The Netherlands are perfect for cycling. Mostly flat, and with excellent bike infrastructure such as separate bike lanes, bike traffic lights, special bike signposts for fast routes as well as scenic routes… It is a fantastic way to see all that this country has to offer and to escape the mainstream crowds that all go to the same highlights in Amsterdam.
Four wheels move the body, two wheels move the soul
Want to experience it for yourself? Find my advice below about:
- signposting systems and how cycling in the Netherlands works
- renting a bike and organizing your own tour
- doing an organized bike tour with a guide
- suggested cycling daytrips from Amsterdam
- accommodation for bike holidayers
- some general cycling tips
All the info you need
The website Holland Cycling Routes contains all the info you need before making a cycling daytrip or longer trip.
Junction numbers: a scenic signposting system 🙂
I want to highlight their info about cycling junction numbers, which is really the best and easiest way of making a scenic ride through our countryside and villages. Just write down some numbers, then follow the easy signposts for those numbers. You can adjust the route as you go.
This video explains the junction number system very clearly:
The app ‘Fiets!’ (or other planning apps or websites) helps you plan your junction numbers, and the GPS signal in that app tells you where you are at that moment (in case you missed a sign for example).
Rent a bike and do-it-yourself
In Amsterdam and many other places, for example at Zaanse Schans windmills, you can rent bikes. I recommend you choose a bike with at least 3 gears. Sometimes the wind is strong, in that case some gears come in handy.
Always check the weather forecasts first. Cycling in rain is only fun for the first few minutes…
And wind has a much stronger effect than you might think! Medium strong headwind means twice as much work as no wind at all. (Some say it’s tougher than going uphill.) Medium strong tailwind means it’s twice as easy as no wind.
So the difference between headwind and tailwind is a factor 4! So don’t do a circular ride starting with tailwind (“wooohoo, that is easy and fun!” and before you know it you’re 30 kilometers away) and then having to come back those 30 km with 4 times as much effort… 😉
Don’t cycle in central Amsterdam
I don’t recommend using a bike to get around central Amsterdam as a tourist. You will be too occupied minding traffic and the dangerous tram tracks. Locals have no patience for wavering tourists, and who forget to look over their shoulder before turning left.
Another example of why you should not try it as a tourist. Also note how there is sometimes just an inch of space between cars and bikes, that is also the case when both have speed.
For sightseeing in the city, please just walk. You will be able to look up at gables, and spot hidden courtyards, and on foot you can stop much more easily to take pictures.
If you do cycle in Amsterdam proper, please use the bike lanes to the right side of the road only. Bike lanes are one-way unless otherwise indicated.
Alongside canals, ride on the right side of the canals only.
Do a countryside / village bike ride
But you can do some lovely countryside bike rides starting from Amsterdam, or anywhere else in the country. For example in Amsterdam try rental companies like MacBike, Mikes Bikes, Yellow Bike, Bike City… and just use the junction number signposting system I mentioned above. I’m suggesting some day rides from Amsterdam below.
The website Hollandcyclingroutes also suggests some ways to organize your own trip.
Organized cycling tours with a guide
There are many bike rental companies in Amsterdam that also offer bike tours with a guide, either through the city or in the countryside. Try Mikes Bikes or Yellow Bike for example.
There are also longer organized tours, for example multi-day “bike and barge” tours including sleeping on a boat, all the way from Amsterdam to Bruges in Belgium. I’ve never done such organized tours so if you’re interested please find more info through Google or through Holland Cycling Routes.
Some nice areas for cycling close to Amsterdam
From central Amsterdam it only takes about 20-30 minutes by bike to reach quieter, more natural areas with pretty wooden houses, meadows, farms, some windmills, draw bridges and animals like swans, geese, rare birds, sheep, cows.
I recommend you buy this special cycling map at any AKO magazine shop, or at Central Station, or in Schiphol airport:
1. north-east of Amsterdam: Waterland area
From Amsterdam Central Station it only takes about 20 minutes by free ferry + bike to reach the meadows, small villages and lakes north of the city.
In the Waterland area northeast of the city you will find cute villages with colored wooden houses, draw bridges, lakes, countryside canals, meadows, farms. In spring there are lots of baby geese, swans, lambs and other animals. This is my favorite area for bike rides.
Click for more photos of the Waterland area.
Try to include Durgerdam, Ransdorp, Holysloot in your ride. You can do a round trip of about 29 kilometers including these towns. See my Google Map; it starts off with the free ferry from Central Station to IJplein (not the other ferries). I also marked some nice spots for coffee / lunch, and a beer at a brewery/windmill in central Amsterdam at the end.
Or download the GPX file here (click on GPS-route).
Optional addition 1: fishermen’s towns
If you’re up for it, you can add lovely Monnickendam, and fishermen’s town Marken. You can even take your bike on a (paid) ferry from Marken to Volendam, another touristy fishermen’s town, pop over to cute Edam, and then cycle back to Amsterdam.
