“There isn’t a single windmill in Holland who doesn’t have a second job, for when there is no wind.” – Johnny Ball
The Netherlands, country of tulips and windmills, of Euro-trash music and marijuana coffee shops. Plenty of reasons to go and visit.
Biking has been many a Dutch person preferred way of getting around. What’s even better is that the highest point in the Netherlands is only 322 meters. This makes the Netherlands the perfect country for cycling.You can easily do 80 km a day on a rusty vintage bike. That’s what I did anyways.
For some unknown reason, my time in the Netherlands consisted of only a few hours passing the border when I was a kid. It’s that obvious stupid thing we humans do: taking something for granted when it’s right in front of you. I was born and raised in Belgium, a country so small that we’re maximum only 300 km away from any of our borders.
That’s right, France, Germany, the Netherlands and Luxemburg are only a few hours driving away. When I think about it, now living in New Zealand, that’s similar to driving from Invercargill to Queenstown. Haha, peanuts.
For a Belgian, that’s like driving to another universe. We might fall off the edge of the earth if we did that.
I’m exaggerating. Since the arrival of low fare flights and cheap bus fares, Belgians have been all over the place, hiding away on the south coast of France or in Barcelona. You might not notice us that much though. We sort of blend in with the furniture.
Our northern neighbours, the Dutch, are a bit easier to make out of the crowd. We speak the same language and like to overemphasize on how different we are. But in reality, we’re as different as sand flies and black flies: equally annoying when in swarms.
We both like to bike around and both our countries have the best facilities to do so. There are so many cycle trails in Belgium and the Netherlands that our governments invested into a system that spider webs different routes between two towns.
After I finally figured out that you don’t have to fly to the other side of the world for an adventure, my bike took me all the way from Eindhoven to Groningen. A ten day cycle trip that consisted of me biking over the Netherlands’ two biggest dikes: the Afsluitdijk and Houtribdijk.
I would say cycling is the best way to travel in the Netherlands. It takes you to places where you wouldn’t go by car and what’s even better, it costs you as much as the fuel your body uses. This means filling up the tank is a fun activity instead of a blood sucker on your budget.
I recommend giving yourself a hard time and finding a bike second hand. Preferably with the hardest saddle possible and a rusty steering wheel. High tech travel bikes with thirty different gear settings are only for stockbroker bogans. Stuff all your belongings into two bicycle bags and find the worst person possible to do the trip with you.
What to bring for Cycle Trip in the Netherlands?
Climate in the Netherlands is sunny/rainy/overcast with temperatures hardly going into the extremes. It’s perfect cycle weather year-round. You might have the odd frosty mornings if you decide to cycle during winter. Cycle tracks are so well maintained you could travel by wheelchair if you’re very motivated.
Since you’ll be stuffing all your belongings into two bicycle bags you are forced to downsize luggage to the bare minimum. That’s scary but don’t run away, you’ll be surprised how little you actually need.
First, you are biking in the Netherlands, one of the most densely populated countries in the world. This means you are never far away from civilization. The most dangerous wildlife you can encounter is Marco Borsato so you can leave that survival kit at home together with the bear spray.
Second, you don’t need that much clothing. As I said before, temperatures never go into extremes in the Netherlands. You’re safe with an outfit to bike in and two outfits for after cycling. Bring one pair of sneakers and a pair of flipflops. You will also need a light rain jacket and one warm sweater for a chilly evening.
A basic bicycle repair kit is necessary but don’t bother with spare tires or other big and heavy stuff. The Netherlands is a bicycle country and a repair shop is usually only a few kilometers away. You need a water bottle as well, stay hydrated!
Packing all of this should leave you with some extra space in your bags. Fill it with whatever you need extra like a camera or that fluffy pink unicorn you can’t sleep without.
How to Plan your Bicycle Travel in the Netherlands
There are two ways to explore the Netherlands by bike. The first is to follow an existing trail like the coastal route. It’s part of a 570 km long international bike trail and starts at Sluis (Zeeland), passes the beautiful Wadden Islands and ends up in Nieuweschans (Groningen). There are plenty of similar cycle trails all over the Netherlands. Find them on the Holland Cycling Routes website.
The second option and my preferred one is to make up your own trail with Cycle Route Planner (Fietsroutenetwerk). The website works like a GPS uniquely for cycle routes. The system is very simple, the map has different numbers. These numbers are where a cycle trail links to another. There are hundreds of cycle trails all over Belgium and the Netherlands. To get from one place to another you click the number closest to your starting point and then the number closest to your destination. It will then calculate the shortest route between the two points linking the cycle trails and provide you with a list of numbers.
Then the game starts, it’s just a matter of finding the numbers by following green signs that you can find next to the cycle trails. The trails are very well marked and you can download the app on your cell phone if you need extra assurance. It’s as easy as ordering a pizza.
