Seeing Amsterdam By Bike? Here Are 5 Key Things to Know

If you're wondering whether to cycle in Amsterdam, these five key things to know will help you discover why the Dutch capital is one of the world's most bicycle-friendly.


Did you know that in the Netherlands, there are more bicycles than people? The country has a population of just under 18 million, but there are 22 million bikes! No wonder Amsterdam is such a bicycle-friendly city, especially if you're equipped with a little insider knowledge on exploring using this wonderful mode of transport. We've put together a list of essential things to know when you're touring the city on two wheels during your stay.

How did Amsterdam become a biking haven?

Amsterdam is actually going through its second phase as a haven for cyclists, and the history of cycling in the capital has seen some bumps in the road. Like many cities, Amsterdam had a flourishing two-wheel culture during the early twentieth century when a lot of people relied on bicycles to get around. However, the 1950s and '60s saw cars become more popular and cycle use decline. It was only during the 1970s that local people and government began to realise the benefits of cycling, particularly in reducing the risks associated with so many cars in such a compact city. One of the first steps was "car-free Sundays", and so began Amsterdam's cycling renaissance.

The bicycle is the most popular mode of transport in Amsterdam, and it's used by people of all ages and backgrounds. The local branch of the Dutch Cyclists' Union has thousands of members, and the organisation's expertise is sought by cities around the world also hoping to make their hometowns more bike-friendly. Amsterdam also has many cycling clubs, and although you might not sign up as a member when you're visiting the city, it's fun to take a look around knowing that by joining residents on two wheels, you're immediately part of the local culture.


It's definitely possible to saddle up and explore the Centrum area, the old centre with its world-class attractions and famous canal belt. A good route is to start at Dam Square (which incidentally has a lot of bike rentals spots - more on that later), and head west past the Royal Palace, crossing three canals along the way. After visiting the moving exhibition at the Anne Frank House, take a short ride to De 9 Straatjes, the quaint canal-side district bursting with boutique stores and art galleries, as well as charming cafés and restaurants where you can stop for lunch. 

If the weather's good, head down to Vondelpark, the biggest green space in the city, or cycle around the bottom of the canal belt to the Rijksmuseum, the national museum of the Netherlands. If you're feeling energetic, you could even do the park and a museum in one afternoon. Finally, head back north to Dam Square. This whole route is around 7 kilometres and involves roughly 30 minutes of cycling.

Fun fact: As you travel along some of these routes, you might find yourself wondering how long the bike lanes in Amsterdam are in total. There are actually around 400 kilometres of cycling paths across the city!

What are some hidden gems to explore?

After you've seen some of the most popular sites, why not hop back on the saddle and discover some of the lesser-known places to visit by bike in Amsterdam? Starting at Dam Square again, take the short trip to the charming book market at Oudemanhuispoort, a 1700s building that's part of the University of Amsterdam. Filled with stalls selling second-hand books, this covered passageway was once frequented by Van Gogh. From there, head to the NEMO Science Museum, where along with the intriguing interactive exhibits you can enjoy the largest roof terrace in the city with a restaurant and stunning views. Cycle round the back of Centraal Station along the water and over to the Hofje Van Brienen, one of Amsterdam's courtyard retreats attached to historical almshouses, where you'll find a moment's peace and a sense of residential life.

If you'd like to ride out further on a sunny day, take the 13-kilometre journey to Strand Blijburg, a real sandy beach just outside the city. You'll find yourself calling out over your shoulder to your riding companions as you spot sights up and down the Amsterdam-Rhine Canal along the way!

Scenic routes

What are Amsterdam's most picturesque routes?

Top photogenic bike tours around Amsterdam:

  • Follow the Amstel River to the idyllic town of Ouderkerk aan de Amstel (11 km)
  • Glide along canals and through parkland to medieval Muiderslot castle (17 km)
  • Ride through villages and farmland to the historic windmills at Zaanse Schans (21 km)
  • Head west to the city of Haarlem with its cobblestone streets and gabled houses (19 km)

*Distances are one-way from Dam Square

*The journey to Zaanse Schans includes a ferry

Where are the best spots for flowers?

There's actually a driving and cycling route known as the Flower Route close to Amsterdam, and April and May are the naturally best months to see the tulips, daffodils and other beautiful blooms in the more rural areas around the capital. Haarlem is a major starting point, and the journey down to Keukenhof garden is an essential part of the route. Stunning Keukenhof is carpeted with flowers in every hue and is only open in spring. To tour more of the route, continue the Flower Route down to the town of Leiden.

Another petal-filled sight is the flower auction in the town of Aalsmeer, the biggest of its kind in the world. We recommend arriving early to take in the remarkable sights and sounds of the market in full flow, with the echoing of traders calling out to each other and flowers stacked throughout the vast building. As the journey from central Amsterdam takes at least an hour by bike, an alternative could be booking a hotel nearer to Aalsmeer, such as ibis Styles Amsterdam Airport or Novotel Amsterdam Schiphol Airport, both within 10 kilometres of the market.

Fun fact: Keukenhof features an incredible 7 million bulbs!

Renting bikes

Many locals ride Omafiets (Dutch for "Granny Bike”) because they're rugged and practical. A more high-end bicycle may be better for longer trips out of town, but visitors often prefer simpler bikes for getting around central areas, especially if they're locking the bikes up at various spots throughout the day and don't want to be overly conscious about security for an expensive bike. E-bikes are now very popular in Amsterdam and are a good choice for anyone who might find it difficult to pedal around the city all day, but bear in mind that the higher speeds could be a risk if you're not used to biking in the capital.

Renting is a great option as it's very affordable and there are plenty of places to rent from, particularly around Centraal Station, Leidseplein square and Dam Square. The rental process is simple: you'll normally just need a form of ID and a deposit or credit card authorisation. You can usually rent for as little as three hours. Getting insurance offered by the rental company to protect against theft or damage is recommended, as this will give you peace of mind.

Getting around

To get around safely, use the designated bike lanes on the right-hand side of the road. These lanes are marked by white lines and bike symbols, and they are usually one-way. Other crucial steps include stopping at red traffic lights, using front and back lights on your bike at night, not riding more than two abreast, and indicating a turn using hand signals. Only park in designated spots, and be sure to lock up your bike. You'll probably notice that many riders in the city don't wear a helmet – this is one part of the local culture that we don't recommend imitating!

Cycling around Amsterdam is a fun and rewarding experience if you take a few steps to make it enjoyable, such as avoiding rush hours between 8am and 9am and from 5pm to 6pm. Also note that many bikes in the city use back-pedal brakes, which means pedalling backwards when you want to stop. If you're used to hand brakes, we suggest practising the back-pedal technique in a quiet area before tackling busy roads! Finally, avoid tram lines if possible to prevent getting your wheels stuck in the tracks. Ride at a sharp angle if you need to cross.

So, is Amsterdam good for biking? Certainly! We hope these tips will help you to discover the city on two wheels and enjoy a fabulous trip to the capital of the Netherlands.

Our recent articles