3 little kids, 2 short days in 1 big city: We had a fabulous 3, 2, 1… go adventure in Amsterdam!
Did you read my 7 top tips for Amsterdam with kids in a weekend? This is the story of how we actually did it.
We went stress free and drove. Taking the ferry we had the flexibility of changing times and dates, packing as little or as much as we wanted, we could extend if we wanted to see more of the Netherlands. (With DFDS Seaways annual multitrip tickets you get the flexibility.)
Researching parking options, it seemed the most sensible to drive to one of the big P+Rs of Amsterdam.
We chose the Ajax ArenA, which is right off the motorway. Outside of match days or other events, the Ajax Arena parking is just 1 euro a day! Taking the metro right into the city centre cost us 6.80 Euros and took only 20 minutes. (Make sure you arrive after 10am and start your return trip to your car from central Amsterdam, otherwise the costs will be more.)
Our wanderings in Amsterdam started at the main tourist officer by the Central station (Centraal Station). We picked up our 24 hour I amsterdam city cards here. These cards gave us lots of flexibility for getting around, into the museum and even onto a boat.
We’d booked the Andaz Amsterdam (my review in link) and decided to head over there to check-in and dump our bags.
Taking the #2 tram, named the most scenic tram in the world by National Geographic. This was Max’s first time on a tram and Angelina and Hugo were too young to remember when they’d last been on one in Budapest. Oh, the excitement of young kids for simple things like this already make it worth going to new places.
The tram bumbled along central Amsterdam, allowing us sights of beautiful buildings, the Palace and the lots of shopping streets. Our I amsterdam cards were our tram passes too. (Don’t forget to touch in and out on the public transport! We almost did.)
Our hotel, Andaz Amsterdam, was on Princeengrachten, a short walk along the canal from the tram stop. A quick check in, loo break and some lovely coffee and chocolates in the room and we headed back out.
One tired little toddler feel asleep on the tram we took towards our next destination the Maritime Museum. The tram didn’t go right out to the museum, so we wandered down by the zoo and through some different neighbourhoods to the museum, crossing some canals and spotting a windmill along the way too. There are apparently 6 windmills in Amsterdam alone!
Het Scheepvaartmuseum, the Maritime Museum totally exceeded our expectations: The building is a truly breath-taking with the enclosed inner courtyard, giving a great inside outside space. Loved this, although it would benefit from some plants to take away some of the echo, in my opinion (and having had my kids enjoy playing a game of catch there).
The museum is the perfect place to learn about the history of Amsterdam and The Netherlands, and all that is linked to the sea. This museum is interactive and bilingual. It is evident that there has been a lot of thought put into making this museum fun and engaging for all ages. The exhibits blend art, culture, physics, history, life sciences, geography and more.
Hugo definitely loved being shipping magnet the most and deciding which cargo to carry to which destination. This simple, timed game lead to him examining the model ships more on how they were loaded, looking at the maps in more detail of where things were grown and why. Angelina enjoyed the stories, she could especially relate to the young fishing boy. It gave us the opportunity to talk about children who lived long ago, how their life was different. Max enjoyed spotting things and we had lots of “what’s that?” questions.
We didn’t have time to discover even a fraction of what is at the museum. The exhibit we spent most time in was the Golden Ages, where stories took us through the significance of artefacts displayed. These stories, told by life-sized projections of people, brought the facts and artefacts to life, making them memorable and engaging us. This is blended learning at its best.
Outside the replica of the tall ship Amsterdam is excellent for the kids. Few things are off bounds for them, in fact the ship has been set up for experiential learning: tugging pullys to see the difference each additional pully makes to lifting the same load. You’ll even find a small climbing and play area in the bows of the Amsterdam.
Sadly, time ran out on us, but not before we could see the glass roof beautifully lit up.
Wandering back to our hotel we admired Amsterdam all lit up. We stopped to have frites and frikandellen met satay sauce (the dutch sausage with chips and peanut sauce) and croquettes (a deep fried smooth meaty potatoey snack) at a place we passed. The Dutch sell these even from machines, all warm and ready to eat, it’s their traditional fast food. We liked it, the kids loved it.
We got back the the Andaz just in time to enjoy some wine and nibbles on the house. It was perfect relaxing a bit before we headed up to our room. The kids were given a puzzle and colouring in things, the Madventurer and I read a book while we enjoyed sipping our wine. I then headed up to the room with the kids to put them to bed, the Madventurer stayed and enjoyed another drink and some tapas. (He deserved it after carrying Max in his neck half the day.)
