If you had to translate Amsterdam’s “fietscultuur” (bicycle culture) into numbers, it tells a fascinating story. Amsterdam has over 881,000 bicycles that Amsterdammers use to cycle over 2 million kms every day!
The total length of cycle paths and bike lanes in Amsterdam is 767km (which is the distance from Amsterdam to Salzburg, on the border of Austria) and 58% of the population older than 12 cycles daily. There can be absolutely no doubt: Amsterdam is the world’s biking capital.
However, as history buffs and bike enthusiasts will tell you, it wasn’t always this way. After the end of the second world war, the Dutch economy began to boom and car ownership in the Netherlands hit record highs. Cars far outnumbered bikes in the 50s and 60s, but with this spike came a tragic increase in the number of traffic casualties which peaked at 3,300 in 1971, 400 of which were children.
The Dutch people had had enough. They formed action groups, staged protests and met personally with Dutch MPs to campaign for better urban planning to include bicycle lanes and safer roads for cyclists. This mounting pressure, coupled with the 1973 oil crisis which quadrupled the price of oil, lead to Dutch cities like The Hague and Tilburg experimenting with special bike routes through the city.
The idea caught on. Nowadays, the Netherlands has no less than 22,000 miles (nearly the distance around the entire world!) of cycle paths. So, with no further ado, here are three you absolutely have to cycle when visiting Amsterdam.
1. Amsterdamse Bos
Any Friends fans out there? Well, Central Park in New York (after which the famous coffee shop where they hang out, Central Perk gets its name) is exactly three times smaller than the gigantic man-made forest that is Amsterdamse Bos.
Good news for cyclists is that the entire park is connected through a series of cycle routes and even features the odd hill here and there, which is pretty rare for a country that is known to be almost entirely flat!
The park has everything from lakeside beach-type terrain to unspoiled woodlands. Besides cycling, The Bos offers hiking, swimming and boating, an entire open-air theatre, and a rustic farm with the easy-to-remember (and pronounce!) name “Geitenboerderij Ridammerhoeve”. Here you can pet and feed baby goats, making it a great outing for the whole family.
Here’s the official site to find out more.
2. Ouderkerk Aan de Amstel
A great ride for beginner cyclists, the Oudenkerk Aan de Amstel route is light, has no elevation and is a great way to take in some authentic Dutch culture without having to cycle countless hours over taxing terrain!
If the scenery feels a bit like you’re cycling through a Rembrandt painting, it’s because the Dutch Master famously took inspiration from the surrounding countryside with its ancient windmills, endless blue skies and meandering canals.
The end of your ride brings you to the village of Ouderkerk Aan de Amstel itself which dates all the way back to the 12th century. Be sure to check out the village’s historic houses, churches and magnificent old windmill, De Zwaan an historic “polder mill” dating back to 1638. It’s also worth visiting the Beth Haim of Ouderkerk aan de Amstel, which is the Netherlands’ oldest Jewish cemetery.
For more details on how to book a day trip, visit Awesome Amsterdam.
3. Further afield: Strike out for Noord-Holland
If you’re feeling adventurous and can handle a solid day’s cycling, there are loads of destinations to visit in Noord-Holland that are flush with natural beauty and rustic charm.
Marken (population 1,810!) is a quaint fishing village commonly regarded as a relic of traditional, native Dutch culture. Many visitors remark how the village feels like it’s been frozen in time and, with its charming wooden houses, friendly locals and “Paard van Marken” lighthouse, there is plenty to see and do on a day-visit.
Then there’s Naarden, whose distinctive town walls were originally built to defend Amsterdam until the early 1900s. If you look at aerial photos of Naarden, you’ll see its unique star-shaped pattern, framed within a deep moat, Naarden is one of the most well-preserved fortified towns in Europe. The village is flush with quality restaurants, cafes and attractions such as The Netherlands Fortress Museum and the Weegschaal Museum, which is dedicated to weight and measurement tools.
Lastly, a mere 2-hour bike ride from Amsterdam brings you to Utrecht, a city whose medieval architecture almost beats that of Amsterdam’s town centre! From canals and shipyards to the city castle of Oudaen and the gothic Dom Church this medieval gem has plenty to offer the intrepid cyclist and explorer alike! Visit the official Utrecht site to plan your trip here.