In any city in the Netherlands, one can't help but noticing bicycles. Cyclists whizzed along the main road, enjoying their designated lane. At every corner of every alley, you are likely to find a bike stand, and if it’s in Amsterdam, intimidating big locks.
A friend of mine visited yesterday from Germany and asked me if the Dutch cycled in the winter. Yes, they do, with their kid(s) in the front and even when it's raining. I guess it helps that the Netherlands, being very close to the sea, doesn’t have a harsh winter like most of Germany.
Also, the country is notoriously flat. It gets repetitive after a while, but I do appreciate it when I have cycled for a couple of hours.
I am not an expert cyclist, but we try to get out and make bike trips on the weekends that we are around. Here are some ideas for a day trip on two wheels to explore the beauty of this water land.
Tulip fields in spring
Every year, from late March to mid-May, visitors flock to Keukenhof, which boasts the best spring garden in Europe. I have to say that it brings flower display to a massive scale yet it stays enjoyable.
Never have I seen so many flowers in one place. They are natural carpets of the most vibrant colours. A real treat to the eyes when you are barely out of a cold, bleak, typical Northern European winter.
I probably won’t go back to Keukenhof though. I'd rather cycling along actual tulip fields than shouldering many visitors trying to get a photo. The famous garden is at the edge of a town called Lisse, one dot on the strip of sandy-clay ground soil in the west, from above Leiden to below Haarlem. The area has ideal conditions for growing tulips, and there are indeed a lot of tulips.
Here are a few ways to go around those fields.
You can start cycling from Amsterdam or take your bike on the train to Voorhout station, and follow this route. The total distance is 38km. Depending on how often you stop for a wander in the field, it would take from three hours to a good half of a day. You can also get to Keukenhof, with a bus from Schipol, and rent a bike there. In Amsterdam, a bike for half a day is from 10 to 15 euros. However, I would guess the price is higher in Lisse as it's a quite a tourist spot.
Wherever you start, it's not at all difficult to get to the right route. just follow the numbers. The route is clearly signposted.
When we did it, Ian and I began in Haarlem, cycling through the beautiful village of Heemstede before joining at Hillegom.
Here’s the first field we saw in Hillegom:
Most fields are empty, so you can go down to see flowers up close and take as many photos as you want.
If you are lucky, you will find farmers harvesting the tulips. I saw a group of five, chatting away while picking the flowers as if it’s the most natural thing on earth. It’s mesmerising.
A bonus tip:
Wrap up well. In spring, the temperature is still relatively low. The tulip fields are not far from the sea, and in the open field, one can't hide from the wind.
The sea, the sandy beach, dune and forest
A part of the famous North Sea Route, the stretch from The Hague to Alkmaar has a lot to offer cyclists.
From Scheveningen through Zandvoort to Bergen aan Zee, there're scenic coastal paths with turns into wooded areas. You can see white sand for miles and feel it under your wheels.
A few options for an easy day on the bike: beach-to-beach (Scheveningen to Zandvoort), or city-to-beach (Haarlem to Bloemendaal aan Zee).
Since we moved to Haarlem, we have done different parts of the Haarlem Dunes Cycle Route, which went through posh residential neighbours and a dune forest (National Park Zuid-Kennermerland) before ending up at the beach. In the national park, there are a couple of freshwater lakes that you can jump in if you feel spontaneous.
What's about a quaint town with beautiful houses? Further north near Alkmaar, Bergen is the perfect place for a little cycling holiday.
You can stay in one of the thatched country mansions and walk the many shops in the centre. Bergen is right at the edge of the forest. Cycling through the forest westwards, you will reach Schoorlse Duinen. That whole area is one of the few places in the Netherlands one can do mountain biking.
Amsterdam - Diemen - Muiden
I would say this to everyone travelling to Amsterdam: get on a bike and get out of the city. The centre of Amsterdam is fun, but you will miss out a lot if you don't cycle around. If you start this route from the central station, you get to go through the eastern docklands, cycle along the Amsterdam Rijnkanaal and see the IJmeer. You can catch a gist of how the Dutch live with so much water around them, or in fact, way under the sea level.
The Diemerpark is a good halfway point, giving you a break from the water and into the green. You can also camp there.
This route is about 20km depending on your starting point in Amsterdam and where you want to see in Muiden. It's a lovely town with a castle.
Unlike the rest of this list, Veluwe is further inland, to the east of the Netherlands. It’s a forest-rich ridge of hills with many different landscapes. You can start from a few different towns north, east, west, south. We picked Apeldoorn so that we could check out nearby Het Loo Palace.
We did this Appeldoorn Cycle Route (44km) in two half days and stayed in a 5-star hotel on the edge of the wood.
The route in Veluwe is also well numbered even though parts of it run through bumpy forest ground. The forest is full of tall redwood-like trees, planted in orderly rows. However, I believe I found my favourite tree in the whole area.
All in all, it's an exciting route, with decent changes in scenery from thick forest to drifting sand nature reserve. Sometimes, we rolled downhill real fast. Other times, I struggled to keep moving and got overtaken by a lady much older and more wind-resistant than me. Then, there was the time when I almost crashed into my husband, at a full speed down the hill because he skirted at a blind corner. But all in all, I can't recommend this route enough.
There you are - some places for a nice bike ride in the Netherlands. If you have your own favourite, I'd love to hear them. Please share in the comment.