The best trip ever: a mother-daughter trip to Amsterdam. Our review and recommendations for three days in Amsterdam, that our daughter declared was the best trip ever. Image of houses on Damrak in the background
Europe,  Travel

“The best trip ever” – A mother-daughter trip to Amsterdam

As a special treat during the Summer holidays, we decided that Miss M and I would go on a mother-daughter trip. After some deliberation, we chose Amsterdam as our desination. Miss M declared our trip to be ‘the best trip ever’.

Cost played a role in our selection, as did proximity. We didn’t want to spend too long getting there, nor did we want to pay for expensive plane tickets (this was all very last minute so there were no early-bird discounts). We also wanted to make sure that there would be enough things for us to see and do that would be special and match Miss M’s interests. Amsterdam fit the bill perfectly.

What made it the best trip ever? I think it was the combination of activities, some of her favourite foods and the fact that she was allowed to choose what we did. A couple of very well done museum tours for children helped immensely. I think the other aspect that she appreciated was that there were no other distractions, no work, no blogging or cleaning that needed my attention: just us. I’ll come back to this point later.

Getting there

Hands down, the best way to get to Amsterdam is by train.

  • The Grachten (canals) make driving in the city centre interesting. Sometimes you even have to drive in a big circle before being able to drive to your destination from the right angle.
  • This limitation applies to taxis too,
  • Car parks are hideously expensive – it would have cost more than our train tickets.
  • Centraal Station is central (as the name suggests) and right at the end of Damrak.
  • Trains save a lot of stress.

On a Tuesday morning, bright and early (well, earlier than we had otherwise been during the holidays), Miss M and I caught the train to Amsterdam. The trip went smoothly and we were in the Dutch capital in under two and a half hours.

Tip: Keep your train tickets handy. When you arrive in Amsterdam on a train, you have to scan your tickets upon leaving the station. You also have to scan your tickets when getting on and off public transport.

Centraal Station in Amsterdam during our mother-daughter trip. Trains remain the best way to get to Amsterdam from elsewhere.

I Amsterdam card

Our first stop was the tourist information office for an I Amsterdam card.

The card is both public transport and free entry into numerous museums and attractions (such as the zoo). It also includes a boat tour.

I tried to decide, which museums we would be visiting during our sojourn, to see whether it would be worth buying the I Amsterdam ticket. I may have miscalculated our needs.

There were two things that I did not realise when I was calculating the benefit of the card for us:

  1. The museum entry ‘time’ starts when you visit the first museum and not when you first use public transport and
  2. The Royal Palace is not covered by the card, so that the ‘attraction’ part of our card did not start until day 2 of our trip.

There are also no I Amsterdam cards for small children. Children do not need a ticket for public transport until they are 4. Many museums also do not require children to pay entry until they are 4, 6 or even 18 years old.

The I Amsterdam card also makes sense if you are looking at going to the Van Gogh Museum and the Rijksmuseum. We have been to both recently, so we were not planning to go again on our mother-daughter trip.

In the end, I think what I would have otherwise paid for public transport, the boat tour and entry to the museums and zoo was roughly equivalent to the cost of the I Amsterdam ticket for the three days.

Tip: Work out what you want to do before you go and check whether it makes sense to buy the I Amsterdam card. Don’t leave it to the last minute like me! Buy online to save time and money.

Our hotel

We stayed at the Motel One Waterlooplein.

We like the Motel One brand and are always happy with the facilities. This time is no exception. However, our choice was primarily based on price and availability.

In hindsight, a different hotel may have served us better. What I didn’t realise was that the hotel was around 600m from the nearest public transport. Miss M was already tired by the time we got to the hotel.

At the same time, the hotel is very close to the zoo and the Maritime Museum. We also found some good restaurants right around the corner.

I had not realized when making arrangements that we were in Amsterdam in the middle of Pride week. Many hotels were booked out. When we booked (only a week before our trip), we also found the Motel One was one of the cheaper avaialble options.

Tip: If you are visiting Amsterdam with your little one in the middle of Summer, you might instead consider staying at one of the hotels closer to Vondelpark. The pools in the park are great for cooling down kids before bedtime. We were lucky: it rained on and off during our trip so that swimming was not part of our plan.

