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Travel Diaries: Amsterdam with Kibou co-founder Steph Merks

Travel Diaries: Amsterdam with Kibou co-founder Steph Merks

Hi! I’m Stephanie, the Co-founder of Kibou, 5 years ago my family and I moved to Amsterdam from Brooklyn in search of a slower pace of life and a bit of European adventure. What we got was a brief introduction to European living, quickly followed by 2 years of a pandemic, and while life looked much different during that time, we still fell totally in love with this city and knew we weren't going anywhere.

We absolutely love living here. It is such an easy city to ease into; there are a million things to do with kids and we love the biking culture, it feels like anything we would want to do is within a 15 minute bike ride away. 

stephanie merks kibou amsterdam

Where did you grow up/ How did you wind up in Amsterdam?

I was born in the Netherlands and have Dutch citizenship which is why we chose Amsterdam when moving back to Europe. I speak some Dutch and everyone speaks perfect english so it was a very easy city for my husband (who doesn’t speak dutch) to live and work in as well. We also run our own graphic design studio, SMAK Studio, and Amsterdam is a big hub for design.

What is your favorite thing about life in Amsterdam?

I have a few favorite things, but one main one is the Dutch focus on work/life balance. People keep strict office hours here and are not expected to check their work emails after-hours or on the weekends (and are totally off the grid during vacation!). 40% of the population work part time, and even if you work full-time (36 hours) it’s typical for both mothers and fathers to condense their work hours into 4 days so they can have what’s known as a “mama/papa dag,” a day to dedicate to spending time with their kids. I still think it’s funny when the Dutch complain they ONLY have 5 weeks paid vacation per year, they also get an extra 8% of their salary to spend as vacation allowance “vakantiegeld.”  Coming from the New York City agency world, this was a shocking change!

Amsterdam travel diaries stephanie merks

Brooklyn vs Amsterdam:

Typical breakfast: 
BK: Bacon Egg & Cheese
NL: sliced bread with cheese or chocolate sprinkles known as “Hagelslag”

Street food:
BK: hotdog
NL: herring on a hot dog bun with raw onions and pickles

Daily commute:
BK: subway and then walk 10 minutes
NL: bike 10 minutes

Weekend activity:
BK: picnic in the park
NL: rent a boat and picnic around the canals

2 hours in the car gets you to:
BK: Connecticut or New Jersey
NL: Germany or Belgium

Biggest celebration:
BK: New Years Eve
NL: King’s day (the country celebrates the King’s birthday with a giant party in the streets/canals)

Any fun facts about Amsterdam that most visitors wouldn’t know?

  • After you give birth you are given a “kraamzorg” which is a postpartum maternity nurse that comes to take care of you and your baby for 10 days in your home. They will do your laundry, groceries, cook you dinner and take care of your older children too, all for free! Also 1 in 8 babies are still born at home, they are very big on natural birth.
  • The Dutch aren’t afraid of risks: kids don’t wear helmets, they are extremely reluctant to prescribe medication, and they remained mostly maskless throughout the pandemic. 
  • When it’s your birthday, you bring in cake and gifts for everyone in your school/office, vs them throwing you a party. 
  • The Dutch have the highest proficiency in English in the world according to the EF EPI, 90-93% of the population speaks English as a second language.
  • It’s relatively easy to move here as an American because of the DAFT (Dutch American Friendship Treaty) you can get a residence permit if you start a business here, which just entails opening the equivalent of an LLC and putting 4,500 euros into your business bank account, then you’re good to go!

Amsterdam travel diaries stephanie merks

 Now for all your tips. What is on your “Best of Amsterdam” list?


  • If you’re here in March/April: drive/bus out to Lisse to check out the blooming tulip fields, either rent bikes and do a self-guided tour or get tickets to the famous Keukenhof gardens
  • Take a canal tour or rent your own boat and do a self-guided tour of the canals
  • Museumplein - square with a few of the best art museums in the city Van Gogh, Rijksmuseum and Moco street art museum. 

Amsterdam travel diaries stephanie merks

 Best Museums with kids:

  • Nemo Children’s Science Museum - also has a great restaurant on the roof with beautiful city views, next door to Scheepvaartmuseum that has a real pirate ship for kids to play on
  • Move Amsterdam - museum all about cars and green-transportation, perfect for car obsessed kids to play
  • Artis Zoo and Micropia bacteria museum - these are located next door to each other, pair with lunch at Plantage restaurant 
  • This is Holland - Experience about the Netherlands in Noord neighborhood, free ferry across the river from central station
  • Corpus museum - Experience through the human body, half an hour outside of Amsterdam in Leiden, worth the trek for kiddos into the body!

