Many visitors to Amsterdam don't realise how small the city really is. The open countryside really is only minutes away by bicycle and you can be home again in time for tea!
Hire bicycles at any of the reasonably priced hire shops in the city centre. I'd go for the 'obviously a tourist' bikes as local people will give you a bit more room on the cycle paths. Simply make your to the Hermitage (close to the Waterlooplein Flea Market) on the Amstel and cross over the famous Skinny bridge opposite. Now carry on cycling south. Eventually you will find yourself riding in a green open area. Just follow the river and you will pass by beautiful chocolate box houses and delightful windmills.
Stop off for an ice cream and a cold beer at the ancient town of Oude Amstel. It is also home to Beth Haim, the first Jewish cemetery in the Netherlands which is absolutely fascinating to visit too. It dates back to 1614.
Cross over the bridge and cycling back home along the other side the Amstel. It’s just as picturesque and considerably quieter along the road. You will be back home in no time at all.
River Amstel, Amsterdam
Accommodation in a city can be expensive. When I want to stay in Amsterdam I more often than not stay at any of the fabulous campsites dotted around Amsterdam. There is a central one just behind Centraal Station across the water or several others in the outskirts of the city - they are always a bargain and well maintained - give it a go, camping in the city is fun.
All campsite information can be found through the Amsterdam tourist board.
We had a great time in Holland on the family bike tour.
After a rocky start - we missed our flights out of Stansted by five minutes - we contacted the tour direct and arranged to meet them at their 2nd point on the itinerary, Hoorn.
Caught a later flight out of Stansted to Amsterdam, then a train straight from the Airport to Hoorn, taxi to the docks and then wandered about until we spotted lots of people on bikes coming off a boat.
The tour was well planned with no hiccups. It was very leisurely and even at four months pregnant and a four-year-old we managed to cycle the distances easily. We encountered a few rain soaked rides, some strong head winds but also some lovely sunshine.
We cycled through farm land, forests, canals, opening bridges, crossed on ferries, opened lochs, each day bringing a new challenge and scenery.
Our son Oscar loved his tandem bike and he had many people turning heads to see them ride.
The food on board the Amsterdam barge was of a fantastic quality and the hospitality was very generous.
The holiday was organised by UK company 2 Wheel Treks.
A good day trip out of Amsterdam is the bicycle ride to Haarlem. The 25-mile round trip is an easy, picturesque ride along flat cycle lanes, and medieval Haarlem is a gem.
You can hire bikes from MacBikes at the central railway station. My wife and I did the trip earlier this year - me on a traditional pedal-brake bike, her on a conventional one. With my bag slung over the wrap-around handlebars, I felt like a local. But they don't have gears. Needless to say, my wife spent a lot longer in Haarlem than me!
You can hire bikes easily in Amsterdam, but it is best to get the simple, black bikes most locals ride. This stops you standing out like a tourist and reduces attention from negative local elements!
One place to obtain these is Holland Rent-a-Bike (or your hotel might be able to do it for you). The VVV tourist information office outside Central Station has bike-path maps. Go to Vondel Park and see loads of parakeets!
When visiting this great city, only ever walk or ride a bike. Because it's flat, walking or cycling is not too strenuous and you get to see things you'd miss in a tram, bus or taxi.
You get great exercise, giving you a healthy appetite which can be sated in one of the many good-value restaurants. And all your exercise has earned you a beer, which you can enjoy in one of the hundreds of great bars to choose from. Finally, you'll meet a lot of fellow cyclists/walkers who will immediately be your comrades-in-arms!
There are two good ways of amusing everybody, from singles to large families, once arriving in Amsterdam's well-organised station.
First, you could hire a bike from a Rijwiel shop, which usually costs about 5-10 euros per day and simply involves showing your passport and paying a small deposit. Remember which side of the road to ride and watch out for roundabouts; vehicles appproaching the traffic have the right of way. All Dutch bikes have built-in locks which are easy to use - which is lucky, as second-hand bike trade is very lucrative in Holland. Travelling by road is a fantastic way of seeing the city.
