Amsterdam is a brilliant city for families to visit, with plenty to keep teenagers – and their parents – entertained, finds Will Slater
A morning watching Some Like It Hot was not what we envisioned when arriving in Amsterdam for the final phase of our European touring holiday but unexpected treats are part of the pleasure of this wonderful city.
We were due depart on the DFDS ferry from the port to Newcastle and had built in a few days to explore the Dutch capital. The weather, which had been kind to us in Belgium and Germany, deserted us as we set about exploring on our first morning. With rain lashing down, we needed somewhere indoors and interesting for two teenagers and their parents, so make for the EYE Filmmuseum, located in a futuristic looking building on the banks of the river IJ, a short shuttle ferry across from Central Station.
Inside, we learn about the history of film on the ground floor Panorama and try our hand making a green screen short before settling into a couple of booths where a selection of films are available to watch. Our two hadn’t seen Billy Wilder’s 1959 classic, so we press pause on sight seeing and enjoyed the antics of Marilyn Monroe, Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis.
After lunch in the museum’s excellent bar/restaurant, which enjoys spectacular views across the IJ and city beyond, more film delights awaited as we visited the blockbuster Martin Scorsese exhibition upstairs (which required an extra payment). Part of a programme of big name exhibitions and touring shows, the current exhibition (until 11 March) is devoted to Danish artist Jesper Just.
Our home in the city is a fantastic newish hostel, called Generator Amsterdam. Located in the up-and-coming eastern side of the city overlooking Oosterpark, this former zoological university building can accommodate 564 guests in 168 twin and quadruple rooms. There are various accommodation options and backpackers can share a room in bunks from e15pp a night (plus the Amsterdam city tax levied on all hotel accommodation). We have a four bed premium quad (from e96 a night), which includes two singles that can be pushed together and bunks. It’s been thoughtfully designed, with stout functional furniture and nice touches like usb charging points and free wifi. There’s an industrial design vibe which spills into the cafe and a former lecture theatre converted into a multi-level bar and recreation area. The basement, which serves up a buffet style breakfast, is also home to Oosterbar, a late night weekend clubbing space which opens from 11pm to 4am. We may be bringing up the average age of the guests somewhat, as most seem to be in their early 20s, but we feel very comfortable and welcome as the staff foster a friendly atmosphere.
For dinner, we walk across Oosterpark and find a local restaurant serving ribs, chicken and ice cold beers.
Generator Amsterdam is a few tram stops from the middle of the city, but we are happy to jump on whenever we please as we have iAmsterdam cards. These entitle the user to unlimited public transport and entry to 45 museums (including the EYE Filmmuseum) and attractions from 24 up to 96 hours. A one hour canal cruise is included too, which gives us a great insight into the way the city evolved into a major trading and cultural powerhouse.
A request to do “something outdoors”, sees us call in on the National Maritime Museum. The principal attraction for us is the replica of the three masted Amsterdam, a ship of the Dutch East India Company, which sank on its maiden voyage in 1749. There are hammocks to climb into as we clamber through the decks looking at the cramped conditions for the sailors and more comfortable quarters of the officers. We also see the lavish Royal Barge which was completed in 1818 with a prow of a gold gilt Neptune.
A cliché it may be, but we visit Amsterdam’s flower market looking for some tulip bulbs to take home. It is made up of cheerfully painted stalls on floating barges which offer one of the city’s most popular exports in every colour and shape and size. We pick a mixed bag and another of some fancy ones that look a bit like ice cream cones when in flower. For souvenirs of more interest to teenagers, we head to Waterlooplein, a fleamarket which sells second hand clothes, bric a brac and so on. We pick up Amsterdam themed T-shirts and sweatshirts.
In an era of soulless multiplex cinemas, the Pathé Tuschinski is a reminder of what cinemas used to be. Commissioned in 1921, it is an art deco wonder and reputed to be one of the best examples in the world. We certainly loved it and happily spent an evening watching Spider-Man: Homecoming in 21st century 3D. The cinema is close to Rembrandtplein, a bar and restaurant-lined square which has a statue of the famous artist and intriguing bronze sculptures recreating his painting Night Watch. It’s the nearest we get to the great artist’s work as there is another family vote for something outdoors, so Rembrandt’s House museum gives way to to Artis, Amsterdam’s historic zoo. It is beautifully done and we have a great morning seeing some of the 700 species of animal they look after there. The silverback gorillas were mesmerising and the grounds are lovely too.
Anne Frank, the girl whose diary tells of her and her family’s efforts to hide from the Nazis exerts a hold over visitors to Amsterdam and our children were keen to visit her home, which is now a museum (entry not included in the iAmsterdam card). The only problem was that we hadn’t booked ahead for guaranteed timed entry. As an estimated 1.3 million people visit each year, the queue snaked for hundreds of yards and suggested several hours’ waiting. We had to content ourselves with seeking out her statue close by and resolving to book ahead next time.
After checking out of the Generator, we have a good few hours before our overnight ferry departs, so hit the road for Edam, a pretty coastal town that has lent its name to the famous cheese. It has a historic 19th century lighthouse perched on the Merken peninsula. We have a good wander round and fill any spare room in the car with Gulpener and De 7 Deugden beers – the Netherlands is one of the world’s biggest exporters of beer – to enjoy at home later. The bulbs are all planted and, like our memories of the city, ready to flower.
DFDS sail daily to Amsterdam from Newcastle. Prices start from £36 per person each way for a car and four people sharing an en suite cabin (from £64 per person each way for two people). Customers can upgrade to a premium, Commodore, cabin which includes a hot buffet breakfast from an additional £12 per person. Prices vary according to demand and are subject to change. See www.dfds.co.uk for full details.
The iAmsterdam card costs from e59 for 24 hours to e98 for 96 hours, see www.iamsterdam.com/en/i-am for details and booking.
For Generator Amsterdam, see https://generatorhostels.com