We’ve been living in Holland for nearly 10 months now, and there’s no doubt this is a great place for bike touring.
Bike paths are everywhere, the flat landscape means the cycling is rarely strenuous, and there’s always something interesting around the corner to explore, including historic towns, national parks and some of the world’s best museums.
Now, here’s the good news: it can be even better! In addition to the staple activities like cycling along canals and snapping photos of windmills and tulip fields, there are some less obvious things you should know to make your trip even easier and more enjoyable.
1. Get A Map
The bike paths are certainly everywhere and they’re usually well marked, but there are so many options that a map is essential. Just as with roads, on bike paths you have to know if you want the ‘highway’ (a straight bike path that might run between 2 towns, literally tracing the highway for cars) or the scenic route through green areas.
For paper maps, you can either buy something from any bookstore when you get here, or order online. De Zwerver is one internet map store, with an excellent reputation for service. The site is in Dutch but you can either use Google Translate or call them, and they will talk you through it in English.
A good overview map is the Sterkste Fietskaart Van Nederland. It’s made of a laminated paper that holds up in the rain and 2 maps cover the entire country, one for the north of the Netherlands and one for the south of the Netherlands. Countless regional maps are also available, many produced by Falk.
GPS-users can download the OpenFietsMap – a free open-source map showing cycle paths across the country. For pre-trip planning, there are also a number of bike route planners. Type ‘fietsrouteplanner’ into Google and away you go.
2. Join The Clubs
For any trip longer than about a week, there are a few organisations you might want to join.
- Vrienden Op De Fiets – A network of over 3,700 B&Bs that are only open to cyclists and walkers. There’s a small €9 registration fee (€15 if you live outside of Europe). For that, they’ll send you a book all the addresses of the B&Bs. The cost is never more than €18.50 euros for the night (less than a youth hostel).
- Natuur Kampeer Terreinen – These are natural camping spots with small and tranquil tenting sites, often in the woods. Spots are reserved especially for cyclists. You will not be turned away if you arrive before 7pm. One membership costs €14.95 and can be used for up to 4 people.
- Wereldfietsers – There’s no cost to join this friendly group of bike tourists for a day trip or a weekend. They go all over the Netherlands. Come along and make some new bike touring friends. Summer trips can be very busy, with up to 100 people. Winter trips are much quieter.
3. Use The Bike Parking
Want to go see a museum in town or just stop somewhere to stretch your legs and do some shopping? Use the guarded bike parking! Every town of just about any size has bike parking or Fietsenstelling.
Sometimes it is underneath the train station. Other times, it is a fenced area, watched by a security guard in the middle of town. The cost is never very much. It could be as little as €0.50 or at most €2 for the day. Now you can leave your bike and not worry a bit about whether or not it will be there when you return.
4. Be Prepared At Campgrounds
First, pack your own stash of toilet paper for camping. As we found out to our peril, it often isn’t provided. Only the most expensive campgrounds supply toilet paper. You can also expect to pay extra for showers, on top of camping fees, but happily camping costs are fairly reasonable in the Netherlands. There’s usually a small charge for the tent (€3-4) and then an additional cost per person. Altogether, it should never be more than €10-15 for 2 people.
Second, remember to ask for a trekkers site. If you ask for a camping site, they may assume you want one with power, like a caravan would need, and that costs a lot more! Trekkers sites are much simpler, often just a field, but for a night they’re just fine.
Alternatively, there’s always free primitive campsites if formal campgrounds aren’t your thing.