In September of 2014, we traveled around Greece, Turkey, Jordan, and Israel for nearly a month. Our return flights from Tel Aviv had a stopover in Amsterdam, and we could stay up to a couple of days for free, so we decided to go for it, as neither Dan nor I had visited Amsterdam previously. We thought it would be a fun little hop, but didn’t have particularly high expectations.
Boy were we wrong.
It so happened that we LOVED Amsterdam. The city was vibrant and colorful and just gritty enough to feel authentic. It was just such a charming, beautiful city. The people were kind and friendly and helpful; everyone we met was very welcoming to our little ones, as well. It was very kid-friendly in that it was extremely walkable, and fairly small, so our kids felt very comfortable moving around. The public transportation is excellent and easy to navigate, and our kids loved riding on the streetcars and trains. It felt like there was a really great mix of high-impact tourist sites and normal, local-friendly living.
When I thought of Amsterdam, I thought of lots of drinking and revelry, which was not the most exciting prospect for a family with small children in tow. Even as non-drinkers (and traveling with an almost-2 and almost-4 year old), though, we thought Amsterdam had lots to do and was very accessible and fun for young families.
While we certainly didn’t cover even a tenth of everything the city has to offer, we loved our time there, so I wanted to share what all we did.
We were supposed to have just about a day and a half there, but it turned out we missed our connection in Rome after flying there from Tel Aviv (which was obvious would happen when we were in Tel Aviv itself, as that flight was seriously delayed, but Alitalia refused to put us on a different flight direct to Amsterdam…this after majorly messing up our reservation. seriously, never fly them). So we ended up spending a night near the Rome airport and flying into Amsterdam the next morning instead.
Since we had barely any time as it was, we talked the airline (KLM, if I recall, which was infinitely better than Alitalia) into letting us extend our stay in Amsterdam by a couple days, which had us flying back the day before Kina’s 2nd birthday (we were NOT going to miss that flight, as we had no interest in suddenly paying for a very expensive last-minute ticket for a no-longer-lap-child).
The morning we flew in, we headed straight to a canal boat tour with Janssen and her family. We weren’t totally sure we were going to make it in time, but fortunately, public transportation from the Amsterdam is super quick and straightforward and we made it with time to spare. The boat tour was beautiful and a perfect way to see a city where water plays such a major role. The kids really enjoyed riding and looking out the giant glass windows. We used the Blue Boat Company, which I thought provided interesting commentary and was convenient (it picked up right near the Rijksmuseum) and cheap (the kids were free).
From there, we walked through the Leidseplein to Wok to Walk (a surprisingly tasty Asian stir fry chain) and grabbed some lunch. We meandered through the Begijnhof, which is an old gated community that houses the oldest house in Amsterdam (#34). It was so pretty and serene, and a nice break from the hubbub earlier in the day.
We wandered over to the Spui, a square right in the middle of the city, and through the Bloemenmarkt, Amsterdam’s floating flower market. It was so beautiful! We picked up some seeds to plant back home (which we…still have sitting in a drawer 3.5 years later).
From there, we walked over to the Royal Palace and Dam Square. While everyone else got gelato, I darted into the H&M near there to pick up underwear and a few articles of clothing for all of us, as the airline had lost our luggage (are you getting a sense of just how much I dislike Alitalia?). After that, we split up from the Bradshaws and walked briefly into the Red Light district (which, fortunately, was very tame at 4 in the afternoon) to see Oude Kerk, the oldest church in Amsterdam, and Singel 7, the narrowest house.
After that, we headed over to the Anne Frank house; we were grateful we had gotten to town in time for our reserved tickets. The tour was moving and sobering. We’d prepped the kids a bit before, and they had a very general, basic idea of what had happened there. Even if they don’t remember all the details, I truly believe its these kind of experiences that shape their desire to be kind, to show goodness. Much as I may tell them, I think it’s by learning and seeing and doing, even when they’re too young to “remember,” that the fabric of their characters are woven.
