Beloved Amsterdam (where Cassidy, our oldest Seven Suitcases child, was born, experiencing his first Dutch restaurant when he was less than 24 hours old) is a fabulous capital city of crooked buildings, quaint canals and gezelligheid (coziness) that imbues its hundreds of cafés, restaurants and sweet shops with oodles of let’s-stay-longer charm. Long the preferred weekend break for bachelor(ette) parties, Amsterdam’s actually an exceedingly child-friendly place, where locals typically strap their littlies into their bike seats and bring ’em along.
Our resident expert is creative producer Eva Van Vuuren, mother of Joshua, aged 5, who is currently working on KANTOR, a dynamic arts festival which takes place in the city’s empty buildings. Here Eva shares some of her tips for what’s best with little ones in this darling Dutch destination.
What do you love most about life in Amsterdam with kids?
Amsterdam is a great city to live in with kids because of the variety within the city landscape: you can head into the crowded city centre to shop and eat, but can also escape to other bits of the city, where great creative initiatives have appeared, like temporary pop-up stores and markets. Amsterdam also, of course, has lots of water,: there are the canals, and lots of watersports to enjoy. Cycling, meanwhile, is Method of Transport #1: it’s great to strap my son into the backseat of my bike, and show him all the things we love about this fabulous place.
What are you favourite experiences/things to do in the city with kids?
Alongside the usual city centre tourist hotspots, there are lots of hidden gems that we like to frequent in and around Amsterdam, many of which involve the great outdoors:
- We often visit Park Frankendael, a beautiful park in a 17th-century country estate where they hold a market called Pure Markt , abounding in good food and products, on the last Sunday of the month. There’s also live music, theatre and a carousel for the kids.
- A great place nearby is Jeugdland (website in Dutch), a true adventure playground on the edge of the large Flevopark (a lovely, large park which has a big outdoor pool during summer). Here kids can play and build their own forts from scratch; there is also a petting zoo and kids can try their hand at baking pizzas or going fishing.
- Another great park is Westerpark, which is in the west side of the city; it abuts the Westergasfabriek, a converted gas-works plant, which has its own pretty Culture Park, as well as lots more to do.
- The Artis Royal Zoo is one our favourite city outings. As well as its usual zoological attractions, every summer the zoo expands its opening hours in order to run a great program where different kinds of artists offer workshops to children: follow its Facebook or Twitter feed to keep abreast of events.
- For theatre, we like to visit De Krakeling (website in Dutch), a youth theatre in the city centre. Many of the shows are so visual that your little ones likely won’t notice if they don’t understand the spoken words.
- An excellent child-friendly museum is the modernist, ship-shaped NEMO Science Center, where children are able to experience science, perform experiments, and – best of all -touch everything! On summer days, head up to the amazing, expansive roof terrace for cold drinks and a cool child-friendly water play area.
- We often visit Amsterdam Noord, the upcoming, increasingly hip northern region of the city, which you can access by a short ferry hop from behind the Amsterdam Central Station. This area has a lot to offer, like Hemeltjelief, a charming child-friendly festival (under-12s are free; website in Dutch). Recently, I participated in the Bankjescollectief, “the largest outdoor café in the world,” which takes place on the first Sunday of the month, and during which you (and hundreds of others) ‘open’ a miniature café on a bench to host friends, family, neighbours, or people passing by.
What are your top 10 places to eat/drink coffee with kids in Amsterdam?
Luckily a lot of places are child-friendly in Amsterdam; some are a bit small when you’re with a pram/stroller, but it’s never a problem: they’ll always tuck you in. Here are some of our current favourites.
- We love Pllek (website in Dutch), build out of old shipping containers in Amsterdam North. It offers yummy soups and sandwiches at lunchtime, and banana-nutella sandwiches for the tinies.
- De Bakkerswinkel is a friendly place with great breakfasts and lunch. There’s a couple in the city: the city centre branch on Warmoesstraat is likely the one most visitors will drop by. Try their scones!
