Amsterdam’s worldwide reputation for being a party city made me a little hesitant to visit there with our 8-year old daughter. From marijuana being purchased and smoked in coffeehouses, to the infamous Red Light District with it’s live shows and women offering their “services” in windows; it sounded like a place we did not want to bring our daughter. A parent is responsible for the well being of their child and to keep them away from all the bad things in the world, right? But my wife was adamant that we should visit and see the Anne Frank House, museums, and windmills. She didn’t see it as a party city; she saw it as a beautiful city rich in history with a lot to offer. After spending a week there with my wife and daughter I have now changed my opinion on Amsterdam and found it to be very family friendly. I hate to say it, but my wife was right!
When we look for accommodation we generally look for a place within the city center to cut down on transportation costs. But this time we found a place just outside the city that was an easy bike ride to the Metro station and then just a few minutes later we were in the city center of Amsterdam. This turned out to work better than we thought it would. We could enjoy the sites in Amsterdam during the day and enjoy the peace and quiet of the countryside at night.
And speaking of bikes, Amsterdam is truly the world’s greatest bicycle city! We are from Portland, Oregon, which has held the title of “Bike City USA” for many years now. That title calls Portland the most bicycle friendly city in the United States. After visiting Amsterdam, Portland’s “bike friendliness” is a joke! The first thing that makes Amsterdam so bike friendly is that it has no hills. I don’t think I changed gears once in the whole week we were there. Portland, on the other hand, has so many ups and downs that you can actually use every gear on a 21-speed bike if you needed to. In Amsterdam, there are plenty of bike paths through the countryside and throughout town to make biking easy. You can bring your bike on the Metro and train if you don’t feel like riding the whole way. But the one thing that really impressed me was that every set of stairs, in the Metro station or just along the road, had a metal channel running on the side that you could use to walk your bike up. Biking in Amsterdam seems to be the preferred method of transportation, including whole families. We definitely felt safer riding as a family in Amsterdam than we ever did in Portland.
While Amsterdam offers plenty of museums, our daughter (and us) really enjoyed the Vincent van Gogh museum. We became big fans of van Gogh’s work after seeing his painting, “Starry Night Over the Rhone,” in the Orsay Museum in Paris. After we left Paris, we stayed for a month in the small town of Arles in the South of France. Arles is the town that van Gogh became inspired and painted over 300 paintings in just 2 years. While there we saw the same spots that van Gogh stood when he painted many of his masterpieces. The Vincent van Gogh museum really shows the progression of van Gogh’s work over the years and we enjoyed it immensely.
Just a short bus ride on bus #91 takes you to the historic windmill site of Zaanse Schans. At first we thought we had gone to tourist hell. Busloads of people were invading this small windmill site, snapping photos, and buying wooden shoes at the wooden shoe store. But the longer we were there the more we liked it. We took a tour of one of the working windmills that still made peanut oil, and photographed many of the others. We went into the wooden shoe shop and watched how they were made, which was really cool. The site is very family friendly and definitely worth a visit.
The Anne Frank House is a popular spot for tourists, but they warn that it might not be suitable for children less than 10 years of age. Our daughter, who is 8-years old, had been reading the Diary of Anne Frank. We figured if she is old enough to read and understand the diary, the house should not be a problem. After touring the house, which was really interesting, the only thing we saw that might be unsuitable for children of any age was a short video at the beginning of the tour that showed dead bodies at a concentration camp. I really don’t know why they added that part, other than shock value, but we felt that the rest of the film and tour was good and suitable for all ages.
Overall, our one-week stay in Amsterdam was a lot of fun and very family friendly. We visited the amazing parks, toured informative museums, cruised the canals, and enjoyed the beauty of Amsterdam. The Red Light District is easy to avoid, if you have young children, but is definitely an interesting area of town! On our 8-months of round-the-world travel, Amsterdam is one of our favorite places to have visited and we will definitely return.