Amsterdam gets plenty of attention for its adult-oriented attractions, from its coffee shops and bars to its cultural offerings like world-class museums. But Amsterdam is also a fantastic place to take the kids, either on vacation or even for longer stays. Beyond the families who’ve always called the city home, the city has plenty of expat families who appreciate the excellent international schools and wealth of kid-friendly activities — from boating in the canals to swinging hundreds of feet off the ground. The fact is, Amsterdam is a great place for kids and, if you’re going to the Netherlands, you should definitely bring the little ones along. Here’s what to do when you get there.
Learning through doing
Amsterdam’s outstanding museum offerings stretch beyond just art. Places like its science museum also have special hands-on exhibitions designed with children in mind.
The NEMO Science Museum, located right in the center, is a family favorite. Every exhibit is interactive, colorful, and super fun. Kids can discover math through shapes, explore how the five senses work, and learn new things about energy, hydraulics, and machines. They can also attend a workshop in the laboratory, where they can conduct their own experiments.
What was it like to be a kid in the past? You can find out at the Amsterdam Museum’s children’s exhibit, “The Little Orphanage.” The building that now houses the Amsterdam Museum was once the city’s orphanage. The museum uses its own building to tell the story about the kids who lived there. Short children’s tours of the orphanage, as well as the Amsterdam DNA exhibit, are available in Dutch and English.
The National Maritime Museum, also known as the Scheepvaart Museum, is a dream come true for any child who has ever played pirate. The museum has several exhibits designed with families and children in mind, including ones about whales, life aboard a sailing ship, the history of sea travel during the Dutch Golden Age, and how the port of Amsterdam has changed over the centuries. And when that’s done, kids can play on a full-scale replica of a real VOC ship from 1749.
Fun with animals
Artis Zoo has been delighting the children of Amsterdam for almost 180 years. Recently remodeled, this modern zoo is sure to have your child’s favorite animal. They might also discover some new animals in the aquarium and in Micropia, the world’s only microbe zoo. If you want to take a load off your feet, you can visit the planetarium and explore the farthest reaches of the universe.
Petting zoos, called kinderboerderijen, are a feature of life in the Netherlands. Every town has at least one and Amsterdam is no exception. Kids can pet goats, sheep, chickens, ducks, deer, pigs, rabbits, and sometimes more exotic animals — if they can catch them.
There are about 20 petting zoos located throughout the city, most of them outside the canal ring in the residential areas. Some of the most popular for families include Petting Zoo De Pijp in Oud-Zuid, Stichting De Dierencapel in Centrum, and Zimmerhoeve Kinderboerderij in West.
Parents also highly recommend the Goat Farm and Petting Zoo in the Amsterdam Forest in Amstelveen. There the kids can pet and feed all kinds of animals, not just goats. There is also a restaurant nearby where you can watch the animals while enjoying a Dutch favorite: pancakes with powdered sugar.
Outdoor sport and play areas
Every neighborhood in Amsterdam has public parks and playgrounds, the most famous being Vondelpark and the Museumplein. While these are excellent places to enjoy the fresh air, there are a few places in Amsterdam specially designed for kids to play outside.
Jeugdland | Maakland
Jeugdland | Maakland, which means “youth land” and “make land,” isn’t just a playground. It’s a place where kids can let their imaginations run wild. This gigantic recreation area is located in Amsterdam-Oost and has beautiful views of the IJ river. Jeugdland is perfect for free-range kids. They can get their hands dirty in the vegetable garden, build their own forts with hammers and nails, paint and do crafts, or splash around in the fish pond. You can also organize your child’s birthday party there, or attend one of the other fun events planned.
Amsterdam Forest, or Amsterdamse Bos, is an enormous nature and recreation area located in the suburb of Amstelveen. There really is something to do here for everyone, kids and adults alike. You can rent a boat and paddle around in the river, go swimming in an indoor pool, or rent a bike. For the adrenaline junkie, there’s the kid friendly “Fun Forest climbing area” in which you can go zip lining and climb through an obstacle course suspended in the trees.
Amsterdam’s canals are listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site, and there’s no better way to experience this magnificent feat of engineering than in an electric boat. During the summer the Dutch love to take boats out onto the water, so this is an excellent opportunity to experience Amsterdam like a local. Mokumboat has six locations around the city and you don’t even need a boating license. Just pack the family in and bring a picnic.
For the whole family
Amsterdam offers plenty of opportunities for the whole family to get in on the fun. Here are a few activities that are as fun for adults as they are for kids.
If you’re looking for an activity to do with older kids or teens, an escape room is a great option. For an unforgettable experience, check out Sherlocked Mystery Experiences in the Beurs van Berlage right in the heart of Amsterdam. You can choose from two escape rooms: The Architect and The Vault. Both rooms are totally immersive, challenging and beautifully designed.
See Amsterdam from the sky
Amsterdam North, or Amsterdam Noord, is an up and coming neighborhood that’s worth visiting as a day trip. You can attend a kids film workshop at the Eye Film Museum, get a breathtaking view of the city from the A’DAM Tower, and even swing back and forth on Europe’s highest swing, which is 330 feet above the ground.
You can get a bird’s-eye view of the Netherlands at This is Holland. This 5D experience simulates the experience of flying over the cities, countryside, and beaches in the Netherlands. It’s full of sights, sounds, movement, and even the wind in your hair. You can even get a combo ticket for This is Holland and the A’DAM Tower for 25 euros (about 27.50 USD) for adults and 12.50 euros (13.75 USD) for kids online; it’s more expensive at the door.
If you have a kid or teen who won’t look up from their phone, then you can transform that phone into a way to explore the culture and get moving. Secret City Trails offers games that the whole family can play together using their smartphones as a guide and the city of Amsterdam as a game board. The objective is to solve riddles and discover hidden cultural gems along the way. Secret City Trails also has game trails in dozens of nearby cities like Delft, The Hague, Rotterdam, and Haarlem.