By Ben @cooklikeadad (my husband!)
We've been to some cool places recently, so I thought you'd like to see some behind the scenes tips, tricks and holiday hacks for traveling with a family. Before I start, I was asking myself does the internet need another family travel blog? Answer's probably not, but I think we have got pretty good at this family travel thing, so I want to keep these really brief, informative and to the point. So here we go...
Amsterdam was not the first city that came to mind when traveling with the family, but any memories of my teenage 'interrailing' days were quickly replaced by a beautiful, quirky and family friendly city. My mission was to put the kids in a cargo bike to explore the city's parks, districts and museums.
WHICH BIKE TO RENT
If you’re a confident cyclist, go for a traditional cargo bike, with a wooden front to them where the kids can sit. The advantage of these over the back child seats is that you can have two kids sitting together facing forward. You can see them, they can see out and it's generally a far more fun experience. If you're less confident at cycling you might want to consider the three-wheel version.
WHERE TO RENTING A BIKE
It's worth saying that not all bike shops in Amsterdam are the same. Check the reviews on Google, TripAdviser or other trusted source. Amsterdam is famous for its bike riding, which means there are going to be people profiting from tourists who are easy pickings. I failed on this front and was left renting a bike with handlebars too low to clear the kid’s heads. (I opted for a forearm across the bar to protect them, but both got the odd clout to the head). Likewise, Zoë's bike had seen better days. Black Bikes seemed like a better outfit, so they'd get my recommendation.
HOW TO NAVIGATE USING TECH
As I said, Zoë and I are terrible at directions (Zoë denies this with the confidence normally reserved for five star generals marching troops into battle). My solution was to use my Bluetooth headphones, combined with Google Maps voice prompts. This allowed a hands-free, in ear direction guidance, meaning we flew around the city like locals. Well almost, there were the odd wrong turn and back track, but it felt far safer and more sensible than riding while trying to read a map off you phone.
Having a bike clip for your phone would also have been another good idea, which I’ll bring for the next family bike trip.
WHERE TO GO
DAY ONE: We flew in and dumped the bags off and headed straight out to the NDSM area of Amsterdam. This former disused dock yard has been transformed into a hipster playground, with its own beach, hotel in a crane and other cool bars and cafes. Great views over the bay and lots of decaying/reborn industrial heritage to check out. Easy bike ride to one of the free ferries taking you to the NDSM. Once there, you're free to cycle round and explore with few cars to bother you.
Photos taken using an original Polaroid camera
DAY TWO: Vondalpark was a 1.8km ride away, where we cruzed around the park seeing the beautiful gardens and cafes, then stopping for a paddle in a kids bathing area. After this, back on the bikes and across town to the Horus Botanicus (botanical gardens), with its spectacular café serving exceptionally nice salads, butterfly houses and picturesque gardens for the kids to explore.
DAY THREE: Artis Zoo, is a reasonably sized, but very nicely laid out Zoo in the centre of the city. We rushed it in about an hour and a half, but really you should be spending the day there. By this point we were riding like the Tour De France peloton and felt confident to dash back to drop bike off and get our taxi to the airport.
OTHER OPTIONS: We could have had at least another two days in the city as there are so many other places to explore. The NEMO Science Museum looks like a great option for the 6 years plus age group.
· WHERE TO STAY
The Pultzer Hotel is based in the fully gentrified Jaarden district of Amsterdam. The Hotel encompasses a number of sixteenth century town houses in a street block, with a fascinating higgledy-piggledy maze of stunning rooms and courtyards. It had that balance of beauty, function and play that is so hard to get from a hotel experience.
Giving us some variation from the bikes, we went on the Pultzer boat tour. They have their own canal boat, which is so far removed from the tourist cattle trucks, it’s hard to even compare the two experiences. Zoë and I had a glass of Chablis, while the lively Captain entertained us with stories of Winston Churchill being taken around the canals on this very boat after the liberation of the city.
We ate at their restaurant the Jansz the first evening there. The menu was unpretentious, but with enough flare to feel both homely and high end. Even if you’re not staying there, just go for breakfast to get the scrambled eggs on brioche with avocado and truffle oil. Perfect start for a hard day cycling the kids around town.
According to Zoë the shops around the Pulitzer Hotel are also excellent.