Nothing says Holland like tulips, windmills, wooden shoes and wild salmon, but did you also know that there are also nearly as many bikes here as there are people? With flat, gorgeous paths in the countryside and cobblestone streets through charming towns, there’s no better way to journey through this lovely country than from the seat of a cycle.
A mild maritime climate invites cyclists to enjoy flowers in spring and warm weather in the summer on a Dutch biking tour this year. Here are some of our favorite Dutch destinations perfect for exploration, discovery and of course, pannenkoek.
Amsterdam: A trip to Holland typically kicks off and wraps up in the electrifying city of Amsterdam. Home of fascinating history and art museums, like the Van Gogh and Rijksmuseum, Anne Frank’s house and more than 1500 bridges, this colorful metropolis is also the most bicycle-friendly capital city in the world. Spend the day pedaling through funky neighborhoods, stopping occasionally to experience coffee shop culture and sample local delights, like stroopwafel, bitterballen and gouda. Peruse Prinsengracht or Haarlemmerstraat for shopping, bike along pathways lining over 165-miles of canals, and take breaks in verdant parks to people-watch. Never a dull moment in this, the true Venice of the North.
Haarlem: A photographer’s paradise awaits in this city of medieval architecture, cobblestone streets and watery ways. With the iconic 14th-century cathedral, Grote Kerk, at the center of town, Haarlem also features the delightful Molen de Adriaan, a classic Dutch windmill. Tucked into courtyards behind unassuming doors are no less than 21 hofjes. These tucked-away garden oases are a quiet respite from the de Gouden Straatjes (streets of gold) that make Haarlem the best shopping destination in the Netherlands. Cool, curious and relaxing, Haarlem is also at the heart of the bulb-growing district. This year’s world-renowned Bloemencorso Bollenstreek (basically, bloom festival) is on April 22, so book your Dutch bike tour to time perfectly with one of Europe’s most colorful traditions.
Giethoorn: You know when a village’s website boasts that the loudest sound heard in this serene town is the quacking of a duck, you’ve found true tranquility. In large part, this is thanks to the fact that there are no roads and thus no cars. Travel between islands and under Giethoorn’s 180 humpback bridges is accomplished rather by ‘whisper boat.’ Thatched houses and quaint cafes adorn the village, which should be visited anytime between mid-April and October – with the exception of August, when tourists all but mute the serenity. If you come in winter, expect the canals to be frozen over and boaters replaced by ice skaters!
Keukenhof Gardens: With its roots in the Himalaya, the esteemed tulip bulb reached its zenith in the 1600’s, when one bulb was worth the price of a modern-day canal house in Amsterdam. Nowadays, the Netherlands produces over four-million bulbs a year making it the tulip capital of the world. Only open eight weeks each year, the Keukenhof Gardens are a must if you love tulips and tulip history. Over seven-million bulbs are donated by 100 bulb growers and planted each autumn by hand in the 79-acres of this stunning Eden. Besides an exhibition on Tulip Mania, Keukenhof also showcases the world’s largest lily show, Japanese gardens, a spring meadow and a garden maze.
Enkhuizen: A true water-lovers paradise, the picturesque town of Enkhuizen is also part of one of the 20th century’s greatest engineering marvels. What was at one time known as the Zulderzee was transformed into polders and Lake IJsselmeer, where Enkhuizen sits. Bike from the green-gabled houses of De Rijp over canals and wooden drawbridges to the seafaring towns of Schermerhorn and Hoorn before settling into an enchanting evening in this postcard-perfect town. Explore the Zuiderzee Museum to discover the remarkable history of this interesting landscape before soaking in the simple grandeur of 16th-century structures and watercolor scenes.
Lake IJsselmeer: As you learned during your time in Enkhuizen, Lake IJsselmeer is actually Holland’s largest lake, cut off from the Wadden Sea by the Afsluitdijk. It’s now fed by several rivers and is not only ideal for water sports but is also home to tasty fish. Thanks to a prolific fishing industry, the shores of IJsselmeer are dotted with many quintessential Dutch villages, like Monnickendam, Marken and Volendam. The cheese town of Edam is also here, as is Stavoren, an endearing village full of folklore and quiet roads made for biking. Explore the port town of Hindeloopen before wining and dining in the tourist portal of Lemmer – and of course taking a dip in the lake.
Pannenkoeken Heaven: Follow your nose through dense woodlands past fields of purple heather and prehistoric stone beds to the village of Odoorn where some of the world’s tastiest pancakes are whipped into delectable dinners. With flour, milk, salt and eggs as the foundation of this Dutch masterpiece, no trip to Holland would be complete without a visit to a pancake house for some pannenkoek. Larger than American pancakes and not as thin as crepes, a pannekoek can be enjoyed with bacon, apples, cheese, raisins, cinnamon and even chicken. As if a restaurant wouldn’t suffice, Odoorn celebrates an entire pancake farm open year-round. Cap off a day in the saddle with a plate of sweet or savory pancakes and your adventure in Holland will be complete. Eet smakelijk!