AMSTERDAM, WATERLAND – cycling the Dutch countryside

Everyone rides a bike in Amsterdam, but that’s just the problem. If you avoid getting sideswiped by a bus, you may tangle with another bike, probably pedalled by a tourist just as bewildered as you are.

So try cycling into the countryside, the healthy green alternative. You’ll survive. You’ll enjoy it. I always  do.

Rent a bike at any of the hire places close to Amsterdam Centraal Station and ask for a map of ‘Waterland’, north-east of the city. You can join an organised cycle tour to take you there, which is fine if you want to meet Knut from Norway or swap travellers’ tales with Betsy and Brad from Ohio. But if you’d rather save a few euros and ride at your own pace, you can easily go off on your own.

Check your tyres and saddle height, trying to look competent. Note that there’s no need to actually ride yet. The front of Centraal Station is a confusing nightmare of roads going in all directions, with trams, taxis and buses raising the degree of difficulty, so it’s not the ideal place to start your Dutch cycling career.

Instead, wheel your bike through to the back of Centraal. Behind the station people wait for little blue ferries, which putter across the North Sea Canal to “Buiksloterweg”. Fear not – you won’t have to pronounce the word, just hop aboard. Don’t fumble in your pocket for euros; the ferries are free. They’re for bikes and pedestrians only, and take just two minutes to reach the other side.

Once there, pretend to check your tyres again and wait while the cool racing riders in their revealing shorts speed into the distance. There’s a wide, flat cycle path in front of you. I repeat – wide, flat, cycle path. No cars, no-one watching, so wobble as much as you like. Turn off at a friendly sign, “Schellingwoude” – (don’t even think of saying this out loud). Then it‘s a doddle to roll along the bike path through shady parks beside the North Holland Canal. Even without gear changes or special cycling legs you’ll get out under the Amsterdam Ring Road in about twenty minutes.

Welcome to Waterland. There are cows grazing in green fields, ducks on canals, little white bridges, church towers poking up out of distant villages and flat bike paths everywhere. There are signposts at every intersection, and even if you get lost it won’t matter because it’s all so stunningly pretty.

Where you go now is up to you. A quiet 20-25km loop through old villages Zunderdorp and Ransdorp, out to Durgerdam, and back to Amsterdam will take about two hours, including a coffee break. If you’re up to riding all day and doing 75km, you can eat cheese in Edam, ride the dyke to historic Marken, zip down to Nieuwendam and still be back in town for a pre-dinner beer. There are lots of middle roads between these gentle and masochistic alternatives.

So, first through the polders, those fields rescued from total sogginess by the little canals cut through them. The villages of Zunderdorp, Zuiderwoude and Broek in Waterland are notable for their old houses and churches. It’s apparently compulsory here to have geranium pots by your windows and massed pink and purple hydrangeas in a lush garden. The farms look so prosperous they couldn’t possibly be real farms. Surely they’re country retreats owned by merchant bankers. Or are subsidies so generous in this area that a farmer with ten cows can also afford six horses?

The wetlands between the fields are protected nature reserves. There are oyster-catchers, lapwings, redshanks, a kestrel (okay, I’ve got a bird book) and thousands of geese. Every canal has its ducks, coots and resident white swans.

It’s quiet, but you won’t have the road all to yourself. You’ll meet sporty types on matching his and hers touring bikes. A mother rides with a toddler mounted on her handlebars and older children on their own bikes proudly weaving alongside. From time to time peletons of wannabe Rabobank riders whip by in tight formation. Then there’s that older couple riding at a snail’s pace, but always turning up in front of you, no matter how often you overtake them.

Sorry if you were hoping to see old windmills. Out here they’re modern ones, converting that wind you’re cycling against into clean green electricity. The power lines in the background sometimes spoil a good photo, but this is right outside a major capital city, so what did you expect?

If your legs are still functioning, follow the signs to Monnickendam, Volendam and Edam. According to my dictionary,  ‘dam’ is Dutch for dam, and there are lots of them in Waterland. What used to be the Zuiderzee (South Sea) is now cut off from the North Sea by a massive dyke and has become a lake, the IJsselmeer.

Many bus tours stop in Volendam, so it’s the perfect place to shop for “I love Holland” baseball caps, but Edam and Monnickendam are my favourites. During the summer, Edam puts on a popular cheese market show on Wednesday mornings, with men in silly costumes running round carrying huge trays of the stuff and tossing it on to horse-drawn carts. It’s very crowded but fun, in a cheesy sort of way. Monnickendam is quieter, quirkier and still a working shipyard. It’s a fine place to stop at a café for “koffie and appeltaart”, neither of which are prohibited substances under amateur cycling rules.