Day 1

Waterlooplein Market

On the way back to the metro after checking into our hotel, we detoured through the antique and flea market on Waterlooplein.

The market is one of the oldest and best in Amsterdam. You can find records, photos, vintage clothing, sunglasses, bicycles and many other unusual finds. The market is open daily, except Sundays.

I was very pleasantly surprised by the market. I had read numerous blog posts and suggestions to prepare for the trip and none of them had mentioned it. However, it is as big, if not bigger than the market at Place du Jeu de Balle in Brussels.

The market at Waterlooplein, Amsterdam. Stop one on our mother-daughter trip which was "the best trip ever"

I gave Miss M some money to find a ‘souvenir’ of our trip. She fell in love with a My Little Pony knock-off and was delighted. The stall keeper was nice enough to pretend that he was haggling with her. Perhaps this is what made day 1 “The best day ever,” at least until day 2 when it became “The best trip ever”.

I didn’t go home empty handed either. At one stall, I found some antique ice skates, which will be a great addition to our Christmas decorations. At another I found a small Delft tile as a souvenir of our trip.

There are a number of food stalls at the market too. Miss M ate some Dutch fries, so we could cross that delicacy off our list.

Damrak

From the market, we made our way back to the central station and then strolled down Damrak towards Dam Square. We admired the Beurs van Berlage (former stock exchange) and did some window shopping on the way.

Some of the prettiest buildings in Amsterdam are on Damrak. Most lean forward and have hooks at the top to help load goods off barges and into the upper levels of the building. That’s why some of the buildings look like they are dancing. Miss M had fun pointing these ones out.

Damrak: some of the best panoramas in Amsterdam and one of the first stops on our 'best trip ever'

We also found this lovely arcade, which Miss M thought it looked like a mermaid palace.

Beurspassage, Amsterdam, on our mother-daughter trip

Tip: In various locations around Amsterdam there are special water fountains. We found one on Damrak almost opposite Primark and refilled our water bottle.

The Royal Palace on Dam Square

Miss M was absolutely fascinated by the fact that the Royal Palace is a working palace yet we were still allowed to visit. She was only disappointed that we forgot her crown and the gift shop did not have any to purchase.

Instead, she loved flitting from room to room listening to her audio guide: they had three in English, one for adults, one for children and one for small children, with the sensors at the appropriate height.

The Palace is currently showing a map exhibition. I love maps and found it fascinating, but it bored Miss M. When she had had enough, we moved on.

Dutch Royal Palace in Amsterdam on our best trip ever

Sugar

After we’d finished our tour of the Palace, we headed towards the Begijnhof. It was a very warm day and Miss M was starting to flag when we found the perfect solution: sugar heaven!

Jamin has a number of stores in Amsterdam and sells ice creams, chocolates, gummy bears, soft drinks, liquorice, lollypops, lollypop sparkling drinks (I kid you not!), bubblegum and slushies – anything you might need for a sugar fix. Miss M chose a slush and we kept walking.

Cheese

Originally, I wanted to show Miss M one of the cheese markets during our trip. Alkmaar was the most likely candidate. It is not far from Amsterdam and holds a market on Tuesday evenings in Summer. However, it was soon clear that she was going to be too tired to enjoy it – plans have to be flexible when travelling with kids.

Instead, we visited one of the many cheese stores. Miss M was reluctant to taste any; she decided that it made her slush taste funny. She marvelled at the size of some of the cheese wheels and enjoyed finding the cows – they were painted in rainbow colours for Pride.

One of the many shops selling Dutch cheese that we found during our mother-daughter trip to Amsterdam

Tip: Cheese is a great souvenir (but check any border control rules for your next destination). Buy some fresh bread, some delicious local cheese and go to one of the many parks in Amsterdam for a picnic.

Begijnhof

Sometime in the 14th century, the Begijnhof was endowed to a group of Beguines, who owned the houses privately. These ladies lived as nuns in a community but did not take their vows or live inside a nunnery.

When Catholicism was outlawed in the Netherlands in the 16th century, the Begijnhof was one of the only Catholic establishments left as the houses were in private ownership. When the church had to be given up, a hidden church (or ‘schuilkerk‘) was built behind some of the facades of the houses.

