Amsterdam is a city packed with invitations to play and new things to discover and learn as a family. From playful Vondelspark, where green parakeets squark happily as they fly through the trees, to Museumplein where the contents of Amsterdam’s largest museums overspill into a green and fun filled grass square, to a lazy boat trip along the canal network to ponder why the houses are skinny, wonky, forward leaning and have hooks on.
KLM airlines challenged my family and the family of fellow blogger Emily, from A Mummy Too, to a Twitter treasure hunt around the city finding family friendly things to do in Amsterdam along the way. Our combined Twitter followers tweeted out answers to the clues KLM set us, via the hashtag #findingamsterdam. Meanwhile, we channelled our inner Anneka Rice, to find the locations and discover the very best of Amsterdam for families. Here are some of the highlights of our time in the city that never stops playing, I’ve included the clues too, in case you want to play along.
Before you start exploring Amsterdam with kids, please do the ‘bike safety chat’, bikes are everywhere in Amsterdam, which sounds like a quaint and brilliant idea to tourists, but the reality can catch tourists out. Unlike in Britain where pedestrians frequently wander into bike lanes, Amsterdam’s bike lanes are fast and in heavy use, kids need to get used to treating them as roads. Of course more bikes means less pollution, the air is noticeably fresher here!
Right, health and safety sorted, let’s explore.
Clue 1: Amsterdam has a very popular city park. But what’s it called and where is it?
Vondelspark has an unusual canopy in the form of green parakeets, the descendants of pet birds that escaped in the 1970s, noisy parakeets are easy for kids to spot, unlike the ones I spent years searching for in South London. Baby moorhens and herons that are very relaxed about humans also provided moving opportunities to be close to wildlife, we spent a few minutes silently stalking a heron, waiting for the moment when it would suddenly jab its beak in the water close to the edge of the lake, to catch fish.
Other highlights in Vondelspark included the giant willow trees, whose collapsed boughs lead out across the water and provide the perfect climbing opportunity. We were joined in one spot by a geocacher, but I won’t give away the location of that treasure hunt. The park has its own theatre where, if you are in luck, the kids can have the amphitheatre to themselves. Jumping on the stage, jumping off to rehearse backstage, and then back on again to debut to a crowd of proud parents and passing Chinese tourists, is a moment our lot will not forget.
Vondelspark is well geared to feeding little ones, whilst appreciating the park’s very different architectural spaces. Reminiscent of a flying saucer, The Blauwe Theehuis (Blue Tea House) is Modernist or Nieuwe Bouwen in style, a Dutch take on Bauhaus. This round pavilion is super kid-friendly, it serves peanut butter or nutella sandwiches, in baskets with cherry red and white checked serviettes, as well as BLT and hummus and salad sandwiches for bigger people.
Clue 2: You’ll spot a lot of these around! White. Red. And Black.
A complete contrast to The Blue Teahouse, Vondelparkpaviljoen, or Vondels Park Pavilion is Italian Renaissance in style, this is the place to let them eat cake, I recommend indulging in an apple pie and cream for an authentic Dutch experience. The pavilion is decorated with goddesses and the coat of arms of Amsterdam, and of Vondelspark – the answer to our next and trickiest clue from KLM. You can find the Amsterdam coat of arms in lots of places around the city.
Clue 3: Big. Tall. Long. Let us give you the perfect selfie opportunity.
Our husbands were convinced it was them, it wasn’t, but as they had been such great sports we indulged them with this photo.
Before swiftly following the advice of those in the know on Twitter, who had another tall thing in mind.
Museumplein is home to three of Amsterdam’s most famous museums, the Van Gogh Museum, the Rijksmuseum and the Stedelik Museum of Modern Art, as well as some smaller unsung heros like Moco Museum of Modern Contemporary, which, when we visited, was home to an excellent Banksy and Warhol exhibition, running until October 1 and August 1 2016 respectively. It was also the location of our next clue, the iamsterdam sculpture. Amsterdam absolutely nails the idea that after a museum, visitors and kids especially, need space to let off steam.
It’s magical to watch adults and children clamber all over the i amsterdam letters, a giant metal sculpture which is potentially the best piece of selfie-led tourist destination promotion I have seen. My kids loved testing their parkour skills, and my blood pressure, by leaping across the 6ft high letters, sliding down them and eventually curling up in them for a moment’s pause.
The relationship between indoor and outdoor art space is quite different to those I have encountered in other cities, there are lots of one off art installations and quirky things outside, we met a lady who had painted white doves with multicoloured chalk paint and a double bed on the grass with a sign inviting people to bounce on it.
You can eat in Museumplein too, quickly served hot dogs and Stroopwaffles eaten at white benches set with pretty flowers. Alternatively, across the square there is an open air cafe within eye shot of a play area. Both great punctuation marks in a day full of family sightseeing. You can also paddle in the water and pick up table tennis bats from the Stedelijk Museum.
Clue 4: One of the coolest ways to see the city! Views fit for an Emperor or a Prince, start from the very centre.
The 100km long canal network was originally built to accommodate rising numbers of people immigrating to the city in the 17th century, and is lined with over 1550 monumental buildings. Amsterdam’s characteristic, skinny, tall and towering houses nearly all have long arms jutting out from the top floor with hooks on, and a purposeful, but also slightly disconcerting forward lean. The lean and the hooks are another great puzzle for inquisitive minds to attempt solve in this city. Canal side houses were built tall to avoid flooding and narrow to maximise space. Enter hooks which were used to hoist furniture to the top floor, while forward leaning buildings meant that the objects being hoisted were less likely to smash into the building.
From smartly dressed cape and bowler hatted doormen of fancy hotels, to humble houseboats and floating decks with sofas and picnic tables, Amsterdam’s canals are full of fascinating sights. In the 1960s and 70s houseboats were a means to combat another housing crisis, what was once a cheap option, is now the desirable way to live, complete with taxes. There are even tours of some houseboats, perfect for children, who all seem to have an inbuilt fascination with houses on either water or wheels.
The canal boat tour was just what we needed after a busy day on our feet, afterwards we wound our way slowly back to our hotel, a 40 minute walk which gave us more time to take in the beautiful views of canals and houses.
We had an epic adventure in Amsterdam. Thanks so much to all those who jumped on twitter using the hashtag #findingamsterdam to help out, mobilising two families around a new city without pre-planning is a big adventure but we felt very safe in your hands Twitter! Thanks also to the wonderful A Mummy Too family for being so much fun to hang out with and to KLM for making our first family visit to Amsterdam so exciting.
Have you found any great family friendly things to do in Amsterdam?
We flew from Birmingham airport as guests of KLM to their hub at Schiphol Airport, Amsterdam. Our flights were complementary, but return flights with KLM UK from Birmingham to Amsterdam start from just £79 per person, though with KLM you can fly from over 17 UK based airports to reach Amsterdam.