If you find yourself with a few hours to kill at Amsterdam Central train station, there’s plenty to do right nearby.
First of all, if you have shopping bags or luggage with you, don’t schlep them with you. Inside Amsterdam Central, on the right side of the building if you are looking at it from the center of Amsterdam, you can find baggage storage, which start at €5 for a small locker for 24 hours. For slightly higher prices you can also go to Drop&Go at Prins Hendrikkade 86, opposite the station. (These are not recommendations, since I’ve never used any of these services.)
Before you go anywhere else, make sure to stop and admire Amsterdam Central station itself. Built in 1889, it was recently renovated to its former glory, with an addition on the river side that will accommodate the buses and trams that now crowd the plaza in front.
Ferries from Amsterdam Central
In the station, walk through the new fancy IJ-tunnel under the tracks and exit the station on the other side. In front of you you’ll see the busy River IJ (pronounced like eye). Turn left and walk a short distance to a ferry landing. Free commuter ferries run very frequently and cross to various spots on the other side of the river, taking only a few minutes for each crossing. If it’s not rush hour, you should be able to step onto one very quickly. On the other side, if you want to travel back, you’ll need to disembark and then re-board.
The trip across allows you a good view of the new developments along the river: glassy apartment buildings, the futuristic “Eye,” which is devoted to film, and the new additions to the Central station itself. Kids will love it, and the trip is short enough not to outlast their attention span.
Lunch and library
Looking at the station from the city center, walk to the right between the train tracks and the canal. You’ll see ahead of you a boat of sorts, with brightly painted Chinese architecture: Sea Palace Chinese Restaurant. This may look like a tourist trap, but at lunchtime, especially on a Saturday or Sunday, their dim sum is delicious.
Right on-shore opposite the restaurant is the Amsterdam public library (Openbare Bibliotheek). If you have kids with you—or even if you don’t—it’s a fun short stop.
Downstairs just off the entrance is the children’s section with the biggest, most snuggly chairs I’ve seen in a long time, perfect for reading to your little ones.
But the real highlight, in my view, is the Mouse Mansion. You and your children will be fascinated by it, as I was. A series of books is based on the mansion, but only two have been translated into English so far: The Mouse Mansion, by Karina Schaapman. The Mouse Mansion is not just a dollhouse; it’s more like a whole doll/mouse community. It’s an incredibly large, detailed construction, and you can peek into each of the rooms and see into the lives of the resident mice. I didn’t get any good pictures of the whole thing because of the glare on the glass case that houses it, but here are a few close-ups, just to give a sense of it:
If you can pull yourself (and/or your kids) away from the children’s department, take the escalators upstairs. Temporary exhibits dot the library; we saw, for example, a scale model of Amsterdam with a few very creative imaginary buildings added, and a mirrored room that made us a bit nervous to step into. Notice the architecture of the building itself; it’s the kind of library that draws people in as a place to spend hours working or reading.
A cafeteria on the top floor includes a balcony with a great view of this part of the city. The odd building just below you with the strange animals on the roof is a bicycle rental. The big, green building across the bridge is NEMO, a science museum your kids will love, but don’t go there if you’re short for time because you’ll have trouble tearing them away. Beyond Nemo you’ll see an older white building with a tall ship moored outside it. That’s the Maritime Museum (Scheepvaart Museum), and it’s definitely worth a visit if you have time, if only for the chance to explore that tall ship.
Returning to ground level, continue along the path beside the canal. It’ll soon take you over a small bridge where, on the other side, you’ll see a wonderfully welcoming, brightly-colored café called Hanneke’s Boom. This is the entrance to a newly-developed city park: Dijkspark. If the weather allows, as it did for us, enjoy a drink outside on the water among the hipsters. They also offer a short menu of sandwiches that sound delicious—we were still full of dim sum so limited ourselves to a drink.
Follow the path further and you have a choice. You can cross the bridge to your right over the canal and go toward the Maritime Museum, or continue straight for a pleasant stroll along the canal. This is the leafy Dijksgracht between the train tracks and the canal, which is lined all the way to the next bridge with houseboats of all shapes and sizes, sometime moored two or three deep next to the road. If they’re not used to the idea of houseboats, your kids will be fascinated.
So next time you’re stuck waiting for a train in Amsterdam Central station, go out and explore the area a bit. You won’t regret it!
(Last edited July 6, 2023
Note: This is not a sponsored post. None of the organizations or businesses I mentioned above had any idea I was going to blog about them.
Do you know any other things to see and do that are near enough to Amsterdam Central for a short stopover? Add a comment below!