Or optional addition 2: tiny ferry and Broek in Waterland for pancakes
Another thing you can do is to take a tiny, cute ferry from Holysloot to the other side of Holysloter Die lake, then walk through meadows and cross narrow one-sided bridges with your bike, and go to Broek in Waterland. There, you can have a typically Dutch pancake topped with sweet and/or hearty toppings at De Witte Swaen, before making your way back to Amsterdam. (This tiny ferry is only operational in the summer season.)
2. east of Amsterdam: Muiden and Muiderslot castle
Another nice place that is within easy cycling reach is Muiden and its castle Muiderslot. You can visit the castle inside. Some rooms can only be seen with the guide (included in the price). Try to include Diemerpark in your route, and/or the cycling path beside the Amsterdam-Rijnkanaal man-made transport canal.
If you want to add some more kilometers to your ride, you can make a nice circle by adding Naarden, Weesp, Abcoude or a choice of these, just look at the map.
3. northwest of Amsterdam: Het Twiske
Another option from Central Station is to take a free ferry to either NDSM wharf or Buiksloterweg, and cycle to recreational area Het Twiske. This area has a windmill, and you can go for a swim in the lake. The ride over will involve more time in city scapes than the Waterland ride. Here is a route suggestion (including downloadable GPX file) for advanced cyclists who are willing to do 37 kilometers, it also includes Zaanse Schans windmills.
4. southeast of Amsterdam: Along the Amstel river to Ouderkerk
In case your ride starts in eastern or southern Amsterdam, you can follow the Amstel river south, all the way to Ouderkerk aan de Amstel. This is a cute town with some cafe terraces by the water. Along the way you will see 2 windmills. There’s also a nice tea garden halfway on the east bank, and another cafe on the west bank. Use the junction number system as mentioned above to plan your route. Starting from Amstel station it’s about 20 kilometers round-trip.
If you want a longer ride than 20 km, go from Ouderkerk aan de Amstel to Abcoude, Driemond and beautiful Weesp, Muiden & Muiderslot castle, then back to Amsterdam (total 39.5 km, not really suited for people who never cycle at home). More details here, and you can download the GPX file by clicking on ‘GPS-route’.
5. west of Amsterdam: to Haarlem
If your ride starts in western Amsterdam (or at Central Station), you can ride to the cute town called Haarlem in about 1.5 hours. More details for a 49 km round-trip ride. Or ride to Haarlem and take your bike back on a train (get extra bike ticket!), or vice versa.
From Haarlem, another 45 minutes will take you to the beach. Try to include Zuid-Kennemerland national park if you go from Haarlem to the beach. It’s a park with dunes, trees and Scottish highlander cattle roaming free. They’re harmless so long as you never come between a calf and its mom, and keep at least 10 meters distance from any cow.
Instead of cycling all the way to Haarlem, you could travel there by train, rent a bike at Haarlem station and ride through Zuid-Kennemerland dunes.
Haarlem is lovely, find my tips for things to see and do in my Google Map:
Accommodation for bike holidayers
Stay in a comfortable home after a day’s hard cycling! There is a special association through which locals can offer room in their home to other people who are on a holiday by bike, inline skates or walking. It’s not for people who arrive by train, car, bus or whatever other means.
The association is Vrienden op de Fiets (Friends on Bikes). So far I think I’ve stayed at 15 or 20 different places, and most of the time you get the room of one of their children that grew up and left the house.
It’s only €22.50 per person per night including a warm shower, good bed, Dutch style breakfast. And some conversation and a peek into ordinary life & home in the Netherlands!
You need to become a member first at €8 per year, this will give you access to the website with the addresses and contact details. You need to phone ahead to see if they have room and to arrange a time. You’re supposed to arrive after about 5pm and fend for your own dinner. After breakfast the next morning you’re supposed to leave.
Some general cycling tips
- Bring enough water and snacks. For example what’s easy to carry and is a quick energy boost is cashew nuts or almonds, raisins, dates. Of course energy bars or bananas can also work but take up more space.
- Are you a bit of a lazy cyclist like me? Make sure your route starts with headwind and ends with tailwind. The other way around is no fun! Or take your bike on a train for part if the way, so that you can cycle with tailwind only. A bike ticket costs about €6.10 on top of your personal train ticket. You can only take a bike on trains outside rush hours.
- If you never cycle much at home but you want to ride for a day in the Netherlands, try to stay below 25 kilometers total. Most foreigners find our Dutch bikes heavy and they get sore bums and legs quite quickly, even if they’re very fit and do other sports regularly. Think of it as painting a ceiling… if you suddenly have to use muscles you never use, they will get sore quickly even if you’re a fit person in general.
- Use smartphone apps like Buienalarm and Buienradar: rain forecasts. Windfinder is also a good weather app for very local and hour-by-hour predictions, including wind direction and speed.
I hope all this info is of help! As said the website Holland Cycling Routes contains any other info you may need. Let me know how your bike trip went in a comment below!