Holland’s notorious capital, Amsterdam, can be easily explored on foot thanks to its compact size, but for a truly exhilarating experience take to two wheels to explore it
As the wind whipped through my hair while I freewheeled along the pavement in glorious sunshine, it was easy to see why thousands of Amsterdammers use a bike to get around their fabulous city.
The place is chock-a-block with them and, as a pedestrian, it’s not the trams or occasional cars you’ve got to look out for, but the hordes of cyclists.
It wasn’t until our last day in the city that my travelling companion, Laura, and I decided to join the locals and rent a bike. It was a decision we wished we had made earlier during our four day stay, as we had such fun weaving through Amsterdam’s quaint, cobbled streets.
Although easily explored by foot, travelling through Amsterdam by pedal power will put a childish smile on your face and get you from A to B much quicker.
Getting some wheels couldn’t be easier as there are dozens of rental shops. We picked ours up from Mac Bike, (www.macbike.nl) which has three rental outlets across the city. Its bright red bikes are easily spotted and all come equipped with a bell, luggage strap and secure locking system – an important feature as around 80,000 bikes are stolen from the city’s streets every year. Prices range from €7 for three hours to €30.80 for a week’s hire of a basic bike, insurance costs extra.
On yer bike
Leaving Mac Bike’s Leidseplein hire shop in Weteringschans we decided to get comfortable in the saddle by going for a spin through the huge Vondelpark, just a mere click of the gears away.
This beautiful green space in the city’s south west corner is worth a pit stop whichever way you chose to explore Europe’s cycling capital. Its lush grass, tempting shady spots and gleaming ponds make it a perfect pit stop, and is popular hangout for locals on a sunny day.
The smooth, wide paths through the park’s 111 acres are great for brushing up on your cycling skills and after 20 minutes of pedalling about, Laura and I felt ready to tackle the city from the saddle.
Sticking to the designated cycle lanes and being sure to give way to the right we headed to Anne Frank’s house in Prisengracht. We navigated our way there by following the Prisengracht Canal passing by picturesque streets of tall, tilting buildings, flanked by gleaming canals.
Anne Frank’s legendary hiding spot during Nazi Germany’s occupation of Holland is unsurprisingly popular. To beat the long waiting times you can pre-order tickets online, (www.annefrank.org) and use a separate entrance to bypass the queues.
Laura and I hadn’t done this so rather than spend time off the bikes in the queue, we unfurled our map and decided to make our way to the Oosterpark, another green lung to the east.
We pushed off and, drawn by the sound of some funky-sounding oom-pah-pah music, found ourselves dismounting at the bustling Central Station. It turned out to be a colourful brass band playing an impromptu al-fresco set while waiting for their taxi!
Amsterdam is extremely bike friendly with 400km of cycle lanes, but be aware there are a couple of areas where riders must dismount – one being outside the station.
As we meandered slowly towards the Oosterpark we ventured out of the centre and towards the docks where we stumbled upon the De Gooyer Windmill – a former grain mill. We stopped for the obligatory photos and a quick pedal later, decided to stop at a lovely looking spot by one of the city’s many canals. We sat in the shade and watched as boats full of smiling locals sailed past.
I must confess that we never made it to the Oosterpark as we had too much fun getting lost amongst the quiet, residential, tourist-free streets where we could practice our wheelies and fly over speed bumps.
We only had the bikes for three hours so eventually we began heading back to Mac Bike. We made sure however, that we had time to race past Paradiso (Weteringschans 6) and Melkveg (Lijnbaansgracht 234a) – two of Amsterdam’s premier nightspots – and go for one last spin round the Vondelpark.
Walking away from Mac Bike we felt sad to be back on foot and watched enviously as glamorous Amsterdammers biked past in their Sunday best, chatting on mobiles.
I could wax lyrical for hours about the delights Amsterdam has to offer, from its galleries, museums and rich history to the raucous red light district, pumping nightlife and laid back coffee shops – all of which visitors to this vibrant city should experience. But for an authentic twist on the regular tour take a look at this one of a kind city from the saddle – you won’t regret it.
Where to stay
For a chilled-out stay try the Flying Pig Uptown, a multi-floored hostel right next to the Vondelpark with good, cheap beds, and inclusive breakfast.
If you’d rather be in the centre of things, sister hostel the Flying Pig Downtown is bigger, brassier and right next to the red-light district.