If you had to choose only ONE thing to do in Amsterdam that’s very typically Dutch, then you should definitely try to ride a bicycle there.
The Netherlands has a population of 17.1 million people and about a quarter of them (4.25 million) ride a bike every day. This is what a bicycle parking lot in Amsterdam looks like:
Cycling is deeply ingrained in every Dutch person, no matter how rich or poor, that they often joke that their mothers gave birth to them on their bikes. Besides, the city is perfectly set up for it. With around 515 km (320 miles) of dedicated cycle lanes, it is rated as the world’s second most bike-friendly city, after Copenhagen.
However, because there are so many bikes on the road (almost 2 millions during rush hour!), cycling in Amsterdam can be very intimidating for a first-timer. The locals, who probably learned to cycle before they learned to walk, tend to go very fast and very close to each other. And they don’t always follow traffic rules.
So, if you’re not used to cycling, but would still like to experience Amsterdam on two wheels, you can join a bike tour. One of the most popular ones is SANDEMANs Dutch Countryside Bike Tour that departs from the city center and takes you to see traditional farms, water locks, and the country’s tallest windmill.
The tour takes about 2.5 hours, and is available in English and Spanish.
How to Book
Booking can be done on their official website or on a few other booking sites. The current fee is EUR 22 for adults and EUR 6 for children, inclusive of bike rental.
I used the Klook app because it had the best offer at the time of my booking. Plus, I could also get points and cashbacks for every booking and review I made. If it’s your first time using Klook, you can register using my referral code to get an extra USD 3 off: FFKSC
What to Expect
The tour started at 2 pm in front of the Sea Palace Chinese Restaurant near Amsterdam Centraal. We arrived 30 minutes early to register our names and take our bikes from the bike rental shop just opposite the restaurant.
Most bikes in Amsterdam use only back-pedal brake and single gears, but we got ours from MacBike, which offers only high-quality bikes with hand brakes and multiple gears. If you take a bike tour with SANDEMANs and would like to rent the bike for a little longer, you’re entitled to a special discount.
Our guide, a Dutch woman named Berber, made sure that everyone was comfortable with their bikes and helped us adjust the seats to our heights. In total, there were about 8 of us. When everyone was ready, we began our journey.
First, we cycled through the city, dodging cars, trams, pedestrians, and throngs of other cyclists. This was quite a stressful affair for me. The tour made me understand how exasperating it must be for the local cyclists to see tourists walking obliviously on the bicycle lanes every day.
Next, we passed the windmill. I was surprised that the windmill was so close to the city. But it still wasn’t close enough for us to take photos in front of it. Too bad — I had been hoping for a selfie with a windmill in the Netherlands.
Before long, we reached the countryside, where there was a lot less traffic. I was finally able to relax a little.
At various points throughout the tour, we would stop and Berber would explain something about the neighborhood we were in. We learned how the Dutch expertly manages flooding despite one third of the country lying below sea level.
We cycled past farms, residential areas, a zoo, and a forest, although for the most part of it, I didn’t get to enjoy the scenery much because I was too busy taking videos while trying not to fall off the bike.
I had very limited time in the Netherlands and so had to choose between this cycling tour and an excursion to Zaanse Schans. I really wanted to experience the countryside, and most importantly, see some windmills!
Since the bike tour promised both of these, and since Zaanse Schans would take more time to travel to, I chose the former. However, I was a little disappointed with the ‘windmill’ that we actually saw on the tour. It was too far away for us to get a good look at it, and it wasn’t even functioning anymore.
Apart from that, everything else about the tour was amazing. The guide was fun and engaging, and made sure that everyone was safe. I never thought I would be able to cycle in Amsterdam, considering my less-than-impressive cycling and navigational skills.
At the same time, I gained a lot of new knowledge about the city that I never would have got if I explored it on my own. Who knew that just a short bike ride away from Amsterdam, you could see a real Dutch countryside, with farms, water locks and breathtaking landscapes?
Tips for Cycling in Amsterdam
- Riding a bike in Amsterdam takes a bit of time and practice to get used to, especially for those who don’t cycle much at home. If you don’t feel confident enough to do it on your own, it’s best to join a tour.
- Always follow traffic rules (even if the locals don’t), be careful at tram tracks (cross them at an angle so that your wheels don’t get stuck in them), and always be aware of trams, pedestrians, and other cyclists.
- Use hand signals for turning left/right.
- Priority is given to traffic coming from your right.
- Stick to the designated cycle lanes. Do not ride on pavements, squares, or pedestrian walkways. Cycle lanes are usually one-way, although sometimes there’s a dashed line in the middle indicating a two-way lane.
- Be alert at all times — do not put on headphones while cycling.
- Wear cycle helmets, even though you may notice that not many locals wear them.
- Renting a bike in Amsterdam will set you back from around EUR 10 per day. Do note that most bikes in Amsterdam are basic back-pedal single-gear bikes. Those with hand brakes and multiple gears cost more. Whatever you choose, make sure it also has functioning front and back lights.
Have you ever cycled in Amsterdam? Did you go on a tour? Share your experience in the comment section below.