- A cute place for a sweet treat is De Taart van m’n Tante (My Aunt’s Tart), where you can eat the most lovely pies in colourful, kitsch surroundings.
- Scandinavian Embassy is a hip concept store where they combine food, fashion and drinks: swing by for a cool Scandinavian lunch.
- If you (or your small people) like to munch your greens, you’ve got to visit SLA (which means ‘salad,’ in Dutch). Founded by one of my colleagues at KANTOR, it’s a really cool place where you can compose and eat great salads (try the Vegan Greens Summer) or sip on a latte made with almond milk.
- For trendy dining, I’d recommend Hotel de Goudfazant, an out-of-the-way treat, housed in an old garage with lots of space and great food.
- Because I live in the east side of Amsterdam I often visit Coffee Bru, a sweet little coffee place where they serve great organic coffee.
- A new place we’ve recently discovered is Hartje Oost (website in Dutch), a beautiful concept store with great coffee and lunches.
- Bar Brouw on Ten Katestraat is a cool place to visit for a cold beer on the terrace at the end of a hot city day.
- Last but not least is Polder, a café-restaurant which is very child friendly and has a great garden where children can play.
What are your favourite child-friendly museums/art galleries in town?
Alongside NEMO, which I’ve mentioned above, we have a few other faves in the city:
- Het Scheepvaartmuseum, The National Maritime Museum, shows how our Dutch culture has been shaped by the sea, and is worth a visit not only for clambering aboard the Amsterdam, the great big replica East Indiaman ship permanently moored outside. My son always pretends to be a pirate!
- Often, the big Amsterdam draw-card museums, such as the recently renovated modern Stedelijk Museum, the Old Master-heavy Rijksmuseum and the ever-popular Van Gogh Museum, offer children’s programs and other creative things to do. Check the Rijksmuseum’s family program here and the Stedelijk’s here. Entry to all three is free for under-18s.
- One of my personal favourites in town is the Tropenmuseum, an ethnographic museum which presents dynamic displays on lots of different cultures. Spanning arts and crafts, music, dance, and more, there are events are generally scheduled on the weekends and during the summer holidays; check the For Children page for details.
Can you pick your favourite five Amsterdam things to do on a rainy day?
Most often, a rainy day will see us visit the theatre, or sometimes the movies (head to the glorious historic city-centre Tuschinski for probably the most opulent movie theatre experience your little ones will ever have had) or a museum (see above). Meeting friends in a nice child-friendly café with a good coffee is also part of the program on a rainy day. Meanwhile, if you’re going to be in town for a longer time, a great place to do a series of workshops is The Kidspiration Club, with their fun, creative art courses.
…And on a sunny summer’s day?
Rent a bike (there are lots of rental outfits in town: RentaBike has tandems and kids’ bikes, and MacBike has baby seats and kids’ tandems), and simply cycle through the city to discover new things. Go by ferry to the North of Amsterdam to visit Pllek (see above). Play about in the park (as well as those listed above, we like the huge, central Vondelpark and the sweet little Sarphatipark), and buy an ice cream or two at IJscuypje.
Can you give us a list of your favourite hotels in the city?
Amsterdam abounds with great hotels, but two of my favourites are the Lloyd Hotel & Cultural Embassy (cots for under-2s are free; extra beds are €17.50 for under-12s) and Hotel Arena (which has legendary club nights, if you can score a sitter!). Also great are The Conservatorium Hotel – smack-dab on the Museumplein, in the old Music Conservatory – and the uber-trendy Exchange Hotel, with its “rooms dressed like models.” A fun new hotel option is Hotel Not Hotel,where you can stay in an old tram car, behind bookcases and in strange cabins, whilst another non-cookie-cutter option is the fab Volkshotel, based in the former headquarters of one of our biggest newspapers.
Any cute kids’ shops in town that you love?
