Easter weekend always marks the beginning of the tourist season in Amsterdam, and it’s the time of the year we start getting questions from friends and families wanting to visit on what to do with the kids (or on their own) while in town.
Amsterdam is getting busier each year, and it’s getting more difficult to experience real Amsterdam life without bumping into swarms of tourists and the city commercialisation that goes with it. Some people love all the buzz, some don’t. But while it’s impossible to have a one-size-fit-all recommendation for everyone, I’ve compiled a compact list of what to do in Amsterdam that should encompass most people’s interest (even the little ones) while getting the most of the Amsterdam’s experience.
1. Check out what’s happening
There are public events happening in Amsterdam all year round. Most of them are child-friendly, and a lot are for free. From the open air party that is King’s Day on the 27th April, Concert by The Canals, Sail Amsterdam (happening every 5 year only) something with ethnic flavours such as Kwaku and Keti Koti Festival, to Museum Night. Check out the official Amsterdam Event Agenda around the time of your visit (the list is updated each year), and pick out your favourites to go to.
2. Go to a museum or two
Amsterdam has the highest density of Museum per surface area compared to any other city in the world, and you’ll probably have at least one rainy day while you’re in town when keeping a short list of museums can come in handy. Museums in Amsterdam offers a diverse range of subject interest, from art, science, history, cultural heritage, to specialty ones like the microorganism, Bible, or handbag museums (and yes, there’s also sex and weed museums). There’s definitely something for everyone. Most museums in Amsterdam have very well-thought-out and engaging user experience for the visitors and provide excellent interactive exhibition for the kids. The Kid listed her favourite ones here.
Lines can get really long on some popular museums, so it’s always better to get tickets beforehand, or research when they’re more likely to be less crowded.
Tip: I work in the neighbourhood of Anne Frank house, and their lines are absurdly long in the morning, so if you’re thinking of going, go 1-2 hours before closing time, it’s not a big museum.
3. Cycle the roads less travelled
Most people are excited to cycle in Amsterdam, and it is a great way to navigate around the old town, weaving around the old city streets and romantic bridges along the canals. But if you have young children (either riding with you or on their own), and looking for a more idyllic and leisurely cycling experience (not to mention safer), pick some cycle routes that take you out of the city centre or the out of the city altogether. Jump on the (free) ferry boats to the north side, and cycle through the quieter part of Amsterdam, along the dykes or into the forest. Or go to the parks on the outskirts of the city. The best option if you have small children is to hire a bakfiets (a carrier bike), load the kids and supplies on it, and go for a ride and have a picnic on the not-so-distant countryside. Like these people:
It’s quite difficult to find cycle route around Amsterdam in English, but this list here covers a good range of distances and points of interests.
4. See Amsterdam from the water side
This is probably the most touristy advice I give to people, but to truly experience Amsterdam, you really do need to get down to the water level, where suddenly the sky opens up and you have a better vantage point than being on street level, and kids love to go under the bridges (usually the lower the better). To do this, you can either rent your own boat, borrow it from friends, or the easiest and affordable option is to take the canal boat tours. Get the hop-on-hop-off tickets rather than single route, because it allows you to get off and walk around when sitting still in a slow moving boat gets too much for the kids (and alternatively, you can hop back on the boat when they’re tired of walking).
5. There’s more than pancakes and herrings to try
Pancakes (and poffertjes) are great, and I have yet to know a child that refuses pancake for dinner, so it’s always a winning option for dining out with the kids. Mine loves banana and cheese on hers.
I’m not too keen on herrings, and it can be a hard sell for kids, but the fish stands have other yummy things to try out, such as the deep fried fish, or kibbeling, and all kinds of smoked fish and eels to go in your sandwich. The kibbeling is always our favourite, especially if we get to the seaside, where they tend to be fresher and tastier. It’s even better to eat them on a boat.
Indonesian food is another popular cuisine in the Netherlands, and in Amsterdam you can find plenty of places selling them, from little takeaway stands to posh restaurants. But one ethnic cuisine I always miss whenever I’m not in NL is Surinamese food. The Netherlands is probably the only place you can find Surinamese food outside its own home country, and it is a truly unique cuisine that blends Javanese, Indian, Chinese and Caribbean elements. It can be spicy, but I always recommend it for everybody visiting.
And if you’re around between Christmas and New Year, definitely try the oliebollen.