Panorama view of the Begijnhof in Amsterdam during the 'best trip ever'

What remains are some of the most original and expensive houses in Amsterdam surrounding a beautiful and quiet courtyard. The last Beguine died in 1971, but the houses are still in private ownership. You can also visit both the hidden and original churches, which are still used for worship.

Miss M enjoyed just sitting, looking and drinking her slush.

Tip: The Begijnhof is beautiful, peaceful and a great place to sit and reflect or do some drawing. Rambunctious children will find it stifling, but budding artists will love it.

Stroopwafels

The next stop on our little stroll was van Wonderen for some stroopwafels. We stumbled upon it by accident and were very glad we did.

Stroopwafels are a Dutch delicacy. They are two thin waffles sandwiched together with a caramel cinnamon syrup. Normally you place them on top of a cup of tea or coffee to let them go a little gooey on the inside before eating them.

van Wonderen Stroopwafels on the 'best trip ever' to Amsterdam

Van Wonderen dips them in chocolate and sprinkle them with your favourite topping. I chose salted caramel squares; Miss M chose mini marshmallows.

Tip: Stroopwafels – especially with chocolate and toppings – are quite messy to eat on hot days. They would be perfect when the weather is not so friendly. Definitely one for the sweet tooth!

Bloemenmarket

The final stop on our impromptu walking tour was the flower market.

Founded in 1862, the Bloemenmarkt is the world’s only floating flower market. Originally the traders sold their flowers and plants directly from their boats. Now, the ‘boats’ are fixed in position and the traders sell mostly bulbs and souvenirs to tourists. While it is not worth spending hours, the colourful flowers make it a nice place to stop for a drink and a break.

Very realistic fake tulips at the Bloemenmarkt in Amsterdam on our mother-daughter trip

When working on her travel journal later, Miss M decided that the flower market was one of the best things we saw during the day. She loved all the bright colours and kept running from fake flowers to fake flowers, showing me what was on offer.

Dinner at Café Kadijk

While our hotel location was impractical in some respects, we were luck enough to find a great Indonesian restaurant just around the corner for dinner: Café Kadijk.

Indonesia used to be a Dutch colony. As a result, Indonesian restaurants are common in all major Dutch cities. Most of them – including Café Kadijk – are delicious. The menu is short, the food is delicious and it was just around the corner. Perfect!

The staff were helpful and treated Miss M like an adult even though she just wanted rice. They mixed her mocktail with skill and brought her extra ice when she asked. You could see her sitting up straighter at the attention.

As an additional bonus, while we eating our dessert, the bridge next to the café was raised to let boats through. Miss M was so mesmerised by the process that her mango sorbet melted.

Miss M was nearly asleep before her head hit the pillow, but not before she muttered, “Best day ever.”

The bridge next to Cafe Kadijk which was raised during dessert on the best trip ever.

Day 2

The Amsterdam Zoo – Artis

A giraffe at the Artis zoo during the best trip ever

One advantage to our hotel was its proximity to the zoo – Artis.

Artis is huge if a little expensive. My entry was covered by my I Amsterdam card, but I still had to pay for Miss M’s entry. Food and souvenirs were also quite expensive, even by Amsterdam standards.

The zoo has numerous ‘houses’, like the rainforest, small animals, reptile, gorilla and butterfly houses. This was just as well because about half an hour after our arrival, the heavens opened and it started to pour. It did not stop. We spent most of the day running from one ‘house’ to the next whenever the rain let up a little.

Free roaming water dragon at Artis zoo, Amsterdam, on our best trip ever

The zoo also has a number of areas where the animals roam freely. While this is normal for a butterfly house, you can get close up and personal with lemurs and wallabies. In the tropical house monkeys, bats, birds and various lizards roam where they wish. You have to be careful not to step on a wallaby tail, or in our case, a water dragon tail. In each case, a zookeeper is on hand to answer any questions or tell you more about the animals. I think they also protect the animals.

