Bicycle touring in the Netherlands

Bicycle touring in the Netherlands

The Dutch offer

The Netherlands offers a dense network of excellent bicycle paths throughout the whole country. This enables you to get anywhere by bike while having a safe and relaxed ride. Holland (synonymous for the Netherlands although literally it denotes only 2 provinces in the West) is also a flat country so you’ll have to do very little climbing. There is, however, one element that can ruin your ride: the wind. Knowing that the prevailing wind comes from the South West can help, but as a bicycle tourist you can count on it turning against you.

My loaded bike on a little bicycle camping trip.

Bicycle paths network

You can use the Dutch “fietsknooppuntennetwerk”: a network of bicycle paths connected by numbered junctions. These allow you to plan a route in advance or on the fly: simply follow the signposts from one junction to the next.  At each junction you’ll find a map of the area showing the bicycle paths, different nearby junctions, cities, towns and other points of interest.

Plan a route with or without using the junctions system (called “knooppunten”) here:

Signs along the way, pointing to the numbered junctions.

Safety

A large portion of the paths are dedicated to cyclists. Over 90% of them have smooth tarmac and there are some gravel paths. People driving cars respect cyclists and are used to them. The excellent infrastructure and a real bicycle culture make it very safe to cycle. This is probably the best about cycling in Holland and is something I’m grateful for and proud of as a Dutch.

Cycling in farmland.

Route recommendations

As a Dutch bicycle tourist I have cycled extensively in my own country. I highly recommend the coastline and the Veluwe area in the East.

Coastline

The coastline is beautiful for the most part. You can cycle on bike paths in between the dunes or with a view of the North Sea.  South of Hoek van Holland you can behold some of the many water constructions that keep Holland dry. Or you can visit the “Maasvlakte”: a man-made piece of land used as an extension of the Rotterdam Port (the biggest port of Europe).

An option is to follow the North Sea Cycle Route:

If you take the coastline route, you should try to visit one of the Dutch islands (called “Waddeneilanden”) in the North. Texel is the biggest one, offers a rich and diverse landscape and is a paradise for bird watchers. You can get there with a ferry boat from Den Helder.

Veluwe

I love cycling in the area between Utrecht, Arnhem and Zwolle. I think it’s one of the most beautiful areas of the Netherlands in terms of nature and calmness.

Resting point.
Forest cycling.

Other areas

Except for the coastline, I find cycling in the provinces Zuid-Holland and Noord-Holland mostly boring. It’s the most densely populated area of the country and you’ll find yourself cycling in cities and suburbs most of the time. But if you’re interested in seeing the biggest cities you’ll have cycle here to see Rotterdam, The Hague and Amsterdam.

Anything other than these two provinces will offer more quietness and variation with nature.

Public Transport (Trains)

Metros and trains have room for bicycles. As you’ll probably want to use the trains, let me explain how it works.

You’ll have to buy a supplement ticket at the station which costs about 6 euros. With this ticket you can take your bike with you on the train for a full day. Yes, that can seem like overkill because you’ll likely use it for just one way, but there is no cheaper option.

An intercity train (for example from Amsterdam to Utrecht) only has room for 2 – 6 bikes. The compartment that has space for bikes will show a bicycle on the door. Easy, but it can be busy. Oficially you have take off all your bags so more bikes can be placed next to each other. If it’s quiet, you can leave them on.

Camping or a room

With almost 18 million people on about 34,000 square kilometers of land, Holland is a densely populated country. That is one of the reasons why wild camping is officially forbidden in the Netherlands.

Legal wild camping

The closest you can get to wild camping is using the so-called “paalkampeerplaatsen”:

  • Here you can pitch your tent for free but are limited to staying no more than 72 hours. Take enough water with you and leave no trace.
  • These sites are offered by the forest rangers and have space for about 3 tents.
  • There are no showers or toilets.
  • Some have a water pump, but the water isn’t potable.
  • You can find the GPS coordinates here:
    https://www.logerenbijdeboswachter.nl/paalkamperen

Commercial campsites

There are plenty of commercial campsites with facilities and most of them are opened from April till November. The high season is considered May till September with higher prices. Here are some links that can help you find campsites:

Prices range from 10 tot 25 euros per night per person with a tent.

Rooms

You can also use Airbnb, Bed & Breakfasts or hotels. Prices start from about 35 euros per person per night (if you’re lucky) and can exceed 200 euros.

The cheaper option (maximum price of 20 euros per person per night) “vrienden op de fiets”: an association with over 6000 people offering a room for people who travel using their own muscle power. You do have to become a member and pay a fee of 10 euros first.

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