7 Family-friendly restaurants in Amsterdam

Whether you’re in Amsterdam with your kids for a few days or a few weeks, you’ll need to find some family-friendly restaurants where you can feed your crew.   I’m currently in Amsterdam with my 12 and 14-year-old kids, and even though we’ve rented an apartment, we’re still eating out a lot.

It’s easy enough to pack a lunch or grab snacks on the go, but every so often I like to sit down and let someone else do the cooking.  Here are a few of the places we’ve tried and liked.  Most of them are in or near the Jordaan, where we’re staying.

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1. Pancakes! Amsterdam

We stumbled on this diminutive eatery our second day in town, and haven’t had better pancakes anywhere else.  A quick word on pancakes: they’re not just for breakfast here.  You can choose to have them sweet or savory, and eat them three meals a day.  The cheese, onion, and tomato pancake with guacamole was delicious, and the kids liked there citron pancakes too.  Be prepared to wait for a table — it’s popular and seems to serve only lunch and very early dinner.

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2.  La Perla

I know, I know.  You didn’t come all the way to Amsterdam to eat pizza, but seriously: don’t miss this place.  Their authentic Napoli-style pizzas are fired in a wood oven and well worth waiting for.  Ignore the online reviews that claim they don’t take reservations — they do.  My kids loved the spicy salami (very similar to the pepperoni they’re used to) and my husband and I devoured the carciofo (artichokes, garlic, capers, and olives).  The neighborhood is adorable too.

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3.  Cafe de Reiger

This is a good something-for-everyone spot, and really good for groups (they’ve got a big round table that seats up to 10).  While they claim not to take reservations, try calling if you’ve got a big party — you never know.  They’re known for their ribs, and my son says their steak frites is a good choice too.  Vegetarians in our group had a nice ravioli dish, and there were great seafood choices too.  The location is on a sleepy street in the shadow of the Westerkerk (which is a great middle of the street photo op, but watch out for bikes).  Don’t order dessert, though.  Instead, ask for the check and go to the next place on this list.

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4.  Winkel 43 (or sometimes, just plain “Winkel”)

This is where people in the Jordaan come for apple pie.  You know when something is built up to the point that it cannot possibly live up to the hype?  This is not that place.  The apple pie with cream is absolutely sublime.  It’s more like an apple cake than an apple pie, but who am I to argue?  I’ve read that the line can go around the block on Saturday mornings during the organic farmers’ market at adjacent Noordermarkt but both times we went, we were seated immediately.  If you find you like apple pie, head over to Cafe Papeneiland around the corner and do a little comparison — it’s good too.

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5.  Cafe at the Amsterdam History Museum

We have often found that we need a break from the charming, yet crowded and busy streets of Amsterdam.  The Mokum Museum Cafeat the Amsterdam Museum is the perfect place to recharge and refuel.  You can sit outside in their peaceful terrace courtyard or inside where it’s even quieter.  They serve the usual pancakes, salads, and sandwiches.  While prices aren’t cheap, the food is good and they have a children’s menu.  Open 10-5 daily.

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6.  Groot Melkhuis

Visiting Vondelpark?  This is a great waterfront place for your kids to try tostis for the first time — little cheese or cheese and sausage-filled pastries that are delicious and well-priced.  My kids have developed a little bit of a habit.  You can also get soup, sandwiches, snacks and all kinds of drinks from smoothies and sodas to Irish coffee or a nice glass of rosé (it hasn’t caught on in America, but it’s a quintessential summer drink in lots of Europe — trust me).

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7.  La Place Openbare Bibliotheek

Okay, this place is basically an upscale cafeteria, but stay with me for a minute.  It’s an upscale cafeteria with really fresh food and decent prices on the top floor of Amsterdam’s gorgeous public library — one of the few places in town high enough up to give you a view.  Even though you don’t (probably) speak a word of Dutch, it’s worth wandering through the library after you eat — it’s the biggest in Europe and a feast for the eyes too.

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July 4th, 2014 | by Jamie Pearson 1 comment


Eat your way through Amsterdam

Looking for things to do with kids in Amsterdam?  Try a food tour

Finding family friendly things to do in major European cities can be… tricky.  In its infinite wisdom, the internet seems to think that most parents are willing to travel halfway around the world with their kids and then play miniature golf or pet goats.

Now, I love my kids as much as the next person, but I’m looking for slightly unusual activities that we can all enjoy.  More importantly (and with all due respect to miniature golf and goats), I want them to be activities we can’t do anywhere else.  Luckily for us, the Amsterdam Food Tour we recently took was just such an activity.

In fact, it was one of the best things I did on my 4-week trip to Amsterdam with my 12 and 14-year-old kids.  Here are some of the reasons we liked it:

The tour starts with apple pie in a brown cafe that dates back to the 1642 and once contained a secret passageway under the canal to a hidden Catholic church.