Red ruffed lemur at Artis zoo in Amsterdam during the best trip ever

Poffertjes

Fortunately, the poffertjes tent also offered refuge from the rain. Poffertjes are small pancakes, about 4cm in diameter, which are typically served with butter and powdered sugar.

Miss M is a very picky eater. I was apprehensive when she decided that she wanted a big serve (15 poffertjes). We sat under the tent, watching the rain, and she devoured the lot.

Fresh poffertjes at Artis zoo during our mother-daughter trip

Tip: Poffertjes are a great Dutch treat and something you definitely have to try when you are in Amsterdam. The zoo is a great place to try them, whatever the weather!

By late afternoon, the rain started to ease. By then, we were wet through so we walked back to our hotel to dry off and warm up. Ironically, the previous week it would have been to cool down.

Boat ride

After changing into dry clothes and having a little rest, I asked Miss M what she wanted to do next. Fortunately, instead of say that she wanted rice again (which was always a possibility), she wanted pancakes for dinner.

She wasn’t hungry yet though and decided that we should do an evening boat tour before dinner. I should have guessed: we know from our trip to Venice that Miss M loves boats.

Miss M chose the boat. As Miss M was not yet 4, she could ride for free.

Most of the boat tours have audio guides in a number of languages and some even have a kids audio tour, with information and stories aimed at kids. The audio guide system on our tour was glitchy and had to be rebooted a number of times. The commentary was also a little repetitive.

The drunken houses on our boat trip around the Grachten in Amsterdam during the best trip ever

A boat tour is a great way to see the city and snap some wonderful photos. Miss M decided that she was going to be the official photographer on our trip – some photos are blurry and, like the commentary, there is a lot of repetition.

Canal houses in Amsterdam, as viewed during out boat trip on our mother-daugther trip

And another one for good measure.

Sunlight on the canal houses in Amsterdam during our mother-daughter trip, the best trip ever

Tip: If you can, give your little one a camera or mobile phone and let them take photos on the boat tour. They will enjoy the tour more and you will still get some good photos.

Pancakes

After our sunset cruise, we found a small restaurant for the promised pancake. Miss M chose one with strawberries and ice cream.

Unfortunately, Miss M’s eyes were much bigger than her belly. She struggled to eat even a quarter of her pancake. Admittedly, the pancakes were huge and I couldn’t finish mine either.

Huge Dutch pancake with fresh strawberries and ice cream in Amsterdam

Bike taxi

To round off the day – and to get back to our hotel quicker with tired little legs – we caught a bike taxi back to our hotel. Miss M loved it even more than the boat trip.

Our driver (pedaller?) took us down a number of streets that we hadn’t seen before and gave us a brief view of Amsterdam nightlife (in the middle of Pride week, no less).

When we got back to the hotel, Miss M announced that it was the “best trip ever”. I’m not even sure whether she meant the whole trip to Amsterdam or just the tuk tuk trip back to the hotel.

Day 3

We woke up a little stiff and sore on our third day in Amsterdam. Despite this, Miss M was still in a good mood and ready for day 3 of the ‘best trip ever.’

After checking out of our hotel, we made our way to the Red Light District, stopping on the way to fortify ourselves with fresh fruit, coffee and pastries.

There are numerous small bakeries in Amsterdam and many of them sell meringues, like the ones here. Chocolate, raspberry, hazelnut, blueberry, coffee... yum!

Our Lord in the Attic

Our first stop was Our Lord in the Attic. This was another of the ‘hidden churches’ built when Catholicism was outlawed in the attic of a private house

It was pink.

Our Lord in the Attic (Ons' Lieve Heer op Solder) in Amsterdam - the pink chapel

The ladies at the ticket desk were great. They complimented Miss M on her dress and told her that she would enjoy the church because it was the same colour as her dress. She wanted to rush to the top just to see how pink.

The museum was very engaging, with lots of opportunities for children to interact.

Someone had cleverly developed a scavenger hunt through the museum revolving around a ladybug called Nan. Each room had something for children to do, find or touch, marked by a little ladybug – a feel cupboard, paper and pencils to draw, cupboards to look in, etc. A little book complimented to hunt, telling the story of the church and family, sharing information, asking questions and directing children to find specific things in each room.