Alternatively, on arriving in Amsterdam, cross the road in front of the station and jump on a canal boat - they run throughout the day and night all summer. Tours go through all parts of the city. Study gables on residential homes; until 1875, they were the only form of identification for a house. Find the 'spout', the 'step', the 'neck' and the 'bell'. Trips go right round the city, to the harbour, with good guides on board. There are left luggage lockers at the station.
Head for the harbour, a short walk from the railway station. There you can pick up a boat-and-bike tour of the Isselmeer. While you cycle through the wonderful Dutch landscapes, the barge which acts as your floating hotel moves to the next fishing village and will be waiting for you at the end of the day's gentle cycle ride.
As soon as you arrive at Amsterdam pick up a map, available from the Tourist Information Centre outside the main railway station.
The easiest way to tour round Amsterdam is to hire a bike, which is cheap and easy. Insurance is included in the hire. Make sure your bike is securely locked up when left, though, as there is a thriving business for stolen bikes there.
If the sun is shining in Amsterdam, do as the locals do and cycle! You can hire a bike from several rental shops in the city centre for around 8 euros a day.
The best place to head is the massive bohemian city escape, Vondelpark. Traditionally a chill-out space for local hippies, it’s still a great place to watch eclectic Amsterdammers at leisure. In summer it’s also frequented by performance artists and musicians.
It’s only a 20 minute cycle from the centre and half the fun is trying to negotiate the bustling cycle lanes en route.
Take your bike to Amsterdam, have a look round, then get on the North Sea Cycle Route heading north. Aim to get to Hamburg in a week. The route follows car-free roads along the dykes, small country roads with light traffic or cycle tracks beside busier roads.
Take a folding bike on the train with you for free on Eurostar. There's no better way to get the feel of a new place than cycling around. No waiting around for buses or taxis either and you save the fare too.
If you get caught out after a long explore far from where you're staying or the weather turns, just fold up the bike and jump on the nearest public transport back.
The Brompton is the best folder and with the travel pannier, there's plenty of room for everything you need for a long weekend. It's a superb design too that always causes interest and therefore breaks the ice especially as it's actually one of the tiny handful of bikes still manufactured in the UK. Take a folding bike - you won't regret it!
Something of an Amsterdam institution, when summer comes the city swarms with the cheery red hire bikes from this company's seemingly bottomless supply.
The bikes are all pretty new, well-maintained, and the basic 'granny' style will set you back just 8.50 Euros per day.
The ideal way to get around Amsterdam, do be warned that the old centre literally crawls with stoned frat boys who'll step right in front of you without warning. Master those backbrakes fast, and watch out for tram tracks too. Take it from me, they're a killer.
At Central Station and at other locations around town
+31 20 620 09 85
Take either a credit card or a passport and 50 Euros for the deposit.
Vierhuizen: miles of cycle paths radiating from a comfortable camp site, and six small towns in range.
See bird hides, eat seafood, view art galleries, a tea factory, ex-pirates' houses, windmills, old churches, wild flowers, calm canals and a national park island, Schiermonnikoog, where no cars are welcome and the North Sea beaches stretch for miles. The best food in Holland at campsite Herberg.
Bert Jan and Saskia Harens
9975 VR Vierhuizen
De Marne, Netherlands.
Groningen is the nearest railhead.
The cycle routes are so beautiful and plentiful in Holland, often set apart from other traffic, that I really recommend going on a cycling holiday. I have done it regularly since I was about 7 with my family and it is very exciting, safe and beautiful (the countryside in the east/south is magnificent).
There are also special 'trekkershutten', little wooden cabins at many campsites throughout Holland specifically for cyclists. It is cheap, basic but clean accommodation usually with 2 bunkbeds, a kitchen and a terrace. Even though I have been on holidays to far away places as a child, my best memories are still these cycling holidays!
www.trekkershutten.nl, it is in Dutch, but if you click on 'Contact' and then request information in English, you should be okay. Otherwise contact the ANWB, info was in Saturday's (16/06/2007) Travel section.
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