Tulips, trams and tours: Taking a toddler to Amsterdam
Keep your sense of adventure high and your expectations of hitting every landmark low when traveling with a 3-year-old in one of Europe's most fun cities.
As a single mom of a little one, my travel life has slowed down quite a bit in the last four years, mainly consisting of trips to theme parks or the beach or somewhere in the U.S. that’s easy and comfortable. This year, I decided to step out of my – and my 3-year-old daughter’s – comfort zone and take us on our first international trip to see if we could not only survive it but actually perhaps even enjoy it. I’ve always loved traveling and spent a lot of time in Europe during my college and pre-mom years so being able to plan vacations abroad again has been a dream of mine for some time.
So we finally took a chance and did it. This is what it was like.
When Delta Air Lines announced last year that it would launch nonstop flights between Tampa International Airport and Amsterdam in May, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to try it. In January, I booked two round-trip Main Cabin tickets for a June flight, which cost me around $2,000 total. I considered upgrading to Delta’s Comfort Plus, which offers more legroom and little perks to make the nine-hour flight more enjoyable, but decided to go with the cheaper option and it was fine for us.
The flight left Tampa on June 10 at 7:30 p.m., which was great because my daughter slept for much of the nine-hour overnight flight, making for a smoother ride for both of us. I don’t sleep well on planes but the flight seemed to go by quickly and we arrived in Amsterdam around 10:30 a.m. the next day.
The return to Tampa was a different story. My 3-year-old did not sleep and asked every 30 minutes if were “there yet.” However, Delta did a wonderful job of keeping her stocked in milk – she still likes to drink from a bottle for comfort, don’t judge – and they broke up the ride with several meals, snacks, ice cream bars, a hot towel service and a couple of (free!) cocktails for me. I have nothing but great things to say about the Delta flight experience and the friendly flight crew.
Getting from Schiphol Airport to Amsterdam’s central train station was about as easy as it could be. We daughter and I stumbled off the plane and sort of just wound up on the right train and dropped into the middle of the city in a blur, that’s how easy it was.
Getting from the train station to our B&B hotel was a different story. It was only about a 13-minute walk but doing it while carrying one roller carry-on, a heavy backpack, a purse (I pack light!) and hanging to a small child’s hand for dear life made it feel like 113 minutes. I printed a map off Google but it was useless to me and my poor directional skills so I pulled up the real Google and it led the way. Amsterdam streets, if one isn’t aware, are ruled by heavy bike traffic. Pedestrians must yield to bikes, and stepping in a bicyclist’s path is a fast way to get nasty looks and maybe an insult hurled. I knew this going in so I made sure to keep us out of any paths or streets at all times, leaving us only some very narrow and cobblestone-y sideways to traverse, which was not easy given all my cargo I was carrying.
Amsterdam streets are not stroller-friendly and I didn’t want to haul one around anyway. My daughter did fine on her own little legs, which surprised me. We walked at least four or five miles each day, stopping many times to sit and rest with some gelato or French fries or candy. She got so used to me buying her unlimited treats she had a meltdown one day because I wouldn’t buy her an enticing and colorful cannabis lollipop we saw in a window.
Speaking of cannabis, yes, there is marijuana everywhere. People smoking it parks, the scent wafting from cafes, gift shops selling brownies and other edibles. But it wasn’t any more pervasive or offensive than, say, people drinking wine nearby. It’s fine.
I did, at one point, accidentally take a wrong turn on the way back to our B&B one day and realized too late that I was right in the middle of the Red Light District and we were surrounded by scantily clad sex workers in windows and some potential male clients walking alongside us. Again, wasn’t an issue – my daughter was unfazed and we moved through the alley and out onto the normal streets pretty quickly. I was more worried about being judged by the women in the windows for having my child there.
I never felt unsafe in Amsterdam, and in fact, it’s considered to be one of the safest cities in the world.
Here is my approach to most travel: No need to hit every landmark and tourist attraction because I will probably be back because this place isn’t going anywhere. Trying to see everything is stressful and I don’t want to be stressed on vacation.
Thus, we did not go to into Anne Frank’s house. We didn’t hit the Van Gogh Museum, we didn’t go to the Rijksmuseum and we did not ride a bike. My kid, again, is 3 and she would’ve been bored to literal tears in a museum, ruining it for me as well, so I didn’t bother. She would’ve probably liked riding in one of the child baskets on a bike, but honestly, it looked like a lot of work and the last thing I needed was a potential biking injury to ruin our trip.
What we did do, and loved, was take a tram to visit the vast and tree-filled Vondelpark, which had playgrounds, trails and a nearby gem called Kinderkookkafe where kids can play with dough make their own pizzas or baked goods and parents can get coffee. There was also a sandbox outside where my child, who lives in Florida and is at the beach all the time, would have spent hours making sandcastles and sand “cakes” if I let her. Vondelpark was the only place my daughter requested to go a second time, so even though I had another planned adventure the last day of our trip, we decided to go back to the park instead.
Other fun Amsterdam memories:
- A half-day bus tour to see a cheese factory in Volendam and the windmills and grazing sheep in Zaanse Schans. I was wary of being trapped in a tour with an unpredictable toddler but we managed, even during some cranky moments, and saw some stunning sights along the way.
- Madame Tussauds wax museum. I was not planning on going to this, as wax museums are pretty cheesy, but we happened to come across it while it was raining and the line was short. My daughter and I had a ton of fun taking photos with all the “celebrities,” including some she recognized, like Shrek’s wife and the Incredible Hulk.
- Ripley’s Believe It or Not. Same thing. Was not planning on going to this but there was no line and it was raining. Very entertaining for a kid and they had a special door so you can bypass the scary parts, plus there’s a bar and snack shop on the top floor.
- Canal tour. We missed the one I had booked ahead of time due to an unfortunate lost squishy unicorn toy incident, but they were only about $20 to ride and there were plenty of boats around so we hopped on another one. It’s a great way to relax and get an audio history of Amsterdam, its unusually narrow buildings and some tales about the city.
For parents interested in visiting Amsterdam with small children, it’s worth noting that in Amsterdam – like in many European cities – children 3 and under are FREE just at just about everywhere. I didn’t have to pay for her fare on public transportation, nor in any of the museums, so other than paying her airline fare, my daughter was a pretty inexpensive travel companion.
I do plan on going back when she’s old enough to appreciate Anne Frank’s house.
To book a flight from Tampa to Amsterdam, go to www.delta.com. Flights run seasonally through Oct. 26, 2019, and are expected to return the following April.