By Keith Jenkins
Amsterdam is one of the leading cities in the world when it comes to cycling as a mode of transportation. Approximately 40% of all trips in and around the city are made on a bicycle. This is supported by excellent infrastructure such as dedicated bike lanes, traffic lights/signs and bicycle garages. There are many cycling routes in Amsterdam and the surrounding countryside to enjoy, making it a popular tourist experience.
Cycling is a sustainable, zero-emission way of exploring Amsterdam. It’s definitely worth hiring a bike in Amsterdam but I don’t recommend cycling in the city centre with its historic canals. This relatively small area houses most of the city’s top tourist attractions but it’s also an area where people live and work. On any given day, there are throngs of people on the road, in addition to bikes, cars, buses and trams, making it even a challenge for experienced cyclists to navigate. Due to its compact nature, the city centre is best explored on foot.
What I do recommend to visitors wishing to have a cycling experience is to explore the neighbouring Amsterdam districts as well as nearby towns and villages. Here are four self-guided sightseeing bicycle routes in Amsterdam and the surrounding countryside:
Sightseeing bike routes in Amsterdam
Amstel River to Ouderkerk aan de Amstel (22km)
This is one of my favourite sightseeing routes by bike in Amsterdam. Following the Amstel River, this cycling route starts in the city centre, passes some of the most beautiful canals before continuing along the southern districts such as the Diamantbuurt and Rivierenbuurt, with their magnificent Amsterdam School (Modernist) architecture.
Follow the path along the Amstel River, past the Martin Luther King Park and Zorgvlied, a beautiful cemetery where many prominent Dutch writers and artists, such as Harry Mulisch, were laid to rest.
Further down the river, just past the A10 highway viaduct, you’ll find the entrance to the Amstel Park. Leave your bikes outside the park gates and wander around the park.
Ouderkerk aan de Amstel
Continue southward along the river to the village of Ouderkerk aan de Amstel. Along the way, you’ll pass a gorgeous windmill, farmlands and stately villas. The riverine scenery along this stretch is absolutely beautiful! In the summer, you can even stop for a refreshing swim in the river.
Ouderkerk aan de Amstel is a great lunch spot. In the summer, many restaurants have terraces at the river’s edge, making them wonderful places to have a meal and watch boats pass.
On the way back to Amsterdam, take the eastern bank of the river. You’ll pass De Zwaan windmill and various farms and parks. Back in Amsterdam stop for a refreshment at the tHuis aan de Amstel, a small café with great river views. Continue along the right bank to one of my favourite summer spots in Amsterdam: the Amstel Embankment (across the road from Café Hesp). This lively area is a terrific place to mingle with the locals, have a drink and watch the sunset.
This Amstel River route ends at the Hermitage Museum, just across the river from the starting point.
Amsterdam Noord (North) to Den Ilp (21km)
This Amsterdam cycling route covers parts of Noord (the northern district) and continues into the serene countryside northwest of the city. Behind the Amsterdam Central Station, hop onto the (free) ferry with your bike for the 5-minute crossing to Buiksloterweg.
On the other side of the Ij-harbour, you’ll find several attractions such as the Eye Film Museum and A’DAM Lookout (an observation deck with fantastic panoramic views). Continue north to the NDSM, an old industrial area that’s now one of the hippest places in Amsterdam.
Check out the huge Ij-Hallen with its weekly flea market and art studios, the amazing STRAAT street art museum and cool cafés such as Pllek, Ijver and Kapitein Anna.
Den Ilp and Twiske
From NDSM, head further north towards Landsmeer and Den Ilp. Along the way, stop for a walk around the Twiske nature reserve and a swim in the lake.
Den Ilp is called a lintdorp (ribbon village) because of its length. Surrounded by lakes, waterways and nature reserves, Den Ilp is a lovely place for a stroll. Check out the Anton Heyboer art gallery, a colourful, quirky place that showcases the works of this famous local artist.
Make your way back to NDSM where you can catch the (free) ferry back to Amsterdam Central Station.
Muiden, Vecht River and Weesp (32km)
This longer route takes you to two beautiful fortress towns and along the picturesque Vecht River east of Amsterdam.
From the Amstel Station, head east past Frankendael Park and Flevopark. The route continues along the Amsterdam-Rijnkanaal (a busy shipping lane which links Amsterdam with the Rhine River). If you had a boat, you could sail along this canal to the Rhine River through Germany, and continue along the Danube River past nine countries all the way to its mouth in the Black Sea!
Muiden and Muiderslot
At the A1 highway, turn off the path and follow the signs to Muiden. Muiden is a lovely village with one of the best preserved medieval castles in the Netherlands: Muiderslot. Also called Amsterdam Castle, this 13th century castle played an important role in the country’s history and is today one of the most popular castles to visit in the Netherlands.
