Formerly a fishing village, the canal-side city of Amsterdam has been home to artists like Rembrandt and Delft. It has survived an industrial revolution, suffered during the World Wars, and is now known for its tolerance and laidback arty vibe. Canal belts form concentric circles around the city. Their presence is soothing and the canal houses that line them have distinctive, elegant facades. While Dutch cuisine may not be world-famous or on your must-try list, it’s definitely kid-friendly with its extravagant pancakes, cheeses, and comforting meat and potato dishes. The numerous museums around the city are remarkable and most are incredibly child-friendly, free for under 18s, and often take special care to address young visitors. Ignore the hype and the adults-only image of Amsterdam and take the young ones to this gorgeous, amiable city.
Flight If you arrive by air, buy the three-day Amsterdam Travel Ticket from the airport (€25/₹1,750). It gives unlimited use of the metros, trams, ferries and night buses operated by GVB within the city, and also includes the train ride from the airport to Amsterdam Centraal railway station.
Train and Bus Trains from around Europe halt at Centraal station. If arriving here, buy a 3-day travel card (adults €16.50/₹1,157; children 4-11 years €7.50/₹525 for a 3-day pass) for unlimited travel in the city, but no airport transfer.
Amsterdam is a very compact city and the tram and metro system are excellent. If you plan to explore more of the Netherlands after your time in Amsterdam, get the 9292: a real-time public transport app for a smartphone that’s very useful for planning travel through the country (9292.nl/en).
City passes like the Amsterdam Holland pass and the I Amsterdam City Card provide free entry and discounts on passes to many cultural attractions, plus unlimited GVB rides (from €49/₹3,500).
Amsterdam’s Old Centre is the most popular area for tourists, but it gets extremely noisy at night. For families with children, I’d recommend staying in and around the Canal Belt. These streets are quiet, but you are still close enough to walk to most of the sights. Live in a traditional Dutch canal house at the Amsterdam Wiechmann Hotel. Typical to this kind of structure, the stairs are steep. Ask for a room with a canal view (Prinsengracht 328-332; www.hotelwiechmann.nl; family room for four from €207/₹15,000). For canal views in a more modern setting, Hotel Pulitzer has rooms that are small but elegant (Prinsengracht 315-331; www.pulitzeramsterdam.com; family room for four from €484/₹35,000). Dikker & Thijs Fenice Hotel is located near several museums, a tram station, and a canal stop. It’s noisy over the weekends so choose this if you plan to party (Prinsengracht 444; www.dikkerenthijshotel.nl; doubles from €160/₹11,200). It is also possible to stay in one of the houseboats docked at Old Harbour, a few minutes walk from the city centre. They make for a comfortable and unique experience (Oosterdok; www.myhouseboatamsterdam.com; houseboat for four from €135/₹9,800). Hotel Van Onna is great for budget travellers. It is located in the charming Jordaan area, which is peaceful but well connected (Bloemgracht 102-104; hotelvanonna.nl; family room for four from €150/₹10,800). If you plan to book an apartment through sites like Airbnb or 9flats look for a place in and around Jordaan.
Begin the day with breakfast at De Bakkerswinkel. Their baked goods are delicious and become superlative when eaten with their jams or lemon curd. Juniors can get a fruitshake while adults can grab their cuppa. Include a yummy quiche to fortify the family for exploring the city (Warmoesstraat 69; www.debakkerswinkel.com; €50/₹3,490 for four). Get your city bearings with a canal boat cruise through the 17th-century canals of Amsterdam. The city has over 100 kilometres of four concentric semi-circles of canals. Choose between an hour-long tour or a hop-on-hop-off pass for the day(cruises begin on Gray line pier 5 near Amsterdam Centraal station; www.canal.nl; adults €16/₹1,120, children €8/₹560; day pass for adults €20/₹1,400, children €10/₹700).