1.  Pie for breakfast?   Okay!

The Eating Amsterdam team recommended that we skip breakfast on the day of the tour, and that turned out to be very good advice.  No sooner had our group of 12 assembled than we tromped upstairs at the cozy Cafe Papeneiland (which dates back to 1642) for a huge slice of apple pie and a drink of our choice.

It turned out that all the portions were like this: full sized.  Many food tours pass around small samples, this tour actually feeds you.  So much, in fact, that we wondered how we were going to eat it all.

2.  A huge diversity of food. 

Even my 14-year-old tried the herring. This Dutch delicacy wasn’t our favorite food of the day, but it wasn’t bad either.

With its colonial past, its seafaring tradition, and its citizens’ passion for fried snacks, Amsterdam offers a huge diversity of food.  Most visitors aren’t in town long enough to try it all.  This tour takes you to places you’d be unlikely to find without a guide, and doesn’t bother to serve you fries and stroopwafels (figuring, correctly, that you can find those on your own).

Besides the apple pie, we had Indonesian and Surinamese food — which we loved.  There were two kinds of sausages.  Herring.  Kibbeling.  Three kinds of licorice.  Cheeses.  Champagne.  Bitterballen.  Locally brewed beer.  Meatballs.  Poffertjes.  Even vegetarians and picky eaters will find lots to try.

3.  A compact geographical area

The tour takes place in a very small neighborhood — the entire walking route is only about two miles total.  Probably the most challenging part is avoiding bicyclists while crossing the street.  Luckily the guides keep everyone safe and together.  Many of the tastings take place on the sidewalk in front of the shops, but an equal number are inside or seated at tables.

(Not that I’m a proponent of multi-tasking on vacation, but if you’re short on time, this is a great way to squeeze in some sightseeing in what is easily the prettiest part of the city: the Jordaan.)

A full hour of the 4-hour tour (toward the end, when you’ll be happy to relax a little) is aboard a plushly restored canal boat as you ply the waters all around Amsterdam.  The boat belongs to the ritzy Hotel Pulitzer, and once conveyed Winston Churchill and Queen Wilhelmina on a tour around the city after World War II.

Just when you’re sure you can’t eat another bite, you get a huge plate of puffy Dutch pancakes called poffertjes.

On the boat, you’ll try traditional Dutch snacks like bitterballen, cheeses, and meatballs as well as a delicious — and strong — locally brewed beer.

(Again, for you multi-taskers, now it’s a tour, a meal, drinks, sightseeing, and a boat ride all in one.)

5.  Great guides

While the company runs very popular tours in Rome and London, the Amsterdam tour was launched just this season.  Despite having just six weeks’ experience, the guides were very relaxed, knowledgable, chatty and fun.  They put all the food we ate in context, telling us stories about the neighborhood and teaching us a little — but not too much for the kids — about Dutch history. They keep the group size small on purpose, and seem to have good chemistry with all kinds of travelers.

Disclosure:  I was accommodated with a complimentary tour by Eating Amsterdam Food Tours for the purposes of this review.  They did not request that I express any particular point of view, and all opinions are my own.

June 28th, 2014 | by Jamie Pearson Comment


Wait. How long is a kilometer again?

There are some times when it would be to my advantage to really understand the metric system.  Such as when I am dosing myself with foreign cough medicine.  Or operating foreign ovens.  Or signing up for an all-day bike tour of the countryside around Amsterdam.

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This is probably our Christmas card picture. Act surprised when you get it.

But alas, much like whether the earth orbits the sun or the other way around, this information does not seem to stick in my head.

So, when the Amsterdam bike tour guide asked, “Can your kids bike 45 kilometers in 4 hours?”, I said: “Sure!”  But I was thinking, “Wait.  How long is a kilometer again?”

She wondered aloud whether tackling the route in a more leisurely six hours might be better, and I quickly agreed.  Plus, the longer trip included lunch, and lunch always sounds good to me.

WHEELY DUTCH BIKE TOURS

Wheely Dutch Bike Tours had a friendly-seeming website — lots of pretty pictures and buoyant punctuation.  Digging deeper, I saw that the fitness level required for their tours were ranked on a tulip scale — cute!  One tulip for easy, two tulips for medium, and three tulips for challenging  We selected the full-day Taste of Holland Tour.  Since this was a one-tulip trip, I assumed it would pretty much be downhill both ways.

Not quite.

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No rural Holland bike tour can be considered complete without sheep.

We met our tour guide — and company owner/operator — Rebecca Uleman at a bike rental shop on Damstraat in Central Amsterdam, where we picked up bikes and bike bags for the journey.  Rebecca is a really down to earth and calm guide who is half-Australian and half-Dutch.  Although she’s lived in Holland for about ten years, she’s biked aaaaall over the world.  She’s really good company too.

