The best way to appreciate the works of the Old Dutch masters is to take a bicycle ride through their landscapes.
If you venture to the edge of any Dutch city by bike, you will surely notice the little white signs on the fietspaden (bicycle paths) marking the next town’s distance in kilometres.
The generally flat Dutch terrain combined with 20,000 km of fietspaden makes cycling in the Netherlands an extraordinarily pleasant activity, and one not exclusively for the very fit or sporty. Though you will have to put up with a spot of rain every now and then.
The Netherlands has more bikes than the country’s 16-plus million citizens. In fact, many people have at least two bikes, one (in not-so-excellent condition) for everyday use and the other for excursions. You don’t have to be here long before realizing that bikes rule; children learn to ride before they walk.
Peddling pensioners ride alongside stockbroker types in tailored suits and women in short skirts; parents often have two or even three kids strapped on and they’re all singing; cyclists are able to carry anything on the back of a bike, while rolling a cigarette with the other hand and fancy racing bikes with a hundred gears are simply not necessary to exploring this country.
And, everyone does it. Yes, people use their bikes to get from A to B, but they also ride bicycles to discover Rotterdam’s harbour the coastline, the countryside and a plethora of charming villages peppered around this, extraordinarily, bike-able country.
A network of cycle paths replete with cycle bridges, tunnels and ferries awaits anyone curious about exploring the Netherlands on two wheels and the abundance of paths means cyclists rarely have to share space on the roads with cars.
Coastline, forests, maritime harbour villages, meandering rivers, rolling hills (in the south near Belgium) can be explored by bike and armed with a few maps, water bottles and a bicycle repair kit, it doesn’t take a heap of planning before setting off, for a few days, a weekend, a day trip or even in the evening as the nights stay light longer.
Exploring by bike is extra special, particularly because it’s your peddling that got you there. But you will also notice things about a place and the people that you wouldn’t in a car. Locals are often nicer to cyclists because they appreciate the effort made to visit.
Here are a few but day trips from Amsterdam:
Haarlem and Zandvoort
Head towards Sloterdijk and just outside the city ring you will find directions to Halfweg and Haarlem. Take lunch in Haarlem’s city centre and a stroll around the Frans Hals museum before setting off for the beach at Zandvoort and a cycle through the dunes. Jump on the train back to Amsterdam at Zandvoort if you don’t fancy peddling back.
Even though the region is close to Amsterdam, relatively few come to explore the stunning villages and farms built mostly on peat meadow. Take the ferry behind Central Station to Amsterdam North and follow the white signs to Durgerdam along the dyke to Uitdam (although a detour through Holyslot — in the summer should include cake and homemade lemonade at the only local tea room).
Then on to Broek in Waterland where you will find the best Dutch pannekoken house (pancakes, either savoury or sweet). The trip back is a lot faster if you follow the signs to Amsterdam along the canal back to the ferry behind CS.
(Also read our article ‘Discovering Amsterdam’s waterlands by bike‘)
The River Vecht to Utrecht
From Amsterdam set out towards Diemen to Muiden and onto Weesp which will get you right alongside the River Vecht, which is a glorious meandering river stretching all the way to Utrecht.
Take in the beautiful, stately chateaux along the river’s edge from the ‘Golden Era’ and stop for lunch in Breukelen. (The calm town Brooklyn USA was named after) before arriving in Utrecht in time for an aperitif.
Cycle north to Purmerend through farms and fields to Hoornsche Hop inlet of the Ijmeer along to the town of Hoorn, a lovely harbour village that was a prestigious port in the 17th century. Then ride on along the coast to Enkhuizen, another once famous port town, where you will take the ferry to Savoren.
Should you head northeast on to Leewarden, you will pass through villages, countryside and Frisian lakes. Should you head north along the coast, you will end up in Harlingen, the town with the ferry port for Terschelling and Vlieland (coast islands—the jewels of the Netherlands, also to be explored). Harlingen is a centre for traditional Dutch sailing barges with breathtaking vessels all along the harbour.
Island hopping in Zeeland: Take the train to Vlissingen and start island hopping around Zeeland to Middelburg, Veere, Breezand, through to Brielle; all charming villages, still bursting with island mentality, maritime life including small harbours and marinas. Zeeland was the province most affected by the Great Flood of 1953 but has since been fortified with bridges, dams and dykes in the Delta Project.
A perfect weekend trip but remember if you rent a bike in one place, you have to return it to the same place.
Landelijke Fietsroutes (ISBN 9058810437) package is a collection 20 maps and two guide books outlining bicycle routes all over the country. It is packed with information on marked cycle tours, country roads suitable for biking, cycle tracks, train stations with bike rentals and various sights of interest including castles, nature reserves and dykes. The pack can be purchased at most good bike shops as well as bookstores.
Overnight trips can be arranged through the Vrienden op de Fiets (friends on the bike) — a network of more than 2000 addresses in Holland and Belgium of people who offer B&B services to those who arrive by bike or by foot.
It’s a great way to really experience a Dutch home and often the members are cyclists themselves and have good suggestions for routes and appreciate a warm bath after a long day of biking and a good breakfast before taking off for the next days adventure.
Your bike should be tuned up (bell, gears, brakes and lights working) and you should feel comfortable on the saddle. Repair kits are cheap and easy to find. Or, hire a bike from any of the main train stations. Wear comfortable clothing and bring water bottles.
It’s possible to buy a ticket for your bike on the train if you decide to peddle one way and train it back! A ticket for a bike for a day (Dagkaart Fiets), costs EUR 6 but you must place the bike in the appropriate car on the train.
If you are keen to combine biking and train travel, the ‘Lentetoer’ train ticket is available between 21 March and 15 June allowing 2 people one day of unlimited train travel in first class for EUR 39.
The 2008 address book for ‘Friends on the Bike’ can be purchased by going to their website (see below) for EUR 9. The rates for B&B may vary but will not exceed EUR 17 per person per night, a steal compared with most hotels. Remember you can’t just turn up as reservations must be made, at least, 24 hours in advance.
If you want to reserve, you need to become a member, (see website below), to receive the address book, which is updated yearly. Sometimes you can ask for a packed lunch for maximum EUR 4. At a few addresses dinner is served if requested for about EUR 8 per person but it’s also fun to stroll around the village once you’ve dumped your bike and gear off at the B&B for the night and try a local café
Fietspad,nl (Bicycle path)
Vrienden op de Fiets (Dutch and English)
The Netherlands Board of Tourism
Taking your bike on the train:
NS Bicycle Day Travel Card
- Bicycles may be taken on the train during off-peak hours.
- To do this you purchase a Bicycle Day Ttravel Card from the ticket machine.
- A Bicycle Day Travel Card allows you to take a (folding) tandem, reclining bicycle or disassembled racing bike on the train.
- A Bicycle Day Card is not necessary for a standard folding bicycle. Passengers may take standard folding bicycles on the train with them free of charge (provided they meet the terms and conditions)
Expatica/ Roberta Cowan