This is part of a series of posts on our summer 2016 trip to Europe, marking our first family vacation outside of the U.S. With passports in hand, we spent nearly three weeks between London, Paris, Brussels, and Amsterdam.
Amsterdam was fun, and comfortable in a way that I had to remind myself we weren’t in the U.S. (and that is meant in the best way, although I can see the comparison to the U.S. not always being welcome).
We arrived via train from Brussels to Amsterdam Central station just before 3 p.m. We took a taxi to the hotel, though it was easily accessible by the tram, simply because the number of bags we had would have been embarrassing on the tram.
After dropping off our bags, we trekked across town to take a pancake cruise. We got to the dock early, giving us time to walk around a flea market nearby. They had some funky art, and much of the standard stuff that could be found at a U.S. flea market. We mostly took pictures and my daughter bought a pair of earrings. None of the really cool stuff would have fit in our luggage, sadly.
We headed over to the Pannenkoekenboot Amsterdam with plenty of time and soon a crowd formed. The seating is reserved, meaning there is no reason to stress about pushing in. We happened to share the ship with a huge group of high school kids from the U.S., making it a little rowdy at times.
Anyway, the pancake cruise is something my kids still talk about. Soon after boarding, they took our drink order and opened up the all you can eat pancake bar, which was also mobbed at first, even though they tried to stagger the approach. Again, no rush because there are plenty of pancakes and they keep making them throughout the cruise. After the initial push, the lines go away.
We had the choice of plain, bacon or apple pancakes, then there was a variety of toppings, from sweet to savory. My kids were in heaven. Plus, the bottom of the boat is a giant ball pit, the perfect outlet for kids to burn off the pancakes.
Once the pancake cruise ended, we all boarded the ferry in masse, and headed toward central Amsterdam, where we took the tram and strolled back to the hotel, stopping at this super cool park and playstructure aimed at slightly older kids, probably about five and up – it wasn’t a standard slide and swing playstructure, but was a series of rope bridges and climbing structures with a suspended trampoline. Playing in the late evening with the low sun was magical.
We had reservations for our tour at the Van Gogh Museum at 10 a.m. We really enjoyed the museum, but it turns out some of his most iconic work is displayed in the U.S.
There is a cafe inside the museum where we had breakfast overlooking Museumplein, the public space/park area surround the museums.
After leaving the museum, we headed a few steps down to Moco for a Banksy-Warhol exhibit. This was something we only knew about due to advertising, and I am so glad we found it. It was a fantastic – albeit small – exhibit. It was definitely worth the visit.
Next, we walked around Museumplein – the same area is where the giant i amsterdam letters are located. We took a quick picture, but it was beginning to rain while we walked Rembrant Square, so jumped on a tram to the central canals.
We walked along the canals for a few hours, shopping, taking pictures, and eating lunch. The rain picked up a bit at times, and when we selected a spot for lunch, we were drenched and looking for any way out of the rain, however, we lucked out and walked into a good spot at Cafe de Doffer. The staff made us feel welcome, and the food was good, although any place selling good lambic at a great price was automatically awesome.
After walking around longer, we took the tram back to the hotel to rest and dry off before we later headed out to dinner.
Dinner was at Moeders, and it was one of the few places we made a reservation on this trip based on advice that is was needed, and it truly was, as we were there on the early side, yet saw them turn away party and party because the place was full with reservations.
Moeders is not only good, traditional Dutch food, but the decor is unique: the walls are completely filled with pictures of mothers. Dinner was good, though we didn’t put a dent into the giant serving of sauerkraut on each plate, but our Death by Chocolate dessert is even better. It was a fun evening with a great meal, ended with these little coffee flavored hard candies with our bill. So smitten with the candies, we walked to a shop a block away where we found them and bought bags of them.
Our 8:30 a.m. tour time at the Anne Frank House forced us up bright and early. It should go without saying that this is not to be missed. Walking through where Anne and her family hid really made her history come to life. It was moving and depressing, especially given the political climate in the U.S.
After the tour, we walked up the street to The Pancake Bakery for more pancakes to help ease our sadness. The pancakes did not disappoint; they were huge and amazing. The kids’ pancakes were more like giant desserts that they couldn’t come close to finishing. Even the savory pancakes were impossible to finish. We practically rolled out of there.
We walked and walked more, shopping, eating herring from a street vendor, and exploring more of the central canal area for a few hours before heading back to the hotel early. I had to pack and everyone else was ready to lounge around for awhile.
Dinner wasn’t every exotic, but it was memorable. There was an all-you-can-eat buffet in our hotel that was well rated, and I agreed because the kids really wanted to go and the location could not be beat. They had all kinds of different foods, including sushi and a huge selection of fresh fish made to order, but my kids loved the foreign drink selection. They had all kinds of weird sodas and milk drinks, and my son tried to power through all of them. It was during this time he started up a bottle cap collection, too. And where a tummy ache was born.
After dinner, it was back to the room while the team read and I packed up.
Okay, this really doesn’t count as a vacation day. We woke up, got ready, and headed to the airport for a mid-day departure. Of course, I made a point of finding places to spend the rest of our Euro in our terminal before we boarded. There is a wooden tulip seller in the airport that wraps the tulips like they are live flowers for a few Euro each, making for great gifts. Plus, I bought a tin of Stroopwafles deliberately for the Miffy tin, and my family inhaled the waffles once we were home. Everyone won.
Our trip ended before we were ready to end our vacation, which is probably the right time to end. Once we got home, we ran out to In-N-Out for dinner, watched some baseball on TV, and fell asleep early, happy to be home in our own beds, with air conditioning, and plentiful amounts of ice in our drinks. It was the perfect American ending to our amazing European adventure.
Where We Stayed
While I wanted to stay on one of the canals in central Amsterdam, finding a room sized to comfortably fit four people at a reasonable price was not happening, and we weren’t staying long enough to rent a houseboat or make AirBnb worth it. We stayed at the Golden Tulip Amsterdam West, which was a short tram ride from the central area (about 10 minutes), but it was perfectly convenient, sized right, and at a great price. I would stay there again.
Amsterdam is very easy to get around. We walked, took the tram, and the ferry. Everything was very simple. We took a taxi from the train station to the hotel, and we used Uber to get from the hotel to the airport.
Amsterdam was the one place where we made many reservations in advance. We booked the pancake cruise, Moeder’s, Anne Frank House, and the Van Gogh Museum all before we left California. We could have gotten into the museums without the reservations, but it would have required waiting in significant lines. There is no way we could have gotten into Moeder’s without a reservation for dinner, and our pancake cruise was full, too, but it could be the non-peak times allowed more flexibility.