There is also a separate audio tour for children. I was generally very impressed with the quality of the audio guides for children at the museums in Amsterdam. Our Lord in the Attic took it a step beyond. Somehow, the variety of information and tasks meant that it worked for all age groups.

I was pleasantly surprised and Miss M loved it. The ladies at the ticket counter gave Miss M a ladybug at the end as a memento. We also purchased a ladybug bracelet. It was definitely one of the best museums for kids interaction.

There are just two points to keep in mind when deciding whether to visit the church.

  1. There are a LOT of steps. Not all of those steps are easy for small children to navigate without assistance.
  2. It is not the best museum to visit when it is hot. The church is in the attic of an old house…
Nan the ladybug on a model of the private house where Our Lord in the Attic was built, Amsterdam

Tip: If you are looking for a great interactive experience for your kids – whatever age – try Our Lord in the Attic.

Oude Kerk

In contrast, the Oude Kerk was almost boring, with very little interaction (and none for kids).

The Oude Kerk is huge but it is more like a large meeting hall with some traditional church elements in the middle. Over the years it has had many uses: women fed their children, fishermen mended nets, businessmen discussed trades, etc.

Gorgeous staircase in the Oude Kerk, Amsterdam, during the best trip ever

While impressive in size, the Oude Kerk is not all that interesting and is much more impressive from the outside. If it had not been included in the I Amsterdam ticket, we probably would not have gone inside.

Oude Kerk from the outside, during our mother-daughter trip to Amsterdam

Red light district

We visited the red light district to see the churches and not really to see the area itself. Fortunately, because it was still early in the day, most curtains were closed. All Miss M noticed was the pretty colours.

Tip: If you want to visit sites in the red light district and avoid uncomfortable questions, go early in the day.

Handbag and Purse Museum

One of the highlights of our trip was our visit to the Handbag and Purse Museum.

Miss M kept running from bag to bag, pulling me along to show me her next favourite (and there were a lot). This meant that I didn’t get a chance to look at the older ones for long.

I did manage to get her to stop long enough to design her own handbag. The result is rather cute!

The handbag designed by Miss M during the best trip ever to Amsterdam

Miss M was disappointed that they didn’t have ‘her’ bag to look at.

The museum has a permanent exhibition and a temporary exhibit. While we were there, the temporary exhibit was ‘Bags in Bloom’ and it had some very cute bags, as well as some interesting floral installations.

Bags in bloom: Handbag and purse museum Amsterdam during our mother-daughter trip

Many of the bags are absolutely gorgeous and so intricate! Many are fun and frivolous. My favourite has got to be this Normandie bag.

My favourite handbag, the Normandie bag, on display in the Handbag and Purse Museum Amsterdam

Afternoon tea

I had only pre-arranged one activity before going to Amsterdam: afternoon tea at the Handbag and Purse Museum.

Tea is served in the original, stately presentation rooms of the museum, overlooking the canal.

The stately presentation rooms at the Handbag and Purse museum where we were served afternoon tea during our mother-daughter trip to Amsterdam

Our afternoon tea had two ‘courses’, one savoury, one sweet. Each course was served with its own specific tea. Iced tea finished off our meal.

Our savoury course was a sausage roll, broccoli soup with a cheese twist, brie and chutney sandwich and a spiced houmus roll. Miss M was very taken with her sausage roll and wanted mine too.

Our sweet course comprised fresh scones with lemon curd, peach confiture and clotted cream, strawberry cheesecake, creme brûlée cake, apple pie, macaroons and lip-shaped chocolates.

The staff really looked after Miss M and made her feel so special and grown-up. Unfortunately, she is a very picky eater. To help, the waitresses brought out my food first and let her have a good look and smell and choose what she wanted for herself.

I had read that it was one of the best high teas in Amsterdam. While we can’t compare it to anything else in Amsterdam, we can confirm that it was, indeed, very good.

Afternoon tea overlooking the canals at the Handbag and Purse Museum, Amsterdam, a highlight of the best mother-daughter trip ever

Naturally, we also had to have a look in the shop.

They had some gorgeous handbags and I was very nearly tempted. Still, it wasn’t my birthday. However, tt was Miss M’s birthday only a few days later. She fell in love with a pink sparkly purse, which then became a birthday present.