THE TOUR

Not to completely state the obvious, but this tour — and all bike tours in and around Amsterdam — starts right in the Central District.  Thank goodness Rebecca was there to ring her bell and usher us through town like a bunch of baby ducks, because the streets are busy.  If your kids are even a little bit wobbly, I would recommend riding behind them and slightly to the left.  Also, try to be as wide as you can, so that anyone who passes on a bike, motor scooter, or car will have to do so with a larger margin.  They will beep and ring their bells.  Let them.

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A bucolic view across the polders, low-lying Dutch farmland surrounded by dikes. Don’t tell these cows, but 40% of the country used to be underwater.

Within 15 minutes we were out of the city limits and heading south toward the farmlands, canals, and rivers south of the city.  Within 30 minutes we were gawking at windmills and sitting where Rembrandt sat and painted these iconic Dutch landscapes.

The first half of the tour, we shared the road with other bikes, mopeds, and cars (though not too many).  Later, it was just us, other bikes, and the cows.  We rode across the river on a bike and car ferry and also crossed the river on a pulley boat which has no engine, just a hand crank.  Rebecca was very indulgent of my endless photo stops and slow pedaling, my husband slightly less so.

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A chocolate chip lamb. I want one.

THE HIGH POINTS

For me there were really three highlights:

  1. Completing a 45-kilometer bike ride (oh stop laughing, you irritating bike people).  I waddled straight home, pulled up an online mile/kilometer converter, and discovered I had just ridden 28 miles!  Bragging rights.
  2. Cycling past farm animals and wildlife — especially the babies.  Ducks and ducklings.  Swans and cygnets.  Sheep and lambs.  Horses and foals.  Pigs, cows, rabbits.
  3. Watching my overheated son and husband strip down to their underwear to jump in the Amstel River in front of some bemused locals (photos withheld — sorry).

THE LOW POINTS

Two low points:

  1. My son is a pretty confident biker, but not totally confident.  Every time he wobbled, my heart stopped for a second.  One time he clipped a garbage can and almost fell.  Since it was a warm holiday weekend, there was a lot of other bike traffic passing us (him) just a little too close for my comfort.
  2. I have the good fortune to be part of a fit family.  As the weakest link, I am always the first one to run out of gas.  In this case, I ran out of gas somewhere around mile 25.  While there are no hills in Amsterdam, there are 1,500 bridges.  I wasn’t sure I was going to make it up and over the last few.
The colors really look like this.  I didn't mess with them.

The colors really look like this. I didn’t mess with them.

IF YOU GO

I would highly recommend Rebecca’s trips.  If you’re not up for a 28-miler, she has some other great-sounding tours.  I was particularly tempted by both the Wheely Dutch Snack Track and The Pancake Tour.

Here’s my number one bit of advice for this tour.  Ready?  Upgrade your bike.  We rented these huge, heavy 3-speed beasts, and I would really have liked having a few more gears.  If you’ve got a semi-wobbly rider, a tandem bike might be a good idea too.

Potty breaks are few and far between, so go easy on the coffee the morning of your tour.  Bring water bottles for everyone, but just one since Rebecca will bring a big bottle for refills. 

This moped-rider was yelling and beeping at us to get out of the way.  Also?  His dog was barking.

This moped-rider was yelling and beeping at us to get out of the way. Even his dog was barking.  My husband stared him down instead.

All posts in this series:

Why not Amsterdam
Getting to Amsterdam: Even the easy way was kind of hard
The Mystery of the Giant Pink Penis Lamp
Wait.  How long is a kilometer again?

 

June 8th, 2014 | by Jamie Pearson 8 comments


The Mystery of the Giant Pink Penis Lamp

No sooner had we walked into our charming Amsterdam apartment, than we noticed a decor element that was slightly out of the ordinary.  Almost all vacation rentals — at least the ones I stay in — feature at least one tragic decorating decision.  Scented potpourri.  A few too many duck decoys.  A vase full of feathers.

Obviously people have different tastes, and these small details don’t detract from our pleasure.  We just… notice them.

Vacation rental decorating mistakes

See? SEE? I told you.

This time, the discordant item was what we came to refer to as “the giant pink penis lamp”.  Now.  I know I have a little bit of a reputation for hyperbole, so I’m including a picture to prove that, for once, I AM NOT EXAGGERATING.  Unfortunately, I didn’t think to include anything in the photo for size reference, but this thing is at least three feet tall.

We were mystified.

This is a really nice apartment — very classy, and in a great location.  If you haven’t done so already, go to the website and look at the pictures.  Since the lamp was tucked in the bedroom behind a chair in the corner, I decided that it must have been left behind by a bachelorette party and overlooked by the housekeepers.  My theory was confirmed by the “XXX” printed down the shaft, I mean side.

I amused myself by sending a picture of it to my husband and then put it mostly out of my mind.

