The Netherlands is the ultimate country to explore by fiets (bicycle). Even if it's only a day pedalling along Amsterdam's canals, or a couple of hours rolling past dykes, you'll be rewarded with the sense of freedom (and fun) that only a bicycle can offer.
Good Day Trips by Bike
Just a few of the endless possibilities…
- Amsterdam to Waterland Loop (37km)
One of the country's most picturesque rides.
- Amsterdam to Haarlem (50km to 70km return)
A return trip to a great day-trip town that can include a side jaunt to the beach.
- Den Haag to Gouda (70km to 80km return)
A classic day trip through lush Dutch countryside to a cute little cheese-famed town.
- Rotterdam to Kinderdijk (25km/50km one way/return)
Cycle out to heritage-listed windmills and take a fast ferry back.
- Dordrecht to Biesbosch National Park (25km to 50km return)
A trip to a surprisingly natural park that is best appreciated by bike. Explore vast marshlands and see if you can spot a beaver.
While the Netherlands is webbed with bike routes great and small, one series stands out as the motorway of cycling: the LF routes. Standing for landelijke fietsroutes (long-distance routes, also called 'national bike routes') but usually just called LF, this network of routes criss-cross the country and – like motorways – are designed to get you from one locale to another. All are well marked with distinctive green-and-white signs. Most use existing bicycle lanes and rural roads, often beside dykes.
Until 2021 expect to see changes to some LF routes. Work began in 2017 on condensing the original 26 LF routes – comprising close to 4500km – into 12 longer, themed routes. By spring 2019, for example, the trio of routes numbered LF21, LF22 and LF23 will be combined to form the single, 400km LF Zuiderzee Route around the IJsselmeer. In rural Twente in central Netherlands, the 165km-long 'Tour of Twente' rehashes LF8, LF14 and LF15.
Important LF Routes
- LF1 North Sea – Following the Dutch coast from the Belgian border 330km north to Den Helder; it jogs inland briefly near Den Haag and Haarlem. When the route overhaul is complete in 2021, this route will link with the current LF10 to form one themed 'Dutch Coastal Route'.
- LF2 Cities Route – From the Belgian border (it starts in Brussels), this 200km route runs via Dordrecht and Rotterdam to Amsterdam.
- LF3 – A marathon 555km-long route that runs north from Maastricht through Nijmegen to Arnhem, then to Zwolle via Deventer and finally to Leeuwarden and the north coast. In winter 2018 sections of this and LF12 joined forces to create a themed, 430km-long 'Maas Cycle Route'.
- LF4 Central Netherlands Route – Starts at the coast at Den Haag and runs 300km east through Utrecht and Arnhem to the German border.
- LF7 Overland Route – Runs 385km northwest from Maastricht through Den Bosch, Utrecht and Amsterdam to Alkmaar.
Cycling information is copious and widely available. Your biggest challenge will be limiting yourself.
Maps & Books
The best overall maps are the widely available Falk/VVV Fietskaart met Knooppuntennetwerk maps (cycling network; www.falk.nl), a series of 22 that blanket the country in 1:50,000 scale. The keys are in English and they are highly detailed and very easy to use. Every bike lane, path and other route is shown, along with distances.
Beyond these maps, there is a bewildering array of regional and specialist bike maps, some as detailed as 1:30,000. Many are only available at the local tourist offices of the region covered.
Useful Websites & Apps
Cycling in the Netherlands (http://holland.cyclingaroundtheworld.nl) Superb English-language site with a vast amount of useful and inspiring information.
Nederland Fietsland (www.nederlandfietsland.nl) Dutch site detailing all the LF routes, bike-rental and repair shops and so on. Includes an indispensable fietsrouteplanner (cycling route planner).
Fietsersbond Routeplanner (https://en.routeplanner.fietsersbond.nl) Online route planner powered by the Netherlands' national cycling federation, Fietsersbond; on the road, its smartphone app is indispensable.
Startpagina (http://fiets.startpagina.nl) Dutch site that lists every conceivable website associated with cycling in the Netherlands.
Clothing & Equipment
Wind and rain are all-too-familiar features of Dutch weather. A lightweight nylon jacket will provide protection, and a breathable variety (Gore-Tex or the like) helps you stay cool and dry. The same thing applies to cycling trousers or shorts.