We finally went over and checked into our hotel and walked around the Jordaan neighborhood looking for some food, finally settling on some Burmese food that was quite good.
And then we went and all passed out in our hotel.
The next morning (after sleeping in a bit as we were all exhausted after the previous night’s crazy early wake up to try to get on a standby flight), we headed over to the Albert Cuyp Market. I always love checking out markets in a city, and this one had so much Dutch flavor. Lots of locals, tons of “normal” foods (veggies, cheese, spices) and also some famous treats, and a great vibe overall.
After that, we took a 20 minute train out to the little town of Zaanse Schans. We thought we knew which stop we needed, but we wanted to make sure we didn’t miss it, so we asked a local on the train if she could confirm. She clearly had no idea what we were talking about when we said the name of the town. She asked someone else near her (and had us repeat the name), who also didn’t have a clue. We were starting to get a little concerned at this point, as we thought it was the next stop and we figured they’d for sure recognize it if we were going in the correct direction. They turned to a third person, had us repeat the name, and this last person finally recognized the name and repeated it in a manner that sounded, to our obviously untrained ears, exactly the same as what we’d said previously. “Oh, Zaanse Schans!!” At that point, both of the previous people said, “Ohhh!” as they understood the final person pronouncing it. Evidently we need to work on our Dutch accents!
In any case, this little town was just beyond darling. The second we stepped off the train, we were enveloped in a delicious, chocolatey aroma, so we were immediately sold. We stepped into a little museum that had lots of chocolate tastings, which the kids obviously loved. We spent the rest of the day exploring the various windmills in the town – there was a mustard mill, a cocoa mill, a cheese shop, a clog-making demonstration, farm animals to pet, and downright gorgeous scenery all around. It was just a picture perfect little town. To be fair, the main, cute area was pretty filled with tourists, but it was just so dang charming that we didn’t even care.
By evening, we walked through town to the residential area, which was also completely lovely and filled with kind and friendly locals. We stopped into a grocery store and picked up food for dinner, as well as a bunch of souvenirs. We love grabbing souvenirs at grocery stores, as they typically have a wide selection of things locals would actually purchase, and it’s cheap! We love bringing back consumable gifts, so grocery stores tend to be the perfect place to pick up those things. Plus, you get more of an authentic experience, and I always love seeing what’s standard in stores in other countries.
This final morning, we took public transportation out to church, where we met some really kind families. Our original flight out was on a Sunday, so we wouldn’t have been able to attend. We were really happy for this change, as it’s always a peaceful and happy experience, and we love meeting some local members of our church.
From there, we headed over to the Rijksmuseum, which we’d planned on visiting our first day but missed due to the flight delay. We had really hoped to be able to fit in the Van Gogh Museum, as well, but the public transportation took a bit longer than we’d planned, so we just weren’t able to squeeze it in. That’s a definite reason to go back! Still, the Rijksmuseum was just incredible. Everything from the building to the galleries to the artwork (of course!) was just spot on. We’d studied a bit about Van Gogh before with the kids, and Nat was excited to spot a self portrait. Both the kids fell asleep for a good portion of the museum, which allowed us time to just drink it all in. It was amazing.
Then we stopped and had a little picnic in the Vondelpark, Amsterdam’s giant urban park. It was so fun seeing families strolling and picnicking and walking dogs. Little kids were running all around and ours were happy to join.
By this point, it was starting to get late, but we wanted to stop into the main library, and it was worth the time. The children’s section was FANTASTIC! There were teepees and tons of book displays in Dutch and in English and toys and all kinds of fun. Plus, there were clean and lovely restrooms, which is always important while traveling. We spent far longer there than we planned, but it was such fun.
We grabbed some food, took a nighttime walk near the beautiful train station, and headed back to our hotel to get a bit of sleep before our flight!
I’m just so happy we got those extra couple of days in Amsterdam. Even with that time, we felt like we didn’t have nearly enough time to do and see all we wanted; there were many major and more local stops that we missed. More reason to go back!