Best Accommodations: 

meerzicht farm

 Places to Play: 

  • Amsterdamse Bos - biggest park in amsterdam. Bike around and go to Meerzicht Farm for lunch (pancake house with playground and animals) then Geitenboerderij - feed baby goats. Fun Forest - tree climbing/ziplining. In summer go to Speeleilanden (kids nature playground with zip lines in the lake - free), Mini Captain - electric boats that kids can drive in the lake. Bloesempark- cherry blossom orchard in the Amsterdamse Bos (March/April only)
  • Lots of parks have free kid’s farms in them where kids can play with animals like bunnies, sheep and cows, these are called Kinderboerderijs, some favorites are in Westerpark, De Pijp, and Rembrandtpark
  • Vondelpark - great park in the center of Amsterdam, some favorite things to do here include: Groot Melkhuis or Vondeltuin - playgrounds with restaurants/bars so you can have drinks while the kids play. ‘t Blauwe Theehuis - brewery/pizza restaurant in the center of the park.
  • In the summer most parks have Kinderbadjes, free splashpad/pools for kids to play in. Our favorites are in Beatrixpark, Vondelpark, and Amsterdamse Bos.

Amsterdam Travel diaries recommendations with stephanie merks kibou

Best Places to Eat:

  • Pluk - cute breakfast cafe in Jordaan
  • Janz - modern dutch cuisine
  • Gartine - breakfast or high tea
  • Moon - on top of the Adam tower, rotating restaurant with fancy food and cool city views. Get a drink at the Madame Amsterdam bar right below it first
  • Shaffy restobar - beautiful interior, nice food, canal views
  • De Kas - restaurant in a greenhouse, farm to table-style food
  • Domenica - delicious italian food in a cool 
  • Albert Cuyp Market - talk a walk through this market to try some typical Dutch snacks like herring, fresh stroopwafels and poffertjes (mini pancakes)
  • Upstairs pannekoekhuis - pancake house in old dutch building
  • Het Koekmannetje - amazing freshly baked cookies in Jordaan

de kas restaurant

 Best places to walk around:

  • Jordaan
  • Elandsgracht street - lots of cute shops/cafes
  • Canal district
  • Negen Straatjes - Huidenstraat/Runstraat have nice stores
  • Museumkwartier- Cornelis Schuytstraat is a nice street to have lunch on)
  • Speigelgracht- (charming Amsterdam neighborhood with antiques
  • Begijnhof - little garden/square in the city center with old amsterdam houses around
  • Bloemenmarkt- flower market 
  • De Pijp- have breakfast at Locals Coffee or Little Collins, Shop boutiques on Gerard Doustraat, and then snacks in the Albert Cuyp market

amsterdam travel diaries kibou

Best Shopping:

  • Negen Straatjes (Nine Streets)
  • Haarlemerstraat
  • Speigelgracht - antique shopping
  • Stores: Cool Collective and Catwalk Junkie
Best Grown-up time Entertainment:
  • Take a walk around De Wallan (Red Light District), definitely not kid-friendly but one of those things you just have to check out if you’re here. 
  • Chin Chin Club - supper club that turns into a dance party
  • Cecconi’s - restaurant/bar inside Soho House
  • Super Lyan - cocktail bar

chin chin club

Best day trips outside of Amsterdam (all easily accessible by bus/train from Central Station):

  • Haarlem
  • Leiden
  • Bollenstreek or Lisse - Tulip fields between Haarlem and Leiden if you're here in the spring
  • Delft
  • Cheese market in Alkmaar
  • Zaanse Schans- dutch Windmills/tulips
  • Volendam and Maarken - old Dutch fishing villages with a ferry that runs between them

Zaanse Schans

 Best hidden gems / Spots that locals love?

  • Waterkant - canalside bar, party vibe on weekends
  • Foodhallen -  food hall with many different stands/bars, also includes cinema
  • Pllek - super chill bar/cafe restaurant in Noord neighborhood (esp in summer)
  • Noordermarkt- Saturdays is a farmers food market and Monday mornings a vintage clothing market
  • If you're here in the summer one of my favorite ways to explore Amsterdam is on a stand up paddle board rental around the canals

amsterdam travel diaries stephanie merks

And finally, what’s next on your travel bucket list!?

Within Europe, I’d love to go check out the more family-friendly side of Ibiza. After 2 years of staying relatively local, I’m also very excited to start thinking about far away travel again, like going back to Japan or perhaps attempting to make it to the Maldives.

For more about Steph's life in Amsterdam, read #howikibou with Co-Founder Stephanie Merks

Photos courtesy of: Meerzicht Farm, De Kas, Anna C, and Chin Chin Club

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