Cycling in the Netherlands reaches Bucket List level for many travelers all over the world. Between the tulip fields, the friendly folk, and those charming windmills, why wouldn’t you want to go cycling around? Netherlands visitors will have plenty of other ways to see the country, sure; bus tours, rental cars, and public transportation will all be at your disposal. But we’re here to outline all the merits of getting out there in the open countryside on your trusty, eco-friendly bicycle—old-school style.
The Netherlands is one of the safest countries in the world for bike riders, and one of the safest in general! You’ll have free reign of mint bike trails and awe-inspiring views, plus the ability to create your own route. See it all, or skip everything and go straight to your priority sites; it’s all up to you! Is this sounding like a sweet deal? For a little more inspo, check out our full list of nine reasons why you’ll love cycling in the Netherlands!
9 reasons for cycling Netherlands-style
1. Cycling will connect you to the local way of life
Most visitors to the Netherlands get around by train or car, but the most authentic Dutch experience is cycling. Netherlands travelers will find that bikes are used to go everywhere, unlike most countries where people use their cars whenever possible. The Dutch ride their bikes to school, to work, to the supermarket, to visit friends, and everywhere in between.
Most bikes in the country are outfitted with a platform over the back wheel which can be used to hold bags that drape over the side of the bike, making it easy and comfortable to take your stuff with you. It’s common to see cyclists using this platform to even carry people!
That technique is a little bit cumbersome and not recommended for someone new to cycling in the Netherlands, but with a little practice you can share your bike with a friend. Some bikes also come with baskets in the front for even more storage.
Even if you disregard all the practical utility of bikes, cycling in the Netherlands makes sense for its ease of use, health benefits, and fun! The typical Dutch bike design has high handlebars that make it more comfortable to ride than the bikes that require always bending over. These handlebars also provide you with a wider field of vision for increased safety and a better view of the beautiful surroundings.
2. It’s the cheapest mode of transportation
Getting around in the Netherlands is never difficult. You can go from top to bottom in 3.5 hours by car, and 4 hours by train. Every major city is connected by a direct train route, and you’re never more than a couple of connections away from even the smallest villages. The trains are clean, fast, and even 100% operated on renewable energy—but they can also be expensive.
The standard one-way ticket between Rotterdam and Amsterdam is $18, and getting from the north to the south can easily reach $30. Cycling in the Netherlands provides the perfect budget-friendly alternative. The country even makes it easy to combine the two by offering a special bicycle-train ticket, and designated spaces to store your bike as you ride. (When you do take the train, make sure to arrive early, as Dutch trains always leave right on time!)
3. You get to design your own route
The Netherlands has a national cycling highway system that can get you from point A to point B, anywhere in the country. The system is made up of numbered points called knooppunten that mark sections of the ubiquitous bike paths. These paths are often selected for their beauty and are typically away from the main highways to ensure that cyclists can enjoy their ride without the noise and exhaust fumes.
There are multiple apps and websites that will help you construct your own route on the knooppunten, and the system is very simple. All you need is a list of the numbers of the points on your route, and then you can just begin following the markers. Every point includes signs showing the direction to all the nearby points.
Those bicycling in the Netherlands may find it helpful to write down the points they want to hit and attach it to their handlebars for easy reference. However, if you don’t feel like bothering with creating your own route, you can always follow one of the dozens of pre-defined, long distance highway routes, some of which even go into neighboring Belgium.
4. You get to bike on water
In many regions of the Netherlands, cycling on the roads often involves crossing rivers and canals, requiring a ferry to get to the other side. These ferries are a great democratizer of transportation in the country, as they force cars, pedestrians, and cyclists alike to stop what they’re doing and cross the river together.
Some ferries are large boats that fit many vehicles and zoom across large bodies of water. Other ferries are basically tiny barges that float between edges of a canal along fixed cables that hold them in place. There are ferries in small villages that only occasionally have visitors, but some ferries (like the ones that cross the Amsterdam waterfront) carry dozens of passengers on almost every trip. Almost all of the ferries charge a small fee, so during Netherlands cycling make sure to have some coins on hand or you may find yourself stuck on the wrong side of the water!
5. The country is gorgeous!
In the Netherlands, cycling will open up a whole new world, and there is an abundance of natural beauty just waiting to be explored by bike. Depending on the time of year, you will ride directly alongside huge, bright tulip fields, green meadows, forests, and the beach.
No other place on Earth grows tulips like the Netherlands, where the flower has been a point of national pride since the 16th century. The annual Keukenhof garden features a staggering 7 million of the flower’s prettiest varieties and arrangements.
The Netherlands is also a top agricultural producer in Europe, meaning that many routes include picturesque views of farms growing tomatoes and onions. The country isn’t all flowers and grasslands, however. If you prefer forests, you’ll find large swaths of dense trees with bike paths right through the middle.
The beaches on the Western coast of the country all have great bike paths and ample bike parking for easy access to the water. There are also more unique landscapes to visit, such as national parks inside swamplands and regions packed with sand dunes full of bushes.
6. Sometimes you won’t be the only animal on the bike path
If you go solo on Netherlands biking adventures, you won’t always necessarily be alone. In some of the smaller villages, it is possible to witness chickens crossing the path! (Maybe you’ll come home with the answer to that age-old question…) The country is full of fields often home to grazing cows, horses, and sheep. The swamplands are home to a variety of birds and other creatures.
