With its red light district and dope ‘coffeeshops’, Amsterdam might not be the first place that springs to mind for a break with the kids, but this small-scale, manageable city of boats and bicycles, fun museums and outdoor diversions, has much to keep a family blithe and busy. Amsterdammers’ penchant for quirkiness and sense of play adds spice to the mix, writes Rodney Bolt.
Kids love the off-the-wall atmosphere at Ecomama, with its indoor tepee that serves as a video lounge and large communal area with space to flop out, board games and even swings. There’s a sturdy baby buggy on offer for use around town, and an open kitchen (staff occasionally make family meals for all). Accommodation includes a family room, as well as doubles and funky freestanding ‘cabins’ (windowless, though well-ventilated).
The Neighbour’s Magnolia occupies two villas in a smart area of town, near the Vondelpark. A couple of large family rooms on the ground floor offer private access to an enclosed garden, and the mood is relaxed, welcoming and domestic. The hotel dog, Bleecker, loves being taken on walks.
At Nel (Amstelveld 12, 1017 Amsterdam; 00 31 20 626 1199), mum and dad can relax on a terrace that has a fine canal view, with a playground and large run-around area in easy sight. The menu includes burgers and lasagne, as well as dishes for a grown-up palate.
Up an almost ladder-like staircase, the Upstairs Pannekoekenhuis (Grimburgwal 2, 1012 GA Amsterdam; 00 31 20 626 5603), is teeny, attic-like and festooned with teapots. In this Alice-in-Wonderland atmosphere, you tuck in to all manner of sweet and savoury pancakes (a Dutch favourite).
Slightly out of the centre, but currently the hot favourite with local kids is Vandaag (Europaboulevard 1, 1079 PC Amsterdam; 00 31 20 661 8008; take Tram 4 to Europaplein, or Metro 51 to Amsterdam RAI). You pay for the spectacular buffet (grills, salads, pizza, pasta, Asian food, wicked puddings, a chocolate fountain, and more) according to the duration of your stay. There’s a special kids’ buffet, too, as well as a supervised play area and DIY cookie-making kitchen.
Some of Amsterdam’s greatest delights are to be had for free, simply by strolling along the canals (Brouwersgracht, Reguliersgracht and Leidsegracht are less busy than the larger canals, and easier to negotiate with families), or by a visit to one of the city parks. The central Vondelpark has playgrounds, a splash pool, a skywalk-cum-obstacle-course for older kids, and a number of terrace cafés, including the>Groot Melkhuis (00 31 20 612 9674), which incorporates its own playground – all set in acres of greenery.
Taking to the water is a must in this city of canals, but rather than crowd on to one of the big commercial boats, consider a private trip in a small solar-powered boat with Paping Canal Tours (pick-up by appointment; 00 31 6 5389 7887). For a family of four, you’ll pay pretty much the same as for four tickets on one of the big boats. ‘Paap’ Paping, will tailor a tour to suit you and comes up with all sorts of insider info along the way. The boat has a fridge and small table, so you can pack a picnic to enjoy en route.
In a spectacular ship-shaped building (by Renzo Piano) in the Eastern Docklands, NEMO science museum (Oosterdok 2, 1011 VX Amsterdam; 00 31 20 531 3233) is wildly popular for its hands-on, bangs-and-adventure experiments and demonstrations.
Not too far away, Micropia (Plantage Kerklaan 38, 1018 CZ Amsterdam; 0900 2784796 [from the Netherlands only]) offers a high-tech and deliciously yukky view into the world of bacteria and other microbes.
The quickest way into town from Schiphol Airport is by train. Trains leave every 10 minutes or so, the journey takes around 15 minutes, and the fare is €4.20. A taxi would cost between €45 and €50, and take half an hour to 45 minutes.
The city public transport service, GVB offers a variety of day tickets for tram, bus and metro, with substantial discounts for children under 11. But in compact Amsterdam you’ll often find walking the most pleasurable and indeed the quickest way of getting about. Keep eyes peeled, though, in this city of narrow pavements and whizzing bicycles. Or do as the locals do and take to a bike yourself. MacBike (Oosterdokskade 151 -1, 1011 DL Amsterdam, and other locations; 00 31 20 811 51 10) offers a range for hire, including bicycles equipped with baby seats, children’s bikes and cargo bikes with a large box in front for loading toddlers into.