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Amsterdam for Children & Families

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Some prospective visitors have the misconception of Amsterdam as a city full of debauchery and adults-only fun - and while these elements are certainly present in parts of the city, that doesn't rule out the fact that Amsterdam is a wonderful destination overall for families with children. And how can it not be? With all the Dutch children perched on bike seats or nestled in bakfietsen (special tricycles with front carriers that are often loaded with a child or two), the city must hold some appeal to all the families that live and thrive here. Here is a list of activities for children and families in Amsterdam.

For even more tips on what to do with kids in Amsterdam, see our first list, "Amsterdam for Kids", with over a dozen fun activities for families.

Artis Royal Zoo

Photo © Jannes Pockele/Flickr (CC BY)

A day at the zoo is a classic family activity, and this is no less true in the Netherlands. The zoo's massive 14 hectares (35 acres) support an incredible diversity of 900 animal species that inhabit earth, land and sea. Adults (and perhaps some perceptive kids) will appreciate how the modern facilities are interwoven with the classic architecture - some of it from the mid-1800s, when Artis was founded as the first zoo in mainland Europe. There's a kinderboerderij (see below) where children can frolic with farm animals; next door, the Poffertjeshuis serves its namesake poffertjes, Dutch mini-pancakes that are a hit with kids. See the Artis web site for complete visitor's information. Families can also book Lovers cruise company's Artis Royal Zoo Express, which shuttles families back and forth from Central Station to the zoo via the city's monumental canals.

Kinderboerderijen ("Children's Farms")

Photo © ynskjen/Flickr (CC BY)

Kids can have an up close and personal encounter with farm animals from the ordinary to the unexpected at these Dutch institutions; beside the cows, chickens and other classic farm animals, some farms also have exotic bird species, chinchillas, and other rare animals. While the farms are a bit farther afield than most attractions (with city real estate at a premium - and these farms need a fair bit of it), these addresses are most convenient to the center:

The Sloten Windmill

Photo © Marion Golsteijn/Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA)

Of the few windmills left in Amsterdam, the Sloten Windmill is the only one that is still open to the public. Enthusiastic volunteers lead tours of the windmill, where visitors learn how windmills operate and how millers practice their trade; children six and up are treated to a special tour that includes stories and refreshments. Adults can learn from the permanent exhibits "Amsterdam and the Water" and "Rembrandt in the Attic", a profile of the Dutch master as a miller's son in Leiden. Parents and children alike are fascinated by the opportunity to peer inside these quintessentially Dutch landmarks; for more fun with windmills, take a day trip to Zaanse Schans, where Dutch artisans still practice their traditional crafts, or Kinderdijk, whose series of 19 water-front windmills are a marvel to behold.

Race Planet for Kids

Adventure-seekers from 2 to 12 will be in their element at Race Planet for Kids, an 3,000 m2 (32,000 square ft.) indoor racetrack that lets kids manoeuvre a wide variety of vehicles - from pedal car, to monorails, to electric Formula 1 cars - and master the rules of the road to obtain a mock driver's license. (Race Planet's adult-oriented services do much the same – at one of their other locations, participants can train to become licensed race-car drivers.) Kids taller than 1.4 meters (4'7") can join the adults on the indoor karts. Parents can avail themselves of coffee, snacks and sandwiches and wireless Internet while the kids are at play.

Madame Tussauds

Photo © M.Minderhoud/Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA)

Marvel at the ultra-realistic wax statues of both Dutch and international icons at Madame Tussauds, which has presided over Dam Square for decades. Pose for photo ops with Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands, Heineken heir Freddie Heineken, Dutch Master Rembrandt van Rijn and other Dutch luminaries, as well as non-Dutch notables like Barack Obama, Michael Jackson and more.

The Amsterdam Dungeon

Explore the dark side of Dutch history in a 90-minute tour full of horrific historical fiction, re-enacted by a capable troupe of period-dressed performers. Older children are enthralled by the historic scenarios, most of which focus on real or fictionalized episodes from the 17th-century Netherlands. (Note that the museum is not recommended for children under 10.) Visitors can also save with a combination ticket, also valid for Madame Tussauds and/or an Amsterdam canal cruise, for a trio of family-friendly activities; book online for the best deals.

Best Day Trip for Kids: Efteling Theme Park

Photo © tambako/Flickr (CC BY-ND)

Tourists often like to broaden their horizons of the Netherlands with day trips outside Amsterdam, and the same is true for families with children. The favorite day trip of countless Dutch children is none other than the Efteling Theme Park in Kaatsheuvel, whose "World of Wonders" is a fantasy land steeped in Dutch and world folklore. The beloved 20th-century Dutch artist Anton Pieck crafted the park's inimitable aesthetic, which evidences his many years a prolific illustrator of world fairy tales. For families who want to extend their day trip, there's also an Efteling Hotel, whose fairy tale-themed suites borrow from the theme park atmosphere. Read more about the park and its attractions, visitor's information, accommodations and more on the Efteling web site.

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