Planning a trip to Europe with your kids? If you’re taking a transatlantic flight from the United States to Western Europe, it is likely that you’ll consider a flight through Amsterdam Schiphol airport. The best thing about flying through there is that the train ride from the airport to Amsterdam Central Station in the historic city center only takes 15 minutes.
It’s easy for families to spend just one day in Amsterdam seeing the sights as part of a long layover or on their way to another European destination. Here is an itinerary for things to do in Amsterdam with kids if you only have 24 hours or even less.
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Trekaroo Travel Tip: For years, I have heard good things about flying KLM Airlines. After a quick spring break trip to Amsterdam and the Netherlands, I certainly agree. KLM’s inflight entertainment system had a great variety of movies and was very easy to use. Everything about our flight from Washington DC to Amsterdam Schiphol went smoothly.
One Day in Amsterdam with Kids
Start Your Day at the Rijksmuseum or Van Gogh Museum
The Rijksmuseum is home to an extensive collection of Dutch art and historical objects. The museum highlights Rembrandt, but also has a recognizable self portrait of Vincent van Gogh. An extensive collection of ship models is also impressive, especially for children. It’s a good choice for any traveler that only has one day in Amsterdam.
The highlight of our family’s visit to the Rijksmuseum was the digital family game that we rented at the multimedia desk inside the museum. It cost our family of 4 just 10 Euros total. Each person in the family had their own device. The tour took us to see eight pieces in the museum’s collection. About half the pieces were paintings by Dutch masters, including Rembrandt.
The other clues on the game led us to historical objects. The humorous host on our touch screen device led us around the museum in English. It was virtually impossible to get lost. The kids, though exhausted from our transatlantic flight, loved it.
Why should the Rijksmuseum be first on your list of things to do in Amsterdam?
While it is possible to reserve tickets in advance for the Rijksmuseum and save a little bit of time, it is not necessary. Many of Amsterdam’s top museums and attractions, like the Anne Frank House and the van Gogh Museum do require (or at least recommend) timed tickets. If you’re spending 24 hours in Amsterdam, it is certainly more convenient to make your first stop a place where timed entry is not necessary. You never know how long it will take to get through customs and deposit your luggage at a convenient location.
It is possible to reach the Rijksmuseum quite easily via public transportation. Also, parents will be happy to know that there is a play area adjacent to the Rijksmuseum perfect for kids of all ages.
Eat Pancakes for Lunch on your Trip to Amsterdam
There are many places to eat pancakes in Amsterdam. In fact, we ate pancakes nearly everyday that we were in the Netherlands! Dutch pancakes are similar to crepes, but are served flat. They often have ham, cheese, or apple cooked inside the pancake itself. Kids will love the desert pancakes with chocolate syrup!
We at the Pancakes Amsterdam chain because it was conveniently located between the Rijksmuseum and our hotel. If you are attempting to make the most of your 24 hours in Amsterdam with kids, after lunch would be an excellent time to take a rest at your hotel if that is an option for your family.
In the Afternoon Tour the Anne Frank House
A visit to the Anne Frank House is a meaningful way to spend 60-90 minutes on your one day in Amsterdam. Anne Frank was a young Jewish teenager who was in hiding with her family for more than two years during World War II; ultimately, her family was discovered by the Nazis, and she died in a concentration camp.
Today her diary is read by school children around the world in 70 different languages. The warehouse where Anne and her family hid is now a museum; visitors are guided through the museum by audio guide. After visiting the museum, visitors do climb the stairs up to Anne’s Secret Annex and pass silently through the rooms of the Secret Annex.
Visiting the Anne Frank House with Children
Having visited many World War II sites across Europe including Auschwitz, I can say that a visit to the Anne Frank House is not nearly as draining and emotional or heavy as many Holocaust memorial sites. Personally, I would not bring my 3rd and 4th grade age children to any of the concentration camp sites that I have visited. But, I do feel that a visit to the Anne Frank House was appropriate for both of them.
