Well Holland must be the tops when it comes to being the most cycle friendly country. It seems that Holland and his dog have a bike, they use them to commute, to do the shopping, for sport or just for pure recreation. Nearly every road has a cycle path called a 'Fietspad' which links most villages and towns. These 'Fietspads' are mostly separate and away from the road itself (unlike most of our cycle paths in Britain which are a miserly bit of the road marked off with a white line, if we're lucky!). They are generally well sign posted giving distances in Km, only occasionally in the bigger towns have we got lost and then the Dutch are so helpful, you've only got to get your map out and someone will appear willing to give you directions!
Holland is a good place to tour if you are new to cycle touring and in particular new to cycling because of its flat terrain, its many cycle paths and its friendly people. Contrary to what some people think there are some very nice countryside in Holland such as the heaths and forest of Gelderland and the De Hogue Veluwe Veluwezoom National Parks north of Arnhem, to name but a few and some very interesting old towns.
Cycling in Holland can be seen as a very leisurely affair where you are happy to meander through the countryside and suburbs and take your time. If you are interested in doing a lot of miles at a fast pace on open roads on fast tarmac you might find the twist and turns of the cycle paths with the numerous traffic lights with their buttons to press, and the rough pamment surfaces a little frustrating.
The Dutch are so geared up for cycle travel that at traffic lights the cyclists have there own set of lights and in some places the cycle routes have there own roundabouts. We've even been through a tunnel under the Maas river which had separate cycle tunnels complete with lifts to get the bikes down to the tunnel level.
Generally on minor roads the cycle paths have priority and these are marked with give way triangles on the road surface. On major roads the priority is for the vehicle traffic and you will need to give way at the triangles marked on the cycle path surface.
Be aware that in the country side and forested areas the sign posts change from being the traditional type on a post to an ANWB 'paddestoel' a small square 'mushroom' like structures about a foot and a half in height. These not only have the directions and distances marked on them but they also have a unique 5 digit number. These numbers are marked on some of the cycling maps and are very useful aid to checking your position.
On some cycle paths mopeds and scooters are allowed, these are usually marked with a sign at the beginning of the cycle path so be aware of their presence. For more details on traffic regulations in Holland have a look at Bas van Oudheusden's Holland page.
There are currently 26 long distance routes known as LF-routes ('landelijke fietsroutes = long distance routes'), they stretch throughout the country, more details of these routes can be found on Anja de Graaf and Paul van Roekel's 'Cycling the Netherlands' site here or the on the 'Stichting Landelijk Fietsplatform' site here, unfortunately this site is in Dutch but it has information for the maps for each route. There are numerous local cycle routes, which you can link together to make longer routes. ANWB produce a 1:300 000 map of Holland showing all the Long distance routes which is useful in planning a tour which includes the LF routes also on the back are marked the places of the 58 marked Mountain bike trails. Cost €4.95
If you are planning on cycling in Holland you might find the Fietsrouteplanner a useful site. It is in Dutch but it is not that difficult to work out. Click the 'plaats routepunt ' tab and a green flag appears as the cursor, use this to click on your start position. Once you have clicked your start position the cursor chances to a red flag, use this to click on your finish point. The cursor then changes to a yellow pin, you can then use this to point any places that you want to go via. Finally click the blue 'Bereken de route' link in the left pane and this should produce the results of your route, giving you the length, time and calories you will burn on the route! If you click on the 'Toon routebeschrijving' link it will give you a printable description of the route. If you tick the box next to where it says ' en/of met kaartjes' it will give you the maps of the route. You can also select which scale to have and how many maps to have.
In some regions of Holland they have now installed a system of cycle network routes known as 'Knooppuntroutes' This is a system of marking each intersection of the cycle network with a unique number. Signs are then placed along the route giving you directions to the next number intersection of the cycle routes that radiate from the last intersection. At each intersection there is a map showing you all the numbered intersections, once you get the hang of it, it is quite easy to navigate, you just look at the map, decide your route, note down the numbers and then follow the well marked signs. It's basically like cycling by numbers!
Cycle Network intersection sign
Cycle Network direction sign
Campsites are plenty in Holland and are generally of a good standard. Many are well equipped and prices vary according to the facilities offered. Prices range from 10 - 23€ for 2 pers and a tent, most of the bigger Dutch campsites have on site shops and a snack bar. There is no need to have a camping card or carnet to visit Dutch campsites.
The majority of campsites are marked on the ANWB/VVV Toeristenkaart maps, however they are not always to be trusted as being up to date so it is advisable to get a current camping site book, there are several available from most ANWB/VVV tourist offices. Unfortunately they are generally in Dutch, but the symbols are easy to work out and it is quite easy to find the details of the campsites.
