Three original bike tours around Amsterdam

Cycling is part of Dutch culture. It would be a shame not to take advantage of your stay in Amsterdam to go for at least one bike ride.

While it’s of little use in the city center, which lends itself to strolls, I’d recommend it for exploring the polders or Amsterdam’s surroundings.

Visit Amsterdam

I’ve written three articles to help you plan your trip:

In this article, after a brief introduction, I present three very different and complementary walks and some practical advice:

Please note that the proposed walks are only suggestions. Feel free to lengthen or shorten them according to your mood or the weather. And if there’s a path you’d like to take but I won’t mention it, go for it! Then tell me about your finds in the comments.

All texts in color coral indicate an internal or external link.

Cycling: a Dutch institution

Cycling is an institution in the Netherlands. But don’t think this has always been the case. It’s the result of over 50 years of political will, which has enabled the country to build a truly exceptional infrastructure. A network of 35,000 km of cycle paths has been built. Traffic lanes are wide, safe, and well-signposted. On roads with no bicycle infrastructure, cars drive slowly and pay close attention to bicycles.

I invite you to watch this video to understand why and how the bicycle has made its mark in the Netherlands. In 1970, this was not yet obvious:

The result is there. Today, 27% of all journeys in the Netherlands are made by bike! Whether it’s to go to work, take the kids to school, or do the shopping, the Dutch are riding their bikes, or “fiets” in Dutch.

You won’t see many cyclists with hi-tech carbon bikes and 28 gears, wearing helmets and the colorful outfits of amateur sportsmen and women.

Instead, you’ll notice that they’re dressed in their everyday clothes and ride bikes that are primarily utilitarian: sturdy, sometimes antediluvian, never flashy. When I arrived in Amsterdam, I bought a second-hand “gazelle”. I always parked it outside, whatever the weather. Five years later, it was in perfect working order and my unsexy bike had never been stolen!

So it would be a shame to come to the Netherlands without at least one bike ride. But instead of doing what all the tourists who stay in the city center do, I’ve put together three easy walks that will let you discover very different facets of the Netherlands around Amsterdam.

Bicycle parking at Amsterdam Centraal station

A map of the Amsterdam area to help you find your way around

I’ve prepared a schematic map to show you where the three walks take place:

Each of the three rides is worth a day’s outing. They’re not too long, and they’re sufficiently diversified. If you make one, let me know in the comments!

Saddle up!

Map of Amsterdam area

Discover the Amstel and Amsterdam polders

I’d like to suggest an initial ride that we’ve tried out many times with visiting friends, who have always enjoyed it. So it’s a sure bet!

The tour begins at the Hermitage Museum. A large red-brick building you won’t want to miss. This museum is a branch of the famous Hermitage in St. Petersburg. The exhibits change regularly and are always interesting. But today, you’re off on your bike! You’ll have to visit another time.

We follow the Amstel on its eastern bank. You’ll see the superb “magere brug “, a traditional double-decker bascule bridge. If you’re lucky, you’ll see it working to leave boats.

A little further on is the Intercontinental hotel, one of the city’s most luxurious. A massive building, sometimes besieged by fans waiting to catch a fleeting glimpse of their star staying there.

If you’re lucky enough to be in Amsterdam on a hot summer’s day, you’ll see young people sunbathing in their bathing suits and even diving into the Amstel!

Weighbridge on the Amstel river
Swimming on the Amstel
Summer atmosphere on the Amstel

The cycle path continues first into town. It’s a popular place for commuters heading back to the Amsterdam suburbs.

Then, without even lifting a finger, you’ll leave town. Make sure you always follow the track along the Amstel. On your left, you’ll notice some allotment gardens. Take the time to visit them. It already has an Eastern European atmosphere.

Every weekend, rowing crews come to practice on the Amstel. In summer, people mingle with boats of all kinds. The Dutchman feels at home on the water!

Aerial view of the Amstel and polders
The Amstel in the countryside

From here, the track continues gently to Ouderkerk aan de Amstel. This pretty little village lies 10 km south of the town. If you arrive at lunchtime, you’ll find two restaurants.

Just before arriving, you’ll see a superb windmill that has been converted into a residential home.

Windmill on the Amstel river

At Ouderkerk aan de Amstel, cross over to the west bank, either by a tiny pedestrian ferry or by a bridge.

Then drive up for about 2 km before turning west at a small industrial building housing water pumps.

You’ll travel through an area of polder below the river and sea level. You’ll understand why pumping is essential to keep the Netherlands dry!


Then, after passing through the pretty residential suburb of Amstelveen, you’ll find yourself in the Amsterdam woods (Amsterdam bos). Depending on how tired you are, explore this one or go straight to the Bosbaan café. It overlooks the rowing basin for a well-deserved beer! It was our usual stop on this route.

The walk ends back at the Vondelpark. You’ll pass along an old streetcar line that historic trams sometimes use. The cycle path is very busy. That’s when you realize that cycling is a truly essential mode of transport for the Dutch.