One of my favourites is Big & Belg, which offers a great collection with the finest children’s brands on earth. Keet in Huis is a department store for children clothing, toys, furniture, bedding etc, while Broer & Zus is a nice store which offers brands like Mini Rodini and Finger in the nose, and Unicorn is a great boutique in de Jordaan (a lovely area for exploration, with a definite feel of authentic “old Amsterdam”).
What’s your fave district of the city with kids, and why?
I love the east side of Amsterdam, where I live: it’s Amsterdam’s version of Brooklyn. First, there’s an area called Watergraafsmeer, a town-within-a-town with a great atmosphere and plenty of child-friendly accommodation, that’s really up-and-coming and worth a visit. Besides this, there’s a wonderful area around Wibautstraat where great restaurants (Canvas; Baut) and hotels (Volkshotel; The Student Hotel) are appearing. Likewise, the nearby neighbourhood known as ‘Indische Buurt’ has some great spots like Hartje Oost, DIV (a great shoe store for hip dads!) and restaurant/movie theatre/club Studio K. There are also some great parks in the neighbourhood, like Frankendael and the Oosterpark, whilst Hotel Arena and The Manor Hotel are terrific places to stay.
What’s the best way to get around Amsterdam with kids?
The best way to get around Amsterdam is by bike (there are lots of rentals in town: see above for suggestions). It’s fast and you can park everywhere, and you really get a sense of what life’s like as an Amsterdammer. Of course, you have to be extra careful with kids in tow, and I recommend you first have a quick look-about at the rules of the road and behaviour of the traffic. Always rent a helmet for your child. When it really rains, I go by tram, but that’s an exception.
What’s worth avoiding in Amsterdam?
- Things I never recommend to do are the typical touristy things: Madame Tussaud is not fun with small kids, since there are almost always an hour-long queue. TunFun is underneath the Waterlooplein square: it’s an immense hall with climbing objects, and other games. For parents it’s hell; for children, Valhalla.
- Shopping streets to avoid: Kalverstraat and Nieuwendijk, unless you love the big commercial brands like H&M, Zara and Foot Locker. For shopping it’s a better bet to explore the city centre’s side-streets, or to visit the old-time de Jordaan or gorgeous 9 straatjes neighbourhoods.
- Finally, I’d advise against visiting the funfair on Dam Square in the city centre. It’s loud, crowded, overhyped, and isn’t much fun for children.
What are your favourite day-trips, travels, and weekends away from Amsterdam?
Sometimes we have to escape Amsterdam, and when we do, we love to visit the sea. We have a great coastline with lots of hip beach-clubs to be found in Bloemendaal, beautiful dunes in the Kennemerduinen national park (website in Dutch), and quaintness and culture in the seaside town of Bergen. We also love to visit Waterland, an area outside Amsterdam, with farms, endless grasslands and water, and Terschelling, a Dutch island accessible by ferry, and explorable by bike.
What are your favourite Amsterdam events of the year?
- Amsterdam is famous for its annual public holiday Koninginnedag, also known as Queen’s Day, when the whole city becomes one wonderful, chaotic outdoor party (since last year, however, it’s now Koningsdag, or King’s Day, because we now have a king and not a queen!). In our neighbourhood, this also coincides with the fabulously child-friendly Bredeweg Festival, with a flea market where kids sell their old toys, a parade, old school games and a merry-go-round.
- Other events we often visit are the fun, free-entry Pure Markt, the yummy Neighbourfood Market (held several times per year), the equally delicious Rollende Keukens food-truck festival (held in late May/early June), of course my own event, KANTOR, and Bankjescollectief.
Can you name your perfect “got a babysitter” evening: where do you go for the very best adult night out?
When we go out, I love to start by dining at Lion Noir, Wilde Zwijnen or Hotel de Goudfazant. We’ll then head on to watch a movie at The Movies, the best arts cinema in town. Then it’s on to either dance all night long with a bunch of friends at electronic-music bastion Studio 80 or the Paradiso, a converted church where all the world’s greats have graced the stage, or to drink wine with the love of my life in the nice, gezellig cafés that populate the romantic Jordaan district.