If you are looking for campsites in Holland try these links:
There are number of campsites run by the 'Staatsbosbeheer' which is the governmental organisation, managing the natural heritage in the Netherlands. We have found that these are generally very good, if you go to www.natuurkampeerterreinen.nl and then click on 'Overzicht Terreinen' there is a click able map showing all the sites.
Our preferred sites are the 'Mini-camping sites' these are generally farmers or small holders who offer camping but they are restricted to 15 pitches so they tend to to be quieter. There is a guide available from ANWB - gids Kleine campings ANWB kamperen - ISBN 90-18-02085-0 www.vekabo.nl
Unfortunately it is illegal in Holland to camp wild, however if you are not worried about facilities there are a number of designated camping sites mainly provide by the Dutch Forestry Commision throughout the Holland that offer a similar experience called 'Paalkamperen'. On these campsites you can stay one or more nights for free. Most of the sites are little more than a grass area with a pole with a sign on it to denote that you can camp there (hence the name, Paalkamperen translates as Pole camping in Dutch), others may have a picnic bench and a waterpump, although this might not be potable water so we would advise you to bring your own drinking water. Many of the sites can only be reached on foot and most of these locations are difficult to find as they are not sign posted, however there is a website Paalkamperen run by Stefan Kruithof with further information and a good map that shows all the site locations.
If you don't want to camp there is the 'Vrienden op de Fiets' an organisation that you can join which gives you access to over 3450 addresses of fellow cyclists in Holland and Belgium where you can have B&B for no more than €17 a night.
There are now an excellent variety of cycle maps and guides available and they are easy to come by in Holland. They are available in most tourist information offices ('VVV's'), the ANWB (Dutch automobile association) shops and in the large book shops in the towns and cities.
For GPS users there is a Benelux OpenStreetMap for Garmin available here.
Landelijke Fietsroutes 1 :150 000
We have found these to be about the best maps for cycle touring in Holland. They come in an A5 sized 'ziploc' plastic wallet which contains an A5 size booklet with route descriptions and general information (unfortunately only in Dutch) and 20 loose A3 size maps folded in quarters, which fit nicely into an Ortlieb map case. Although the maps are slightly larger in scale to the ANWB maps they do have a wealth of information on them for the cyclist. Details include LF routes with numbers, tour junctions and variants, cycle paths, ANWB 'Paddestoel' numbers, campsites and the usual tourist information.
They come in 2 packs one to cover the North of Holland and one to cover the South of Holland, although you can buy all the North and South maps in one pack which is slightly cheaper. They can be purchased from most ANWB shops and some of the VVV offices.
The ANWB/VVV Toeristenkaart 1 : 100,000
Cost @ €6.50
These are very useful, showing all the cycle paths, ANWB 'Paddestoel' numbers, campsites and the usual tourist information symbols. However they do not show the signed LF and local routes by number. They are available at most 'VVV' offices and cover most parts of Holland.
The ANWB/VVV Provinzkaart 1 : 100,000
Cost @ €6.50
These compliment the Toeristenkaart and are virtually the same, except that they have the tourist information key translated into English and they cover a wider area on 3 separate maps. They are available at most 'VVV' offices and cover most parts of Holland.
Cycle network Fietsen Kaart
As mentioned above there are some areas in Holland which have a cycle network or 'Knooppuntroutes' all of these areas have there own map.
To obtain maps before you go touring try contacting 'The Map shop', or the Dutch shop Geographic Bookshop Jacob van Wijngaarden (in English).
As Holland is generally flat it makes for easy cycling, the main problem is the wind if it's against you it can be hard work and your average speeds can be reduced. On the other hand with the wind behind you and a full set of panniers acting as a sail you can achieve some impressive speeds.
Cycling in the Netherlands - By Eric van der Horst - The very best routes in a cyclist's paradise contains over 700 kms (430 miles) of high quality cycling routes with full route descriptions, high profile mapping, visitor information and accommodation suggestions. - Published by Dome Publishing/Cyclecityguides and available at www.cyclinginholland.com
The Rough Guide to Holland - Published by Rough Guides ISBN 1-85828-229-2 A very useful guide to all things in Holland.
Insight Guides - The Netherlands - Published by APA Publications (HK) Ltd. ISBN 9-62421-127-2 A good pictorial guide to Holland
Remember opening times are not as liberal as in Britain most shops stay open until 5:30 p.m.(mostly 8:00 p.m.) and some supermarkets in the bigger towns stay open later and very few shops are open on a Sunday. Most of the bigger campsites have campsite shops, although these generally adhered to normal shop opening times in Holland.
It is possible to take your bikes on the Dutch trains, although you will not be able to take them on some rush hour trains on working days (Monday/Friday) between 6:30 am and 9 am and between 4:30 pm and 6 pm on nearly all trains. In July and August there are no such limitations. Contact Nederlandse Spoorwagen (Netherlands Railways) for more details.
