Springtime cycling in Amsterdam

by Fred.Mawer

Amsterdam is an enviably liveable city in so many ways, but what I like most about day-to-day life there is its bike friendliness - we're talking hundreds of miles of flat, car-free cycle lanes. I speak as a resident of Bath, where the terrible traffic and the hills make getting round by bike a distinctly unappealing option.

However, to be frank you have to be pretty hardy to enjoy cycling around Amsterdam in winter. When I rented a bike for a few days back in February, even wearing thick gloves I still had to clutch the handlebars with painfully numb fingers.

But I can strongly recommend cycling around the city when it's milder - ie now. Last April, I spent a long weekend in Amsterdam with my family, and the indisputable highlight for all concerned was renting bikes.

Despite the cycle lanes, my boys - then aged six and four - were nonetheless too young to have their own bikes. So we splashed out on a bakfiets or "box bike", a magnificent Dutch invention that allows two small children to sit side by side on a mini bench within a sturdy wooden box positioned in front of the rider. The arrangement meant that my boys got a grandstand view of Amsterdam's classic sights - canals, gables, er outdoor urinals - and I could distract them when we passed any wacky-backy coffee shops or prostitutes' windows.

And on our bikes - the boys' mother rode a more conventional design - we were able to see infinitely more of the city than we could possibly have crammed in otherwise. We started in the morning up near the station at the Nemo science centre; for lunch, we zipped over to the other side of the city for a picnic in the Vondelpark; in the afternoon, we popped across to the botanical gardens on the eastern side of the city; and in the evening we whizzed out to the Westergasfabriek cultural complex on the western fringes. Parents' legs were tired by the end of the day, but the children were as fresh as Dutch tulips.

Funniest moment: Arthur, our elder boy, accidentally knocking over one of our bikes into a long line of others - all of which toppled down like a row of dominoes.

MacBike (www.macbike.nl) rents box bikes for 25 euros a day. For more on cycling in Amsterdam, see How to get around Amsterdam.