Cycling the beautiful canals of Amsterdam


Perhaps no other city in the world is so synonymous with pedal power as the Dutch capital – a city which can boast more bicycles than it can residents. The entire infrastructure of the city has been dedicated to zipping around on bicycles with many roads closed to automobiles, and an abundance of lanes reserved for cyclists to traverse the sights at their own pace.

With an amazing 250 miles of cycle paths zig-zagging through Amsterdam, the locals cycle a bewildering 1.2 million miles every single day – so the only way to really immerse yourself in the local culture is to strap on a helmet, rent a bike and explore the beautiful canal-side streets of the city.

Renting a bicycle

Unsurprisingly for a city with almost 900,000 bicycles (compared to just 750,000 people), there is no shortage of bike rental shops in Amsterdam. This guide from Amsterdam introduces 23 respected and trusted bike rental spots, helping you start pedalling around the beautiful city.

If you don’t feel up to exploring every inch of this city, propelled by your own legs, Mac Bike rentals gives you the chance to borrow electric and hybrid bikes, so you can take a rest but keep on motoring.   

Bicycle etiquette

Although there are fewer cars to navigate in Amsterdam than other major capital cities, it’s important to be respectful of fellow cyclists and ensure you’re following the permitted cycle routes. The majority of cycle routes run along the right-hand side of the streets – something to immediately consider if you’re used to left-hand cycling in the UK.

This guide from Go Amsterdam covers all the major safety rules for those planning on cycling around the city.

Cycling tours

Although the relatively small city of Amsterdam is jam-packed with sites of significance and hidden gems, if you want to visit all the must-see destinations during a day’s cycling – a cycle tour is an absolute must.

There are a huge number of local tour guides who will take you around a number of the city’s beautiful churches and museums as part of a short route.

Take a bike from your ship

River cruise operators, Emerald Waterways, organise Amsterdam cycling tours, with e-bikes provided free of charge, designed to fit all the highlights into one trip – ensuring their passengers get to enjoy the very best of the city as part of the operator’s fully inclusive river cruise packages.

Don’t miss

Rijksmuseum – The world’s only museum which can boast a cycle lane passing through it, and one of Europe’s most respected centres for the arts; the Rijksmuseum is full of works from the Dutch Golden Age, including Rembrandt, Vermeer, Steen and others.

Royal Palace Amsterdam – The massive façade of the Royal Palace Amsterdam introduces the grandeur of the residence. One of the three palaces of the Netherlands which are at the disposal of the monarchy, the sheer size and beauty of the exterior and interior of the palace demonstrates the royal significance of the site.

Jordaan – A vibrant, recently gentrified neighbourhood of Amsterdam which wordlessly alludes to the fun-loving, liberal atmosphere of the city; Jordaan is ripe to explore by bike. With a glut of bars, restaurants and activities to enjoy, it’s easy to lose a day in this village inside a city. 

Anne Frank House – No trip to Amsterdam is complete without a visit to one of the most poignant museums in the world, and one of the most evocative reminders of the horrors of World War II. Although it attracts big queues, it is definitely worth chaining up your bike and paying a visit.

Important tips

Many Dutch bicycles don’t have hand brakes, with the locals pedalling backwards to stop. Make sure you request hand brakes if that’s what you’re comfortable with. 

Always lock up your bike – an unfortunate by-product of cycling popularity in the city is a high volume of bike theft, so make sure you’re not an easy target.

Despite Amsterdam’s famously liberal stance, it is illegal to operate a bicycle under the influence of alcohol. So after a couple of Heinekens, it’s better to pop up the kickstand and make the walk back to your accommodation.

And finally, take your time. The locals may rush at breakneck speeds, but it’s better for visitors to cycle slowly to stay safe and take in the splendour of this wonderful city.

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