Families can visit a replica of the 18th-century ship Amsterdam and the NEMO museum, housed in a ship-like building.
Although Amsterdam may bring to mind the Red Light District and “coffee shops,” it offers many charms for families. With its gorgeous canals bobbing with houseboats, cobbled streets dotted with narrow townhouses, avenues bustling with tulip stalls, and vendors selling hot caramel “stroopwafels,” simply strolling is a delight in Amsterdam. This compact city, where English is widely spoken and understood, is easy to get around, and boasts no less than 75 museums, beautiful parks, and an amazing (and kid-friendly) culinary scene.
Sampling the museums is a must as many have exhibits geared especially for children. A great place to start is NEMO, a “hands-on” science museum in a fanciful green building shaped like a ship. Three floors of interactive displays explain everything from DNA to how bridges work, including demonstrations on concepts such as chain reactions. In the laboratory on the top floor, kids (and grown-ups) can grab a lab coat and goggles to try out the various experiments. Nearby the NEMO are the kid-friendly National Maritime Museum and replica of the three-masted 18th-century ship Amsterdam.
The Amsterdam Museum has an interactive history exhibit specifically designed for children on life in a 17th-century orphanage (the building was formerly the Civil Orphanage of Amsterdam). Wearing special bracelets that activate the multimedia displays, the children get to dress up and go through secret doors on a self-guided journey back in time. Genius. (On the floors above, a slightly less interactive experience is more suited for adults. Children are welcome here as well, though families might be inclined to skip the exhibits—toward the end—that address modern Amsterdam’s more liberal attitude toward sex and drugs.)
Of course, one cannot visit Amsterdam without going to see the incredible art. Must-see museums for families are the Van Gogh and the Rijksmuseum, both of which reopened in 2013 after extensive renovations. The spectacular Van Gogh Museum is home to the largest collection of his work—more than 200 paintings, 500 drawings and 700 letters. Ask for a children’s audio tour or a free treasure hunt to aid exploration.
Nearby, the Rijksmuseum tells the story of 800 years of Dutch history through a chronological showcase of paintings, sculpture, furniture, china and clothes. Family-friendly tip: Between the two museums, there’s a park with a playground, and the lush 70-acre Vondelpark is just a few blocks away.
Smaller museums, unique boutiques, quaint cafes, and bakeries make the De Negen Straatjes (Nine Streets) a great area to explore with kids. At the top end is one of the city’s most visited attractions, the Anne Frank House. This is a very moving experience that, despite its tragedy, most children should be able to handle and learn from. The Anne Frank exhibit includes a thoughtful tour of her bedroom in the Secret Annex, the original diary, and videos of her father and several of the people who helped hide the family. Tip: Pre-booking tickets online is a must to skip long waits; there are a limited number of online tickets so book at least one to two weeks ahead.
Just along from Anne Frank House are a few light museums. Your clients can learn about the unofficial national flower of Holland at the tiny Tulip Museum; taste their way through the Cheese Museum, dedicated exclusively to Dutch cheese; or see what life on the canals might be like at the House Boat Museum. Afterward, they can head to Singel Street for some respite—have a cup of coffee and a delicate, crispy fresh “stroopwafel” at Lanskroon, where they’ve been making them for 100 years; or pop in next door to Van Stapele, a cool cookie shop that sells only one kind—a dark chocolate cookie with white chocolate chunks, always served warm. Along Singel at #419, find the boutique with no name (just the address) for hip stationery and retro toys, including an amazing selection of wind-up robots.
Convenient to the Van Gogh Museum, Anne Frank House and other top attractions is the Sofitel Legend The Grand Amsterdam. Set back in a courtyard off one of the city’s most central canals, it was originally built in the 1400s as two convents and later served as Amsterdam’s town hall (1808-1987), as well as the location of Queen Beatrix’s civil wedding in 1966.
The Grand was rebranded as the first Sofitel “Legend” in Europe in 2012 after an extensive renovation. Sofitel “Legend” properties must be in registered buildings with at least 100 years of history. This particular building is of such significance that they offer free guided tours daily at 11 a.m.—this is worth doing, if only to see the Wedding Chamber with its Jugendstil murals and colorful glass windows. As the building was not designed as a hotel, every room is different, but most have views of the garden or the historic canals, and all feature elegant Art Deco decor, modern bathrooms and rain showers.
The hotel has 20 connecting rooms, as well as roomy Prestige Suites (nearly 600 square feet) with canal views and a proper sitting area. Canal House Suites include a kitchenette and private entrance. All guests staying in suites have butler service. For suite bookings, reach out to Pierrette Gude ([email protected]), reservations
manager. The head concierge is Niels Essink (Clefs d’Or Concierge, [email protected]). VIP museum tours, private guided canal boat rides, exclusive restaurant bookings and more can be arranged.
Note: The Waldorf Astoria opened earlier this year in the UNESCO area of Herengracht. The canalside property is made up of six historic 17th- and 18th-century town houses which now form a 93-room hotel. Each bedroom (all have views of the city or the canal) has historical elements of the original buildings, including large bathrooms with freestanding baths. Parents will want to sneak away to the Vault Bar, an exclusive den in one of the houses— formerly the original vault of a bank.
Tulip Tip: For two months only, mid-March to mid-May, Keukenhof, the second-largest garden in the world and 45 minutes away by car, is not to be missed. Every year, seven million bulbs are planted over 80 acres—the designs and spectrum of colors are incredible. This is a great outing with the kids as there is also a windmill, a fun zip line and an adventure playground. Hotel concierges can arrange private guides or book group tours. Peak time to see the most blooms is mid-April.
Hint: Skip the lines at attractions with the Iamsterdam City Card. It also offers free museum entry, a canal cruise and free transport. Purchase ahead online or by the Central Station for 24, 48 or 72 hours. Time activates at first entry, not purchase date.
Suite apartments at the Sofitel Legend the Grand provide plenty of elbow room for families.