Before visiting, both of my children read an age appropriate book about Anne Frank and explored the interactive features of the Anne Frank House website. During our time at the museum, we discussed Anne’s passion for writing, the segregation of the schools, and the daily life Anne would have had in the Secret Annex more so than the horrors of Nazi Germany.
There were a couple of seconds of graphic video clips along the tour route that my children thankfully didn’t really seem to see. I would not recommend a visit for children who are too young to read a simple version of Anne Frank’s story on their own.
Tickets to the Anne Frank House must be reserved in advance. Most of the tickets are released exactly two months ahead of time; however, some tickets are available same day at 9AM. Check the website for more details on obtaining tickets.
Sit Back and Relax on a Narrated Canal Tour of Amsterdam
A canal tour is a one of the best things to do in Amsterdam on your first day in the city. I’m glad that we saved it for the afternoon when we were really too tired to appreciate anything else. It was nice to sit back and enjoy while our tour guides told us about the history of Amsterdam.
There are many options for canal tours. Several companies have long boats that carry dozens of people. We saw many of these by the Amsterdam Central Train Station and the Rijksmuseum. Some of these boats offer “hop-on-hop-off” options. We opted for a smaller boat carrying about 20 passengers.
Conveniently, Flagship Amsterdam tours are about one hour long and depart from the canal adjacent to the Anne Frank House. The spring canal cruises are open to the elements. However, there are blankets and pillows to ensure a comfortable ride. To me, much of Amsterdam’s canals look very similar so one hour on the canal was plenty. Our canal cruise was fun and relatively family friendly.
Finish Your 24 Hours in Amsterdam by Eating Indonesian Food for Dinner
The Indonesian Rijsttafel, translated “rice table,” is a unique meal option found at many restaurants in Amsterdam. Indonesian food made its way to Amsterdam via Dutch colonialism of Indonesia in the 19th century. Now a “Rice Table” is a full spread of spiced curries and pickled vegetables shared family style.
We ate at Restaurant Jun. Despite offering child-sized portions, we stuffed ourselves and still had food left over. I would definitely recommend Restaurant Jun for families with children who are hearty, adventurous eaters.
I have to admit that it would have been best to save our big rice table dinner for another day when we were not so tired. My 8-year old son actually fell asleep at dinner which necessitated us needing to take a taxi back to our hotel a bit earlier than we had planned. (On the other hand, my 10-year old daughter, typically the one to succumb to jet lag, heartily ate more than her fair share of our spectacular dinner spread.)
Where to Stay in Amsterdam with Kids
We stayed for two nights in Amsterdam at Hotel Sebastians. It was the perfect choice for our family to spend one day in Amsterdam and another touring the tulip fields outside the city. The staff at the front desk easily answered all our questions each day in excellent English.
Our beautifully decorated family room had four twin beds pushed together in pairs. The bathroom was spacious with both a bathtub and a shower. The hotel offered breakfast for an additional fee which we gladly paid each morning for the meat, cheese, fruit, eggs, bacon, cappuccino, and fresh fruit juice.
Accommodations aren’t cheap in Amsterdam’s historic city center. Also, I found most options to be non-refundable in the popular spring season. If you’re looking for a longer stay in Amsterdam with kids, you might want to consider an apartment or even a houseboat rental.
The logistics of an extended layover in a European city are often difficult to figure out. However, spending one day in Amsterdam between flights or before catching a train is relatively simple. There are several options for storing your bags as you explore the city.
If you’re not spending the night in Amsterdam, luggage storage is possible at Amsterdam Schiphol. While we did not store our luggage at Amsterdam Schiphol, I did see clear signage showing the directions to luggage storage for those with a long layover in Amsterdam.
There are also luggage lockers at Amsterdam Centraal Station. Various companies will store luggage a short walk from the train station. Storing luggage at Amsterdam Central Station would be convenient for those families spending a short time in Amsterdam before traveling on to Rotterdam, Brussels, or Paris using the high speed Thalys train. Families visiting Amsterdam also have the option of renting a car at Amsterdam Central Train Station or at Amsterdam Schiphol Airport.
Interested in beginning your Central European road trip adventure in Amsterdam? Check out Trekaroo’s Guide to Driving in Germany and Central Europe.