Better known for its more adult-oriented pursuits, the Dutch capital of Amsterdam is also a great place to visit with kids in tow.
An elaborate canal system and tall narrow houses with gabled facades help make Amsterdam one of Europe’s most distinctive cities – so much so, in fact, that even your average architecturally-apathetic child is likely to have their heads turned by the capital’s unusual composition. But there’s a whole lot more to the city’s family-friendliness than its layout, with tons to see and do for little ones of all ages, temperaments and predilections. Here are 12 great Amsterdam attractions, activities and events for kids to enjoy.
Marvel at a mesmerising light display
Amsterdam’s vast network of canals is pleasing on the eye at all times of year, but never more so than during the dark winter months when they are transformed into a unique canvas for light art. Running from November through to January, the Amsterdam Light Festival features dozens of dazzling works of art that can all be viewed on a designated route that passes across bridges and alongside the city canals. For adults and kids alike, it makes for a mesmerising display, and with nightfall falling early at this time of year its one that can be enjoyed before your little one’s bedtime.
Amsterdam City Centre / November-January each year
Visit a family-friendly museum
One of Amsterdam’s most enduringly popular family attractions, the National Maritime Museum is brimming with artefacts that tell the long story of maritime history, including paintings, ship models, navigation instruments and sea charts. If that doesn’t instantly strike you as every kid’s idea of fun, then fear not, as there are various interactive spaces designed specifically for the entertainment of small people. Among them are Doris the Diver, which invites babies and toddlers to acquaint themselves with water; an exhibition which takes you through the history of whales and whaling down the centuries; and a replica of the 18th-century ship the East Indiaman Amsterdam, which is moored on the jetty outside the museum, where visitors can fire canons using VR headsets.
Kattenburgerplein 1 / Mon-Sun 10am-5pm
You can book skip-the-line tickets for the National Maritime Museum at GetYourGuide
Another city attraction that’s a perennial hit with kids is the NEMO Science Museum. Situated next to Central Station, the museum building is a place of wonder in its own right, designed by the famous Italian architect Renzo Piano. But for the average child, it’s inside where the fun will really begin, where they’ll discover almost 20,000 artefacts relating to science and technology that together tell the story of human progress and the wonders of everyday life. Find out how bridges work, what causes lightning, why you sometimes see things that aren’t there, and other quirky facts that are certain to impress your buddies back in the school playground.
Oosterdok 2 / Tues-Sun 10am-5.30pm Closed Mon
Jump aboard a boat cruise
The picture-postcard canals of Amsterdam can be enjoyed both on foot and on water. For the latter – and perhaps preferable for little legs that tire easily – there are a huge number of canal cruises on offer that transport you along the city’s web of waterways, passing under its bridges and past row after row of tall, slender homes while listening to live commentary on the history of the canals and the city as a whole. Snacks and drinks are also often provided, as well as blankets to keep you warm on more bracing days.
You can book an Amsterdam canal cruise at Viator
If your kids can’t quite summon the attention levels required for the kind of cruise described above, then another option is to keep them distracted while on the water with the promise of delicious Dutch pancakes. The Amsterdam Pancake Boat combines a typical river cruise with kid-themed enticements including a large playroom filled with balls in the hold of the boat and – more pertinently – an all-you-can-eat pancake buffet. Older children can also learn how these traditional Dutch treats are made while on board – but let’s face it, the fun’s in the eating. Tours last for 2.5 hours and all food is included in the price.
Ms. van Riemsdijkweg 33 / Weds-Sat 9am-9pm Sun 9am-7pm Closed Mon-Tues
Spend a day at the zoo
Located a couple of miles outside of the city centre, ARTIS Amsterdam Royal Zoo lays claim to being Holland’s oldest zoo – and the fifth oldest anywhere in the world. A sure-fire winner with families, visitors have the chance to get up close and personal with an assortment of exotic animals, including Asian elephants, jaguars, zebras, kudus, giraffes, Western lowland gorillas and Chilean flamingos. On the same site as the zoo are also a Butterfly Pavilion, a botanical garden and a planetarium.