The Dutch national parks also have red deer, wild boars, and many unique species of birds. In early spring you may find butterflies flying up from the bike path as you go cycling around. Netherlands wildlife will keep you company on your travels!
7. The Netherlands is the safest country in the world for cycling
The Netherlands is known for being the safest country in the world for cycling in pretty much every possible statistic. This may be surprising considering helmets are exceedingly rare, and not required by law. The Netherlands takes the approach that making cycling infrastructure safer is more important than padding up each individual cyclist with a helmet. In a country where cyclists are protected by the design of the city, the helmet becomes useless body armor.
It turns out that other factors contribute to cyclist safety even more than what you wear. For example, research has shown that merely having more cyclists on the road actually leads to increased bicycle safety. With over a third of the population using a bike as their most common mode of transportation, the country is absolutely full of cyclists.
While cycling in the Netherlands, you’ll find very strict laws concerning motor vehicle collisions that incentivize drivers to take cycling safety seriously. The country uses segregated bike paths and protected intersections to keep cyclists physically separated from cars on many routes.
Bicycle safety is at the forefront of Dutch urban development and planning, and Netherlands biking paths are constantly maintained. The Netherlands also implements cycling safety classes for children biking to school and has a bicycle safety component during the training required to obtain a driving license. It may feel weird to cycle without a helmet, but understand that in the Netherlands, every layer of transportation infrastructure is designed to keep you safe.
8. The whole country is flat, making cycling really easy
We all know that going uphill is one of the most difficult parts of cycling. Netherlands visitors will find, thankfully, that inclines aren’t something they need to worry about; the country is notoriously flat. Even the name “Netherlands” itself is derived from the fact that most of the country is below sea level.
Only the southern area of the Netherlands has hills at all, and even there the hills are not much of a nuisance for cyclists. The tallest “mountain” in the Netherlands, located near the three-country border of the Netherlands, Belgium, and Germany, is a minuscule 322.4 meters, or 1057 feet.
The unique lack of topography makes the country a cyclist’s dream, because you never need to break a sweat to maintain speed on the flat paths. In most regions of the world, a bike without gears would mean a serious struggle to go almost anywhere; in the Netherlands, single speed bikes are some of the most common, because you never need to rely on an easier gear to make it up the mountain-less terrain.
9. Bikes are ridiculously easy to find
The Netherlands is the only country in the world that has more bikes than people, with most surveys reporting between 1.1 and 1.3 bikes owned per person. These rates put the Netherlands over three times the level for countries such as the United States and China, where cycling is still relatively popular. The abundance of bicycles makes it easy to find one that’s just right for you!
All of the major cities, and most villages, have bike shops that sell new and used bikes at affordable prices. You can find racing bikes and mountain bikes, but the most common by far are the omafiets, which literally means “grandma bike”. These bikes are the traditional Dutch bike with high handlebars and casual commuter frame. If you choose to buy your own bike for bicycling in the Netherlands, make sure it is equipped with a bell and safety lights, as these are required by law.
There are also bicycle repair shops all over the place that will ensure your bike is always in good condition. If you would rather not have to deal with owning and maintaining your own bike, there are multiple bicycle rental options that offer bikes for the day, week, or month. Many of these services also offer a student discount! Many Dutch cities also have public bike sharing programs that allow you to rent a bike at one location and return it to any other.
Next steps to go cycling in the Netherlands
Now that you have the inside scoop and know how to have the most epic Netherlands biking adventures, it’s time to choose who you want to travel with! Choosing an adventure tour program isn’t as hard as it sounds, especially if you follow these steps:
- Choose from the best adventure travel abroad programs in the world. Pay attention to past participants’ reviews, program reputation, and how the adventure at stake matches your preferences. Some programs may even share contact info for ambassadors or past participants if you want the REAL dirt. Here are more considerations to make as you figure out how to choose the right adventure tour for you. Pro tip: You can use MyGoAbroad to compare programs side-by-side.
- Plan your finances. Sort out funding before you go to afford daily essentials and splurge on unplanned travel (in addition to tour costs and airfare). Be sure to raise a little extra money to donate to the organization that you’ll be working with. Learning how to raise money for a trip fast will serve you (and your wallet) well!
- Get prepared! Preparing for backpacking and adventure travel abroad is as fun as it sounds (eight essential to do’s here!). With the days til departure number dwindling and your excitement boiling, it can be easy to overlook the details. Lean on us to help guide you through your pre-departure process—that’s what we’re here for.
Netherlands biking adventures are calling!
At this point, you’re surely geared up and ready for Netherlands cycling. Now that you’ve got the 411 on the safety, the beauty, the lack of hills (slow cap), and more, cycling in the Netherlands is hopefully seeming more attainable and less pipe-dreamy. Once you choose who to travel with and sort out your cycling budget, all systems will be go. Then comes the fun part…making memories and having unforgettable experiences on Netherlands cycling adventures!
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The Center for European Studies (CES) at Maastricht University prides itself on providing the best possible European study abroad experiences inside and outside the classroom. In 1989, CES began as a pioneer in bringing foreign students to the Maastricht University and has been organizing comprehensive, English language study abroad programs for international students ever since. They offer assistance with everything from academic advising to Dutch student life. With CES, students are never just numbers.