An Amsterdam city break is first in our new series of short hops for long weekends with kids. It’s a free-wheeling, laid back place the whole family will love and here’s how to get the most out of it in just a few days.
Amsterdam city break tours with a difference
Getting a break on an Amsterdam city break couldn’t be easier. Hop on the free ferry behind Central Station and in five minutes you’re in Noord, gateway to North Holland’s countryside.
We Bike Amsterdam takes you there on its four-hour Countryside Bike Tour with bikes included. Their route follows the North Holland Canal to the 18th-century Admiral windmill. Then it’s on to the quiet trails of the Waterland region. Stop for apple pie in historic Holysloot, before looping round to the old fishing village of Durgerdam.
Get a little bit wild on the Amstel River
During lockdown, residents young and old made the Amstel River their personal swimming pool. Want to join them splashing past houseboats and playing on the grassy banks? Two rowing clubs mark the best spots. Leap off the east bank near Roeicentrum Berlagebrug. Then snack at some of the city’s trendiest cafes.
Alternatively, cycle south to Roeivereniging RIC, on the lawns of Park Somerlust. Wood piers jut into the bay with ladders to climb in and out, and kids sail in on riverboats to grab pizza from L’Osteria.
Let an Amsterdam city break help with your kids’ curriculum
The NEMO Science Museum lets kids tinker with gadgets before you even buy tickets. But the ‘wows’ upstairs are worth the price. Look forward to five floors of bubble-blowing, time-travelling, brain-tricking, static-charging, robot-charged exhibitions. Don’t miss the interactive chemistry lab on the Elementa floor, as well as an Innovation Gallery tracking the evolution of everyday machines.
However, for many the biggest draw is the Renzo Piano-designed roof terrace. This huge urban ‘beach’ faces the Amsterdam skyline with showering fountains which kids will love running through. There’s also an ice-cream shop and restaurant with more panoramic views.
Pick Café de Jaren for a laid-back lunch spot
Café de Jaren is a busy, buzzy brasserie with a no-reservations policy that’s worth returning to over and over. Kids won’t get bored with the menu. Think baked eggs and smoothies until 1pm as well as lunch buffets, classic pastas, burgers and desserts. Skip the appeltaart at your peril. The café’s also a feast for the eyes. Glassy and light, with pretty tiled floors, it suits afternoons when you crave food and shelter more than art and culture. Sky-high ceilings create a general din, so nobody notices your kids running up and down the mezzanine stairs. Come on warm days, too, then the canal laps right up to your terrace table.
Pre-trip prep for your Amsterdam city break
Many pre-teens are captivated by The Diary of Anne Frank ahead of a tour of Anne’s annex in Jordaan. Yet little ones might prefer a practice outing on a Dutch bike. You can pile up to three small kids into a single front-loading cargo bike or bakfiets, and it’s worth testing one before you commit to hiring one abroad.
Fab Amsterdam family hotels
Finding unique family lodging with space for more than a baby was a challenge in Amsterdam. Then Hotel Mai came along with its two-bed rooms which include kids’ bunks. As a bonus, the canal-side house is only three minutes’ walk from Central Station and steps from your requisite bridge-over-canal snap. It offers babysitting if you’re going out, and an honesty bar should you stay in. Outside, if your children ask ‘What’s that smell?’ regarding the ubiquitous coffee-shop smoke clouds, sweep them into a fragrant nearby restaurant such as Café Bern, a legendary fondue joint. ;
Old meets new west of the canal ring
Just west of the canal ring, you get a taste of old and new Amsterdam on a single street corner. Ten Katemarkt is a typical Dutch bazaar selling gouda wheels, herring bites and fresh poffertjes: mini Dutch pancakes. Behind there, under the high glass roof of a disused trolley depot, is Foodhallen gourmet market. Here kiosks sell bitterballen and chicken meatballs. At weekends it shares space with the Local Goods Market, where craftspeople make wooden toys, jeans and ephemera, on the premises, from recycled materials.
Artis guarantees animal magic on an Amsterdam city break
If you can call a zoo classy, Artis with its free-roaming springbok and an entire microbe museum within historic walls, is all that. Tour the lush grounds in the afternoon, then grab an early table under the sycamores at De Plantage, an art nouveau conservatory near the flamingo aviary. Full of tropical plants, this café offers croquettes and slow-cooked lamb or Zeeland oysters. Look out for peacocks and gorillas.
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