Go Dutch: Amsterdam Offers Arts, Eats, Action for the Family

Forget its “red” and “green” reputation — with cheese tastings, bicycles aplenty, great museums, working windmills, easy transportation and fun daytrips, Amsterdam and its environs are a great destination to explore with the family for a few days (especially in spring’s tulip season!).

Navigating to Amsterdam city center from Amsterdam Schiphol Airport is a breeze and many direct flights leave the United States daily. Train ticket stations are located a short walk from luggage claim and you’ll be off for a 15-minute ride to Central Station to start your adventures. Don’t forget to pick up an iAmsterdam City Card before leaving for a pass that’s good for local trams, access to 50 top attractions for free and 60 discounts.

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© Carley Wade

Perhaps you’ll take a free narrated canal cruise or head to NEMO Science Museum, where dozens of hands-on exhibits beckon from this striking green, five-story building near the bustling docks. Built by world-renowned architect Renzo Piano, it’s a strikingly modern contrast next to the nearby National Maritime Museum’s replica of a three-masted Dutch East India Company sailing ship chronicling the golden age of sea exploration.

There’s a fascinating history here that spans back centuries, and older, more insightful kids may enjoy the artistic Golden Age at museums like the Rijksmuseum or Van Gogh Museum. Younger kids will gravitate toward the “cool factor” of the Houseboat Museum in the funky Jordaan neighborhood, with its twisting cobbled streets, boutiques and cafes. And tweens will certainly find the Anne Frank House (in the same area) worthy of a contemplative visit even if they haven’t read the 12-year-old’s chronicle of trying to survive in World War II.

It’s well worth a visit but you may need some fresh air and time to talk afterwards. Head to Vondelpark for a stroll and to laugh at the ducks, check out a couple of cafés, admire 70 varieties of roses or see an open-air theater show. It also may surprise you to find bright-green parakeets nesting in the trees here, year-round!

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© Carley Wade

Other physical activity comes in the form of biking, of course, and if you don’t want to take easy-to-navigate trams, try renting a bike (perhaps best for the strongest of cyclists and not those just off training wheels). Many hotels offer complimentary rentals, including the new Kimpton De Witt. Here, your brood can also stay in a 1600s “Little House” with two separate bedrooms and a living room.

It’s easy to work up an appetite, so head on over to Reypenaer’s Cheese Tasting Room for a class — and samples of The Netherlands’ most famous export!

The other is tulips, of course, and no matter what time of year you’re here you’ll find this colorful flower as the motif just about everywhere, but perhaps there’s no better time to visit than springtime. Bloemencorso is a whole week-long flower parade celebration in the surrounding towns outside of the city, concluding in Haarlem, where you can marvel at the 20-plus floats and cars decorated in the season’s most colorful and fragrant bounty. The route also passes by Keukenhoff, an excellent spring daytrip with 79 acres of manicured grounds and lush tulip fields open mid-March through mid-May.

In for another adventure? Madurodam miniature park is easy to reach with a train ride from the city center, and the 1:25 scale model replicas of Dutch landmarks is a great place to run around, use a chip entry card to trigger videos giving historical context for each “exhibit” or step into the 3D printer photo booth for a neat souvenir.