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Canals, bicycles, museums, cheeses, cafés, and need I even mention tulips or the infamous Red Light District! These are just some of the images that the mere mention of Amsterdam conjures up. Amsterdam has been largely painted as a tourist destination for adults, but in reality, it is also a family-oriented city with numerous activities for children. With the endless waterways, welcoming residents, delicious food and lush green landscape Amsterdam quickly cemented a place in my heart as a city that will remain special forever.
For me, Amsterdam was also a refreshing ride back to childhood as it reminded me of the city I lived in as a child. I grew up in Bangalore, which was then one of the most green and beautiful cities in Southern India. Lots of trees, shady boulevards, vast expanses of gardens and parks and a plethora of playgrounds adorned the city. Of course, this was before the technology revolution took over and the city is now known for its potholes, traffic and rapidly developing skyline.
Fortunately, Amsterdam continues to retain its beautiful green side and children there have more to life than malls, indoor play areas and gadgets to keep them company.
Our recent family holiday to Amsterdam with our 4-year-old daughter was as close to perfect as can be, we loved every single day that we spent in the amazing city. Here are some of my top picks on what to do as a family, starting with the most kid-friendly and hence, my daughter’s favourites.
Amsterdam with Kids: Top Things to Do on a Family Holiday
Amsterdam’s version of NYC’s Central Park, this large park is set amidst the beautiful canals and historic buildings. It’s a great place for the kids to expend their energy and a perfect spot for you to get your caffeine and O2 fix. A large wading pool, a gigantic playground with wooden tree huts and swinging rope bridges, it can keep the kids engaged for hours. Check the schedule for open air shows that are held on certain days of the week during summer.
2. River Cruise
Any tour in the city of canals would be incomplete without a relaxing leisure cruise along the waterways. Here are some fast facts – Amsterdam has 165 canals, the total length of which runs into 31 miles and has 1281 bridges built across them. A river cruise takes you across most of the historical sites of Amsterdam and lets you breathe in the fresh air and feast on the lush greenery as you go by. And for pancake lovers, don’t miss the Pancake Cruise – 75 mins of unlimited pancakes, a cozy boat and the Amsterdam skyline for company, this is a ride you will surely remember.
While Voldelpark and the Pancake Cruise were my daughter’s favourite things to do in Amsterdam, the city offers much more for families.
3. Grand Holland Tour
I have often heard Holland and Netherlands being used interchangeably, this might be the right time to explain. Netherlands refers to the entire kingdom of Netherlands; however, Holland refers to the two provinces of North and South Holland which houses the major cities of Amsterdam, Rotterdam and Hague. If I had to take you down history to the Dutch Golden Age in the 17th century, most ships came from these two provinces and hence, came to be represented as Holland. However, after the Kingdom of Netherlands was established, it is inappropriate and even disrespectful to refer to them interchangeably.
The Grand Holland tour is a scenic, day long trip that starts with the impressive Euromast, the vibrant ‘very Dutch’ city of Delft which houses the royal blue ceramic factory, the International Court of Justice at Haig and ends at the cute miniature garden at Madurodam.
4. Zaanse Schans
A beautiful residential area dating back to the 18th and 19th century, brought to life with all the little elements that constitute a quaint little village. The best way to discover Zaanse Schans is on foot, there are several walking routes throughout the neighbourhood. Walk past a bakery and smell the divine cookies; take a peek into the cheese factory and sample the various types of cheese; encounter various artisans and check out their handicrafts from pewter to coopery; bring a piece of Zaanse Schans home with you in the form of a souvenir.
The biggest draw for us was the presence of six working windmills that are still in use to grind flour, mix paint and saw wood, among others uses. The sight of the sails against the backdrop of a lush green meadow allures you to delve into its working. Amidst creaking wood and a well reconstructed interior, you listen in awe to the wonderful stories of the mills’ existence. Definitely my most memorable experience of the trip.
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Also known as the Garden of Europe, Keukenhof is one of the world’s largest flower gardens. Spread over 32 hectares, this garden is open annually between mid-March and mid-May. The best time to sight the flowers – hold your breath — the close to 7 million flower bulbs planted each year, is mid-April. However, if you are gearing up for that perfect photo-op against the rolling fields of tulips, you might be disappointed. The tulip fields are outside the garden and often privately owned. There are enough pretty backdrops for you to get clicked against within the garden and you wouldn’t want to miss the serene boat ride that offers a tour of the gardens.
6. The Heineken Experience
Located in the centre of Amsterdam, the historic Heineken factory was used to manufacture all of the brand’s beer until 1988, when the main production line was moved to a larger facility outside the city due to overwhelming demand for the product. A must visit for any beer drinker, this museum offers you a fun and interactive ride through the company’s history and brewing process. Very interactive with enough fun activities, including gaming simulations and activities for kids!. At the end of the tour, unwind over a mug of beer.
8. Van Gogh Museum and Rijksmuseum
Satiate the art and history lover in you by spending a day at the Van Gogh museum which features the largest collection of works by the Dutch painter, including some of his finest works along with those of his contemporaries.
Rijksmuseum is the museum of the Netherlands and according to TripAdvisor, it is the top thing to do while in Amsterdam. The Rijksmuseum tells the story of the Netherlands from the Middle Ages to the 20th century. The museum displays masterpieces by artists like Rembrandt, Vermeer, Frans Hals, and more!
6. Anne Frank House
The Anne Frank house is a somber remnant of the wartime diarist and the origin of the well know diary of Anne Frank. The visit to the site today features the hiding place and a permanent exhibit of her life. However, be mindful that the Anne Frank House can only be visited with an online ticket for a specific date and time, tickets are limited and can get sold out months ahead. Do check on the availability before you plan your trip.
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Down to the Basics
Travelling within Amsterdam by public transport is straightforward and convenient. The extensive network is operated by GVB and connects the city’s neighbourhoods by train, tram, metro, bus and ferry. And, of course, if you want to stay fit and enjoy the city like a local, pick up a bicycle and cycle your time away.
Vegetarian Food in Amsterdam
Vegetarian food was never a handicap and I found myself spoilt for choice. Sandwiches, pizzas and pancakes are aplenty; don’t miss having the local version of the fries, often called patat or frites. The pancakes with their various toppings are also quite popular and you can enjoy them sweet or savoury to your preference.
Amsterdam, for me, was a beautiful journey into a life I had forgotten existed. A world where the sheer beauty of nature compelled me to put away the smart phone and devices and instead enjoy conversations with friends, family and even strangers. The crisp spring breeze and the buzz of the trams and cyclists kept me company as I walked by. The fresh fruits and cheese are an ideal snack to replace the usual junk favourites. I was truly saddened when I had to leave! Tot straks Amsterdam and I do indeed hope to see you soon again.
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Preethi is currently juggling two hats – mastering the art of zen raising a resilient, naughty and adorable young adult (aka her 3-year-old daughter) and working as a HR Marketer for a leading Technology MNC. Foodie, music lover, ardent toastmaster, travel buff and a motor mouth by choice is how we describe Preethi Bashyam Sriganesh.