Dreaming of a European adventure with the kids? There is no better place to start than Amsterdam. With its easy-to-manage size and bike-friendly streets, this international city is buzzing with unique kid-friendly activities everyone will love, all with a side of pancakes. Scroll below to see all of the must-do activities when you visit Amsterdam with the kids.
Understanding Amsterdam’s Layout
Amsterdam is laid out in a half circle—the Ij River (the Dutch word for water) is on one side, while 165 canals and 1281 bridges cut through the 13th-century city on the other.
Take the 15-20 minute train from Schiphol Airport bound for Amsterdam Centraal Station—the city’s train hub where you can find all the trams and the metro station that will take you all over the city. (That is if you aren’t on a bike, but more on that later.) Trains leave regularly through the hour (even more so on the weekends) from the airport, so if a train seems too crowded, just take the next one.
Good to Know: Train and tram tickets need to be scanned upon entering and leaving (otherwise, the next time you go to enter a train or tram, you may not be granted entry). If this happens, just find an attendant and ask for help—everyone is super friendly and most people speak English fluently.
I amsterdam City Card
If you haven’t already pre-ordered your I amsterdam card, before you leave Amsterdam Centraal Station, go to the I amsterdam store located in IJ-hal (on the north side of Centraal Station), or to the I amsterdam visitor center in Stationsplein (across from Amsterdam Centraal Station) and purchase an I amsterdam card.
Think of this as your passport to the city as this card grants you access to all public transportation, entrance to over 60 museums and attractions, a free canal cruise, plus discounts on bike rentals, some restaurants, and experiences not fully covered by the card. Purchase the card in increments of 24 hours, 48, 72 or 96 hours. Prices below will only be listed if they weren’t covered by the I amsterdam city card.
Good to Know: Additional public transportation tickets for the kids aren’t covered by the I amsterdam card but go to the ticket counter at the Tram Office outside Centraal Station and ask for an all-day ticket for kids (ages 4-11). The cost? 3.75 Euros. Otherwise, all day kid tickets, purchased on the tram, cost 7.50 Euros.
Cost: 59-98 Euros
Where to Stay in Amsterdam with Kids
We’re not going to lie—Amsterdam is expensive when it comes to hotels and lodging. But when you’ve traveled this far with kids, don’t take a chance on the comforts of your hotel. Having a good home base is worth the money.
Peter Pulitzer, the grandson of Pulitzer Prize founder Joseph Pulitzer, founded this five-star hotel. It recently went through a massive renovation and oozes comfort, charm, and quintessential Dutch design. It’s made up of 25 interlinked Dutch canal homes that were built in the 17th and 18th century and every nook and cranny of this retreat has a delightful discovery. Keep an eye out for the bucket full of LEGO bricks (really!) or the set of hanging egg swings in the courtyard. Exploring this hotel is as much fun for the adults as it is for the kids.
Of course, it’s impossible to not fall in love with the jaw-dropping, one-of-a-kind suites decorated in themes like books, music or art that include private entrances and canal views. But what you’ll really love at this hotel? The family suites.
Perfectly appointed to accommodate a family of four, the kid’s rooms are upstairs so when it’s time for them to go to bed, you can continue to hang out in the living room and enjoy those canal views. There’s even a dining table so if you decide to eat in, you don’t have huddle around the coffee table or balance take-away plates on your lap. If you don’t score a family suite, the hotel also offers 30 room and suites with interconnecting doors.
Ready to chill and a cocktail to boot? Head to the games corner right outside the Pulitzer Bar (a decadently styled bar in dark wood and moody velvets) that has board games and that bucket of LEGO bricks we mentioned earlier.
Jansz: Located in the hotel, this old-world, charming restaurant offers a buffet bar (where everything is as good as it looks) or has menu options where you can get all the pancakes, waffles and omelets you desire. This is definitely the spot to fill up before exploring the city for the day.
Good to Know: On the last Sun. of the month from 4:30-6:30 p.m., they have “Family Sundays” where you and the family can grab an earlier dinner that caters to those little ones—picture an extensive children’s menu, fast service and supervised play for the kids when they get antsy so the parents can relax.
Rates: Standard rooms start at $300 USD.
1016 GZ Amsterdam
The Doubletree by Hilton Amsterdam Centraal Station
Located within walking distance of Centraal Station, this modern hotel overlooks the water. Ask for a higher-floored room so you can get a view of the city. But don’t worry if none are available, because this hotel has a rooftop deck and lounge that is totally worth a visit (whether you stay here or not).
