range from learning about water and solar power, to how technology and logistics get your packages from point A to point B. You can learn about the human body, discover the science behind light and sound, and run experiments in a lab.
With over five floors of activities, NEMO is a great way to spend the day exploring and learning as a family.
If spending time outside is more your thing, Vondelpark, in Amsterdam’s city center, won’t disappoint. The largest city park in Amsterdam, Vondelpark is always a buzz of activity, with people relaxing in the sun, riding bikes along the paths, enjoying some of the outdoor entertainment the park has to offer or grabbing an ice cream from a nearby vendor.
With several playgrounds and multiple restaurants and cafes, the park is a perfect way to spend a low-key afternoon with your kids. From May to September, you can take in a show at the outdoor amphitheater. Looking for something with a little more structure? You can also take guided bike tours or audio walking tours to learn more about the park and its impact on the city of Amsterdam over the years.
It’s sometimes easy to forget that some of the world’s most famous painters were Dutch — Rembrandt, Jan Steen, and Vincent Van Gogh, to name a few. But the Dutch take great pride in their artistic heritage. There were few places where this pride was more evident than in the Rijksmuseum.
As the largest art museum in the Netherlands, The Rijksmuseum is a national Dutch art and history museum that chronicles over 800 years of Dutch history in its expansive grounds. View the masterpieces of Rembrandt and Steen, as well as Johannes Vermeer and countless others. Amble through the Great Hall to experience the true beauty of the building and the stained glass windows. There’s also a stunning multiple floor library that happens to be the largest art history library in the country.
With plenty to see and experience, the Rijksmuseum is not to be missed.
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When You Go
Many international carriers fly from Los Angeles to Amsterdam-Schiphol International Airport. A non-stop flight goes about 10 hours. We personally recommend KLM as we felt their service was top notch.
Where to Stay
For hotels, we highly recommend Hotel De Hallen, a boutique hotel next to Foodhallen, which was perfect for late night snacks. For a budget-friendly option, there are several highly-rated, centrally located hotels, like the Radisson and Holiday Inn. If you’re looking for some over-the-top pampering, then the Pulitzer Hotel is definitely the place for you.
Check out this interactive map to compare prices on hotels in areas you’d like to stay, as well as AirBnB options!
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