When booking our tickets to Tanzania, we realized that we had a short layover in Amsterdam in between two ten-hour flights. Its a long haul and we decided to inquire about opening up the layover for a few days. It would allow us time to catch up on sleep after an overnight flight, break up the long flights, and also spend a few days in a new country. It didn’t cost anything extra to do this, and I’m so glad we did. Here is how we spent two days in Amsterdam with our kids.*
This is how we looked before our overnight flight:
And this is how we looked after (overtired, crying six-year-old not pictured.)
Our red-eye flight landed in Amsterdam around 10am, and we went straight to our HomeAway property, where a gorgeous spread of food awaited us. The owners generously let us check in early, which was a huge bonus since we were exhausted and needed to drop our luggage and freshen up for the day. The dilemma of a major time change is always trying to get your body accustomed to the new time zone, so we decided to forego a nap and try to push through until the evening.
I’m a big fan of HomeAway for traveling with kids, because it usually allows you to take over an entire house, instead of cramming into a small hotel room, for about the same price. This HomeAway property was in the IjBerg area of Amsterdam, just three tram stops from the main stop downtown. It was a suburban neighborhood and perfect for us.
When flying into Amsterdram, you can catch a train from the airport to their Central Station, from which you can catch a tram to just about anywhere in the city. But be warned: the train and tram stations don’t accept US credit cards, so grab some cash before you leave or exchange it at the airport.
After a little food, we grabbed the tram to the central station and bought tickets for a canal cruise. Yes, this is a touristy thing to do, but it’s a must . . . and because everyone was exhausted it was a nice, relaxing way to see the city while a few of the kids nodded off.
On instagram, I did a series of photos entitled Napping in New, More Expensive Places.
After the boat ride, we just wandered the streets a bit, looking at the sights of daily life in Holland. We thought about renting bikes, but the city center is so busy that we didn’t think we could manage it safely. Walking suited us just fine.
If you decide to do a walking stroll through Amsterdam, you might want to familiarize yourself with the parameters of the Red Light District. We did not, and we didn’t realize that we were in the middle of it until it was too late, and our daughter pointed out a store selling some physically altered Ken Dolls. We tried to hustle out but did manage to get an eyefull of some window ladies in their underwear. This is my oldest’s traumatized face:
There are plenty of pubs and restaurants that overlook the picturesque canals where you can get fish and chips, crepes, and Holland’s famous croquettes.
After our stroll and dinner along the canals in the city center, we headed back to IjBerg to let the children play in some of the neighboring parks. There is literally a park on every corner in Amsterdam, and so we walked from park to park, letting the children play.
In Ijberg, there is also a very pretty walkway down the water. We decided to stroll down it and watch the sunset. Except . . . fun fact about Amsterdam. The sun does not set until about 11pm in the summer.
We finally gave up on that sunset and put our tired children to bed. I took this picture at 10:30pm with light still streaming through the windows.
The next morning we set out to visit the Anne Frank House. Two of my kids had read the book before our trip, and helped explain the story to their siblings.
Reading the book and visiting her house is a really powerful way for children to understand the holocaust, through the experiences of another child. It is also a very compelling lesson on the impact of helping others. At the end, there is an opportunity to log your own reaction. India said, “I think if we lived at the same time, Anne and I would have been best friends.”
After the Anne Frank House, we stopped by the famed flower market. A couple locals had warned us that it was overrated and touristy, and I regret not having heeded their advice. It was crowded and mostly full of cheap curios and boxed tulip bulbs. Not a fresh flower in site.
We spent our last afternoon in Amsterdam on the museum grounds in front of the Rijks Musuem. There is a grocery story just under the grassy field and it’s perfect for grabbing a picnic lunch.
We sat and ate and watched the locals . . . the grassy field was teeming with people.
We walked to the Rijks museum to let the kids look at the building and the beautiful sculpture garden out front. There is also a kid’s playground.
Then, we let the kids choose one museum they wanted to go to. Ours are still a bit young for a museum to hold their attention for more than an hour, so this smaller museum focused on the life of one artist was perfect.
Out in front of the museums we stumbled on this giant sculpture spelling out iamsterdam. Apparently it moves throughout the city all year long – and it’s a fun place for a photo.
One last meal in Amsterdam, and we were on our way. By then, each kid had a favorite dish. Karis’s was crepes. Jafta’s was fish and chips.
*We actually had four days in Amsterdam, but decided to spend two of them in Paris. The high-speed Thalys train connects the cities in only 3 hours. We enjoyed two days in Amsterdam but I’m really glad we made the choice to venture out for our second two days. You can read about how we spent two days in Paris here.