Remember that most small stations are unmanned and have ticket machines on the platform and you will need to purchase your journey ticket and a separate ticket for your bike before you board the train. Unlike UK trains you can not easily purchase a ticket on the train,
It is not usually possible to put your bike on Dutch busses, however I understand that you can take bikes on the buses that cross the Westerscheldetunnel near Vlissingen.
- The Dutch seem very fond of using concrete sets to make some of their cycle paths this makes for an interesting and sometimes slightly uncomfortable ride.
- On certain cycle paths mopeds are allowed, watch out for these as they can give you a bit of a fright as they pass you at speed!.
- The mushroom style signs are sometimes easy to miss as being so low down they can be obscured by under growth or Dutchmen who find them just the right height to sit on!
- Cycle helmets do not seem to be 'de rigueur' with the recreational cyclists in Holland and probably reflects the fact that cycling in Holland is much safer than in the UK. This is probably due to the fact that most of the cycling takes place on cycle paths well away from traffic. We did find that a good proportion of the racers were wearing helmets. If like us you prefer to wear a helmet do not be surprised if you get funny looks or laughed at by the kids. As I understand there seems to be some opposition to wearing helmets as the government are thinking of making them compulsory.
- The Dutch don't seem to believe in public toilets! You will need to take advantage of the loos on your coffee stops!
- Screw on self sealing gas cartridges are difficult to get hold of except in a few specialist outdoor shops, the older style non self sealing gas cartridges are readily available in most campsite shops. A solution to this problem is to get hold of the new GoGas adapters that convert non self sealing cartridges for use with self sealing cartridge stoves. (Thanks to Peter for that tip, check out his cycling website www.ctc-cambridge.org.uk)
- If you want a good snack in a restaurant or cafe, look out for the 'Uitsmijter' - usually grilled ham & cheese on bread, with an eggs on top, delicious!
- ANWB the Dutch Automobile Association have placed emergency kits at many restaurants, pubs, campsites and bicycle sheds around the county. These are yellow boxes that contain puncture repair kits, a small first aid kit and tools to do small repairs to you bike. The key for these boxes are obtainable from the manger of the establishment, there is no charge for their use.
- Bicycle theft can be a problem in Holland. Make sure you have a good lock and lock your bike to something immovable. In the large cities you will find secure parking places for bicycles where you can leave your bikes safely for a small fee, ask at the nearest VVV (tourist information office) for the locations
There are many flights to Amsterdam from the UK using various operators. The ferries are a good choice for cycle tourers as your bike is not at the mercy of the airport baggage handlers! Stena Line run a ferry service from Harwich to Hoek van Holland, unfortunately they have axed the HSS ferry which was a fast and comfortable ship which did the crossing in little over 3 1/2 hrs. They have replaced it with a normal ferry which takes about 8hrs. You check in with the cars and loading at Harwich can take you up a steepish ramp to get you up and over the railway and onto the quay side so take care, the ramp on to the ferry is straight forward and you will be directed to a place where there will be ropes to secure your bikes to the railings under the ramps on the car deck, after that it's find yourself a seat and enjoy the crossing. A good way to while away a bit of the time is to watch a film at one of the two cinemas on board. (See our page on 'Using Ferries' )
If you are considering the ferry then why not check out the Dutch flyer where you can get reduced combined rail and ferry tickets. Currently you can get a single train ticket from any 'One' network railway station to any Dutch station including the ferry from £29 if you book in advance.
Nearly every town or city has a tourist information office 'VVV ', where the staff are very friendly and they have a wealth of information with maps and guides on sale. Just look for the 'VVV' signs in the towns & cities.
- Netherlands Board of Tourism - Holland - www.holland.com/uk/
- Netherlands Board of Tourism - London - PO Box 523, London SW1E 6NT
- Cycle routes in Holland - Details of 19 cycle routes in Holland.
- Cycling in the Netherlands - by Bas van Oudheusden. A more detailed page on cycling in Holland written by a Dutchman especially for foreign visiting cyclists.
- Cycling in the Netherlands- Anja de Graaf and Paul van Roekel's excellent sit on cycling in Holland.
- Stichting Landelijk Fietsplatform - Most of the information is in Dutch, however there are links to maps and information on the Dutch LF routes.
- Vereniging "De Wereldfietser" - The Dutch "World Cyclist Association", most of the site is in Dutch however there is an english section with some useful information and a discussion forum where members may answer just about any question about cycling in Holland.
- Bike4travel - Dedicated Dutch touring retailer, Capelle aan den IJssel, near Rotterdam.
- De Vakantiefietser - Dutch touring retailer based in central Amsterdam and owned by Erik Schuijt. Eric is fluent in English again and has even added a small English language section to his website to help visitors.
- The Map shop, 15 High Street, Upton-upon-Severn, Worcs. WR8 0HJ England
Tel: 01684-593146 Fax: 01684-594559