Amsterdam is one cool city for children. It has top-class museums, amazing parks, plenty of pancake houses, plus miles of canals and bicycle paths to explore. You can even visit a working windmill! No wonder the Dutch are ranked 6th in the World Happiness Index.
Travel by train
Now that Amsterdam can be reached by Eurostar, the Brits finally have caught up with our continental cousins in travelling to the ‘Dam in comfort and style. Of course, you can always fly direct from the UK, but Eurostar is so much more fun for families. You can also alight at Amsterdam Centraal, which as the name suggests, is right in the heart of all the action.
Eurostar runs London-Amsterdam twice daily Mon-Fri and once daily at weekends, journey time 3hr40m. Note you’ll need to change trains in Brussels for the return leg, journey times from 4hr40m. Prices from £68pp in Standard Class.
We defy you to not marvel at the 165 canals. For the best introduction to Amsterdam’s UNESCO-listed canal ring layout, take a boat tour (some provide headphones for kids’ commentary in English, plus a log book). You’ll see plenty of Amsterdam architecture en route, including those iconic thin canal houses and the Skinny Bridge (Magere Brug). Count how many bridges you pass, how many lock gates, how many Dutch barges, and how many house boats. There’s even a ‘Hop-on-hop-off-boat’ that loops around the city – disembark whenever you want to visit a museum or stop for lunch. You can also hire your own boat, or book a private tour of the waterways.
Water Home is a classic Dutch canal house boat in the residential Oud West, and has 2 bedrooms, a plant-shrouded waterside deck, a piano and fully-equipped galley kitchen. It’s only a couple of blocks away from the buzzy food and culture hub of De Hallen. Visit nearby Vondelpark, the city’s most famous park, or check out Woonboot (Houseboat) Museum on Prinsengracht. Book with i-escape and get a free map of Amsterdam with a personalised programme of suggested activities.
Price: from £250/night
Spend time with Vincent and Anne
Sobering yet compelling, the Anne Frank House may not be an obvious weekend attraction for kids, yet children of all ages have read her poignant diary and will be fascinated to see where and how this inspiring Jewish teenager lived in hiding under Nazi occupation. Be sure to book advance.
The genius of Van Gogh is apparent to old and young, but especially the young – who instinctively grasp the wonder of Vincent’s vivid masterpieces. The artist’s eponymous museum has made approaching his work yet more accessible with added treasure hunts, family tours and a personal guide. At weekends they put on children’s workshops, too.
Around the corner from Anne Frank’s House, the super-stylish boutique hotel Canal House runs across 3 17th-century merchant’s houses overlooking Keizersgracht canal in the Jordaan district. It’s situated close to cool restaurants and funky cafes, and a stone’s throw from trendy shopping mecca Nine Streets. The hotel has a spacious private garden, the top 3 room categories can take an extra bed (or house a family), and there’s an all-day snack menu.
Price: from £280/night for an Exceptional Room for a family of 3 including breakfast
Expand your horizons (or explore the depths)
For budding sailors, you’ll find the Amsterdam National Maritime Museum near the old harbour. It boasts one of the best interactive tours in town and houses a full-scale replica of a Dutch East India Company vessel that sank in a storm 1749. Fabulous for kids to clamber over!
Other must-see attractions include the Amsterdam Dungeon in the old heart of the city. Open daily, it’s scary good fun and includes a labyrinth, a torture chamber, ‘audience participating’ witch burning (yikes!), and even the Spanish inquisition. Sloten Windmill, the only working mill open to the public, is also worth a visit, and footy-mad kids shouldn’t miss AFC Ajax’s weekend interactive tours.
Lloyd Hotelis found in the New East, the city’s regenerating docklands area, and conveniently located near both the Maritime Museum and the Renzo Piano-designed NEMO (Museum of Science and Technology). Formerly a detention centre and an artists’ squat, the building has been loving refurbished as a design-savvy boutique hotel that’s superb value of money. The grub is great, too.
Amsterdam has plenty of cycle hire shops where you can rent just about anything on two, three or four wheels – tandems, a cargo bike if you’re toting toddlers, bamboo-frame bikes, family trikes, electric bikes and everything else in between. There are cycle lanes galore, plus the lovely Vondelpark to freewheel around (the city is blessed with plentiful green space). Remember, bicycle bells are compulsory on ever bike, and the city has strict rules and regulations for cyclists. Always cycle with safety.
For a cool weekender, Hotel Droog is a self-catering bolthole housed above an iconic fashion & design store that’s perfect for parents with a baby and/or a child up to 12. This long, lofty penthouse apartment has views across the rooftops, a white-walled living and dining space that’s drenched in natural light, and contemporary furniture and prototype pieces as befits a Hotel Droog showroom. It’s 15 minutes to the Van Gogh Museum by tram, and the famous floating flower market is a 5-minute walk.