I used Fietsroutenetwerk for both my cycle trips in the Netherlands. My travel took me from Gent all the way to Rotterdam and then from Eindhoven to Groningen.
If you’re tired of biking, take the train to your next destination. Tickets for bicycles cost € 9.
Where to stay in the Netherlands
There are plenty of hotels and bed and breakfasts that you can stay at in Holland. If you have a bigger budget than I usually do, you can even find a company that shuttles your luggage to the town you are staying.
When on a budget, there are a few exciting options that will cost you only an apple and an egg. I use mainly Couchsurfing when I travel in Europe. When living in Ghent as a university student, my apartment would be the home to many wary travelers. Warmshowers is more appropriate for cycle travel whereas Couchsurfing is more catered to backpackers. They both offer staying with locals and they’re free to become a member.
The websites are networks that connect travelers with locals who have a couch or spare room available. You can stay with a night with a host for free and have a shower, in exchange for you hosting somebody else at your place. That’s right, it’s a give some, take some system.
You have a better chance of getting hosted if you have hosted before. Your profile will have references from travelers you’ve hosted or people you’ve stayed with.
Collecting good references is a must when using both Warmshowers.org or Couchsurfing.com. Preferably from hosting somebody yourself. It shows you’ve given back to the community and other hosts are more likely to accept you into their homes.
It’s also a safety indicator, never stay with or host anybody who has a few bad references.
If you are cycle traveling around the world, Warmshowers is the way to meet a local. Becoming a member is easy, fill in the online application form, then confirm your email address and make a profile with plenty of pictures and information. To find a host, just type where you want to go and the website will show you a list of available hosts in that region.
If you’re available for hosting, then travelers will send you requests through the website. It won’t show your personal details, you must accept a cycle traveler’s request first. If you accept then you meet up and give them a bed or couch to stay for the night. You can offer them dinner, I usually do, or show them around town. Most travelers usually stay for two or three nights.
When you want to be hosted, you will be the one sending out requests. Sending requests is an art form on itself. But if you understand the rules, it’s fairly simple.
- Start with a “Hello” + their first name (spelled correctly)
- Introduce yourself
- Write a short summary of your cycle travel. Where you’re going and where you’ve been.
- How long you would like to stay
- Reference their profile: ex. “I like you because you also like pink unicorns.”
- Offer something in return for the couch. For example, cooking dinner.
Writing a personal request takes more time but always works better. Hosts always notice if somebody copy and pasted a message. It doesn’t look good. Warmshowers.org is a website that has been around for years and some hosts have been members from the start. We’ve read it all, believe me. Seen it all too so we can be a bit picky about letting someone stay with us.
I host anybody because I genuinely care about travelers on budgets. But I prefer somebody who takes an interest in me as a human being instead of somebody just looking for a free place to stay. Saying that though, I’m not that picky. I will host pretty much anybody who sends a request. Even when I lived in a ten-square meter student apartment in Ghent, I used to host. Showing my guests around town and sharing meals was something I really enjoyed.
Not every town has hosts, remember that. When I cycled around the Netherlands, I really wanted to stay in Gouda. I send out a few requests to host in that city but nobody replied. I ended up staying in Leiden instead. Big cities like Amsterdam get a lot of travelers so it’s harder to find a host. This is because the few hundred host that live in Amsterdam get swamped by requests. I usually avoid staying in big cities.
Small towns don’t get that many travelers and I find the hosts are less burned out. They spend more time with you and have this wonderful relaxed small-town attitude.
I have used Couchsurfing on most of my travels through Europe. I used it when I first hitchhiked to Kimberley, Canada and even stayed with a host in Puerto Galera, the Philippines. Not so much in New Zealand though because the country is swamped by travelers. Most hosts here are overloaded with requests.
Using the website is similar to the Warmshowers website. Fill in the application form, get your email verified and set up a profile. Your profile is really important since it’s your hosts first impression. Make sure you put some time and effort into writing it out and add lots of pictures. It will get you a better chance of somebody accepting your couch request.
I always get the same question: is using Couchsurfing or Warmshowers safe? You are hosting and staying with total strangers.
I can only answer it’s as safe as crossing the street. If crossing the street with your eyes closed, you might get run over. But if you keep your eyes open and look out for cars, the chances of getting hit are small.
Therefore, check out the host’s or traveler’s profile and their references. You can make out their character by the way they write messages. But saying that though, some travelers have English as their second language so the requests might sound a bit odd because their language skills are not as good.
I keep that in mind when I host travelers and am happy to say that all my experiences with Couchsurfing and Warmshowers have been great.
So what are you waiting for? The Netherlands is more than just Amsterdam. See it like the Dutch do: get that bike, wax those legs, put on your sexiest cycle shorts and be on your way!