Despite Amsterdam’s notorious red-light district and coffee shops, it’s the ideal city to visit with young children. It’s compact, flat and walkable, with most sights within easy distance of each other. The canals will fascinate most kids and there are plenty of cafés for breaks from sightseeing.
Amsterdam has a smattering of world-leading museums that are always packed out. Skip the lines and get reduced tickets by buying a city pass, which will spare the misery of bored children waiting for hours to get into the Anne Frank House or the Van Gogh Museum. Since its re-opening, the mammoth collections at the Rijksmuseum are too extensive for young kids to enjoy, so cherry pick the highlights, such as Rembrandt’s epic painting The Nightwatch, and just see those. Over the summer there are guided tours of the museum aimed specifically at kids.
Both the Tropenmuseum and the Jewish Historical Museum have special sections for youngsters, with lots of interactive displays and child-friendly activities. The Science Center NEMO in the Oosterdok was built for families, and its interactive experiments will entertain children for several hours. The scale replica of East Indiaman The Amsterdam is moored next door to NEMO; it’s perfect for clambering all over and letting young imaginations run riot. Older children will love the gory fun at the Amsterdam Dungeon and major English-language movies shown in the Art Deco surrounds of the Tuschinski Theater.
South of Oosterdok, the Hortus Botanicus contains over 4,000 species of flora and fauna, including carnivorous plants, giant water lilies and a butterfly house. Just around the corner is Artis; the Netherlands’ largest zoo has 900 animal species plus zookeeper talks for kids, an aquarium, planetarium and petting zoo.
Few kids will resist the chance to explore Amsterdam’s canals by pedalo; they are available at landing stages all over the central canal ring. Another fun option for getting around the city is the hop-on, hop-off bus, which stops at all the major sights; older kids can explore the city streets on bikes or cycle through the Vondelpark dodging the inline skaters.
Toddles will love the playgrounds and petting farm in the Amstelpark and over-sevens can work off energy clambering across the Fun Forest rope bridges in the trees of the Amsterdam Bos. In winter there’s ice skating in Leideseplein and Museumplein, and very occasionally – if it’s cold enough – along the frozen canals.