Head’s up railway fans: One side of the SkyLounge overlooks the train station so if you have trainspotters, you can watch trains, trams and even boats and buses make their busy-way through this part of town.
Rates: Standard rooms start at $200 USD per night.
photo: DigiDaan via NEMO Science Center
What to Do & See in Amsterdam with Kids
Nemo Science Museum: As impressive architecturally as the contents it holds, this is a mecca for science, technology, experiments, and interactive play. The Renzo Piano-designed building sits on the waterfront and as you approach, you may notice people walking on the sloping roof, also known as Amsterdam’s highest square.
This elevated square has an art installation called Energetica, as well as a cafe and a bar, available to museum patrons and the public alike. On a nice day, it’s a great spots for a bird’s eye view of the city.
Each level of the museum has a designated theme like Elements, Technology, the Human Body, etc. You’ll be amazed at how engaged your kids will be tinkering, engineering and playing. We couldn’t be more impressed by all the options that easily spanned various age groups. (Although we did spend the majority of our time engineering dams to prevent flooding.)
Insider Tip: If you decide to try out the manual elevator, opt to spin yourself down, rather than up, and prepare yourself for a workout.
Hours: 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m.; closed Mon. and Kingsday (usually a day in late Apr.)
1011 VX Amsterdam
Rijksmuseum: Originally established in 1800, this is Amsterdam’s most popular destination so be prepared for crowds and lines to see the more famous exhibits, i.e. “The Night Watch” by Rembrandt van Rijn, (commissioned and painted in 1642). This gorgeous building houses over one million pieces of art, including the breathtaking Rembrandt: this famous artist was a master at light and dark, subtext and storytelling but you’ll have a blast letting the kids tell you what they think is happening in this impressive painting. It is also home to some awesome giant “historical” Playmobil figures, which make the perfect vacation photo op.
Hours: 9 a.m.-5 p.m. daily
1071 XX Amsterdam
Van Gogh Museum: This museum houses the world’s largest collection of paintings by the troubled artist, Vincent Van Gogh. It’s big, with three main floors plus an exhibition hall and is perpetually crowded. So much so, in addition to having the I amsterdam City Card, you’ll need to reserve a (free) time-slot for entry. Repeat: You cannot walk into the museum without a confirmed reservation. Understandably, the museum is taking great pains to make the experience enjoyable for everyone.
Insider Tip: You can reserve tickets up to four months in advance and plan to visit between 9 a.m.-11 a.m. or after 3 p.m. as these are the least busy times (note that the last admission is 30 minutes before closing).
Good to Know: The cafe has amazing views of Museumplein (the open green space that links this museum, MOCO Museum, Rijksmuseum and the contemporary art museum Stedelijk) and is a great spot for some hot chocolate and a croissant for the kids, a coffee and muffin for the adults.
Hours: Mon.-Wed. 9 a.m.-5 p.m.; Thurs. 9 a.m.-7 p.m.; Fri.-Sun. 9 a.m.-9 p.m.
1071 DJ Amsterdam
Amsterdam Museum: Want to know how and why Amsterdam came to be? Head to the Amsterdam Museum where a guided audio tour will have everyone mesmerized by the development of a simple fishing village to Golden-Age powerhouse to the melting pot it is today.
The tour is fascinating, engaging and since it’s self-guided—you can go as fast or slow as you like. Do plan on spending a couple hours here, though. It’s that interesting for both kids and adults. It’s also a great spot when the weather takes a turn for the worse.
Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m., daily
1012 PH Amsterdam
More Must-Do Activities in Amsterdam
No visit to Amsterdam is complete without a canal cruise, included with your I amsterdam pass. Hop on and hop off at numerous stops around the city (click here for the map). Also worth a trip but best for kids 10 and up is the Anne Frank House. Keep in mind reservations need to be made online and well in advance of your arrival. You can’t go to a country that dominated maritime history and NOT visit the National Maritime Museum and tour a (replica) of an 18th-century ship. Swing by the oldest zoo in continental Europe and visit with 900 specials of animals at Artis Amsterdam Royal Zoo. Still have time? Next door is Micropia—the first museum dedicated to all thing microbes, both good and bad.
