In the summer of 2018, we took our boys on an adventure in Europe. 4 countries in 10 days! What were we thinking?!?
Actually it was a great trip and the efficiency of the European train system made it much easier. We started in Paris, had a side trip to Normandy, and then it was on to Brussels. Our next stop was Amsterdam.
I had never been to Amsterdam before. It is a very compact city and very walkable. However be sure to grab hold of your child’s hands and hold tight. The city is known for its bikes – everyone rides a bike there and bikes rule the street! I got the feeling that the pecking order was: bikes then mopeds then cars and lastly pedestrians! Don’t forget to take a boat cruise – it’s a must do in Amsterdam!
Be forewarned that Amsterdam has a very open attitude to many things that are taboo in American, namely drugs and prostitution. As long as you stay out of the red light district and avoid going in “coffee shops,” you will be fine.
Don’t let this stop you from taking your children to Amsterdam. It is a beautiful city with a rich history. Its museums are some of the best in the world and can captivate children as young as 6.
Dutch Resistance Museum:
You may think that this subject matter would be too serious and horrific for kids but this museum really does an amazing job with helping kids understand the World War II occupation through the eyes of 4 real-life Dutch children.
The main part of the museum is amazing but mostly for teenagers and adults. However, there is a completely separate section for kids that really brings home the Nazi occupation that took place in The Netherlands during World War II. This is really a forgotten part of the World War II story, at least to most Americans. The Netherlands was occupied by Hitler’s Germany from May 1940 to May 1945, including the “Hunger Winter” of 1944-45.
After paying your entry fee, you will get small mobile guides for your language, which today’s technologically savvy kids will have no trouble using. Upon entrance to the museum, take a left, which is the opposite way of the main museum tour. Follow the path on the ground to the “Junior” museum. You will walk through the end of the main museum as you make your way to the Junior museum.
Upon entering the Junior museum, you enter a special portal – made to look like a time machine – that gets the kids excited for the museum. After “time traveling” to 1940, you will enter a room with 4 tiny houses. These four houses represent the four real children you will be learning about – Eva, Henk, Jan, and Nelly. Each house has a TV and gathering space in front of it so you can learn about the child and their life before the war. The stories are told in a child’s voice and even include details about their favorite toys and activities.
After hearing the child’s story, you enter their “house” and the real fun (and learning!) begins. The houses have several rooms and you see their clothes, their toys, and their furniture. You hear the radio broadcasts of The Netherlands’ Queen in England from the BBC. You see the hiding places that they have created in their closets. You read their diaries and see their school papers. In a very heart-stopping moment, you hear a knock at the door from a Nazi soldier. It really puts you and your child into the footsteps of these children and the hard choices and sacrifices that war brings.
If you are short on time, I encourage you to choose Eva’s story. Her story of a young Jewish girl living in Amsterdam and going into hiding is very poignant and the real-life connection between Eva and Anne Frank is interesting. For a different perspective, also go through Nelly’s story – her parents were Dutch Nazi sympathizers so hearing her perspective is one that you don’t hear much but helps complete the story for kids on how regular people could become Nazis.
We spent over an hour in the museum and only made it through 3 of the houses. Unfortunately we had come too close to closing time so we had to leave without seeing Jan’s story. Before we left, we made sure to buy a book in the gift shop about the children and their stories.
My younger son still talks about the children that he learned about in the museum and their lives. It made a huge impact on him and his understanding of what war is really like. A great follow up is the museum’s web site where it goes into more details on children around the world during World War II.
- Museum is not usually too crowded so you do not have to purchase tickets in advance.
- Tickets cost 11 EUR (adults)/6 EUR (children). Entrance is free with the I AMSTERDAM card, which also gives you free or preferred access to many museums in the region.
- Museum is about a 30 minute walk from Dam Square. It is across the street from the Amsterdam Zoo. Other area attractions include the Jewish Historical Museum, Nemo Science Museum, and the Maritime Museum.
- Plan to spend at least 2 hours here, more if you have older kids who want to tour the main museum.
- There is a cafe right beside the museum, Restaurant Plancius.
Books to Read:
- 14 and up:
- 10 and up:
Anne Frank House:
Of course, the most well-known history museum in Amsterdam is the Anne Frank house. This is an absolute must-see for anyone visiting Amsterdam. Children ages 6 and up can appreciate the museum, even if they can’t comprehend the true horror of the story.
Important info: The tickets for this museum sell out extremely fast and are sold only online. You can buy tickets up to 2 months in advance – and it does sell out, especially during the touristy months of summer. Some tickets are reserved for same day online sales but if you are planning your once-in-a-lifetime trip, don’t take that chance!
Upon entry, you will receive an audio guide for your language at no additional cost.
The museum is a wonderful mix of new exhibits and stirring commentary on the Franks, their life in Germany before moving to Amsterdam, and their life in Amsterdam. Pictures and keepsakes from their lives are tangible ways for children to see what life was like for Anne and her sister.
The most momentous part of the tour is when you move from the museum into the actual “house,” which in reality was her father’s business. You move room to room, through the business. The rooms are brought to life with quotations, pictures, videos, and items from the pre-war and war years. The rooms are quite tight and crowded as the constant stream of visitors sometimes bunch around a certain item or location.
When you ascend the stairs and see the bookcase for the first time, you will feel the weight of what happened to the Franks.
The fear and importance of this place is still palpable. Even my jaded teenager, who never finds history interesting, could tell that this was an important place. Just walking through the bookcase was the highlight of our trip.
Kids will be fascinated to see the small rooms of the “annex” as it’s called. It is easy to imagine the young, hopeful teenagers whose hopes and dreams were contained in the small space. Anne’s bedroom, in particular, is poignant with pictures of her favorite movie stars and celebrities pasted on walls near where her bed would have been. The most heartbreaking part of the room for any parent is the door frame where the Franks were keeping track of Anne and her sister, Margot’s height while in hiding.
Children will be amazed at the small rooms with no windows, the small bathroom that could not be flushed during the day, and the sadness that can still be felt in the rooms. After you leave the annex and move back into the museum, you learn more about what happened to the families after that fateful day in 1944 when the authorities raided the annex. The videos of concentration camp survivors who were there with Anne and Margot are particularly interesting.
The last part of the museum is devoted to Anne’s actual diary and how it was published. You can see the actual diary itself and the many ways it has impacted people around the world over the decades.
Your children will not want to miss the gift shop at the end where you can purchase a paper house model of the annex. You can also find all sorts of books on Anne Frank and her family.
- Tickets cost 10 EUR/5 EUR/children 0-9 years are free
- Museum is on the Prinsengracht canal, easily accessible from any part of Amsterdam. It is about a 12-13 minute walk from Dam Square. It is less than a block from the landmark Westermarkt Church, whose steeple can be seen from blocks away.
- Don’t miss the statue of Anne on the opposite side of the church.
- Plan to spend at least 1 ½ – 2 hours at the museum.
- The museum has a cafe. There is also a pancakes restaurant right at the museum. If you head south from the museum, there are several restaurants along the Rozengracht. We particularly liked Il Panorama.
- The neighborhood around the museum, Jordaan, is a wonderful base for your stay in Amsterdam. I recommend the Hotel Pulitzer, only 1 block from the museum. This hotel has kid-friendly rooms and even ensured that our boys had an xBox in the room!
Books to Read:
- 14 and up:
- 10 and up:
- 6 and up:
Do you have a favorite historical site or museum in Amsterdam? Please share in the comments below!