Amsterdam is a city that has two drastically different reputations. To some, Amsterdam is a beautiful city filled with canals, bicycles, and endless tulips. To others, Amsterdam is a city where the Red Light District is the main attraction, and legal drugs and prostitution define the city.
While the truth about the Red Light District merits its own post, the fact is that this city can be both or either of those things, simply depending what you are looking for. If you are traveling with a family, odds are the Red Light District will not be making your itinerary. This place is far from family-friendly, and it is definitely a zone you want to stay far away from if you are visiting Amsterdam with children.
However, Red-Light District aside, there are countless great things to do. This post is going to focus on the best things to do in Amsterdam with family, and then it will dive into everything else you need to know to plan your trip to the capital city of the Netherlands.
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Is Amsterdam Safe for Kids?
With all the buzz about the Red Light District, wondering about safety with kids in Amsterdam is a valid concern. After all, most parents don’t want their kids walking by windows with scantly clad prostitutes and stores freely selling drugs of all kinds. As a parent, it is easy to instantly rule out Amsterdam as an option for family vacation; especially if these preconceptions are all you really know about the city.
Now, will you be able to censor everything from your children? No. You will likely see signs or sweatshirts with marijuana leaves on them, and you may run into an occasional quirky vendor selling sexually themed products.
However, if you just take care not to wander into souvenir shops, the odds of this happening really plummet. As far as every other angle goes, Amsterdam is a very safe place for everyone, including babies, toddlers, and parents.
Best Things to Do in Amsterdam with Family
1. Visit the Anne Frank House
There is no more iconic museum in Amsterdam than the Anne Frank House. This museum truly is Anne Frank’s home, and it has been very well preserved to show exactly what her life would have looked like living as a Jewish person in Amsterdam in the early 20th century. Anne Frank is, tragically, one of the most famous children of modern times, and her story has been told throughout the entire world.
We were entirely unaware of this, and were unable to visit the museum. This was the one thing we looked forward to the most in Amsterdam. Tickets for one month go on sale on the first Tuesday of the previous month, and they are often sold out very quickly. We visited in February and there were no available tickets for the entire rest of the month.
To be clear, tickets for all of March go on sale on the first Tuesday of February, and you need to select a date and time when you purchase one. Do not wait until you arrive in Amsterdam.
2. Check out Our Lord in the Attic Church
The Netherlands was at one point a very religiously tolerant country, but there was a period in time when that view shifted drastically. While it had been predominantly Catholic throughout its history, Amsterdam’s city council became majority Protestant in 1578. At that time, the city demanded that Catholics worship in private rather than in churches.
To get around this, many wealthy Catholics began building large chapels in their homes that could be used as churches. Our Lord in the Attic Church is one of the best examples of this, and it has been turned into a museum that shows both the chapel and the house of a wealthy 16th century Dutchman.
We normally love visiting churches when we travel, and this was one of the most unique churches we’ve ever visited. Considering that the Netherlands is predominately either Protestant or Non-religious we were not expecting to stumble upon this hidden Catholic gem.
Our family is Catholic and so we were absolutely in love with this museum. But, whether you are Catholic or not, this church is an awesome historical adventure to take your kids into!
3. Head to Body Worlds
Get it? Head….to Body Works…Well at least we thought it was funny! To this day, Body Worlds is one of the coolest museums that we have ever visited. We stumbled on it while in Amsterdam, and it is one of the coolest things we have ever accidentally found.
This museum is filled with human cadavers. While that may sound a bit grotesque, they cleverly use the cadavers to show the interworkings of the human body. There is a floor for each major bodily system, and all of the exhibit pieces are real human bodies.
While the concept is dark, they do it masterfully. The arrange the cadavers like art, and in a respectful way. There is no better way to explain it, and you simply need to see it for yourself. I would say that this museum is fine for children of all ages, but some parents may want to avoid the floor on the reproductive system.
4. Visit the Rijksmuseum
The Rijksmuseum is dedicated to the history and art of the Netherlands. By many, this is considered the best museum in Amsterdam. Many of the Netherlands most famous artists’ works are housed here, and the museum itself is incredibly expansive.
From antique dollhouses, to paintings, to gardens and a library, this museum is filled with a very wide range of things, which is part of what makes it so interesting. From the outside, the museum is one of the grandest buildings in all of Amsterdam, too. Amsterdam has a Museum Square in the southern part of the city, and the Rijksmuseum is the main museum located here.
5. Hop on a Boat and Go for an Amsterdam Canal Tour
If you are visiting Amsterdam, you simply have to get on a boat and go for a canal tour. Amsterdam is famous all around the world for its beautiful canals, and you simply need to do this. There are no ifs, ands, or buts.
There are many operators who run canal tours in Amsterdam, and many of them can be found within just a couple of blocks of the central train station. Most of the providers tend to have a good reputation, and you can simply perform a quick Google search to determine which one is closest to you.
6. Head to the Van Gogh Museum
Vincent Van Gogh is one of the most famous artists of all time, and thus one of the most famous Dutchmen of all time, too. His works reside in some of the most prestigious art museums in the world, including the Louvre, which is one of the most important museums in Paris.