Head east along the dyke to the island of Marken. Yes, you can ride a bike to this island, because since 1952 it’s been connected to the mainland by a causeway. In the old days, Marken fisherfolk wore colourful traditional dress. Now Marken’s main industry is selling postcards of colourful fisherfolk. However, the green wooden houses, perched on stilts or built on mounds to keep their feet dry, offer great photo opportunities, as does the lighthouse on the tip of the island.

Your backside is probably telling you it wouldn’t mind a hot bath some time soon. So turn for home past Durgerdam, with its row of fishermen’s cottages, and along Nieuwendammerdijk, recently voted ‘Amsterdam’s second most beautiful street’ in a newspaper poll. Winner was the Brouwersgracht in the centre of town, but the mere fact that Nieuwendam can claim to be part of Amsterdam suggests you’re nearly back in the big smoke.

See – you survived Waterland! As the ferry chugs over to Centraal you have two minutes to consider keeping that bike and riding it round town tomorrow. Good luck!


THE GREEN HEART – Amsterdam-Leiden-Rotterdam-Gouda-Utrecht

FRIESLAND – The northern province

ZEELAND – bikes on dykes in the south


Bicycle Touring Holland – Katherine Widing 2005

Bicycle hire

Macbike at Amsterdam Centraal Station has rental bikes from 8.50 Euros a day.

Guided 5 hour tour of Waterland  – 25 Euros including bike hire

First published – Sun-Herald, Sydney


Filed under Cycle touring, Cycling, Holland, Travel, Travel- Europe

43 responses to “AMSTERDAM, WATERLAND – cycling the Dutch countryside

  1. Pingback: WHY BLOGGERS ARE MISERABLE | Richard Tulloch's LIFE ON THE ROAD

  2. Jennica Peterson

    This is exactly the kind of information I was hoping to find! Nice post with good details and humor. Thank you!

  3. Riki

    This is so helpful. Am going to follow your directions tomorrow. Thanks

  4. Sounds like a wonderful outing and the way to go. There are actually a few windmills to be found, but, sadly, they appear to be ornamental. One is behind the main tourist street in Volendam, and another was in somebody’s back yard in Marken (ok, I was desperate). Altho, I did see one off in the distance as we were crossing by boat from Volendam to Marken. I think that one might have been real.

    • Thanks Jennifer. A few old mills have been moved from their original locations and are now kept working by enthusiastic volunteers. The closest windmill to the route out of Amsterdam is ‘d’Admiraal’ beside the Noordholland Canal.

  5. Claire

    I am considering doing a bike tour with a stay over night on a barge in Holland with my husband and two kids. Just a short trip, but it is helpful to read your blog. I hope the scenery would be interesting enough as I like quaint towns. I am looking at the beginning of May so we can catch the tulips in bloom and celebrate my birthday at the same time.

  6. In June, I will be cycle touring with my husband and daughter in Friesland, Drenthe and the Amsterdam environs. The waterland is on our planed route. Thanks for the preview! In four years my husband and I plan to move to the Netherlands. I look forward to regularly touring the whole country by bicycle.

    • That sounds like a great trip, Rebecca. We love riding in Friesland and Drenthe in particular. We love living here, though we do have the advantage of being able to spend the Dutch winter in Australia.

  7. Mavis

    Hi, I’m going to be visiting Amsterdam end of this month, and was thinking of riding around the Wetland. Would Broek in Waterland be a good starting point?

    • It’s a lovely little village, Mavis. It should take you about 40 minutes to ride there from Amsterdam, depending on the route you take. But it’s all very nice out there (if the weather holds!)

      • Mavis

        Would it be a better plan if I take a bus/train from Amsterdam, then rent a bike at Broek in Waterland and explore from there?

      • There are no bike hire places in Broek that I know of, and no train to get there (just a bus). It’s a very small village. And the ride to get there is very pleasant anyway.

  8. Hi Richard, thanks for the inspiration!
    I just spent the afternoon getting sunburned and cycling around the areas you described.
    I gave you a shout out on the blog i just started (
    I’ve moved here from Australia and use it mostly to report home my adventures to family and friends.
    Hope to hear about some more great things to do!


  9. This is exactly the information I was looking for. Great post.
    As mentioned, I will start cycling after I get down from ferry.

    Just wanted to confirm if I need to buy a map of cycle route from Amsterdam to Waterland. Or directions on the road will be enough?

  10. Nickie Flynn

    Richard, thank you. We read your post, ran down to Centraal this morning and road to Durgendam, Ransdorp, Holysloot and home. Loved the tiny bike ferry at Holysloot – 1 Euro & held 4 bikes & 4 people. Also the organic dairy w/an Honor Cup for any drinks taken from their fridge. Lots of waterfowl, picturesque towns, dairy cows and friedly people. We’re tired and sore, but our Amsterdam trip is now complete & your blog is bookmarked for future trips.