In the morning we packed up, had a wonderful breakfast at the hotel and leisurely left the hotel (leaving our bags behind). We were back on the number 2 tram for some more easy sightseeing. We wanted to wander around the Museumplein, but missed our stop. This meant we stumbled on the Vondel park, Amsterdam’s Central park. A run around, bird watching and people watching was perfect for the kids and us big kids too. We’ve never seen herons this tame and close to people as here. We also witnessed the absolutely fascinating sight of a parakeet(!) and a blackbird chasing each other. I’m not quite sure if they were teasing each other, playing or fighting.
Wandering on we saw a bit more of Amsterdam on foot and then from the tram again. We had a picnic lunch on the pier while we waited for our Canal cruise: enjoying local delicacies we picked up in a shop like fresh bread, couple of different cheeses, some rundfleessalad (a potato salad with beef) and aapleflaps (apple turnover).
We timed our canal cruise so we boarded just before our 24 hour iAmsterdam cards were due to run out, but also when our toddler, Max was due his nap. The monotone hum of the boat soon lulled him to sleep, leaving us to give our attention to the sights and the informative narrative we heard through the headsets. Angelina, at 7, really got a lot out of the tour. Hugo was a little restless, he didn’t like the pauses between the description of places, he enjoyed spotting birds, boats and bikes instead. I would’ve loved to have a spotting sheet for him at the time. (I’ve subsequently created one for you to download my Amsterdam Scavenger hunt PDF here.)
After the cruise the Madventurer popped back to the hotel for our bags, while I strolled through the Centraal station to the water side. We sat into a Subway for a quick bite (I know! Shame to sit into an American chain restaurant, when there are superb local flavours to enjoy, but the views, sitting right on the water’s edge , watching the ferries come and go and the speed of getting our food weighed in. And, surprisingly, it was the only eatery on this side of the station.)
Having watched the ferries come and go to North Amsterdam, we had to try it ourselves. Afterall, it is free. 😉
It brought back memories of when we came to Amsterdam before having kids and camped at a campsite in North Amsterdam cycling into the city. (This is when I realised that one needs to be a very good and confident cyclist to take on Amsterdam on a bike. Hence the point about cycling in my tips on Amsterdam with kids)
We didn’t get off on the other side, just stayed on and came back. This was great for people watching, seeing how the waterways and bikes are an intricate part of people’s everyday lives here. It was mind-blowing to think that we were crossing this big body of water that is actually 6 meters below sea level!
Disembarking the ferry, we headed back to the railway station, where we met the Madventurer and got on a train to retrieve our car from the Ajax stadium and head back to Dunkirk.
We waved a sad good bye to Amsterdam, but know we will be back in a couple of years to explore more with tweens and a teens.
These 2 days in Amsterdam were an amazing experience and have really spurred us on to do more 3-2-1-Go adventures in cities in the UK and Europe.
Which is your favourite city- UK or abroad?
Where should we go next?
Info and resources:
We took a very early DFDS Seaways ferry from Dover to Dunkirk. With an annual multi-trip booking, where tickets can be shared between family and friends, the cost of a return is as low as £54 return.
The drive to Amsterdam is about 4 hours, which works for missing any rush hour traffic. The two places to time this for are the ring road of Antwerp & Amsterdam itself. As the kids have a chance to burn off energy on the ferry’s soft play area and also have a proper breakfast, the drive was relatively relaxed.
The Park and Ride at the Ajax arena, ArenA is cheap and convenient. The transport into the city centre quick, prompt and simple.
The I amsterdam card is available as a 24-72 hour card. For an adult-only sightseeing weekend it is almost a no-brainer if you want to cram in as much as possible. With kids look at what you realistically want to do and decide. I loved the flexibility it gave us with access to transport, including the canal cruise and museums.
Staying at the Andaz Amsterdam was an amazing choice for us. (Here’s my review of the Andaz and how we got lucky to stay there.) With kids you will inevitably be spending more time at your accommodation, so it’s worth choosing something accordingly. Saying that Amsterdam has a wide array of accomodation to cater for all budgets. My sister-in-law, for her Amsterdam shopping trips, often takes a secret hotel option and ends up with great locations.
The Maritime museum, Het Scheepvaartmuseum I have raved about already. It is a MUST with kids, in my opinion. With hindsight I wish we’d done the canal cruise on day one and spent day two wandering and at the musuem. We want to go back to Amsterdam just to get more of this attraction.
There are such a wide choice of canal cruises available in Amsterdam, I was rather happy to have the one hour cruise, the #1 Canal Cruise from Grayline included with the I amsterdam card. It gave a good overview of the city, the sights, was informative and engaging and, in my opinion, the right length with a 6 and 7 year old. (The 2 year old slept through most of it.)
We didn’t have a stroller for the 2 year old and forgot the carrier backpack (major fail!) so we did have him in our necks a lot of times. Microscooters for the kids might be a simple means to see more of the city in the future.