It is hard to think of a city with more of a transport 'soup'. Indeed, anyone crossing a road (or canal) in Amsterdam for the first time is likely to be overwhelmed by car lanes, tram lines and cycle paths as well as the scooters which seem to drift between all three. Our kids however, take it all in their stride and love nothing more than days out where the journey is as exciting as the destination. If not more so.
It’s impossible to talk about transport in the Netherlands without starting on two wheels. Amsterdam is made for cycling, and with its miles of pancake-flat cycle lanes there is no better place to jump aboard. Although the city centre can be hectic for nervous newbies, anywhere slightly further out is a dream for young cyclists. As long as you keep to one side allowing others to pass, there should be nothing to stop you planning the perfect family day out in the saddle. For those with tiny tots, why not hire a Bakfiets (a bike with a big wooden bucket in the front) and pedal them around. You can hire these from numerous rental shops around the city, and if you’re anxious that your legs might not be as strong as your average Dutchie, there are electric models available.
Coming in a close second are Amsterdam’s trams. Our kids love nothing more than clambering aboard and travelling from one end of a line to another. If you’ve purchased an I amsterdam City Card you can tram around freely all day. Otherwise buy a 24 hour kids’ day-pass from the driver for just €2.50. Most speak English on busy tourist routes and can alert you to your stop. If it’s a quiet day and you hover by the cabin you might luck out like our two and get an opportunity to help drive the tram and even make announcements. The only two things to bear in mind are that most trams will only allow one buggy on board at a time and do beware of opportunistic pickpockets who unfortunately travel on busy routes taking advantage of visitors. It’s also worth remembering that the Dutch are unlikely to get up and offer pregnant women or kids a seat although don’t be afraid to ask if you need one.
As well as the city’s iconic blue and white trams, Amsterdam also offers a wonderful historic tram that runs every 30 minutes on Sundays between April and October. Departing from a sweet little station museum, the line runs alongside the wonderful Amsterdamse Bos (Amsterdam Forest) and the rattle of teak and brass will transport any mini tram-lover back to the days of old. With special Santa rides at Christmas and a City Centre route departing every Sunday at 12.00 in July, August and September, budding tram-buffs are well served in the city. The woods are also the place to find the lovely Bosbus in Summer which stops at all the highlights hidden within this magical man-made forest.
Trains and double-deckers
Our boys simply adore trains and yet again, Amsterdam delivers. As well as the four metro lines which offer something halfway between a tram and train (providing fast access to some of the outlying parts of the city) Amsterdam’s Central Station is the locomotive gateway to the rest of the country and beyond. Our kids adore the grand terminus and can happily while away an hour watching the speedy Thalys shooting off to France and Belgium, or the Sprinter trains heading into the Dutch countryside. This week saw the first Eurstar arrival which will transform access from the UK (just 4.5 hours from King's Cross to Amsterdam's Central Station) but for my two the Netherlands' double-decker trains still hold the greatest appeal. Sitting on the top deck heading off to the airport or beyond has proved to be a thrilling day out for our train-tastic duo.
Looking for a smaller train ride for your little ones? Why not check out the glorious family-train in the Amstelpark which tours the hidden gardens and is one of our kids’ all-time favourite Amsterdam must-dos.
Amsterdam’s most popular form of transport for tourists are the ubiquitous canal boats. There are dozens of these touring the main canals throughout the year as well as hundreds of smaller and more bespoke offerings that include self-hires, brunch boats, open sloops, pedalos and Salonboats. For kids, we can highly recommend the Blue Boat Tour that offers youngsters a Freshwater Pirate Cruise on every departure. Children are given a pair of cardboard binoculars, a log book and set of colouring pencils alongside headphones that they plug into a kids’ commentary which is available in Dutch or English.
Out on the less attractive but larger River Ij, you’ll find a ‘Botel’; a range of industrial and commercial boats and, once every five years, the extraordinary tall ships of Sail Amsterdam. Restaurant terraces like Stork provide the perfect setting from which to watch the world sail by. Looking to jump aboard? Why not consider the Pancake Boat, a children’s Valhalla offering a 75 minute cruise accompanied by unlimited pancakes of the sweet, sweeter and sweetest of all variety.
One of Amsterdam’s lesser known hidden highlights is the ferry from Central Station over to Noord or the North side of the city. Not only is this a wonderful experience but it’s also free. Our kids love the short crossing packed with people, bikes and scooters as well as the wonderful warehouse restaurants and iconic buildings on the other side. And of course the view back across to Amsterdam's Central Station.
If your children’s passions are of the airborne variety, a trip to Schiphol Airport’s Panorama Terrace is a must. Not only is there a plane for kids to clamber aboard, but the vast viewing decks allow for a wonderful view of the goings-on at the airport, and combined with a double-decker train ride to get there ensures that our boys at least have sweet transport dreams for weeks afterwards.
Amsterdam (or "Tramsterdam" as we have renamed it) is a place where wonderful journeys begin. This overview is far from comprehensive. With scooters, buses, toddler wagons carrying eight children at a time, cruise ships, houseboats, cars and rowing boats as well as our boys’ favourite the incredible train museum in Utrecht just a short ride away, every transport dream can be met in this small but perfectly formed city.
Looking for more ideas for places to visit on two wheels, four or more? Check out https://amsterdamwonderland.com/ which is packed with ideas for kids both big and small.