Despite its reputation as Europe’s Sin City, Amsterdam is a wonderful destination for a family vacation. For starters, there are a plethora of free playgrounds and parks spread throughout the city you can let you little ones loose in. Most cultural institutions have created interactive exhibitions geared towards young children and several tour companies offer special family tours via bus, boat or foot.
As a parent of an active six-year-old, I want to share three of my favorite places to take my son in the warmer months, places we both enjoy.
Nemo, Amsterdam’s Science Museum
Amsterdam’s Science Museum, Nemo, is recommended by most guide books for a reason. Kids of all ages will find something to do in this highly interactive museum. All of the exhibitions include hands-on elements and most encourage multiple players. There are plenty of scientific experiments to be conducted, as well as fascinating and fun displays on blowing bizarre bubbles, water filtration, post transportation systems and alternative energy.
Don’t miss the ‘Chain Reaction’ experiment set up in the middle of the museum. It happens several times a day and is certain to delight even the youngest visitors.
This summer they’ve set up an ‘alternative energy and water play park’ on the rooftop terrace, which stretches across the entire slanted roof of the strange ship-shaped building. Your little scientists can splash and learn while you enjoy some of the best views of the city. The rooftop activities are free; use the staircase to the right of the museum’s main entrance to access it if you don’t want to visit Nemo.
Vondelpark is a must-see for anyone visiting the city, especially those with kids. There are plenty of open air spaces for Frisbee, soccer and picnics. Don’t forget, you’re in Europe; it’s perfectly normal to enjoy a white wine with your olives and crackers. (Note: barbequing has been banned in the park, as of March 2017.)
The Groot Melkhuis café, one of three restaurants in the park, is the ideal place to grab a good meal while your child plays safely in their extensive playground. Filled with sand and surrounded by a sturdy gate, it has a plethora of equipment and activities on offer to keep your kids entertained for hours. Technically, you are supposed to order food or a drink while sitting at one of the many picnic tables dotted throughout the playground, though no one checks. They do serve one of the best (and cheapest) vegetarian quiches in the city.
Tip for the summer: Next door to the Groot Melkhuis is a small (free) wading pool that is filled by the city when the temperature reaches 21 degrees Celsius. While standing in the Groot Melhuis’s playground, look across the canal and you will see it. (For fans of The Lover’s Portrait: Across the bike path from the Groot Melhuis is Pablo Picasso’s statue Figure découpée l’Oiseau, which plays a role in my art mystery.)
‘Hide and See(k)’ in the Rijksmuseum’s gardens
After spending time in one of the legendary museums on the Museumplein, take your child to the Rijksmuseum’s gardens and let them play in ‘Hide and See(k)’, a magical fountain and art installation. Just be sure and bring an extra set of clothes.
Danish artist Jeppe Hein’s creation shoots up water in four different patterns, pausing for twelve seconds before changing shape. One word of warning, young children sometimes get a bit freaked out by the ‘surprise’ factor.
Grab a chair and chill out while your kid gets wet. Afterwards, order yourself a prosecco or Dutch coffee and your little one a Popsicle or stroopwafel from the café in the garden to celebrate their bravery.
The recently renovated Rijksmuseum gardens are free to enter (no museum ticket required) and a must-see for adults as well, not only for their beauty but also as an unexpected oasis of peace in a very busy city. Be sure and walk around the entire museum to experience their wondrous diversity.
The many guards roaming around the gardens are usually quite relaxed and won’t mind if your kids run around or play hide and seek amongst the manicured hedges.
There are also six pieces of playground equipment set up next to the fountain, created by Dutch architect and designer Aldo van Eyck. These toys are in fact part of the Rijksmuseum’s collection.
Once your kids are dry and sated, let them loose in the public playground and skate park on the Museumplein, next to the Cobra Café.
For more insider information, check out my Top Tips for Visiting Amsterdam, over on TripFiction.
I hope you and your family enjoy your trip to Amsterdam!