A standard touring bike is ideal for the Netherlands' flat arena, and for toting a tent and provisions. Gears are useful for riding against the wind, or for tackling a hilly route in Overijssel or Limburg. Other popular items include a frame bag (for a windcheater and lunch pack), water bottles and a handlebar map-holder so you'll always know where you're going. Very few locals wear a helmet, although they're sensible protection, especially for children.
Make sure your set of wheels has a bell: paths can get terribly crowded (at times with blasé pedestrians who don't move) and it becomes a pain if you have to ask to pass every time. Another necessity is a repair kit. Most rental shops will provide one on request. Bike theft is common; you'll want two good locks.
Getting a Bike
Your choices are hiring a bike, buying a bike or using your own. Each has pros and cons.
Rental shops are available in abundance – every town has at least one. Shops hire out bikes from €8.50 to €12 per day, with discounts by the week. Many have a selection of models, including hugely popular e-bikes (electric bikes). Bikes always come with a lock, often already fitted onto the bike and key-operated, or a chain lock. Some shops require you show a passport or national ID card, and leave a cash or credit-card deposit (usually €25 to €100); many don't require either, though.
Be aware that to brake on a traditional Dutch bicycle, you have to back-pedal. Some bikes have both back-pedal coaster brakes and hand brakes, but many only have the former – to the confusion of many a visitor wholly unaccustomed to braking in such a manner.
In summer it's advisable to reserve ahead, as shops regularly hire out their entire stock, especially in places such as the nearly car-free Frisian Islands where everybody arriving wants a bike.
Countrywide, larger train stations operate their own bicycle-rental shop with secured bike parking. They operate long hours (often 6am to midnight or later) and offer cheap rental (€3.85 per 24 hours). Note, however, that this OV-Fiets (www.ov-fiets.nl) scheme is only available to those with a personal OV-chipkaart (ie people with an address in the Netherlands).
Your basic used bicycle (no gears, with coaster brakes, maybe a bit rickety) can be bought for around €100 from bicycle shops or the classified ads. Count on paying €150 or more for a reliable two-wheeler with gears. Good new models start at around €250 on sale. Bike shops are everywhere.
Your Own Bike
Flying policies vary by airline, there are no formalities when crossing the border from Belgium or Germany, and ferries usually only have a small bicycle surcharge.
Remember, the odds of your bike being stolen are high.
On the Train
You may bring your bicycle onto any train as long as there is room; a day ticket for bikes (dagkaart fiets; €6.20) is valid in the entire country regardless of the distance involved, but only outside peak periods Monday to Friday, from 9am to 4pm and 6.30pm to 6.30am. There are no restrictions at weekends or during July and August. Travelling with a folding bike is free, providing it is folded and can be considered hand luggage.
Dutch trains often have special carriages for loading two-wheelers – look for the bicycle logos on the side of the carriage.
- Be sure you have two good locks. Hardened chain-link or T-hoop varieties are best for attaching the frame and front wheel to a fixed structure (preferably a bike rack).
- Some cities have bicycle 'lockers' that can be accessed electronically, but these are rare.
- Don't ever leave your bike unlocked, even for an instant. Second-hand bikes are a lucrative trade, and hundreds of thousands are stolen in the Netherlands each year. Even if you report the theft to the police, chances of recovery are virtually nil.
In most cities you'll find companies offering bike tours of the city. There are multiday trips around the country and many bike-tour operators.
Apart from the recommended camping grounds, there are plenty of nature camp sites along bike paths, often adjoined to a local farm. They tend to be smaller, simpler and cheaper than the regular camping grounds, and many don't allow cars or caravans. The Stichting Natuurkampeerterreinen (Nature Campsites Foundation; www.natuurkampeerterreinen.nl) has 141 locations throughout the Netherlands.
You may also wish to try Trekkershutten (www.trekkershutten.nl), basic hikers' huts available at many camping grounds.
Many hostels, B&Bs and hotels throughout the country are well geared to cyclists' needs, offering such things as bike storage and e-bike charge points. Tourist offices can help you track them down.
Bicycle Road Rules
Heavy road and bike traffic can be intimidating, but observe a few basics and soon you'll be freewheeling like a native:
- Watch for cars. Cyclists have the right of way, except when vehicles are entering from the right, although not all motorists respect this.
- Watch for pedestrians. Tourists wander in and out of bike paths with no idea they're in a dangerous spot.