Back on land, take a leisurely walk towards bustling Dam Square. The Royal Palace (www.paleisamsterdam.nl; open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; adults €10/₹700; visitors under 18 free), 15th-century church Nieuwe Kerk (www.nieuwekerk.nl; open 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; adults €8/₹560, children below 11 free), and the poignant National Monument commemorating the casualties of World War II, are all around the corner from this town square. The Palace is still used by the Dutch monarch, King Willem-Alexander for royal events but is open to the public on other days. For some Dam Square shopping, De Bijenkorf is a huge department store with a mix of luxury and everyday brands (toll free on 0800-0818; open Sun, Mon 11a.m.-8 p.m., Tues, Wed 10 a.m-8 p.m., Thurs, Fri 10 a.m.-9 p.m., Sat 9.30 a.m.-8 p.m.). A few lanes away is Magna Plaza, a mall worth visiting just for its impressive neo-Gothic style interiors (open Mon 11 a.m.-7 p.m., Tues-Sat 10 a.m.-7 p.m., Thurs: 10 a.m.-9 p.m., Sun 12 p.m.-7 p.m.). Next, head to the Anne Frank House museum for a moving experience. See the space that was a silent witness to this young Jewish girl’s brief and tragic life. The museum is built on the site where Anne Frank was hiding while she wrote her famous diary. Children who have read this book will appreciate this along with adults. For those unfamiliar with Anne Frank, the museum also has a great family program to acquaint visitors with her story before they go in. Buy museum tickets online to avoid long queues (Prinsengracht 267; www.annefrank.org; adults €9/₹630, children €4.50/₹300, free for children under 9; open 9 a.m.-9 p.m. April to October and 9 a.m.-7 p.m. from November to March). For a dinner children will surely love, head to The Pancake Bakery. Dutch pancakes or pannenkoek are typically very thin and generously covered with sweet or savoury toppings. The pizza pancakes and poffertjes (small buckwheat pancakes) with whipped cream are divine (Prinsengracht 191; www.pancake.nl; €40/₹2,800 for two).
Coin-operated deep-fried food vending machines are found across the city—just look for a bright yellow sign and FEBO logo. Use exact change, since the machines do not return money. My favourites were krokets, a log-shaped savoury that’s crisp outside with a warm meat ragu filling on the inside. Another traditional snack seen at fish stalls around the city is soused herring (raw fish soaked in a mild vinegar preserve) served with chopped onions; it’s an acquired taste but the Dutch love it.
After a leisurely breakfast at Letting café (Prinsenstraat 3; www.letting.nl; €24/₹1,685 for two), walk around the canals and old houses in Jordaan. This gentrified neighbourhood is replete with art galleries, boutiques, and restaurants.
Amsterdam makes bicycling easy with special cycling lanes throughout the city, making it a convenient, eco-friendly way to move around. Keep a watch out for cyclists when crossing roads or walking around. A bicycle tour of the city or the countryside is a popular way of exploring. My tour covered a visit to the iconic Dutch windmills, interactions with cheese farmers, and learning how wooden clogs are made (a 3-hour city tour begins at noon and the country tour begins at 11 a.m. every day at Kerkstraat 134; www.mikesbiketoursamsterdam.com; adults €25/₹1,750, children €18/₹1,260). The bicycle tour is only suitable for children above 13. For younger ones, opt for a city walking tour. Sandeman’s walking tours meet every day in front of the National Monument on Dam Square at 10 a.m., 11.15 a.m. and 2.15 p.m. Some of the sites covered are the Jewish Quarter, Old Church, and the Narrowest House in the city (newamsterdamtours.com; €3/₹210 per person + tip).
After all the active exploring, closeby Vondelpark is a perfect spot for a break. There’s summertime theatre, a lake with ducks, and occasional markets within. If you’re with children aged under 10, head to Kinderkookkafé, where adults can relax while the children are busy cooking their own pizza and smoothies in the kitchen (Vondelpark 6B; www.kinderkookkafe.nl; around €10/₹700, depending on dishes cooked). Picnic lunches in a cosy spot by the water are also a good idea.
For souvenir shopping, stop at Leidseplein, another busy town square. In summer, it is filled with buskers, street performers, and acrobats and in winter, it transforms into an ice skating rink. For a home-cooked Dutch meal, take a short walk to Hap-Hmm. Try the meatballs or steak with stroganoff sauce which come in large portions. In typical European style, dinner begins at 4.30 p.m. and the last order is at eight (Helmersstraat 33; www.hap-hmm.nl; €25/₹1,750 for two; closed weekends).
