With its liberal laws around drugs and prostitution, Amsterdam has what you might call… a reputation. Often thought of as a partygoer’s playground, where stoners and stag-dos gather to make poor life choices in cacophonic unison, it’s hardly the place to take your kids.
That is, until you realize that the city’s seedy side accounts for a very small ringed-off fraction of a vibrant cosmopolitan culture hub. Buzzwords aside, the Dutch capital is overflowing with fun activities and attractions for kids, teens, and anyone in touch with their own inner child. You just have to know where to look.
Here are some cool ideas to keep the kids (and yourself) entertained in Amsterdam.
Ready Player One…
Theoretically speaking, videogames can keep children occupied for infinite periods of time. With a host of elite games studios like Guerilla Games, Blizzard Entertainment, and Bohemia Interactive based in Amsterdam, the city is at the cutting edge of modern gaming and it offers some pretty amazing playing experiences for gamers of all ages too.
At The Virtuality, players step onto an omnidirectional treadmill, lower their VR headset, and are transported to distant thrill-filled worlds, like a Formula 1 racetrack, a paintball course, a Grand Canyon rowing adventure, and a friendly Mario-esque pixel world, just to name a few. Each game lasts around 15 minutes, giving you a taste of VR’s immense entertainment potential. You’ll have plenty of time to try them all out, and there’s enough variety to make sure everyone has a blast.
Speaking of blasting, for an even more adrenaline-packed VR experience, you absolutely have to check out the VR Arcade. Located in Amsterdam North, this place takes immersion to a whole other level. Instead of walking on a treadmill, you are free to walk around inside an underground room, armed with a gun and a VR headset that renders a horror-themed world in front of you. Your mission is to mow down hordes of flesh-hungry zombies and monsters that arrive in increasingly terrifying numbers, and it’s awesome.
Essentially, you get to walk around inside a first-person-shooter. It’s an electrifying experience that gets the heart thumping and the adrenaline glands working overtime. The VR Arcade has also recently introduced an alien-shooting game that offers a bit more tactical nuance than the zombie apocalypse game. There are also minigames, pool, and a chic lounge area to kick back in afterwards too. For bigger groups, check out the all-new VR Gamehouse Arena, which combines all of the above into one mega VR experience.
Mosey Down Memory Lane
While the Virtuality and the VR Arcade are pushing the boundaries of futuristic gaming experiences, there’s another place that is rooted firmly in the past. Blast Galaxy is one of the newer additions to Amsterdam’s gaming scene, but it has a distinctly retro feel, and quite deliberately.
Located at NDSM, a hip enclave in the north of the city, this old-school videogame arcade recalls the heyday of 80’s and 90’s gaming. It’s a huge playground of nostalgic fun, with over 50 original arcade classics to try, as well as air hockey, dance mats, couches set up with Mario Kart, and more, all while 80’s classics blare over the sound system. Win!
The best part? You pay a cover charge of €12.50 at the door and you can play unlimited games for as long as you like. Blast Galaxy also has a fully stocked bar that does some extremely tasty Asian street food and bar snacks, meaning you never really have to leave!
To the Lab!
If all that screen-time makes you worry for your kids’ brain cells, fear not! There are plenty of places kids can get their day’s supply of dopamine without burning their eyes out. One such place is NEMO Science Museum. It’s a gigantic multi-story complex where every square foot is taken up with interactive exhibits that demonstrate scientific principles through the universal constant of fun.
Finding NEMO is not hard. It’s the giant turquoise doorstop-shaped building located 10 minute’s walk east of Central Station. Designed by legendary architect Renzo Piano, it’s one of the city’s most iconic modern buildings, but however impressive it is to look at from the outside, inside is where your sense of wonder will really get commandeered.
Five expansive floors of playful, imaginative, and educational activities, illusion rooms, and multimedia exhibits are guaranteed to keep anyone with even a passing interest in the way the world works entertained for hours. It also features a pretty excellent roof terrace offering views over the city’s harbor.
Not that kind of high. While NEMO affords cool views, if you’re looking for a spectacular bird’s-eye perspective of Amsterdam in all its glory, you’ll need a ticket for the A’DAM Lookout, which is located at the top of the A’DAM Tower. As one of the city’s only buildings that can reasonably be described as highrise, you really can’t miss it. Situated directly across the IJ (the body of water that splits the city in two) from Central Station, it’s a dizzying experience.
At the summit, you can soak in two floors of panoramic scenery, pose for photos, enjoy a drink, or if you’re feeling really adventurous, strap into the vertigo-inducing swings that lurch out over the edge of the building. Actually, it may be best to have that drink afterwards! Here’s our handy guide to finding the A’DAM Lookout.
After coming back down to Earth, you’ll also be conveniently placed right beside the awesome This is Holland attraction, which whisks you on a multisensory flight across the Netherlands in an immersive 5D cinematic experience. It’s a relatively short ride, but completely thrilling, and a great way to make the most of a visit to Amsterdam North.
Pancakes on Tap
Two words: Pancake boat. An Amsterdam institution, the concept of this crêpe-coloured cruiser is simple. You sail from shore to shore around the IJ and squash as many pancakes into your face as humanly possible. There are tonnes of toppings, both sweet and savory, to get your tastebuds acquainted with. Given the limitless supply, it would be rude not to try them all.
The Pancake Boat is too big and filled with pancakes to fit down Amsterdam’s cozier canals. But seeing the city from its UNESCO World Heritage canal ring is an absolutely essential sightseeing experience, no matter what age you are. There are lots of different cruises to choose from, including the very handy Hop-on Hop-off boat tour, which allows you to sightsee on the fly.
Throw Them in the Dungeon!
In extremely rare circumstances, children are known to misbehave while on holiday. When that happens, it’s every responsible parent’s job to meet bad behavior with the appropriate disciplinary measures. What better way to remind them who’s boss than the tried and tested method of chucking ’em in the dungeon?
One of the city’s most notoriously fun and spooky attractions is definitely the Amsterdam Dungeon. Located a two-minute saunter from Dam Square, the Amsterdam Dungeon takes you on a theatrical live-action journey into the gruesome history of Amsterdam’s past.
A perfectly camp cast of costumed actors bring the tales of torture, witch-trials, and hauntings to life before you as you descend deeper through the dungeons, into evermore creepy sets. It’s all very tongue in cheek, but you can expect a jump-scare or two along the way.