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Amsterdam is a children’s paradise. The small scale, the quirky buildings, the lack of car traffic and the canals all combine to make it a wondrous place for little ones. And the Dutch seem to always be dreaming up new ways to entertain children.

Whether it is a hands-on science museum like NEMO, a free puppet show on Dam Square or simply a children-oriented tour through the Rembrandthuis or Ons' Lieve Heer op Solder, the goal is to keep children occupied and intrigued, so their parents can relax a little and enjoy themselves too.

In fact, most of the major museums offer a children's tour, and the Rijksmuseum is free for people under 18.

While you are at the NEMO (and you have to go, if only for the building - it is big and green and funny-looking, and the rooftop deck is a great spot for looking down on the city's medieval centre), be sure to visit the adjacent Amsterdam ship, with all its cubbyholes and a rambunctious, pirate-like crew.

Teens who have read The Diary of Anne Frank will certainly want to visit Anne Frank Huis, but if you need to entertain children of all ages, Tropenmuseum has enough colourful stuff from all over the world to impress everyone (including adults).

Children often just need room to run around. That is easily found at Vondelpark, in particular at Het Groot Melkhuis, a cafe adjoining a packed playground. Or make a day of it and head out to Amsterdamse Bos to the adorable goat farm where children can feed and pet the animals.

Dining out is a little more limited - a lot of restaurants are quite small and quiet and have a romantic atmosphere. But anywhere that calls itself an eetcafé is casual enough not to mind smaller diners, and we especially recommend Loetje, Bazar and Los Pilones. Otherwise consider combining a free ferry ride with dinner at kidfriendly IJ-kantine at NDSM-werf.

In summertime, treat children to poffertjes (minipancakes sprinkled with powdered sugar) at temporary stands (there is a circus-themed one just off the Leidseplein near Stadhouderskade); in winter, they are replaced with oliebollen (deep-fried proto-doughnuts). Little ones also love big Dutch-style pancakes - the tiny Pannenkoekenhuis Upstairs has a fairy-tale feel. High-end hotels often offer baby-sitting services. To arrange your own, contact Oppascentrale Kriterion, the best known in town - but you need to register ahead of time and pay a nominal joining fee.

Zora O'Neill is the author of Lonely Planet's Amsterdam Encounter.

© 2010 Lonely Planet. All rights reserved. The article ‘Amsterdam for children’ was published in partnership with Lonely Planet.

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