Ferry to the Noord: Get away from the tourists and see cutting-edge architecture and cultural hotspots in the Noord neighborhood (Northern in Dutch). Free ferry boats, will drop you off by the Eye, the A’dam Toren (the tallest tower in Amsterdam that also has a giant swing on the roof) and a bike path that will take you into the countryside along the Ijsselmeer coast. The NDSM ferry will take you over to another section across there river where you’ll find loads of restaurants like family-favorite vegetarian Pllek, art galleries and more.
Where to Play in Amsterdam
The area between the Rijksmuseum and Van Gogh (Museumplein) is where you’ll find ice skating in the winter, appropriately called ICE. The playground off to the right is a fun place to let the kids burn off some energy (even in the freezing cold) if you don’t strap on some skates. But of course, you can’t miss Vondelpark. Designed and built in 1850, this is Amsterdam’s most famous public green space. Expect to see lots of bikers, walkers and dogs enjoying the park (and in the summer, lots of picnics and lounging in the much-appreciated sunlight). If hunger strikes, make your way over to Groot Melkhuis, a cafe with a terrace adjacent to a kid’s playground. On the weekends, it’s rumored to have a bounce house and cotton candy. If you’re up for an even more unique dining experience, walk a little further to just outside the park to Kinderkookkafé—a cafe where the kids do all the cooking, serving and cleaning. Seriously.
Where to Eat in Amsterdam
Pancake House: Do not leave Amsterdam without a stop at Pancake House. This warm and cozy restaurant has been serving the veritable staple for breakfast, lunch, and dinner since 1973 and it will not disappoint. Whether sweet or savory, there are so many choices, you may even want to plan on going once when you get first here and then at least once again before you leave.
The kid’s menu is hilarious—they can choose between the fire department, princess, a surprise pancake, pirate and more and it is delivered with a prop to boot, like the police version above that includes a police helmet (not to keep), a side of chocolate to spread on the pancake along with some gummy candies and a lollipop. For adults, we highly recommend the Greek pancake, filled with gyro meat and feta and the Norwegian pancake, filled with salmon and cream cheese.
Hours: 9 a.m.-9:30 p.m.
Off the beaten path, in the Oud-West neighborhood, is Foodhallen, a food hall located in a renovated tram depot, filled with vendors selling pizza to pita and everything in between. A great place to go when no one can decide what they want to eat for lunch or dinner. The atmosphere is buzzy, jovial and communal. You’ll feel like a local and get a great meal, all at the same time
With over 700 years of history, Amsterdam is full of fun facts, quirky finds and the unusual—most of which are fun to discover on your own but we think these are good to know before you go. Nine Streets (Negen Straatjes) is Amsterdam’s most popular area—full of boutique and designer shopping, restaurants and cafes, and fun finds like the Amsterdam Duck Store—a store dedicated to all things rubber ducky. This is the most touristy spot in Amsterdam and while it’s fun to walk around as an adult, not so much with kids in the cold. Our recommend? Wake up early, let your partner watch the kids so you can walk these streets at your own pace, during less crowded times.
If you love cats and houseboats, head to De Poezenboot, a houseboat that is also a cat sanctuary for felines looking for a permanent home. Started in 1968 by Henriette van Weelde, the boat is open to tourists and free to enter but donations are appreciated.
Getting around Amsterdam
If everyone in your group can ride a bike, and the weather is nice, then renting a bike is the best way to see this city. With ample bike paths that weft and weave their way through town, you’ll be able to explore, get lost, get found again all while feeling like a local. If you have little ones, you can rent bakfiats (basically a cargo bike) and plop the kids in front while you pedal away. And if no bikes are in the cards for your trip, navigating the tram system is easy. Most trams return to Centraal Station and stop close to, or in front of every popular destination.
Easy Day Trips from Amsterdam
Amsterdam has so much more to offer outside the city center and it’s really worth exploring if you are here for more than three days. Castle Muiderslot is a real-life castle filled with seven centuries of Dutch history. Expect treasure hunts, and meet and greets with a Falconer for starters. You can technically bike here too if you and the family’s legs are up for it! Keukenhof Gardens, one the world’s largest flower gardens, is open from Mar.-May and features over 7 million spring-flowering bulbs.
Photos by Andie Huber unless noted otherwise. Hotel accommodations, the I amsterdam City Card, and dinner at Pancake House were provided but all opinions and recommendations are my own.