- Use the bicycle lane on the road’s right-hand side; white lines and bike symbols mark the spot.
- Cycle in the same direction as traffic, and adhere to all traffic lights and signs.
- Make sure you signal when turning by putting out your hand.
- By law, after dusk you need to use the lights on your bike (front and rear) and have reflectors on both wheels. If your bike does not have lights, you need to use clip-on lights, both front and rear.
- It's polite to give a quick ring of your bell as a warning. If someone's about to hit you, a good sharp yell is effective.
- Helmets are not required. Most Dutch don’t use them, and they don’t come standard with a rental.
Amsterdam to Waterland Loop
This is an excellent start to your Dutch cycling experience: pretty scenery, cute towns and easy riding on good bike lanes and roads.
The eastern half of Waterland is culture-shock material: 20 minutes from central Amsterdam you step centuries back in time. This is an area of isolated farming communities and flocks of birds amid ditches, dykes and lakes.
It takes a few minutes to get out of town.
- First, take your bike onto the free Buiksloterwegveer ferry behind Amsterdam's Centraal Station across the IJ River.
- Continue 1km along the west bank of the Noordhollands Kanaal. Cross the second bridge, continue along the east bank for a few hundred metres and turn right, under the freeway and along Nieuwendammerdijk.
- At the end of Nieuwendammerdijk, turn sharply and then continue along Schellingwouderdijk. Follow this under the two major road bridges, when it becomes Durgerdammerdijk, and you're on your way.
- The pretty town of Durgerdam looks out across the water to IJburg, a major land-reclamation project that will eventually house 45,000 people.
- Further north, the dyke road passes several lakes and former sea inlets – low-lying, drained peatlands that were flooded during storms and now form important bird-breeding areas. Colonies include plovers, godwits, bitterns, golden-eyes, snipes, herons and spoonbills. Climb the dyke at one of the viewing points for uninterrupted views to both sides.
- The road – now called Uitdammerdijk – passes the town of Uitdam, after which you turn left (west) towards Monnickendam.
- From Monnickendam, return the way you came, but about 1.5km south of town turn right (southwest) towards Zuiderwoude. From there, continue to Broek in Waterland, a pretty town with old wooden houses.
- Cycle along the south bank of the Broekervaart canal towards Het Schouw on the Noordhollands Kanaal. Cross the Noordhollands Kanaal (the bridge is slightly to the north); birdwatchers may want to head up the west bank towards Watergang and its bird-breeding areas.
- Follow the west bank back down to Amsterdam-Noord. From here it's straight cycling all the way to the ferry to Centraal Station.
Leiden to the Bulbfields Loop
The best time to take this route is mid-March to mid-May when the tulips and daffodils are at their peak and the ribbons of bold colours are astounding. But it's a lovely ride at any time, and especially good in summer when you can stop at the beach for a break on the sand and a refreshing dip in the sea.
- Start in Leiden, where you can rent a bike at the train station or from one of the vendors in town.
- Head north from the station following bike lanes and paths along the east side of the train tracks. Stay with the tracks as they curve north. After crossing several bridges (about 3km), you'll see a fair bit of water and the village of Warmond to your right.
- Stay with the rail path (spoorpad) and cross under the A44. You'll be at the Rijksstraatweg. Turn right (northeast) and follow the road for 4km as it changes names to Hoofdstraat and reaches the pretty little village of Sassenheim. You'll start to see tulips and the bulbfields. Stay on the little road as it passes the churches and you come to the busy N443.
- Cross the N443. Stay on the good bike paths along Heereweg for almost 4km to the middle of the village of Lisse. Here you can visit the Museum de Zwarte Tulp, which has lots of interesting bulb stories.
- From Lisse, Keukenhof Gardens is just 1.25km west.
- After you've visited the gardens, cross the road to visit stately castle Kasteel Keukenhof. Head west for 7.5km to the beach. Start on Delftweg amid bulbfields and stay on the bike lanes as the road crosses N206 (Oosterduinen). The bike route now separates from the road. Stay with the bike route through the sandy landscape.
- The route curves south; at Langevelderslag, take the parallel path through the dunes. When you cross national bike route LF1, you're at the beach.
- Try some DIY routing to return. Once past the dunes, take little lanes through the bulbfields that take you due south towards Leiden. You'll be dazzled by the colours in spring. Eventually you'll run into a section of your initial route. Then simply retrace your course back to the train station.