With this incredible reputation, it is only natural that his home city of Amsterdam dedicated a museum in his honor! The Van Gogh Museum is located in the Museum Square, very close to the Rijksmuseum, and is dedicated to both his life and his works. While there are many great museums in Amsterdam, this one is especially great for families, as children under 18 years old get in for free!
7. Walk Around the Nine Streets
The Nine Streets, or De Negen Straatjes in Dutch, is a really cute and trendy neighborhood of Amsterdam that is worth checking out during your visit. This neighborhood spans a square of nine streets over four of Amsterdam’s most famous canals, and it is filled with beautiful buildings, unique shops, and fantastic places to eat. One of our favorite places to eat in Amsterdam – The Happy Pig Pancake Shop – is located just outside of this neighborhood to the east.
8. Eat French Fries from Manneken Pis Damrak
Manneken Pis is a famous statue of a little boy urinating in Brussels, Belgium, and there is a french fries restaurant themed after it in Amsterdam. While French Fries are a Belgian food and not a Dutch food, this little shop is a can’t miss kind of place while visiting Amsterdam.
When we visited, the line was enormous! Belgians eat their French fries with various dipping sauces – including mayonnaise – and this restaurant serves up their fries in a cone with these types of dipping sauces.
How to Get to Amsterdam
In my post on finding cheap airfare, I mentioned that one of the best ways to find cheap flights is by using a hub airport. Luckily, Amsterdam Schiphol Airport (AMS) is one of the biggest and busiest airports in the world! This airport is a major hub of several airlines, and it is almost always going to provide the cheapest airfare of any airport around Amsterdam.
Due to its main airport being a hub, Amsterdam is a great city to use as an extended layover, as prices are likely to be the same or similar whether your layover is 2 hours or 3 days. From Amsterdam Schiphol Airport you can get into the heart of the city by either train or bus in less than 20 minutes.
If you are unable to find an affordable flight, or you are thinking about flying with budget airlines that might not fly right into Amsterdam, you have two other main airport options. Rotterdam The Hague Airport (RTM) is about an hour and 15 minutes south of Amsterdam by train, and Eindhoven Airport (EIN) is closer to an hour and 40 minutes south by train, near the Belgian border.
Both of these airports make great alternative options, and Eindhoven is especially worth considering if you are already in Europe and plan on flying on a budget airline. This is one of the main budget airline airports of Northwestern Europe.
How to Get Around Amsterdam
METRO | TRAMS | BUSES | BIKE
Amsterdam is a moderately sized city, and many of its main parts feel very walkable. Within just a few miles you can access most of the city’s main attractions and most popular areas.
If you are visiting with kids or anyone else who may not be able to walk several miles at a time, Amsterdam has a very robust public transportation network that includes a metro, buses, trams, and regional trains. On top of that, the Netherlands is renowned for its love of bicycles, and most locals ride their bikes all over the place.
On our visit, we walked everywhere. The only time we needed to use any form of transportation was to get from the airport into the city, which is over 5 miles of distance. Other than that stretch, we were able to see everything that we wanted to see on foot!
The Best Time to Visit Amsterdam
Amsterdam is a pretty chilly place. As it is located on the same latitude as Berlin, Germany, and Warsaw, Poland, Amsterdam isn’t always sunshine and tulips! Visiting in a colder season is quite cold, and you would certainly need to being a warm jacket.
Our first trip to Amsterdam was an accident. We had intended on going to Rome, but the COVID-19 pandemic had just started to really hit that city.
As a result, we decided to simply not board our onward flight to Rome and instead hop off at our layover in Amsterdam. As we had packed for Rome, and the month was February, we were left without appropriately warm attire in Amsterdam!
While the summer months are easily the most beautiful months in Amsterdam, the city is absolutely slammed with tourists at this time. You will have a hard time doing all of the things that you want to do, really. On top of that, flight and accommodation prices skyrocket, and your trip will likely cost an arm an a leg.
To get the best of both worlds, I recommend visiting Amsterdam in the mid to late spring or early fall, either from late April to May or early September to early October. This time is when the hotel prices come back down, the crowds start to dwindle, and the weather is still manageably warm.
Is Amsterdam Worth Visiting?
Family aside, is Amsterdam worth visiting at all? With all of the other places in Europe, does Amsterdam really deserve a spot on your itinerary?
Honestly, I think it could. It really depends what you are looking for.
If you are looking for friendly people, charming architecture, a long list of things to do, and great food, I would recommend heading to Copenhagen instead of Amsterdam. Amsterdam has all of those things, but not quite to the degree that Amsterdam has them.
If you want to visit any of the attractions that are specific to Amsterdam – like the Anne Frank House or the Our Lord in the Attic Church – don’t even hesitate. Just go! Amsterdam truly does rock, and if it is naturally on your route, I highly recommend going.
Amsterdam is closer to many other major cities in Europe, too, making it much easier to visit than Copenhagen without flying. I only recommend Copenhagen over Amsterdam if you are equally able to visit both and don’t mind going a bit further out of your way.
That’s all we have for you about visiting Amsterdam with kids! Hopefully this post is helpful as you start planning your journey to one of the most popular cities in Europe. If you want a taste of Dutch culture without leaving the U.S., though, consider heading to the Tulip Time Festival in Pella, Iowa!
If you’re planning a trip to Amsterdam, let us know! We’d love to chat ahead of time and answer any questions you have.