We were in Amsterdam in March for 3 nights. It was gray and dreary during our stay. Despite the lack of sun, Amsterdam had a warm and friendly feel to it. We loved every second of our time there and wished we could have stayed longer. We would love to go back later in spring to do a road trip through the countryside surrounding ourselves with flowers and windmills. These were our top 5 kid-friendly things in the canal city. We highly recommend checking them out!
1. Stay in a houseboat by the famous canals and waterways. I have always wanted to stay on a houseboat. I imagined myself drinking hot tea on the captain’s deck while watching people go about their lives. When I saw a beautiful houseboat offered by Ms. Andrea on Airbnb, I quickly fell in love with it. I wondered if it might be dangerous for our super active 5 years old twins. After discussions with my husband and reassurances by the owner that it was child friendly, I quickly booked it. The houseboat turned out to be a magical experience. Our girls pretended they were princesses as they waved to every boat moving along the canal. We had a little tea party at the sun deck while watching bicyclists and pedestrians crossing a beautiful bridge at Bloemgracht canal. The girl’s bedroom had potholes at water level where they could watch the ducks swim by. The houseboat was a fun-filled and unforgettable adventure for our family and a great way to experience Amsterdam.
2. Visit the Royal Palace Amsterdam or Koninklijk Paleis Amsterdam. It is one of three palaces in the Netherlands at the disposal of the monarch by an act of Parliament. The palace was built as a city hall during the Dutch Golden Age in the 17th century. Kids under 18 years old enter for free (this is the norm in Amsterdam). They were given a special Audio Guide and trivia kits. They had to listen to it for clues and search for the answers as we roamed from room to room. Even though they can’t yet read, it was a great way for them to experience the art and architecture on their own. It kept them occupied and allowed us more time to explore and enjoy this amazing building. At the end of the challenge, they were given a special trumpet announcement, medallions and cute royal pins. They loved every part of it. Travel tips : You can’t bring any snacks, drinks or backpacks into the palace, so make sure that they are not hungry and thirsty before starting the audio tour.
3. Van Gogh Museum. I was contemplating about bringing the girls to this museum as it would be hard to keep them busy. Admission was free for kids under 18. I went to the information centre and asked about activities for kids. They were offering a free self-portrait painting class with a resident artist that day, had a treasure hunt challenge for the kids to enjoy the museum (we read it for them so they could find the answers), and had a family audio guide tour for kids between 6-12 for a small fee. The girls (and I) really enjoyed the painting class. The maestro taught us step by step to completion using all professional oil painting equipment. We brought home our self portraits as one of the best souvenirs ever. The treasure hunt was quite tough for 5 years old as they can’t read or write yet (and mummy was busy TRYING to admire the Van Gogh masterpieces). However, it was a nice opportunity for 5 years olds to find and study the paintings. We didn’t finish the trivia because the girls didn’t understand some of the questions but we still submitted it to the lady at the information desk. She praised the girls, gave them postcards and “Van Gogh Specialist” stickers. The girls were so proud of themselves! They still have them hanging on the wall next to their beds. Travel tips : call or check their website for workshop schedule. If you planning to use Sightseeing Hop on and Hop Off Bus, buy tickets to Van Gogh or RijkMuseum as well at the bus counter. You can skip the super long line (2 hour wait) and enjoy a discounted rate on the bus.
4. Rijkmuseum. It is one of the best art museums in the world and has the largest collection of Dutch art. Entry is free for kids under 18. They had few options for families but since our girls were under 6, we chose an option to sketch art. We were given a museum journal with gallery map, pencil and empty pages so they could sketch their chosen art in that particular gallery. It was really fun to discover why they chose a particular work of art to draw. It also gave mom some peaceful time to enjoy Rembrandt and Vermeer. Travel tips : Museum quarter has a nice park with playground. We were lucky to have a street performer with giant bubbles entertaining the kids. It is always crowded and busy especially on weekends (avoid weekends). There is a nice maze garden at the back of the museum that you can enter.
5. Museum Ons’ Lieve Heer op Solder at the corner of Red Light District. Restored in 2011, it is a perfect example of the 17th century house with a surprise ‘hidden pink church’. We had an audio guide with us. It was very interesting to show the kids how people used to live in the past. The twins wondered how they could sleep in a box bed and without running water in the potty area. The hidden church was really impressive and the kids wondered by themselves while listening to the audio guide. We didn’t do the children’s activities. We thought it would be too advanced for them. However, we saw ladybug stickers in many hidden areas throughout the house. According to the website, children can explore the house through a trail of Ladybugs with a nice booklet. The kids enjoyed it nonetheless.
TRAVEL TIPS TO AMSTERDAM WITH YOUNG KIDS
1. Don’t leave the cafe without using the restroom. Keep small change for public toilet.
2. Don’t go to Anne Frank House for kids under 8 years old at least. The line is really long (at least 3 hours) and the house is very small and narrow for the kids to navigate. It was not interactive either.
3. Avoid the red light district.
4. Be careful of cyclists! It takes a while to adjust to dodging both cars and bicycles.
5. Try Dutch pancakes and do cheese tasting.
6. Stay at the heart of Amsterdam to enjoy the canals.