An Amsterdammertje

Ahem.

The next day, while my kids and I were trying to thread our way through the omnipresent Amsterdam bicyclists, my daughter stopped in her tracks.  Naturally my son and I ran into her like a three-car pileup in rush hour traffic.  ”Oh!” she exclaimed, “I know what the lamp is.”

Lining the street were dozens of steel traffic bollards.  I have since learned from Wikipedia that they are called Amsterdammertjes, which is Dutch for “little ones from Amsterdam” (you can’t make this stuff up).  The three Xs on the side don’t denote pornography — on the contrary!  They are Saint Andrew’s crosses from the coat of arms of Amsterdam.  Of course!

Obviously pink was an unfortunate color for the lamp, though in all honestly, they don’t look that much less like a circumcised penis in blue, white, and brown.  They do keep cars from parking on the sidewalk though, so that’s something.

All posts in this series:

Why not Amsterdam
Getting to Amsterdam: Even the easy way was kind of hard
The Mystery of the Giant Pink Penis Lamp
Wait.  How long is a kilometer again?

June 5th, 2014 | by Jamie Pearson 1 comment


Getting to Amsterdam. Even the easy way was kind of hard.

Even though I took steps to make our journey to Amsterdam as easy as possible (direct flight, checked bags, upgraded to economy plus), it was still kind of a grind.  Any time you spend ten hours on a plane going to Europe from the west coast, you’re going to feel it.

Traveling to Amsterdam with kids

After all these years, I still don’t understand why we have to get to the airport three hours early.  Why?  WHY?!

One thing we did differently this time was to take a daytime flight.  I actually kind of liked it.  In the past, we’ve always taken evening flights to Europe and put a lot of pressure on ourselves — and the kids — to sleep on the plane.  Nothing like knowing you have to sleep to make you completely unsleepy.  Am I right?  This time we snacked, watched movies, and played video poker instead.

Not to brag, but I also taught myself to speak Dutch on the flight over.  The KLM personal interactive entertainment systems were pretty standard, but the Berlitz language learning apps were awesome.

Visiting Amsterdam with kids

Other passengers watched American Hustle and The Wolf of Wall Street or popped sleeping pills. Slackers.

But frankly, I couldn’t see the point in learning to count to 30 and recite the months of the year in Dutch, so I skipped to the important stuff.

Dutch phrases for travelers

Don’t judge.

The flight was direct and uneventful.  For us fearful flyers, that’s a good thing.  In a burst of post-landing euphoria, my kids claimed that they “felt great” and “weren’t tired at all!”.  This lasted about 30 minutes.  It was 9am in Amsterdam and our apartment wouldn’t be ready for us until 4pm.

Luckily I had booked a family-sized room at the Schiphol Airport Yotel.  Do you know about Yotel?  It’s a cool airport capsule hotel where jet lagged travelers can nap, shower, relax, snack, use the internet and watch TV on long layovers.

Hotel airport Amsterdam

When you need a real airport nap, you can’t beat a capsule hotel.  Especially if it’s mildly spaceship-themed.

We almost had a disaster because Yotel isn’t set up for people who need to deplane, collect their luggage, clear immigration, and THEN take a long nap.  Yotel is located in the departures area, and we had exited into the arrivals area.  A passport control agent gave us a stern lecture, but eventually made an exception and let us back in. And I didn’t even have to cry!  We checked in and settled in for a 4-hour power nap.

Hotel airport Amsterdam

Home Sweet Yotel.

Everything looked brighter after our long nap.  Even my daughter, who had been lobbying hard for a taxi to the apartment (like the princess that she is), was willing to take the train from the airport to Amsterdam’s Central Station.  It was a pleasant 10-minute ride, or would have been if we hadn’t chosen backward-facing seats.

From the train station, it was a 10-minute walk to our apartment.  Or it would have been if I hadn’t taken a long detour that was mostly about not wanting to walk the kids through the Red Light district (at least on our first day), and being too lazy/arrogant to pull out a map.  I managed to turn our 10-minute walk into a 25-minute walk.  Over cobblestones.  With rolling suitcases.

The kids almost suffered a sense of humor failure, but my son rallied and speculated that I had taken this route to get more steps on my Fitbit (a super-addictive online socially competitive pedometer, for the uninitiated).  I hadn’t, but I would like to point out that the detour did help me totally crush it that day: 17,000 steps FTW!

In my next Amsterdam installment, I’ll tell you all about our apartment in the picturesque, canal-filled Jordaan, and the mystery of the giant pink penis lamp.

All posts in this series:

Why not Amsterdam
Getting to Amsterdam: Even the easy way was kind of hard
The Mystery of the Giant Pink Penis Lamp
Wait.  How long is a kilometer again?

June 4th, 2014 | by Jamie Pearson 3 comments