Amsterdam is full of fabulous museums. Apart from the big, famous ones, there are smaller curated collections in the eclectic Torture Museum, the floating Houseboat Museum, and the charming Doll Museum. Museum Quarter is packed with options, though it’s best to spread out the museum visits over different days. The Quarter’s crowning glory, theRijksmuseum, chronicles Dutch history and is a treasure trove of works by renowned Dutch painters. I was thrilled to see my first Rembrandt here. The map of the museum specifies a kid-friendly route—with exhibits of dollhouses, airplanes, and a picnic room to create postcards. A special multimedia game is fun for a family to try their hand at solving eight Rijksmuseum mysteries (Museumstraat 1; daily 9 a.m.-5 p.m.; www.rijksmuseum.nl; adults €17.50/₹1,225, visitors under 18 free; game €2.50/₹175 per device, available at the multimedia desk). Art fans can also head to the Van Gogh Museum to see the world’s largest dedicated collection from this Post-Impressionist painter (Paulus Potterstraat 7; daily 9 a.m.-6 p.m.; www.vangoghmuseum.nl; adults €17/₹1,190; visitors under 18 free). This year marks the 125th anniversary of van Gogh’s death, and there are a number of events across Amsterdam and the Netherlands to commemorate the event. Rembrandt House Museum is also unmissable, showcasing where the Dutch painter lived and painted for 20 years (Jodenbreestraat 4; daily 10 a.m.-6 p.m.; www.rembrandthuis.nl; adults €12.50/₹900, children ages 6-11 €4/₹280). Next up is the NEMO Science Centre, a hands-on museum for children. It is hard to miss this bright green building shaped like a huge ship. The terrace has a lovely view and café, which does not require a ticket, and is worth a visit (Oosterdok 2; Tue-Sun 10 a.m.-5.30 p.m.; www.e-nemo.nl; €15/₹1,050).
Start your day at the Albert Cuyp Market in De Pijp Quarter a busy, multicultural street market, where you can snack on stroopwafels, little poffertjes, or Surinamese food, while scouring for bargains. Look out for delicious old-school Dutch treats like sour hard candy, liquorice, and butter waffle-flavoured sweets (Albert Cuypstraat; Mon-Sat 9 a.m.-5p.m.). Alternatively, grab a quick brunch of juicy burgers at Burgermeester (Albert Cuypstraat 48; www.burgermeester.eu; €40/₹2,800 for two).
Give the kids a treat to remember with a visit to the Artis Royal Zoo to get really close to gorillas, giraffes, and zebras. The butterfly pavilion and insectarium are also exceptional so expect to spend at least four hours there (Plantage Kerklaan; www.artis.nl; adults €19.95/₹1,400, children €16.50/₹1,200). If you haven’t had your fill of Dutch pancakes yet, get on a pancake boat ride and eat to your heart’s content. The 75-minute boat ride on the IJ River includes an unlimited supply of pannenkoeken along with various toppings (boats depart from behind the Amsterdam Centraal station; www.pannenkoekenboot.nl; adults €18.50/₹1,300, children €12.50/₹875).
End the day with a walk through Nieuwmarkt, a lively square that is known for its cafés and nightlife. The most prominent building here is the Waag, or weigh house. The stately 15th-century building initially served as one of Amsterdam’s city gates. Later, it was used as a weigh house, where market goods were weighed. Now, the structure has a popular restaurant on its ground floor. Restaurant-Café In De Waag is a cosy candle-lit diner that serves European food made with fresh local ingredients. Their chocolate fondue is a big hit with kids, and adults too (Nieuwmarkt 4; www.indewaag.nl; €80/₹5,600 for four).
Vibrant, blooming tulips can be seen in their full glory during the pleasant springtime months of March to May. For a quick visit on a busy day head to the city’s floating flower market Bloemenmarkt, to see these Dutch beauties and buy flowers, seeds, and tulip-themed souvenirs. Otherwise, schedule a trip to the spectacular Keukenhof Gardens in Lisse to admire over seven million colourful flowers. Take a picnic lunch with you and set aside at least four hours for this leisurely visit. (Keukenhof Express buses leave Schiphol Plaza every 15 minutes; adults €16/₹1,120, children €8/₹560.)
Indian travellers to Amsterdam need a Schengen visa. A short-stay tourist visa costs ₹4,255 and requires confirmed flight tickets and other documents. Visit www.vfs-nl-in.com for details.
Appeared in the September 2015 issue as “Child’s Play”.
On the basis of this itinerary, the cost for a three-day holiday in Amsterdam for two adults and two children is ₹1,60,000 without airfare. It includes a mid-range hotel stay, public transport for three days, and sit-down meals in restaurants. Travellers can save money and reduce the overall cost of the trip by staying in a budget place and eating at stalls, fast-food joints, and cheaper places. The other two expenses of getting around and sightseeing will remain the same. Our itinerary gives prices for almost everything, so you can plan your trip and modify it depending on your budget.