Our last moments in Amsterdam

Our later start to the day and our train time meant we could not visit any other museums. Instead, we strolled around the Grachten doing some light shopping. We found a few cute things, but nothing that we needed. We did manage to buy some Gouda for Oma.

Finally, we made our way back to the hotel to get our bags and then went to the train station in time to catch our train home.

Other options

This was the perfect mother-daughter trip for Miss M and I. Miss M definitely thought it was the best trip ever.

There are some other places we would also recommend (from previous trips) and considered visiting this time too:

Vondelpark: If the weather has been better, we would have been heading to the park for a stroll, a dip and a coffee.

Botanical Gardens (Hortus Botanicus): With seven glasshouses, you can visit the gardens whatever the weather. Don’t miss the elevated walk!

Rijksmuseum: We chose not to visit the Rijksmuseum this time as we had been less than two months earlier when my brother was visiting. While Miss M quickly became bored with the artwork, she loved the dolls houses, canons and the giant Playmobil figures. Don’t miss the library!

The gorgeous library at the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

Van Gogh Museum: If you are a lover of Van Gogh’s artwork, this museum is a must-see. We visited around 18 months ago, so I didn’t see the need to add it to the itinerary this time. If you are planning to visit, you must reserve a time slot for your visit.

Almond blossoms at the Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam

Nemo: If your child is scientifically or technically inclined, visit NEMO. The roof has wonderful cascade pools that kids (and adults) can play in, as well as fantastic views of Amsterdam.

Polaberry: For a special treat, try the unicorn cake pops and chocolate-dipped strawberries at Polaberry. Unfortunately, the shop is not in an area that we were otherwise going to be in, but I know Miss M would have had difficulties deciding what she wanted.

Delicious box of chocolate-covered strawberries with unicorn strawberries from Polaberry
Photo care of polaberry.com

What made it ‘the best trip ever’?

Miss M declared that it was the best trip ever. But what made it ‘the best’ in her eyes? There were a number of contributing factors.

Decision-making power

I tried to pick a variety of activities that were special and I knew Miss M would like. Scouring the internet gave me a great list to choose from. Then I let her choose. Should we go on a boat trip or just go have dinner? I think we should walk to here because I think you will like it, but should we find ice cream on the way? Should we go straight to the palace or should we look through the market?

Favourite foods

Many Dutch specialities are also her favourite foods. I knew she would be happy on that front, even though she is a picky eater.

Change directions quickly

I tried to adjust quickly to her needs. Amsterdam has a number of parts of the city without good public transport coverage. We walked a lot, but we had a break whenever she needed a rest. Somethings interested her more than I thought they would while other things did not hold her interest for long. So we left when she had seen enough.

We also adapted on the fly. I had considered visiting the cheese market in Alkmaar, but it was clear that Miss M would be too tired to enjoy it. I wanted to take her to Polaberry for their signature strawberries, but it was too far from anything else we went to see.

The weather also meant that we had to adapt. It was hot and stormy on the first day. On the second day, it poured with rain. This was a little difficult because I had planned for hot weather, but not for rain. Still, we must have gotten something right for Miss M to declare that it was the best trip ever despite the weather.

Full attention

This trip was also about the two of us spending time with each other and seeing the city together. I did not blog or work. Despite what this post might suggest, I was not trying to gather blog tips or take the best photos for Instagram. Miss M had my attention and she knew it.

Conclusion

For most mums (and dads) it is a privilege to spend quality time discovering a city one-on-one with a little one. For so many of us, it is difficult to find the opportunity.

Four (or very nearly four) is a great time for such a trip. Children are mobile, have an opinion and can make decisions and appreciate the bonding time.

Amsterdam is a great city for such a trip. There is such a huge range of things to do and easy kid-friendly places to eat and visit that it is easy to tailor the trip to suit your child and their interests.

Have you tried a one-on-one trip with your child? Have you been to Amsterdam with a young child? Do you have another city that you would recommend for such a trip?

Enjoy your trip sign-off
The best trip ever: the kid-approved itinerary for our mother-daughter trip to Amsterdam; three days in Amsterdam with a small child

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