You don’t have to stay in the city centre to enjoy Amsterdam. Why don’t you get on a bike and go explore things a little further away. Trot Op! tried out three different cycling routes through the outskirts of Amsterdam and far beyond.
Ah, Amsterdam: ‘tis a lovely place! I visited the city several times in the last few years, and it always showed me something new. When people come here for the first time, they’ll of course mostly do the basic stuff. Getting lost along the canals, having a stroll through the Red Light District, forgetting to prebook a ticket for the Anne Frank House and then buying one for the Artis Zoo instead: I too, did all of these things. After that first stay, I started looking at everything a bit more in depth, and visited a dozen or so of the strangest museums I could find. There’s so much to see and do in Amsterdam you’ll never truly get bored of it. Unfortunately, I’m not the only one who feels this way, which is why the city gets more and more overwhelmed by an almost intolerable mass of tourists every year. Amsterdam residents have a reputation for being a bit assertive at times, but if I had to hit the brakes every five minutes because another oblivious tourist just waddled across the bike lane looking at his phone, I’d occasionally try and hit one on purpose as well. Serves them right.
“The term Amsterdam Area was created to proclaim everything in a wide circle around the capital as Amsterdam as well. This of course in the hope of luring the less well-read backpacker away from the city centre.”
Fact is it can get quite busy in the old town, which is why in the last couple of years I amsterdam tried to spread out the tourists a bit more. To make this happen they invented the term Amsterdam Area, which proclaims everything in a wide circle around the capital as Amsterdam as well. This of course in the hope of luring the less well-read backpacker to for example Zandvoort (Amsterdam Beach), Haarlem (Amsterdam Light) or Flevoland (Amsterdam Empty) so that they’re rid of them in the city proper. Smart means to an end, and a win-win situation for both parties, because in essence all of those places are worth a visit on their own.
Cycling in Amsterdam: 3 beautiful cycling routes outside the city centre
Another way to spread out the tourists is to put them on a bike and let them discover the suburbs and the wider area around the city. This is called cycleseeing and eight different routes were drawn up for it. To finally introduce this to a broader audience they of course contacted me (haha). Together with the insufferably charming Caroline of Veggie Wayfarer, I was invited to venture into the outskirts of Amsterdam for three days. Every morning we would start a different cycling route from our hotel in the Westerpark near the Central Station: one towards Amsterdam-Zuidoost and two others north across the IJ. The routes we took were loosely based on the ones I amsterdam uploaded in the app Komoot (I added the link under each one). To make this venture run as smoothly as possible, they gave us an e-bike. The Netherlands is – perhaps you’ve heard about it – quite a flat place. So when it gets windy, it can get really windy. Peacefully pedalling straight into that head wind aided by technology seemed like a more pleasant experience than having to do it all by ourselves. The sights we would encounter along the way would prove to be pleasant as well: from repurposed industrial sites to beautiful nature reserves and a few unmistakably Dutch views. More than enough reasons to get on that bike.
1. Cycling in Amsterdam-Zuidoost and the Bijlmer district
Our first bike ride started in Nelson Mandela Park. It lies in the Amsterdam-Zuidoost area and two years ago a beautiful statue was unveiled here, with one of the faces strangely resembling me. Already immortalised and I didn’t even have to do anything for it (let alone die): nice. The main district to check out here is called Bijlmer, and this is a name that might ring some bells. Unfortunately, this is mainly because in 1992 a Boeing crashed into two apartment buildings here. The peaceful memorial to the nearly 50 victims can still be visited. These big apartment blocks are quite characteristic of the neighbourhood. In the sixties Bijlmer was designed as a model district for young families, where they would live in a green environment, and where living and working space would be completely separated. In practice it was the poor who were being driven out of the city centre who settled here, and because everyone was working somewhere else, there was hardly any social control. The neighbourhood quickly became one of the city’s most notorious, but in the nineties they started turning it around. A couple of the blocks were torn down in favour of family homes, the opening of some university campuses attracted lots of students, and the Johan Cruijff ArenA and the Ziggo Dome opened their doors here as well. Today, Bijlmer is the most multicultural neighbourhood in Amsterdam, with more than 130 nationalities living together. There’s quite a lot to visit relatively close to each other as well. Here’s a small selection:
Heesterveld Creative Community is a brightly coloured apartment block transformed into a creative hub. Lots of artists, creatives and other hippies all bunk together here, in combination with a few popups and a cosy lunch bar called Oma Ietje. Probably the most photogenic place in the district. www.omaietje.nl
Gaasperplas is a vast, wooded park with a large swimming pond and tons of winding paths to explore. For those free of mind and loins there’s even a nudist beach to enjoy. When we arrived it was somewhat chilly and so to my great disappointment we kept our wares packed, but in summer you’ll certainly be in for an adventure here.
Museum Vrolik is hidden in the AMC Hospital and is the anatomical museum of the university: a cabinet of curiosities, full of random body parts in formaldehyde. I covered this place in detail in the museum article linked in the intro.
World of Food is a food hall with plenty exotic stalls in a converted garage. At the moment however, most of them are closed. This is because the construction of a new complex will start next year, with the current restaurants to be integrated into a residential complex.
If you want to visit all of these highlights, you’ll have to cycle a loop of about 20 kilometres. Check this route: www.iamsterdam.com/zien-en-doen/natuur-en-activiteiten/routes/fietsroute-bijlmer-gaasperplas.
