Mr Fox city guides are a comprehensive must-do list of places to stay, play, eat, do and shop in family-friendly cities. Compiled by writers who have tapped up the locals and thrown their children in at the deep end to bring you a tried and tested edit of the best places to be. Which leaves you nothing to do but book flights. Simple.
Known for it’s photogenic waterways, plethora of bicycles and abundant tulips, Amsterdam is a small and walkable city on just the right scale for a relaxed weekend away. It’s also extremely child-friendly, has brilliant boutique shopping and an outdoorsy, eco attitude towards family life. In fact, by the end of the weekend you may want to swap lives with the relaxed, smiling, beautiful Dutch families you have been hanging out with.
WHERE TO STAY
Live like (an extremely stylish) local by renting a property direct from owners. Kid and Coe offer a selection of cool pads in the city centre. We like the look of The Wouwermanstraat house, which costs from €330 a night, plus a €50 cleaning fee (with a two-night minimum stay). There’s nothing quite like a home-from-home with young children, especially if you see the value in self catering. The owners even offer use of their bakfiets cargo bikes.
Those who want to rub shoulders with the great and good should check into Volkshotel. In the former headquarters of a newspaper, the building is a gopping 80s monstrosity from the outside, but inside, the industrial chic is fun and unsusual. Book Ms. Big for a family room with two single beds suspended over the double, reached by perilous ladders. Not one for toddlers, but older children will love it.
Proper grown-ups will prefer the elegance and sophistication of the old Music Conservatory where, if money is no object, you should move into the Concerto Suite and stay there until the kids graduate. With excellent amenities, sweeping views of the city and on the doorstep of a lovely park (Vondelpark) this can’t come recommended highly enough.
WHERE TO EAT
Not the cheapest pizza place in Amsterdam, but one of the best. You’ll find a few surprising combinations – the Strachino e Bufala uses strachina cheese from Lombardy and spicy salami from Piedmont. A great atmosphere, good service and most importantly, delicious pizzas.
Make sure they get their 7-a-day at SLA (Dutch for salad), Amsterdam’s answer to LEON. You can create your own salad, or grab a fresh juice, soup or an almond milk latte. Very cool, very tasty, very on trend.
To experience the city like a chic local, head for lunch at Hartje Oost. A beautiful concept store and café where you can browse through clothes and gifts before sitting down for lunch and coffee. It’s always brimming with a lively, young crowd and children play between the tables happily.
WHERE TO PLAY
Considered more fun than better-known Vondelpark, there’s plenty of space to run around, a great playground, petting farm, and a large paddling pool for kids for the hotter summer months. The park also plays host to Cinekids Festival, a dedicated children’s film festival in October.
Amsterdamse Bos (Amsterdam Woods):
This large woodland park is full of things to do. Start at De Geitenboerderij where there is a working goat farm. Children can feed, milk, see how cheese is made, and meet other animals too. Once you are done, take a long walk and then head to the pancake house and indulge in a great Dutch traditions.
The playground in Amstelpark is old-fashioned, but a bit of a cult among hip young famlies in the city, who’s kids play on a Saturday morning while they clutch coffee and put the world to rights.
This lovely 17th century Dutch country estate (turned municipal park), is not far from the city centre and worth the trip on the last Sunday of the month when an excellent food market Pure Markt draws a local crowd. There’s live music, theatre and a carousel for the kids.
This is the only city beach in Amsterdam where kids can actually swim, so it’s very popular with families and has a relaxed eco vibe. There is often live music – which starts early because it’s aimed at families – food and drink at the restaurant bar and terrace will answer sudden hunger pangs, and if you’re not strict about bedtime, you can enjoy campfires on the beach in the evening.
WHAT TO DO
One of the top tourist attractions in the city, this is an absolute must see, especially for older children who know about the war. It’s beautifully preserved and genuinely moving to see the family home of the doomed teenager. The pencil lines that marked the growth of Anne and her sister Margo are still intact, and the details – the mirror she used, the decorations from her wall – bring home the reality. Seeing the original diary is also tremendously powerful. There are always huge queues outside (book in advance) but once you are inside, it’s surprisingly un-crowded.
This is a great family pit stop, especially if it’s raining. Cuddle up in the private viewing booths and watch a movie for free, see a superb exhibition of on-demand clips – everything from silent slapstick to animation. You can make a flicker book of your family, a holiday memento far superior to the common postcard.
The Dutch equivalent to London’s Science Museum is full of interactive exhibits. Build a dam, use a laboratory: there are loads of machines and gadgets to play with, and you might even learn something. Tremendous fun and easy to lose three or four hours here, it’s also very good value. The café terrace has great views of the canals, and the Maritime Museum’s historic ship.
The Dutch National Gallery is in an amazing building, recently renovated. Book a mystery tour for the kids and afterwards, spend some time outside in the square – there’s a lovely café, skateboarding area, playground, and water fountains that kids dance through in the summer.
OUT OF TOWN
A short way out of town but well worth the trip is this world-famous park. This spring 7 million bulbs will be in bloom, including 800 varieties of tulips. Don’t miss the flower bulb mosaic – a portrait of Vincent van Gogh made up of thousands of tulips. There’s a maze, playground and treasure hunt for the children too.
If you are in town for longer than a weekend, head to the Efteling theme park near Tilburg (around 90 minutes from Amsterdam). Your children don’t believe in fairies or magic, or are losing the wonderment of their youth, get to Efteling, sharpish. Yes, it’s a theme park, but it manages to pull off fairytale with talking trees, bins that thank you for depositing rubbish, fairies on lilypads and elves in little houses that the children can visit. Younger kids will be mesmerised.
WHERE TO SHOP
An eclectic and glorious mix of food, antiques, clothes and tat, this is a good place to sample poffertjes from a stall. Take time to meander around.
Big & Belg
Stocking some of the best small brands from across Europe, this is a great spot for design-conscious parents to pick up unusual toys and décor, cool clothing and gifts.
Local families find inspiration in Unicorn. In the de Jordaan area of old Amsterdam, this boutique is crammed with unusual gifts, jewellery, bags, prints and pretty much anything else you might want to indulge in.
LIKE A LOCAL
Avoid Kalverstraat and Nieuwendijk which are typical European highstreets with no real atmosphere: you could be anywhere. Instead head to de Jordaan or the 9 straatjes area for a truly Dutch experience.
WHEN TO GO
It’s never a bad time, but April is by far the most exciting month. Bulbs bloom and the entire city gears up for the Queen’s Day celebration– a family-friendly, city-wide street party.
DOWNLOAD THE GUIDE:
To make life even easier, you can click here for all of our Do, Play, Shop & Eat picks mapped on Jauntful where you can download it into a handy printable A4 guide to take with you.
With thanks to Tim Lott and Annabel Wesselingh
Know of any brilliant spots in Amsterdam that weren’t mentioned here? Let us know in the comments below.