Amsterdam is a great city for kids and parents, both to live in and to visit. There are so many things to do. Even though the Dutch will not hijack your child and drown them to kisses like the Italians and Spanish do, I have never felt that I’m NOT welcome somewhere just because I walk in with my kid.
I have soon lived in Amsterdam for five years (and moving out in the end of December now, these posts are my way to say goodbyes). The first three no-kids years we biked in and around Amsterdam, checked out most of the museums and a lot of bars, pubs and restaurants. Now the last two years it’s been playground crawling instead of pub-crawling. Either way I have felt exhausted and hang-overish in the mornings which means it must have been fun! I want to share with you some of my favourite places I go to with my girl and also a couple of general tips that can make your visits even nicer.
Eating Out and How to Pay the Bill
A lot of Amsterdam cafes, restaurants and shops are tiny. If you can use a carrier instead of a pram, you will be able to enter more places more easily. However, if you need or prefer a pram, don’t worry. I basically go anywhere I want with the pram as well, but especially in the tiny places, I stop at the counter and ask where it would be best to park the pram so that it is not on the staff’s way all the time. Also many restaurants and cafes are not as small as they look like from the outside, but consist of different levels or several rooms that you cannot really see at first, so it is possible that around the corner there is plenty of room for you and your stroller.
Another tip I have for you is: even though there is table service, once you are finished DO NOT wait for the bill and get angry. Been there, done that. Walk to the cashier desk and pay. This is a normal procedure in Dutch cafes and restaurants and good to know for everyone, but especially important when you go out with kids, because, well, they tend to be so… what’s that word… patient. My basic rule is that if you can easily get a waiter to your table, pay at the table but if all the staff avoids looking in your direction or you simply have no time to wait, walk to the cashier. There you might have to be able to tell where you sat or what you ordered.
Only in fine-dining restaurants I cannot recommend this approach – although I’ve done it once in a fancier place too. Then I also went and grabbed my jacket from the wardrobe because come on – I don’t have the whole evening! We all just laughed, including the personnel, because yes, it is absolutely hilarious that you pay more than 100 euros for your food and drinks and then cannot get the bill or your jacket back before 4 am.
Kids usually swipe off the problems of fine-dining from your table in any case, because…. do I have to explain? Any parent reading this knows the reasons well enough anyway. That said, we have had lunches in nice restaurants (Roberto’s) with the whole family and drove just outside Amsterdam to beautiful hotel-restaurants and had 7-course menus while our baby has slept next to us in a pram (Restaurant Niven) or in the room. Sometimes the staff has organized us a dinner table close enough to our hotel room that the baby phone still works (Mario in Wijdewormer and De Vrienden van Jacob at Duin & Kruidberg). And the good news is, I dare to claim: the best restaurants of Netherlands are situated in places outside city centers, so this is not a compromise you do because you have a child. At the same time you get to see amazing nature and experience a little bit of Netherlands outside the Amsterdam bubble.
Bike or Not to Bike?
Then the last tip. It concerns biking and please, please, do not skip this section because it can save if not your life then at least your vacation. It is true that biking in Amsterdam allows you to see more and from a different perspective. However, if you are not a good biker, do not do it! And here’s why: bike is a serious mode of transport in Amsterdam and if you are a poor biker you are a danger to yourself and many others, just like someone driving a car, who does not know how to do it. Bikes are also not for play and zigzagging in on the road – as well as the bell is not an instrument that you play cause you feel like it. Most often the bell is used to let other people know that you are coming through. Unlike it might seem in essence it is a polite gesture. By using the bell you allow other people to know what is going on behind their backs where they cannot see and they can anticipate what is coming. When you play the bell for fun it’s a bit like causing a false fire alarm. That said, the Amsterdam bike bells can also shout “you are an idiot”. You will know the difference when you hear it. If you hear the latter, think what you did and do not do it again.
Now that none of you want to bike in Amsterdam anymore or got very offended, because you have been to Amsterdam and did all of the funny things I mentioned, I will have to say: if you are a good biker, you should definitely rent a bike in Amsterdam! Being a good biker means you can easily give a turning sign with one hand and steer with other and when you look behind (and you should all the time), you can still keep on steering the way you wanted to go. If you can do all this, but are still a little afraid of the busy bike traffic, you can walk your bike to the boats that go to North of Amsterdam from the backside of the Central Station and hop on your bike once you crossed the water and enjoy the beautiful nature and reasonable traffic. It is extra scary to hop on a bike with a kid, but if you follow this advise I can guarantee you will not endanger your child’s life and you will love what you find in the northern parts of Amsterdam.
If you decide to brave the bike traffic, consider renting a “bakfiets” e.g. a cargo bike. The boxes are fitted with seats for a kid/kids, and even though they are heavy, they allow you to transport more stuff like a picnic basket.
Haarlemmerbuurt and the Westelijke Eilanden
Walk along the Haarlemmerstraat, which is filled with small cafeterias, restaurants, design and vintage shops. Grab a take-away coffee from Vinnies in the beginning of Haarlemmerstraat and walk to the Herenmarkt playground just around the corner to enjoy the coffee while your kids play.
Alternatively, you can also send your spouse to the playground with the kids and go crazy shopping alone. If you get hungry or thirsty, you can stop at Small World Catering for their delicious sandwiches and fresh juices. You can eat at the location or take-away. When you get tired of the shops turn right across the railways and walk around the most beautiful and picturesque area in Amsterdam, the Westelijke Eilanden which includes three islands: the Prinseneiland, Bickerseiland and the Realeneiland. On Bickersgracht there is a small petting zoo called Dierencapel where you can stop for a while to pet the animals and play. This petting zoo is small in size, but the environment and cuteness is overwhelming. I love this place. Not least for the fact that they have the biggest bunny I have seen in my entire life.
If you are interested in architecture you can still continue 10 more minutes to Silodam to see the house, which is a cross-section of Amsterdam society. Different apartment types accommodate low-income families, elderly residents, office workers and artists. Make sure to climb to the terrace along the river IJ and enjoy the views. And yes, if before starting your Haarlemmerstraat adventure you would need a nice place to eat: go to Gebroeders Niemeijer at the beginning of Niewendijk. They make fantastic bread, have nice salads and sandwiches and a small room with toys upstairs at the back of the cafeteria.
Have fun in Amsterdam and stay tuned, because there are more tips coming the following weeks!