On the way, you’ll see a few floating houses on your left and the old Olympic stadium on your right.

Floating homes
Historic tramway in Amsterdam

The overall route is around 25/35 km, depending on your options, on very flat terrain. Only the wind can make it a little more difficult. It’s diversified and shows you some of the more rural facets of Amsterdam.

Bike ride on the Amstel river

From Haarlem to Amsterdam beach

The second ride I propose will take you to Haarlem, the dune belt that runs along the Dutch coast and the North Sea.

You’ll start by taking the train from Amsterdam Centraal to Haarlem. The journey takes just 20 minutes. You can either bring your own bike, for an extra charge or rent one in Haarlem.

Please note that the train continues to Zandvoort. You can therefore decide to shorten the ride by going directly to the terminus or Overveen intermediate station.

Haarlem is a very pretty little town, and well worth a visit in its own right. But if you’d like to take the walk I’m presenting, you’ll just have to pass through to get a glimpse, as there are plenty of other places to see.

After picking up your bikes, head for the market square (grote markt). Don’t hesitate to lock your bikes and explore the surrounding area on foot. Old Haarlem is worth a visit. Around the pretty square, look out for the town hall (Stadhuis), the meat market (Vleeshal), and the St. Bavo church (Grote kerk).

Grote markt in Haarlem

Pay attention to the time, though, as the bike ride is around 30 kilometers long. It would be a pity if you were caught up in time and couldn’t make the most of it. To get out of town, I suggest you enter the restaurant “Loetje Overveen” on Bloemendaalseweg in Overveen in Google Maps.

From the restaurant onwards, it ‘s easy to navigate!

Simply follow the numbers of the cycling nodes. The principle is quite obvious. Each cycle path junction has a number (near the “Loetje Overveen” restaurant, it’s number 1). Signposts point you in the direction of the next crossroads with its number. So, on our route, you’ll reach junction number 21, then 36, 37, 77, and so on. Make a note of all the cycling nodes before you leave, and follow the numbers as if you were playing the lotto!

To learn more about this system, please visit which is a reference.

For today’s ride, the winning numbers are: 01, 21, 36, 37, 77, 79, 18, 66, 99, 19, 20, 01, and 22. You can see them on the map below.

Map "cycling-nodes" between Haarlem and Zandwoort

Your tour will take you through dunes and pine forests. There are some rather unexpected climbs and descents in the Netherlands. Don’t worry, though, this has nothing to do with the Col de l’Iseran in the French Alps!

These dunes play an important role in protecting the country from offensives from the sea. That’s why almost the entire Dutch coastline is undevelopable, much to the delight of cyclists!

After 7 km, you’ll reach the seaside town of Zandvoort. Accessible by train, it’s Amsterdam’s beach. On the rare hot days, it’s packed. The town itself is nothing extraordinary. The main attraction is the immense beach that stretches for dozens of kilometers. It’s a pleasant place to walk, whatever the weather.

Zandwoort Beach
Beach in Zandwoort

In Zandvoort, you can dine in one of the restaurants on the beach. Don’t expect anything culinary except a good time watching the bustle of the beach or the movement of the tides.

Heading north, you pass the Formula 1 circuit before entering the Zuid-Kennemerland National Park. “Zuid-Kennemerland National Park. The park’s website is a mine of information to help you prepare for your ride in the dunes. Along the way, you’ll even come across some bison!

Bison on the beach at Zuid-Kennemerland National Park
Pond in the Zuid-Kennemerland National Park

Depending on your mood, stop off for a walk on the beach, a swim, or just a stroll in the park.

Then you return to Haarlem station, where the tour ends.

Dunes on Schiermonnikhoog beach

The port and the new districts

Amsterdam is not just a historical city. Its present is alive and well, and well worth a visit. Here’s a third bike ride that takes you over several ferries to visit the port and industrial side of the city.

The journey starts at Central Station.

From here, you’ll head west along the Ij. You’ll pass by the courthouse, with its interesting construction.

Continue to the building complex MVRDV. It’s a former silo on a dyke, transformed into a complex of apartments and offices. The Netherlands are quite creative when it comes to urban planning and architecture. The result is often very good, especially when industrial and residential areas coexist.

Amsterdam courthouse
Aerial view of the courthouse
MVRDV Building

Your route then takes you to a former port district that is currently being transformed into a new residential suburb. When I was there, we used to see bulldozers, but since then it must have taken on its definitive physiognomy.

At the end is a surprising restaurant located in a former pirate radio relay station: REM Eiland. This relay was once located in the international waters of the North Sea and broadcast unofficial TV programs. This is now a restaurant and a bar well worth a visit.

Here you’ll get a glimpse of Amsterdam’s harbor, which stretches almost right out to sea. It’s the fourth largest in Europe. In the past, boats had to pass through the “Zuiderzee” to reach the North Sea. As the body of water silted up, a 21 km canal was built as far as Ijmuiden. It provides more direct access to the North Sea and, thanks to locks, is protected from the tides.