  11. Pingback: Slowing down in Amsterdam | Angiwen

  12. Shelley Hrdlitschka

    GREAT advice! Loved the route, we would never have known to do this without your website. We were afraid to tackle bike riding through the city. Thank you.

    • You’re very welcome, Shelley. I’m glad you enjoyed it.

      Yes, cycling in central Amsterdam has been described as ‘like riding in a pinball machine’, though once you get used to it it’s as safe as riding anywhere in the world.

  13. Pingback: Slowing down in Amsterdam | Lead Me Away

  14. Just spent the day following this route. Great advice, much appreciated.

  15. Karen

    We rented Mike’s Bikes. Took the ferry that landed further east & rode along the dike first up to Marken. Had lunch at the Petit Restaurant & rode back along the dike & over to Monnickendan. Very quaint. Then back to Amsterdam. Basically we went opposite your trip. The problem is getting a map that will guide you while not being sooo large that it is unmanageable. The bike paths are numbered, not to any logic I could find. The numbers are to intersections. So you have to know all the numbers you are looking for. Mind you I did not want to take a tour. If you are going to get lost, I can’t think of a better place than the Netherlands. And you will cuz the numbers are not always clearly marked. Or you may be riding with a person who doesn’t wait for anyone & blazes a new trail. Oy!

  16. I used your post as the basis of a fantastic day of bicycling on my vacation in A’dam earlier this month. Thanks very much! Your blog is a treat to read. I do agree with Karen that the numbering system for trails is whack (and would add that the labelling is surprisingly haphazard). But I also agree with her that even when we got off the track we’d intended to take, we still had a great time.

  17. Pingback: FIVE DUTCH VILLAGES – a day’s cycling from Amsterdam | Richard Tulloch's LIFE ON THE ROAD

  18. Jana

    I’m so lucky to have found your site! We’ll be in Amsterdam for 10 days this spring and love the idea of renting a bike and getting into the countryside. Thanks for all the great insight and very well written posts!! I can’t wait to delve further into them further….

  19. Kelly Metzger

    Hello Richard, you have a great site, very compelling writing and good info for the serious cyclist (which I am, I might say :)). We are going on a bike trip through The Netherlands this summer (with ) and we can’t wait! But we couldn’t find out if we need to wear a helmet or not? Friends of us say you have to wear a helmet but in all the pictures I’ve seen nobody wears a helmet? Thanks! Kelly

    • Hi Kelly, helmets are seldom worn in Holland, though sometimes on organised tours (and races) they may insist on them for insurance purposes. It’s unlikely that Holland Cycle Tours would require them. The Dutch cycling infrastructure is very safe and I hardly ever wear a ‘lid’ when riding there. Have a great trip!

      • Kelly Metzger

        Thank you for your quick reply Richard! That’s good news because I don’t like to wear those helmets anyway.

  20. Geni

    My husband and I (age 66) are planning a self guided bike tour around Holland and then down the Elba to Dresden. My question is do we need to book places to stay ahead of time in Amsterdam? We are arriving April 27 during the tulip festival. Have you ever used Vriender op de Fiets? Is there a convenient little village to stay outside of Amsterdam that we could easily commute back to Amsterdam ? Would you recommend any reasonable places to stay in Amsterdam?

    • Hi Geni,

      Thanks for the visit and the questions. April 27th is likely to be very busy all over The Netherlands with the Kings Day celebrations, so you’d be very wise to book in advance (and try to avoid staying in the centre of Amsterdam). I’d suggest staying in Haarlem – more than a village, a lovely small town and only 20min by train and an hour by bike from Amsterdam.

      Yes, we’re members of Vrienden op de Fiets and that can work our really well too. Without knowing you or your budget I’d hesitate to recommend specific accommodation in Amsterdam, but as I said, because of Kings Day (which is very good fun, incidentally) you should avoid the Leidseplein, the Red Light District and the Jordaan. Have look at hotels along the Overtoom. Happy riding – I’m sure it will be great!

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  22. Pingback: Exploring the Waterland by Bike: a day trip from Amsterdam, The Netherlands - Baby Routes

  23. Great Site, Richard. Thanks for posting this. My wife and I are taking a half-day bike ride (river cruise tour) through the Waterland in June. Looking forward to it. Thanks for bringing the Waterland to life for us.

  24. Sarah


    Thank you so much for this post! My partner and I will be in Amsterdam for a few days in a week, and I just stumbled upon your blog.

    I am wondering if you would be able to provide a route map for your route described above (incl. Broek)? We would be interested in the longer cycle, including Edam.

    Alternately, we are also very interested in the Windmills in Zaanse Schans. Would it be possible to bike to Zaanse Schans and some of the nearer locations such as Nieuwendam and Broek in the same day?

    Many thanks!

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