Tips for cycling trips in the Netherlands

The Netherlands are excellent 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 – author unknown

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

Enjoy!

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.

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This video explains the easy junction number system:

The app ‘Fiets!’ 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 no fun.

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 busy with traffic and the dangerous tram tracks. Locals have no patience for wavering tourists, and who forget to look over their shoulder before turning left.
For sightseeing in the city, 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.

In case you want to do a multiple day ride with panniers, look into renting the hybrid bike with panniers and all at BikeCity.

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.

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:

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Cycling map

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.

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Durgerdam, just northeast of Amsterdam

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 21 kilometers including these towns. See my Google Map. I also marked some nice spots for coffee / lunch, and a beer at a brewery/windmill in central Amsterdam at the end.

Optional addition 1: fishermen’s towns

If you’re up for it, you can even 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.

monnickendam

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, before making your way back to Amsterdam.

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The tiny ferry from Holysloot towards Broek in Waterland

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.

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Muiderslot castle

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.

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.

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Ouderkerk aan de Amstel

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. From there, 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.

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.

vrienden op de fiets
A typical breakfast at a “Vrienden op de Fiets” address

It’s only €19 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.

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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!

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6 thoughts on “Tips for cycling trips in the Netherlands

  1. Karen

    I have just discovered your blog and excited to take a read. I am about to travel to Holland to go ‘random’ village & countryside cycling – random meaning, I don’t want to do too much planning 🙂 I I will start with a basic idea of a route that goes in a loop (over 5 or 6 days for example) and then just ask the locals for the most picturesque routes day by day 🙂
    Have no idea how to predict the wind direction… so just downloading the app you suggested. I will hire a peddlec so it shouldn’t be too tricky if there is a head wind… I hope!:)
    I love to share as well – so its wonderful to enjoy your past experiences and travel treasures!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sounds like fun! I do recommend you buy special cycling maps and use the scenic signposting systems. If you use the LF-routes (long distance cycling routes) you don’t need to do much planning but you will still follow scenic lanes and have signposts helping you. See the website https://www.hollandcyclingroutes.com/long-distance-cycle-routes
      (And maps or the app “Fiets!” or will help you see where you are if you get lost / miss a sign).
      “Asking locals”… it would be a bit hard to explain a nice route with 100 turns. And the straightforward routes are the more boring ones.
      Enjoy!

      Like

      1. Karen

        I had my first cycle experience 2 years ago… a cousin pointed me in a direction with some vague instructions – that was – to head to Kampen and maybe, cycle to Karlenberg, Geithorn, Zwolle and back to Kampen. They had never done it themselves so it was hard to get any real information from them. I was so anxious and bewildered how on earth was I going to do that!. Anyway – once I arrived in Kampen, I bought a cycle map and hired a bike and they set me on my merry way. I was rather confused at first how to understand the ‘Bike Buttons’ until I got adopted by some ladies going out for a little afternoon cycle and they invited me to join them for an hour or so.
        Glow pen is a must! Each morning I asked if someone could guide me as to which was the most beautiful route to take and I would fill in the route on my map. I LOVE using a paper map as I feel a greater connection to the experience and my overall journey. The best moment was when I was lost in Hassalt and asked for help from the local windmill chap. He convinced me to take a route that was not even on my map! “Just trust me!” he said. “Go right, go right go right and keep going right. If uncertain, go right!” and sure enough, I arrived in Zwolle via the the bicycle ferry deep in the woods! You couldn’t take the smile of my face!
        I kept texting my cousins that I was not coming home for dinner. I just wanted to keep cycling! lol!
        And so I discovered Hattem and Elburg – it was like a dream! And still is 🙂
        I have now bought my membership with Vrienden op de Fiets and downloaded some of the apps you mention. As I don’t want to plan anything in advance I must admit that I am worried about being able to book accommodation with only a days notice. I will now be cycling in the summer period and possibly even school holidays – (last time I was cycling mid September in 30 degrees and gorgeous blue skies!)
        I thought I glimpsed on your blog some tips about cycling gear etc.but when I went back to search for it, I couldn’t find it. I also searched ‘fiets’ on the app stores and so many come up! What I do like is to have one that records where I did in fact travel and how many kms I did etc.
        Excited! Cheers 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I love Hattem and Hasselt!
        I have almost always been able to find Vrienden op de Fiets accommodation a few days in advance. And then if a town is ‘fully booked’ I change my plans, it’s like ‘it has to be’ because I’ve always met great hosts that way.
        I don’t have a page about gear, it must have been a different website? Just always bring enough water and snacks. 🙂

        Like

      3. Karen

        Elberg is so gorgeous too. Memorable moment cycling in the golden light ( just before sunset) through the archway into this tiny tiny village. I met a beautiful harpist that night playing in the village… she invited me to record a piece she specially played for me… and later at my hotel*, I ran the bath and played her harp music – I would call that a heavenly ‘sound bath!
        (*I I didn’t know about Vrienden op fe Fiets then)
        Question: What do you recommend to wear for light rain? If it’s heavy I don’t plan to ride.. but I can easily be caught out by a little shower. Do you favour a poncho style that then protects your arms and top legs (I assume that is what it does).
        As I have never really cycled in the rain, and I am planning to go for about a 5-7 days, I have to cover all bases, yet travel as light as possible. Here is Sydney I don’t even have rain gear! Just a massive umbrella and even then it’s a bit useless in our massive downpours and fierce winds!

        Liked by 1 person

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