There's more than canals and bicycles to friendly Amsterdam

PUBLISHED : Friday, 02 March, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 02 March, 2012, 12:00am


Amsterdam turned out to be a great European family holiday for this writer and has a lot to offer those travelling with a child or two.

Four nights is a relaxed enough time to get a feel for the city, by foot and by bicycle - along its many cycle tracks. We stayed in two hotels. One was in the centre of town and part of a travel agent package; the other we booked separately as a luxury wind-down at the end of the trip.

Friendliness and helpfulness is noticeably high in hotels, shops and restaurants, which is a real plus if you are juggling the demands and needs of little ones. Much of the city centre is walkable, its electric trams are easy to negotiate and a fun form of transport, linking most areas you may wish to visit. But an absolute must, if you can all ride one, is to hire bicycles.

Cycle tracks crisscross Amsterdam, most scenically following the towpaths or pavements that line the city's canals.

For those less confident pedalling, hire a tandem and have the more experienced cyclist steering and controlling braking decisions while you help with some pedal power on the back seat.

If you are travelling with infants or children up to about five or six, they can be strapped into mini passenger-seats at the rear - Amsterdam folk do this all the time.

There is a certain fascination around the city's canals - they total 165, so are an integral part of the landscape, and many are lined with narrow characterful buildings, a few stories tall, many with their own individual fa?ades. Some have wood cladding, others exposed brick, a few of the painted exteriors incorporate murals.

Ground floors in commercial areas house shops, cafes and bars, or venture a little further out to see some gorgeous residences. Walking or cycling canal-side also allows a glimpse of a few house barges, a windmill or two and waterfowl.

Something most visitors do is ride on one of the several canal tour barges to enjoy the canal perspective and multilingual commentary.

Artis Royal Zoo, opened more than 170 years ago, is home to some 700 animal species. Arguably one of the largest in Europe, it's an interesting mix of museum displays within heritage buildings, spacious enclosures, a simulated rainforest and a large aquarium.

A visit to the Anne Frank House, the hiding place of the famed Jewish teenage second world war-era diarist, is worthwhile. The city's German occupation, the Holocaust and humane risk-taking is a compelling slice of history.

The city is known for its art museums. Vincent van Gogh's sunflowers and other colourful oil paintings are accessible to most ages at the Van Gough Museum.

Rembrandt's House is an interesting walk through the creaky floorboards of a recreated interior of the narrow 17th-century Amsterdam structure the old master lived in for 20 years. It is home to some excellent etchings and a small number of paintings.