In Muiden, stroll along the sluice gates and pop into Bakkerij Stricker (bakery) for fresh bread and delicious cookies. Another place to visit in Muiden is the Muizenfort or Fortress Museum. At the museum’s car park, drop by at Snackbar De Loper for delicious fries (chips), and check out the cheese truck across the road (there on most weekdays) for a selection of cheeses from nearby farms.
From Muiden, follow the path along the Vecht River to another fortress town, Weesp. You’ll pass many houseboats and small farms before arriving in Weesp. This is one of my favourite towns near Amsterdam. In addition to its gorgeous location on the banks of the Vecht River, Weesp is simply a lovely place to visit, with a plethora of charming lanes, shops, cafés and top-notch restaurants.
In Weesp, you can stroll along the fortress walls, see the two nearby windmills (along the river), wander around the lanes in the old town centre and have a drink or meal at the town’s inner harbour.
Head back to Amsterdam via the Diemerbos (Diemer forest). At the other end of the Diemerbos, look out for House of Bird, a sustainability-minded microbrewery in the forest! It’s a great place to catch your breath under the trees with a cold beer.
The route continues through the town of Diemen and the Amsterdam Watergraafsmeer district, famous as the birthplace of the Netherlands’ most famous footballer, Johan Cruijff.
Markermeer is a large lake near Amsterdam. Originally part of the Zuiderzee (or Southern Sea), a large, shallow bay with an opening to the North Sea, its shores saw the rise of trading towns such as Hoorn, Enkhuizen and Amsterdam in the 17th century. In the 20th century, the Zuiderzee was dammed to protect these towns from flooding and the inland sea was transformed into a large 700-square-kilometre lake! These days, the lake is popular for sailing and windsurfing, whilst the historic trading towns are tourist magnets.
This cycling route from Amsterdam takes you along the shores of the Markermeer to several towns, villages and nature reserves. From the back of the Amsterdam Central Station, take the (free) ferry across the harbour to Ijplein. From there, cycle across the Amsterdam Noord (North) district to Durgerdam, a charming village on the shores of the outer Ij Harbour.
Cycle along the Markermeer dyke
From here, follow the road northeast along the Markermeer – the cycling path lies on the dyke, on a higher level than the main road. You’ll pass mile after mile of green pastures, farms and nature reserves (popular with birdwatchers) on the left, and the vast expanse of the Markermeer on the right.
Continue past Uitdam and further onto the dike that connects the island of Marken to the mainland. Marken is a historic fishing village that’s most famous for its wooden houses, many of which were built on stilts. Stroll around the quaint village and marina, and visit the cheese and wooden shoe factories as well as one of the original houses. You can also choose to cycle to the lighthouse on the eastern tip of the island.
From Marken, you have two options: 1. The shorter route via Monnickendam, or 2. The longer route that includes the historic towns of Volendam and Edam.
1. The shorter route
Head back to the mainland and continue west to Monnickendam, an absolutely lovely town to visit. Check out the historic clock tower and stroll along the harbour. There are numerous cafés and restaurants where you can enjoy a delicious seafood meal. I also recommend a visit to the Bierderij Waterland (brewery), which produces organic beers.
From here, follow the N247 road south to Amsterdam, passing the picturesque village of Broek in Waterland before arriving back in Amsterdam.
2. The longer route from Marken
If you’re up for it and you have time, I recommend following the longer route. At the Marken marina, hop onto the ferry to Volendam. Its main street is lined with beautiful houses while the marina is filled with traditional sailing boats.
From Volendam, continue this Markermeer cycling route to Edam. This town, one of my favourites in this area, is famous around the world for its cheeses. I recommend visiting the cheese market (if it’s open) and the various cheese shops. Don’t miss strolling around the canals and quiet lanes of this photogenic town.
To return to Amsterdam, follow the N247 road to Monnickendam. From here, keep following the N247 road past Broek in Waterland to Amsterdam Noord. To return to the city centre, take the ferry from Buikslotermeerplein to the Central Station, a 5-minute crossing.
Tips for Cycling in Amsterdam
There are many bike rental shops scattered across the city whilst some hotels even have their own set of bicycles which guests can use. Please obey the traffic lights for cyclists (even if most Amsterdammers don’t), stop at zebra crossings for pedestrians and give way to traffic coming from the right (unless otherwise indicated). Cycling while using your phone is prohibited and the fines are considerable. For navigational purposes, ask for a phone holder at the bike rental shop. Helmets and other protective gear is not mandatory but I recommend hiring a helmet anyway, especially if you’re not accustomed to cycling (in busy places).
Keith Jenkins is the Founder and Publisher of the award-winning Velvet Escape luxury travel blog. Based in Amsterdam, Keith has visited more than 80 countries across six continents in search of the best travel experiences. He often writes about his love for art/design, history, architecture, nature and food/wines.