Amsterdam with Tweens: A Perfect Family Day

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Amsterdam with Tweens: A Family Vacation

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Traveling to Amsterdam with tweens? This city is full of character and offers plenty of family-friendly things to do. Amsterdam is not all storybook, however, so be prepared. There is a seedy element that permeates much of the city due to its tolerance for legalized prostitution and drug use, primarily concentrated in the area between Dam Square and the train station. You'll need to be keenly observant and proactive to steer inquisitive eyes and limbs away from anything you'll have to explain later. So, rather than aimlessly wander the city, plan out your excursions and destinations -- especially at night. Here are a few Amsterdam family vacation ideas to get you started.


Morning


Pannekoeken, or pancakes, are traditional breakfast fare in the Netherlands. Stop by Café de Raedt (Raadhuisstraat 6, +31 (20) 6278500) before starting your adventures, and let the tweens sample the local fare. They'll find that the pannekoeken are larger and thinner than American pancakes, and one is usually sufficient. You can have your choice of sweet or savory fillings, such as sugar and syrup ("stroop"), jam and Nutella, rum and raisins, ham and cheese, tuna and onion, lamb and garlic sauce or salmon and cream cheese. My favorite is vanilla ice cream, strawberries and whipped cream.

Hours: Breakfast until 1PM

After this hearty breakfast, allow your food to digest as you enjoy a leisurely cruise. You'll have the opportunity to sightsee on foot, bus, bicycle or even Segway in other cities, but in Amsterdam you have the unique opportunity to capture the magic of the city on an affordable, one-hour canal cruise ((20) 716 57 13). A canal cruise affords a relaxing overview of the city as you glide slowly under crescent-curved bridges and past 17th-century mansions offset by funky houseboats. Another plus -- this tour of Amsterdam with your tweens will no doubt inspire exciting ideas of things to do later.

Hours: Daily from 9AM (cruises depart every 15 minutes)
Admission: €9 for adults and €4.5 for children under 13

Amsterdam has a population of about one million and almost everyone owns a bike. The bicycle is used as a means of transportation to and from work, school and the market. If you're up for a little more adventure and exercise, you can follow up your cruise tour by renting bicycles. Those not quite ready to let loose on their own can opt for an escorted bike tour with Orangebike (several locations throughout the city). A guide will help your family navigate the city streets to top attractions, including the fashionable Jordaan neighborhood, the picturesque Vondelpark, the Oosterpark and a charming collection of small buildings known as the Begijnhof, which are occupied by a devout sisterhood of the Roman Catholic Church. Keep your eyes open for the scattering of picturesque windmills that dot the city. Even without a tour guide, you can see the city's storybook architecture and take advantage of its picturesque photos ops. You'll feel comfortable here, ambling along, as bicyclists are not viewed as targets but with respect in this environmentally-conscious city.

Orange Bike Hours: Tour departure times and pricing vary.


Afternoon


Before embarking on another adventure, stop in Leidseplein to refuel. This neighborhood has been called Amsterdam's "food court" due to its wide variety of excellent restaurants and cafes. No matter your taste in cuisine (Italian, Japanese, American, Vietnamese, or even Dutch), you will find what you're looking for here. Wagamama (Max Euweplein 10, (20) 528 7778) serves up hip yet inexpensive Asian noodle and rice dishes, as well as big comforting bowls of udon, in a relaxed atmosphere tweens will love.

A vacation to Amsterdam with tweens must certainly include a tour of the Anne Frank House (Prinsengracht 263-267, +31 (20) 5567105), overlooking Prinsengracht Canal. Thirty million copies of the Diary of Anne Frank have been published in more than 60 different languages, and it is regarded as one of the world's most widely-read books. It is also required reading in most middle schools, so your tween will likely be familiar with the tragic story of a normal teenager living in abnormal circumstances that, to this day, transcend time, culture, race and religion. Tweens are at just the right age to emotionally process the sobering horrors of war and the evils of all forms of discrimination and persecution. It is a searing reminder that war most often victimizes the young and innocent.

Anne Frank House Hours: Vary, Admission: €8.50 for adults, €4 for children 10-17, free for children up to 9

You may wish to pause for a few minutes after your visit to reflect and absorb your experience along the banks of the Prinsengracht Canal or in the plaza of the Westerkerk, a nearby Protestant church whose chimes Anne Frank found comforting and reassuring.


Evening



Nearby Dam Square is the historic center of Amsterdam. Its stunning architectural gems appear somewhat out of place as a backdrop for the numerous street performers, who are sure to amuse even the most detached tween. Be mindful that just beyond the northeast corner of the Square lies de Wallen, the infamous red-light district. More appropriate distractions for your tween can be found at the plethora of nearby independent and chain retail outlets, such as de Bijenkorf, an upscale department store on Niewendijk, or at the appropriately named Magna Plaza (Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal 182), Amsterdam's historic post office now home to four floors of more than 40 luxury stores.

Magna Plaza Hours: Mon 11AM-7PM, Tue-Sat 10AM-7PM, Thu until 9PM, Sun noon-7PM

With so many interesting things to do, Amsterdam provides a unique family vacation experience. Haarlemmerstraat is another hip and quirky area filled with hundreds of unique stores, trendy boutiques, comfy cafes and affordable restaurants that your tween will surely want to visit. My personal favorite is Nukuhiva (Haarlemmerstraat 36, (20) 4209483), a trendy boutique offering organic, fair-trade clothing.

Nukuhiva Hours: Mon noon-6PM, Tue-Wed and Fri-Sat 10AM-6PM, Thu 10AM-7PM, Sun noon-6PM

If the tweens are looking for some familiar grub and a place where they can order in their native tongue, Harlem Drinks and Soulfood at Haarlemmerstraat 77 is a great dinner choice. This eatery features an outdoor patio and serves up traditional BBQ, fried catfish and amazing macaroni and cheese. If you'd rather eat something more exotic, Thai & Co. at Haarlemmerstraat 54 serves up authentic Thai curry.

And what is the perfect way to end a perfect day in Amsterdam with your tweens? A scoop or two of luscious ice cream made the old-fashioned way at IJscuypje (translated "a cup of ice"), located at Haarlemmerdijk 14. Enjoy an early evening stroll as you nosh, and take in the Haarlemmerstraat musicians, street performers and the cafe culture without a red light in sight.

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