Kid-Friendly Weekend in Amsterdam
Although we live an hour by train from Amsterdam it often feels like we just don’t have enough time to explore everything the city has to offer. With friends coming into town, we decided to rent a houseboat and stay for the weekend, giving us plenty of time to explore the city. Sleeping in a houseboat was also something H wanted to do while we lived in the Netherlands. (We used House Boat Hotel Amsterdam to rent the houseboat. Our specific houseboat, because we’ve now been asked quite a bit, is located at Lijnbaansgracht 348, 1017 XB Amsterdam, Netherlands.)
The Amsterdam city trams are easy to use if you can find the right tram stop. A few times we had to ask someone how to find the right tram stop, as they are not always obvious. The problem is that you need to know the direction you want to head and then look for your tram stop on the correct side of the street. It is most complicated in areas where there are intersecting tram lines. So in some places, there are three or four tram stops within sight. The signage is pretty small, so you need to walk over to a stop to see if it is the one for you. Once on the tram though there is generally a conductor sitting in a booth to help you find your way. You can often pay once inside the tram and pick up a transit map too.
On a Saturday morning we took the train into Amsterdam then transferred to a tram and headed straight to our rented houseboat. The owner was easy to meet up with and she gave us a map, keys and some neighborhood recommendations. Once we got settled we headed to the NEMO Science Center. The NEMO is part of the Museumkaart program, so our visit was free. Saturday afternoons are the museum’s busiest time, but we braved the crowds and enjoyed ourselves. There is so much for the kids to do and touch here. We could have spent all day playing in the museum. Jeff’s favorite part was the Rube Goldberg demonstration show. It was a 5-minute chain-reaction that was so much fun to watch. Interestingly, the Dutch people do not call pointless machines Rube Goldberg devices – instead, they call the machines Newton devices.
We ate dinner near our houseboat at Carousel Pancake. This pancake house has an old carousel in the middle. The kids were welcome to sit on the horses, but they don’t move anymore. There is every type of pancake you can imagine here. The kids loved it and we were not disappointed either.
Sunday morning our friends arrived from the U.S. and came right to the houseboat from the airport. They arrived so early in the day that all the trams were not up and running. Using the 9292 app we were able to figure out the best way to get them to us. Jeff had picked up breakfast at the local bakery so we had some pastries, fed the ducks that swam up to our window, and got everyone showered and ready for the day.
When we were ready to leave the rain had really set in. We grabbed our umbrellas and walked the few blocks to the Van Gogh Museum. You will need timed tickets to visit, so they are best to get in advance. The museum is part of the Museumkaart program. We kept little O in the stroller and moved quickly through the museum, but three-year-old H really loved seeing the art with our visitors. There are a few hands-on activities but we just didn’t linger very long. I was able to see a few of the things I was most interested in. Everyone was pretty hungry so we stopped by the cafe and enjoyed some amazing snacks. I’m continuously amazed at the quality and variety of food available in the cafes in Holland.
The “IAMSTERDAM” sign and Rijksmuseum are just a block away from the Van Gogh Museum. We stopped in the rain to get a picture with the sign and then headed into the Rijksmuseum. As part of the Museumkaart program you can use the advanced ticket line to get into the museum more quickly. The coat check line is often long, so instead just grab a locker to store your stuff. At this point I actually took O back to the houseboat for a nap, while H and the rest of the group stayed to enjoy the museum. They were able to mix some of the famous art the adults wanted to see with ship models and doll house exhibits that entertained H. There’s even one full-size aircraft in the museum, which made for a good hunt and find activity with H.
The whole group enjoyed lunch at a small cafe before heading back to the houseboat to join for naps.
We caught a late afternoon canal boat tour. We used the Blue Boat Company because they have a cruise that leaves down the street from the Rijksmuseum, which was convenient to our location. You get a set of headphones on the boat that plug into your seat and you choose your language. There was a kid’s “pirate” themed tour as well that our three-year-old enjoyed. We brought plenty of snacks and the kids basically ate the entire cruise. A canal boat is a great way to see and understand the city. There are lots of companies and we hear they are all comparable, so choose one that departs near you.
We are not sure why but we headed across town in the pouring rain to a pizza place for dinner. The food was delicious and the open kitchen kept the kids entertained.
Monday morning we hit up a cute coffee place a block or two from our houseboat – Back to Black. I had a delicious iced coffee I’d been craving. The baked goods were so delicious. The boys kept stealing my strawberry rhubarb cake!
We packed up our things at the boat and took all our luggage to the storage lockers at Amsterdam Central Station. You will need a credit card to use the lockers and a daily rental for the small locker is just under €6. The lockers can only be opened once, so plan accordingly.
Then it was off to the National Maritime Museum. This was the biggest hit of the trip for the kids, it is also part of the Museumkaart program.
The Amsterdam, is a full size replica of the Dutch East India Company ship that sunk on its maiden voyage in 1749.
Kids (and adults) can explore every floor of this ship. There are bunks to sleep in, cargo to climb through as if you are a rat, and even a hidden treasure that if found leads to a prize in the gift shop. We easily spent an hour just on the ship.
We saw one exhibit inside about the history of whaling, which also featured lots of hands-on stuff for the kids before we got hungry and headed to the museum cafe for lunch. Although we had a lot more to see at the museum, we decided to take the kids back home and let our friends explore some of Amsterdam without the kids. We can’t wait to go back to the museum and check out a few more of the exhibits.
** Update **
I get quite a few inquires about lodging options in Amsterdam. Although we haven’t tried it out, we’ve heard amazing things about the COCOMAMA boutique hostel. It is on our list to check out on our next city staycation.