2. Cycling to Zaanse Schans
Our second bike tour started in the Amsterdam harbour at Silodam. This is a breakwater on which a few old grain silos were converted into apartments. There’s also a new building on poles in the water, which looks like they threw a whole bunch of giant Lego blocks on top of each other randomly – I like it. To cross the IJ we cycled through the port for a few kilometres, all the way to the ferry to Zaandam (which like all ferries in Amsterdam, is completely free). Next to the ferry you’ll see The Kissing Couple: an Insta-worthy statue with a pose all the true influencers will not be able to resist mimicking. Once you cross the water you’ll drive through the Hembrug terrain. In the past, ammunition was produced on an industrial scale here; now you’ll find everything from shops, businesses, restaurants and even a large market in the hangars. We’re in the Zaan region now: one of the oldest industrial areas in Europe, known for its painted wooden houses. If you want to see that style in all its glory but in the most bombastic way possible, you should visit the Inntel Hotel in Zaandam centre. This is a mesmerising building that looks like dozens of those little houses were glued on top and over each other. It’s like the architect emailed his most insane concept in a drunken stupor, just to wake up hungover, slowly realising he now actually has to build it – iconic. Also in Zaandam: the Czar Peter House. This is one of the oldest wooden houses in the Netherlands. You don’t get to see it from the outside though, because a larger house was built around it for protection. It is here that Peter The Great slept on some blacksmith’s couch while traveling the Netherlands incognito. Airbnb avant la lettre.
The biggest attraction of the Zaan region lies a few kilometres further away. Zaanse Schans is probably the most Dutch-looking image you will ever see in life – unless you’ve seen King Willem-Alexander gabber through a tulip field on clogs, chugging two litres of Heineken and wearing an orange football jersey. This is what Americans who’ve never set foot in the Netherlands think it looks like. A bunch of majestic windmills in a row overlooking the water, surrounded by sheep-grazed meadows bordered by dozens of those cute wooden houses. Most of them were not originally constructed here, but were moved and rebuilt in the sixties to preserve the architectural style. It’s not just a museum though. There is of course one, and some of the houses have artisan shops in them, but most are still inhabited. This is a living community. Zaanse Schans is what the entire region looked like a few centuries ago. Hundreds of windmills stood here at the time, which were used to work wood and to produce linseed oil, paint, tobacco and paper. Every year a million – mainly foreign – tourists visit the place. Know what to expect.
To visit all the sights, we cycled about 30 kilometres in total. www.iamsterdam.com/zien-en-doen/natuur-en-activiteiten/routes/fietsroute-industrieel-erfgoed
3. Cycling to Amsterdam Noord and through Amsterdam’s nature reserves
For our last cycling adventure we crossed the water again, but this time on the ferry that leaves behind the Central Station. Today we would be off for our greenest and longest ride, which would take us over a quiet bike path next to a canal for miles, bordering the Ilperveld. This is a vast water area with hundreds of little peat islands – a paradise for migratory and wading birds best visited by boat on a Wetland Safari. Along the canal are also a few tiny hamlets to visit like Watergang, where a few dozen houses were built on both sides of a little waterway and everyone seems to have their own little boat. Taking the route below, you get to cross the channel via an old-fashioned ferry that starts moving when you ring the bell. It’s operated by one friendly lady and the crossing will cost you the full 25 cents. After about 20km we had lunch in Purmerend. This is a city you probably never heard of, but more than 100.000 people live here. On the Koemarkt (Cow Market) there are plenty of restaurants to choose from, and there’s also an endearing statue of four cows to admire – one of them proudly balancing on a pole as if it was performing in the circus.
We rode back over the spectacular Melkwegbrug (Milky Way Bridge) – which can completely tilt to allow ships to pass under – and through the nature and recreation area Het Twiske. Here you can cycle along the water, past windmills and over all kinds of bridges, to finally end up in Amsterdam North again. Here you’ll find the NDSM-Site: one of my favourite places in the entire city. NDSM used to be the largest shipyard in the world, but was turned into a giant creative hub, housing a myriad of colourful startups and associations on two chaotic floors. IJver can also be found here: a cozy restaurant with a large outside terrace. Apartment buildings, shops and other facilities popped up all around the site in recent years, which made it into one of the more popular places to live these days. With STRAAT it also has one of the best museums in Amsterdam on offer: a gigantic warehouse showcasing more than 150 monumental works of street art, including a huge and colourful portrait of Anne Frank on the façade. Want to stay here? There are several strange options to choose from. The Faralda Crane Hotel is a literal crane towering over the entire site, offering three rooms at the top – including a hot tub with a view. Botel on the other hand is a hotel on a boat, in which you’ll find the craziest rooms in the big orange letters on the rooftop. There’s a skate ramp in the B, a mirror hanging from the ceiling in the O (kinky) and a bed for four with a home cinema in the E. Sounds like a room you shouldn’t book with Uncle Bob and Aunt Maggie.
The whole route will be about 40km long: www.iamsterdam.com/zien-en-doen/natuur-en-activiteiten/routes/fietsroute-waterland
Hotels in Amsterdam further info
We stayed in the Conscious Hotel Westerpark located in the park bearing the same name. It’s just a couple of minutes by bike from the central station. The hotel is all about sustainability, offers beautiful rooms looking out over the park, a cosy restaurant and a little shop full of Amsterdam goodies. www.conscioushotels.com
This story was realised with the help of amsterdam & partners. For more info on everything Amsterdam Area has on offer, visit: www.iamsterdam.com.
Trot Op! travelled from Antwerp to Amsterdam with the Eurostar in no more than 75 minutes. This used to be a Thalys connection, but the two have joined forces so that you can book the same company for trips from Antwerp or Brussels to (amongst others) London, Amsterdam and Paris. We rode in Premium, so we were offered a hearty breakfast. Prices from €29. www.eurostar.com.
Looking for some other Amsterdam Area gems? Read everything about Haarlem and Flevoland. Want to travel somewhere else in The Netherlands? Read my posts on Schouwen-Duiveland, Eindhoven, Utrecht, the Wadden Islands and South-Limburg.