5 Great Things to Do in Amsterdam with Kids

5 Great Things to do with Kids in Amsterdam, the Netherlands

We love Amsterdam!!!

Canals. Narrow canal-side homes. Old bridges. Houseboats. Cafes. Babies on bikes. Grandparents on bikes. Dogs on bikes. Everyone else on bikes. The red-light district. Parks. Museums. Charming neighborhoods. I love every single clichés, everything you envision when you think of Amsterdam, whether you’ve been there or not.

It’s a great city for families, because it’s easy to get around, and there are so many fun things to do in Amsterdam with your kids. Here are five of our favorites.

1 — Take  a Canal Tour

A canal-boat tour is a fun way to get your bearings, so that’s the first thing we did. This outing was also great for Archie, as there was lots of space on the boat and no one seemed to mind a small dog on board. The captain was very knowledgable and opinionated, so in addition to the pre-recorded commentary, we received a delicious cocktail of Amsterdam facts spiked with his colorful opinions.

For example. He warned us that most of the tulip bulbs sold to tourists are either dead already or in need of hospice care, near the end of their three-year life cycles. He told us to avoid the charming flower stalls and buy only from reputable growers via the internet. When that topic was exhausted, he started abusing rich yuppies who pay €850k for crappy, fixer-upper canal houseboats. The whole tour was extremely informative and un-boring.

Canal boat tour with our dog in Amsterdam, the Netherlands

Canal-boat tour with our dog in Amsterdam, the Netherlands

Dancing Sisters, canal-side homes, Amsterdam, the Netherlands

The famous “Dancing Sisters” houses…sounds poetic but actually their foundations are rotting.

Cat rescue houseboat "Poezenboot" Amsterdam, the Netherlands

Cat rescue houseboat "Poezenboot" Amsterdam the Netherlands

Look…it’s the Poezenboot (cat boat), a cat rescue on a houseboat.

2 — Visit the Van Gogh Museum

I’ll just come out with it…I am not an art-museum person. Sure sometimes I like them, but often it’s a struggle. Usually they are too big for me, and it’s all too much to absorb in any kind of depth. But the Van Gogh museum was great for me, which is the same as being great for children.

What makes it fun and effective is it’s focus. And it’s organization. The work is displayed chronologically, so you start with the artist’s early works and then move on toward his most famous works. Like at IKEA, just follow the path until you get to the end. It’s interesting to see Van Gogh’s style developing before your eyes.

TIP: Even though they are interesting, the early works probably aren’t what you’re there to see. So if you have really little kids who are only have a small amount of stamina, then I’d speed walk until you get to the paintings you (and they) recognize.

Van Gogh sunflowers, Van Gogh museum, Amsterdam, the Netherlands

Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, the Netherlands

3 — Eat at the Openbare Bibliotheek (Central Library) cafe

A local man tipped us off about this, and we’re so glad he did! Perched on the roof of the library is a bright and lovely cafe with a huge terrace and all kinds of fresh and wonderful foods—made-to-order pizzas and stir frys, sandwiches, fruit, yogurt, salads, juices, and lots of things I’m forgetting. The food is great, it’s relatively inexpensive (unless my over-ordering daughter is with you), and while you sip your fresh mint tea you can enjoy a 180° view of the city.

Because they have so many different kinds of food, you don’t all have to agree about what kind of food to eat beforehand. I don’t know how your family rolls, but Scout and I both love food and have strong opinions about what we feel like eating, so negotiating a restaurant can take an hour. The library cafe solves that problem.

The library itself is beautiful, and for €1 per half-hour you can use their wifi without a membership.

The cafe at Amsterdam's central library

 4 — Visit Anne Frank’s Secret Annex

You know the story. During World War II Anne Frank and her family spent more than two years hiding in a hidden annex at Prinsengracht 263, right up until they were arrested by the Nazis and sent to concentration camps. I think every child over age six should read the diary for themselves and then come visit the museum. It’s difficult to walk past the bookcase that hid the entrance without tearing up. And what you don’t realize until visiting is how cramped the rooms really were and—because the windows had to be kept covered—how dark the place was. I can’t imagine living in such tight quarters for two years, especially with other families that got on my nerves. There’s a new wing with documents, videos, and personal possessions including Anne’s original diary, as well as well-done displays about the persecution of Jews in Europe.

TIP: This is a world-famous museum with long queues to get in. The museum is more powerful when it’s less crowded, so try going near the end of the day when the place is starting to empty out. Yes, your visit will be limited by closing time, but it will be quieter and you’ll avoid all the school-groups and big tours that converge on the place in the morning. The Anne Frank Museum is definitely a place where you want some quiet so you can focus and imagine Anne’s life in the secret annex.
Another option is to book tickets in advance on the Anne Frank website.

Canal Houses, Amsterdam, Netherlands

5 —  Ride bikes in Amsterdam & beyond

The best way to see Amsterdam is by bike.

You’ll feel like a local and can stop to explore whenever you want. Pause to watch a boat squeezing under a bridge on one of the more-than-1000 canals, or hold your breath while movers hoist impossibly large furniture up to a narrow fourth floor window using 15th-century furniture hooks. If you’re feeling juicy you can bike all the way out of town into the countryside, and then take the train home if anyone runs out of energy.

We brought our own bikes from Canada, but downtown Amsterdam has hundreds of bike rental shops.

TIP: Since Amsterdam bike lanes are crowded with serious commuters, I’d have little ones share bikes with parents. Amsterdam bike lanes are no place for the faint-hearted.

Amsterdam canal, the Netherlands



{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Amanda August 29, 2014 at 6:40 pm

I know this post is a couple years old, but I’ve just discovered your inspiring blog. One question: where was Archie while you visited museums and such? How easy was it to do big city touristy stuff with him in tow? Thanks I advance for your insight!
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2 Renee September 1, 2014 at 1:40 pm

Hi, Amanda. We spent one full day touring Amsterdam with Archie in tow (meals, canal-boat ride, walking), but he’s rather sensitive, and I don’t think he enjoyed it. In fact he slept for two days straight when we were done. After that (in big cities) we would do a long walk or play session in the morning, and then let him sleep in the camper while we were out. That worked fairly well, though it meant we had to do abbreviated days. The toughest times were when it was very hot or a lot of transit was involved, meaning we were out for a long time. Archie is awesome though and never had any accidents or visible upset.

In smaller towns we’d just bring him with us. He couldn’t come in museums, as you mention, but he was usually able to come into restaurants.

Hope this helps! Are you camping with a dog in Europe?


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