Plantage Kerklaan 38-40 / Mon-Sun 9am-5pm
You can book tickets for the zoo at GetYourGuide
Delve into Amsterdam’s war history
If your kids are old enough to have started learning about the horrors of the Second World War, then you may want to use the opportunity of being in Amsterdam to deepen their knowledge. The city and nation as a whole played a major role in the conflict – in both commendable and not so commendable ways –and its wartime legacy can be seen in landmarks and places of interest across the capital, such as the Jewish Historical Museum, the Portuguese Synagogue, and the Auschwitz Monument. Most famously of all is the story of Anne Frank, the young Jewish girl whose hiding place during the Nazi occupation is now one of Amsterdam’s most visited museums.
You can book a tour of Amsterdam’s Jewish Quarter at Viator
Watch a show in the open air
The largest and most famous of Amsterdam’s public parks, Vondelpark offers not only respite from the hustle and bustle of the city, but during the summer months it also plays host to live entertainment. From May to September each year, Vondelpark Open Air Theatre stages a hugely popular programme of concerts, comedy, dance and plenty more, with many shows geared towards children. Events take place regularly on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays and there are both seating and standing areas available.
Vondelpark 5a / May-September each year
Discover Amsterdam’s perilous past
Every city has a dark underbelly and Amsterdam’s can be explored at the Amsterdam Dungeon. Parents with kids of a nervous disposition may want to stay away, but if your little one is made of sterner stuff then the dungeon is likely to be a big winner. Taking you through 500 years of Amsterdam’s often gruesome history, you’ll enter a series of interactive shows with live actors playing the role of witches, inquisitors, torturers, and more. Hair-raising highlights include figuring your way out of a dark labyrinth, witnessing a witch burn, and encountering the ghost of a tortured woman.
Rokin 78 / Sun-Fri 11am-6pm Sat 11am-7pm
You can book tickets to the Amsterdam Dungeon at GetYourGuide
Take the kids on a clog bike ride
Amsterdam is one of Europe’s most bike-friendly city, but the tram system and general urban hubbub may put off families with smaller kids from embarking on a cycle ride. That’s where clog bikes step in. These distinctive contraptions allow parents to do all the hard work while your little’uns sit in the bright yellow ‘clog’ upfront. You can either hire one independently, or join a half-day clog bike tour which takes in many of the city’s main attractions, as well as visiting a cheese farm and clog factory where you’ll get to see the traditional art of making wooden shoes and famous Gouda cheese. Along the way, there’ll also be a stop for a drink and a pancake.
Stroke some cute and cuddly animals
There are few kids that don’t relish the opportunity to snuggle up to some of nature’s cutest creatures. At De Uylenburg, located in the northwestern corner of Rembrandtpark, visitors can interact with, pet or simply observe a wide assortment of cuddly and friendly animals including peacocks, horses, pigs, chickens, donkeys, goats, sheep, rabbits, ponies and more. Some of the residents are even allowed to roam freely around the grounds, so be sure to keep a firm grip of any snacks or drinks. There’s also an on-site playground.
Rembrandt Park, Staalmeesterslaan 420 / Mon-Sun 10am-5pm
Let the kids loose in a public park
If they’ve indulged their parents by being dragged around the city sightseeing, the least you can do is allow your kids to let off steam at a park. Situated along the river Amstel in Amsterdam-Zuid, south of the city centre, Amstelpark is the ideal antidote for historic landmark-weary little ones keen to rid themselves of pent-up energy. As well as plenty of green space for them to run free, within the park is also a labyrinth, a petting zoo and a mini-golf course. For more adult interests, a Rosarium and a Belgium cloister garden make for a delightful stroll.
Arent Janszoon Ernststraat 1 / Open all hours