With its canals, narrow cobbled alleys and trams, the novelty value of Amsterdam can prove entertaining enough for many kids. There’s also a whole host of attractions specifically aimed at young children, ranging from circuses and puppet theatres to urban farms and one of the best zoos in Europe.
There are also plenty of free opportunities for play – practically all of the city’s parks and most patches of greenery have some form of a playground, and the recreation area in the Vondelpark is heaven for kids and parents alike.
You’ll find most places pretty child-friendly; the majority of restaurants have highchairs and kids’ menus, and bars don’t seem to mind accompanying kids, as long as they’re well-behaved. Indeed, having a small child in your care is unlikely to close many doors to you in Amsterdam.
Wondering where to start? Here are our tips for the best things to do with kids from the new Rough Guide to Amsterdam.
The woodlands of Amsterdamse Bos offer playgrounds, outdoor theatre, lakes and cycle paths. You can also rent canoes and pedalos to explore the Bosbaan Canal, and visit the Ridammerhoeve goat farm, which makes its own ice cream and cheese
Situated next to a playground, the Amstelpark Petting Zoo has chickens, rabbits, goats and donkeys, while the De Pijp Petting Zoo’s variety of farm animals also includes sheep, ponies, pigs, guinea pigs and salamanders. Both are free to enter.
For older children, a good introduction to Amsterdam might be one of the canal trips that start from Centraal Station or Damrak, or for 5- to 12-year-olds try the Blue Boat Company’s pirate-themed audio guide: while their parents are enjoying a standard cruise, the audio guide helps kids to spot animals using binoculars and to listen out for water sounds; at the end of the journey they get a certificate proving their qualification as a freshwater pirate.
The city’s most central park, the leafy and lawned Vondelpark has an excellent playground, as well as sandpits, paddling pools and a couple of cafés where you can take a break. In summertime, the open-air theatre, Openluchttheater, usually puts on some free entertainment for kids – mime, puppets, acrobats and the like.
The intimate Amsterdam Marionette Theatre, housed in a former blacksmith’s, puts on traditional marionette performances. Because plays are set to classical music there’s no language confusion, and the costumes are fabulous. You could also try permanent children’s theatre De Krakeling, which runs theatre, puppet and dance shows for youngsters up to the age of 17, often with an emphasis on full-scale audience participation.
This popular sight is housed in a former church. Tours last for around an hour, during which you’re handed from one ham actor to another, making believe you have been sentenced by the inquisition, press-ganged onto the high seas, chased by witches and surrounded by plague victims – until you’re finally swept around the interior of the church on a short roller coaster ride.
Artis Royal Zoo is a fun day out for kids, all the more so if you time your visit to coincide with feeding times. At the time of writing these were 10.45am for birds of prey; 11.30am and 3.45pm for seals and sea lions; 2pm for pelicans; 3pm for lions and tigers (not Thurs); and 3.30pm for penguins.
A free audio guide (in English) leads children aged nine and upwards around the Dutch Resistance Museum Junior, a new add-on to the main Dutch Resistance Museum. It explains World War II from a child’s perspective using true stories and authentic items.
At the JHM Children’s Museum, children aged 6–12 can learn about the Jewish faith and traditions on a tour that leads them through the house of the Jewish Hollander family, learning about kosher food in the kitchen, and Jewish music from around the world, among other topics.
The large waxworks collection has the usual smattering of famous people and rock stars, as well as Dutch celebrities and the royal family, plus a few Amsterdam peasants and merchants thrown in for local colour.
A fun water-based activity is a ride on a pedalo-style canal bike. This can get tiring, but jetties where the bikes can be picked up and dropped off are numerous, and it’s quite safe.
TunFun in the old Jewish Quarter is a large underground playground with slides, trampolines and climbing apparatus, for children aged 1–12. Activities include gymnastics, bowling and indoor football, and there’s plenty of equipment to clamber into, under and over.
It comes as no surprise that in the Netherlands you can find an enormous amount of activities outside of Amsterdam. Read our guide to the best things to do in the Netherlands and get more information about this fascinating destination.
Explore more of Amsterdam with the Rough Guide to Amsterdam. Compare flights, find tours, book hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go. Featured image Pixabay / CC0.