REM eiland
Port of Amsterdam

Then retrace your steps to take a free ferry across the Ij to the NDSM brownfield site.

At the arrival port, a multicolored crane, a hotel boat, and an antique Soviet submarine will put you in the mood.

Ferry on the Ij
Crane at NDSM

Just off the ferry, you’ll find huge hangars that have been transformed into an artistic squat: NDSM. There are a few alternative bars in the area, where you can enjoy a drink or a snack. The atmosphere, a little hippy and marginal, is astonishing.

For a more traditional and hearty lunch, I recommend the Loetje aan ‘t IJ located on the banks of a marina and the river Ij.

Artistic squat at NDSM

Then you reurn to the Eye, the film museum, through a half-industrial, half-residential area. You’ll pass Shell’s head office.

The Eye, which I also mention in the article “Amsterdam on foot” is well worth a stop. Its architecture, both inside and out, is stunning and successful. It’s a place where I liked to come for a drink or to watch a film.

Near the Eye is the A’dam Tower. From the top, you have a beautiful panoramic view of Amsterdam. The climb is a little expensive, though, for what it’s worth. Amsterdam, unlike a city like New York, can’t be explored from the air. Alternatively, you can book a meal at the panoramic restaurant.

Then, if you’re tired, you can take the ferry back to Central Station. At this point, you’ll have covered between 10 and 12 km.

View from the Eye terrace

If you have the energy, I invite you to continue along a canal towards Nooder Park. You then turn off towards Nieuwendammerdijk. It’s a street lined with pretty fishermen’s houses. You’ll feel like you’ve stepped back in time. It’s one of my favorite places in Amsterdam.

Before turning back, head for the small marina.

Marina near Nieuwendammerdijk

Then, crossing a pretty little wood, you’ll reach the Zamenhofstraat ferry, which will take you back to the city on the island of KNSM. Take a stroll around the island to appreciate the architecture of the social buildings.

Building on KNSM eiland
Aerial view of KNSM island and Java

Then return to the mainland. You’ll pass by old warehouses that have been converted into homes.

Don‘t miss the Lloyd Hotel. Its history is poignant because so many men and women suffered there.

Originally, it housed poor immigrants arriving by train from Central Europe before embarking for South America in search of a better life.

Then the Germans turned the building into a prison. It later became a detention center and, in 1989, an artists’ squat.

Today, it’s an unusual hotel with rooms ranging from one to five stars, all decorated by different designers. I’m a little uncomfortable with this conversion, as it means forgetting the building’s tragic past. But that’s just a personal opinion.

Hotel Lloyd
5-star room in the Lloyd hotel

Just before returning to Central Station, you’ll pass by the maritime passenger terminal. If you’re lucky, you’ll spot some huge cruise liners. I saw the Queen Elizabeth 2 there.

This ride is very diversified. In total, you’ll have taken two ferries and traveled around 20 to 25 km.

Amsterdam passenger seaport

Practical tips for renting and cycling in Amsterdam

Renting a bike is easy. You’ll be spoilt for choice, and I don’t think there are any better rental companies than others. Choose the one that’s most convenient for you, especially its proximity to your accommodation. Check the range of opening hours.

Here is a list of bikes rental in Amsterdam.

When choosing a bike, be sure to ask for one with hand brakes rather than foot brakes. It’s a very effective braking technique, but requires a certain amount of technique, as it involves back-pedaling!

Unless you’re a bit out of shape, an electric bike doesn’t seem to be much use to me, as the terrain is flat (as you’d expect!). Your main difficulty will be the headwind, which can be strong!

Most important of all: check your bike carefully before setting off, and don’t hesitate to ask for another one if it doesn’t suit you. Rental fleets are heavily used, and maintenance is not always up to scratch.

For the weather, I suggest you use two Dutch websites.

Their long-term reliability is average, as the weather is too changeable. On the other hand, they will indicate rainy periods in the next few hours.

To find out whether it’s better to go to the museum or take a bike ride!

The sites are also available with smartphone applications.



Cycling in the Netherlands requires observing a few rules.

This is all the more essential when traffic is high. 

  • Watch out for streetcar tracks. You need to pick them up at right angles to avoid getting stuck in them.
  • Extend your arm each time you want to change direction.
  • Always ride on the right-hand side of the cycle path and give way to cyclists who are faster or in a greater hurry than you. This is especially true during rush hour.
  • Don’t try to imitate the Dutch, who are more virtuoso than you! For example, don’t text with both thumbs while biking…
  • Don’t park just anywhere, especially near train stations. There are places for that.
  • If possible, lock your bike to a fixed point.
  • Respect pedestrians’ right of way even if the locals don’t.

Three apps can be downloaded to your smartphone:

  • Click on the “GVB” button to get metro, streetcar, bus and ferry timetables,
  • NS” for train timetables. You can also buy tickets here.
  • Google Map” to guide you on your bike trip.

    Goede wandeling!

    Enjoy the ride!



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