Biking for one month in the Netherlands and staying with locals via WarmShowers (Couchsurfing for bike tourists) introduced me to a way of life I have come to admire. I was amazed by the short distances I could bike to see old churches, city squares, fields of cows, bread factories with notes of raisins and spice wafting into the air and canals and levees designed to keep the Netherlands afloat — literally.
Inside the city limits of Amsterdam, you can expect to see old architecture, charming canals, houseboats, Anne Frank’s relics and many talented Dutch people riding their bikes stacked with children, groceries and more while the ladies don heels and skirts. They grew up on a bike. This is normal.
Outside Amsterdam, you will find more joys with less the tourists, leading to a more authentic Dutch experience. You don’t have to go far from Amsterdam by train or bike to see for yourself. Cities Ultrecht, Haarlem, Den Hague, Delft, Amersfoort and Leiden are all close to Amsterdam, especially by our American standards of distance.
Americans assume Gouda (pronounced “how-da” with a throaty “g”) is a specific type of cheese. In fact, gouda refers to seven different types of cheeses that are aged from young to old. If you want a chunk of gouda in the Netherlands, you will get a slice from the large wheel. Aged Oulde cheese comes from creamy to crumbly depending on how long the cheese was aged for and the older versions have salt crystals sparkling inside of them created through the aging process.
Visiting the city of Gouda isn’t essential because you can find the namesake cheese at speciality cheese shops or grocery stores. I was biking through Gouda so I stopped to say I have eaten gouda in Gouda and marveled at the pretty buildings in the main city square.
The Best Biking
Riding without stress is something that is guaranteed to happen outside Amsterdam on bike lanes paralleling country roads, or along the coast visiting village cities Zandvoort and Noordwijk on windy yet beautiful bike paths through sandy dunes.
Maastricht is in the hilliest part of the Netherlands and there is a nice 18-mile bike path connecting to Aachen, Germany, which is a small city with a bustling city center, fantastic outdoor cafes, large university community and beautiful historic Gothic cathedral.
Hotels and hostels commonly rent bikes, otherwise check for a bike rental shop near your accommodations. For more info about how to navigate by bike, read Bike By Numbers.
My First Trappist Brewery
A majority of the six Trappist breweries in Belgium are in the south and are not easily accessed unless you rent a car. There is one Trappist brewery in the Netherlands and it is easier to access than those in Belgium. Just outside the city of Tilberg, La Trappe is as authentic as it gets. The difference between “trappist” and “abbey” beer is that to be labeled Trappist, the beer must be made in a Trappist brewery. Abbey beer is made in a monastery that is not deemed Trappist. Trappist beers support the monasteries. It is not meant to be a money-making venture so additional proceeds are donated to charity.
At La Trappe, the restaurant, or “commercial side,” serves food alongside a selection of La Trappe beers on tap and others from bottles. I adored the bread made fresh at the abbey with whipped herb butter and paired with a witbier because the bready flavors of the malt complemented the warm, crusty bread. Visit the gift shop to acquire bottles of La Trappe and specialty products like Abbey-made aged cheese.
Rotterdam: Water Gateway
Windmills at Kinderdijk, a UNESCO World Heritage site, are one of the touristy things I enjoyed doing. I biked to Kinderdijk a day after visiting Tilberg and on my way to Rotterdam.
The food market, a new addition downtown, is a good place to find Dutch delicacies. There are several cheese shops. In addition, Belgian foods of frites and waffles are available as are bakeries with cakes, doughnuts and bread, an olive bar, sushi and ethnic cuisines. Rotterdam’s canal is huge. Walk or bike along the boardwalk or hire a boat. Boats leave for Kinderdijk daily, however, if you are a cyclist, you can rent a bike and ride over, taking a ferry that costs less than 1 Euro one way (cash only) to access the site.
Wherever you travel within Netherlands — big or small — you can find a nice place to bike, a park to sit in and a restaurant to dine in starting with kroketten and ending with a frothy cappuccino.
I blame this on intelligent urban design. A church is at the center of town. The main square isn’t far away. You can walk or bike everywhere. And many of the city centers are car free, or at least the shopping streets are pedestrian only. It’s your turn to explore. Don’t forget to report back your favorite things!