When someone talks of Amsterdam, my brain typically goes to ‘red light district’ and ‘cycling’. Cycling in Amsterdam is practically mandatory, if you don’t at least try it, it’s like visiting Paris without seeing the Eiffel Tower.
At least for me, cycling in Amsterdam seemed to be a daunting task, and it got more terrifying when I actually arrived. So this post is here to help! Let’s dive right into a beginner’s guide to cycling in Amsterdam.
Getting a Bike
There are hundreds of bike shops in Amsterdam, and I’m not exaggerating. Check out this page to see different rental shops! Depending on how long you’re staying for, you can either buy yourself a bike or you can rent one.
As my family live in the Netherlands, they bought me a bike as they had a place to keep it when I wasn’t visiting.
I would recommend hiring a bike for your first time.
The basic rules
There are rules to cycling in Amsterdam, and the most important is to stick to your lanes! I’ll go into this in further detail in the next section, but just know it is very important.
All across the city there are bike lanes which allow pedal bikes and mopeds which go up to 50cc (they tend to have a blue license plate). To make them easier to identify, the lanes tend to be in red.
Cycle on the right hand side of the road! As someone from England, this was a major struggle for me, but if you’re used to this then it shouldn’t be too much of a problem.
Obey the traffic lights. Due to the high volume of cyclists, not only do they have their own lanes, but they also have their own traffic lights which are identifiable by the either red or green cyclist.
Put your hand out before you turn. At first, cycling with one hand is terrifying, but as you go along, it becomes natural. In order to tell others where you’re going, you stick your arm out so they can adjust their speed, or hold back from over taking you. It’s like an indicator!
Navigating trams, cars, cyclists and people
Amsterdam is a very busy city. All around you are people walking or cycling, trams heading in varying directions and cars who drive too fast.
However, don’t fear! This is exactly what the cycle lanes are for. When you’re in your lane, you’re safe. You do have to keep your eyes peeled for pedestrians crossing, or tourists like me who don’t realise they’re in the cycle lane.
The bike bell is your best friend! It’s a great way of getting people’s attention, or making others aware of your presence.
If you have any experience riding a motorbike or scooter, this is really going to help you out here. My biggest recommendations are checking over your shoulder before you turn and constantly scanning the pavements for pedestrians crossing.
Parking your bike
The best thing about Amsterdam being such a ‘bike city’ is that there is always somewhere you can park your bike. Usually between the cycle path and the road (if you aren’t cycling on the road) or on the corner of junctions.
Rental bikes should come with a little lock on the back wheel so you can leave your bike in public and feel safe. You don’t necessarily have to attach your bike to a bike rack either.
When parking, just be sure you’re not blocking another cyclist or in the middle of the pavement.
Carrying things as you cycle
I really recommend a rucksack for this. Not all bikes come with a basket on the front (which I think should be mandatory!) and it can be difficult balancing things.
I used a normal backpack for most of the time, but when I had to go food shopping, I used the handlebars.
If you end up using the handlebars, then be sure to balance the weight! Have a bag on each side, both equal in weight, and also not hanging too low otherwise you’ll bang your legs.
Trying a new route
When you don’t know your way around the city, cycling seems impossible! But it’s not, honestly. There are a few things you can do when trying to get somewhere new on your bike:
- Use Google Maps before you leave! It’s honestly the best tool for cyclists, especially in Amsterdam. It allows you to see where you can go on your bike (some maps don’t) and how long it will take you to get there.
- Purchase a phone holder for your handlebars! This will allow you to see where you are on your route.
- If you can’t get a phone holder, then know it’s safe to pull onto the side of the pavement to check your phone for the route.
- Use the canals! When working out which road I need to turn down, I would count how many bridges I need to pass before the turn.
Once you have your bike and you’ve travelled round a few times, you’ll realise that it’s really not that scary!
The last piece of advice I’ll give is to relax! You’ll be absolutely fine, and after a day or two, you’ll really start to enjoy it.