Amsterdam is a town where mums strap their kids three high on rickety bicycles, and cherubic, rosy-cheeked nippers still play with chalk in the streets. Aside from the adult Disneyland of the Red Light District (which only covers a few streets) Amsterdam is one of the most kiddy-considerate European capitals you’ll find.
Here’s how it works…
1. Mount up
First, get mobile. And in the dam, that means two wheels and a loud bell. Cabs are expensive, the tram network is limited, and driving is a hellish circle of one-ways and perillously unguarded canal edges. The city loses one motor a week into the murky green water, so best not to add your rent-a-wagon to the city hall statistics.
And besides: cycling here is fun (and mostly safe). Because everyone cycles, everyone gives way to cyclists. Cargo bikes are set up with benches for small kids, and bigger ones can get bikes of their own. Het Zwarte Fietsenplan has the best rental bikes and a few shops dotted about town.
Cycling here is fun, and mostly safe. Because everyone cycles, everyone gives way to cyclists.
2. Meet Nemo
Not that one. This is a science museum with the same name as Pixar’s famed fish. Nemo is set beneath a vast, sloping roof terrace (and bar), with views across the city and it’s port. Inside are five floors of very hands-on science exhibits. It’s somewhere that kids could spend hours, bashing, squirting and twiddling things, all in the name of education.
3. Try soft play with wine
Tunfun is a former underground carpark (well, it’s still underground, it’s just no longer for cars) that has been turned into a giant softplay cage. Like all such things, prolonged exposure will soon have you weeping for release, but it’s a great rainy day option, with age-specific areas.
4. Visit a playground with a pub
You may notice a theme developing here, but this is another urchin-enthralling venue in close proximity to wine/beer/gin. Amsterdammers have come to the very civilised conclusion that rearing small people should not preclude light boozing, and many playgrounds have bars next to them. These are not the ramshackle bits of plastic play kit found in your local beer garden, but vast sandpits with climbing frames, slides and other such frippery. Vondelpark, the cities best known green space, has one halfway down its western side, and another at its southernmost exit.
5. Get wet
Well, not actually wet, but on to the water. The organised canal cruises are like an hour in an oversized floating coke bottle, listing to well worn tour-guide gags. Instead, get a vessel of your own and putter about from one canal-side bar / snack shop to the next. Mokum has little metal, electric boats that can seat eight from €110 for three hours.
Where to stay
In a forest
Amsterdamse Bos is a vast forest on the southwestern edge of town. For the novel experience of camping in a city, get over to Camping Amsterdam. There are fixed abodes there too, if you don’t fancy risking the Dutch weather, including cabins and tiny eco-lodges for four.
On a houseboat
The novelty value makes up for the cramped digs (and gentle bobbing whenever someone putters past), and most houseboats are smack in the middle of town.
In a canal house
There are dozens of beautiful Golden Age canal houses that have now been turned into hotels, and some of these wonky digs are well suited to exploring families. Popular spots are Toren, Estherea, The Grand (it really is), and The Pulitzer.