There are many different transportation options in Amsterdam – car, bus, metro & tram, but perhaps the best one is the option most of the Dutch themselves choose, that is a bicycle. Many first-time Amsterdam visitors are intimidated by the thought of biking in the city. It can be scary thinking of sharing the city’s streets with tram & auto traffic, as well as having to wade through a considerable amount of foot traffic as well. Following a couple simple tips can make seeing the city by bike a safe, simple & unforgettable experience.
It’s is probably going to be easier to get used to the feel of the bike and where it’s gears and brakes are if you’re in a less crowded area. Biking up to Central Station via Damrak, one of the city’s busiest tourist streets, is possibly the worst introduction to biking in Amsterdam one could ask for. Instead, head for the beautiful, more open areas of the eastern and western canal belt. Another easy thing to do while getting your bearings is to make sure you start on roads with designated bike paths, which are easier to bike on than regular roads or the cobblestone streets that are all over the city. Vondelpark, Amsterdam’s large urban park located out by the museums is another excellent place for beginners to start getting comfortable.
Watch out for the trams and tram tracks.
A good rule is to never ride your bike close to tram tracks going the same direction they are going. It’s too easy to get distracted and if the tires of the bike make it into them, it’s almost a certainty that the bike will stop going forward. At best you’ll get a hard stop, at worse, you could be thrown from the bike. This isn’t that hard a rule to follow- most of the streets with tram lines either have bike paths far away from the tracks or make such lousy streets for biking that you’ll get off them soon anyway. Also, listen for the distinct clanging sound of the trams, especially when crossing intersections- always give them the right of way.
Lock your bike up
Any bike rental place in Amsterdam is going to provide a good lock, show you how to use it, and reiterate a number of times how important it is to lock up your bike, even if just popping into a shop or restaurant quickly. There will always be something around to chain the bike to- and you’ll see bikes affixed to just about every type of non-moveable object in the city.
Don’t try to be like the Dutch right away
It’s easy to see why this rule is important- most of the Dutch you see riding bikes in Amsterdam have years and years of experience at it. It’s very common to see them biking and talking on the phone or texting, or carrying people or large objects on the front handlebars. Some ride around with oversized bags on their backs. Again, they are pros at this, you are not- don’t follow their example.
Follow the flow of traffic
The most common mistake tourists make in this matter is stopping the bike in the middle of a bike lane to check a map. If you have to do so, do what any sensible person would do when driving a car, signal (using your hands) and get over to the side before pulling out the map. Hand signals, while not too commonly used by the Dutch themselves, are a great way of letting fellow bikers know your intentions.
Take a bike tour if all else fails
Biking on your own may prove too much for some people, so there are plenty of tour companies where experienced guides will shepherd bikers of all skill levels around on a dizzying array of tour options. While most people will soon find the freedom of being on their own on a bike in Amsterdam, it would be better to take a bike tour than not to try it at all.
Have fun with it
Once you have the feel for it, the biking around should be fun. There’s no need to race off anywhere. Explore neighborhoods you wouldn’t have seen on foot. If you are even more adventurous and have the bike rented for multiple days, get outside of Amsterdam to one of the small cities that are a couple of hours ride by bike. On the way, you’ll get a glimpse of scenic Dutch countryside, farms and, of course, windmills. If you don’t feel like biking back, most trains will allow bikes (during non-peak periods).
Author’s Note: There are a ton of bike rental outlets in Amsterdam- I’ve always had a good experience with the people at Bike City in the Jordaan. Besides being friendly and knowledgeable, the neighborhood provides a much less congested starting point that does many of the outlets around the Dam. (This recommendation is unsolicited- I’ve never received a discount or compensation from Bike City.)
Here’s a little YouTube clip I made from footage I took with my Go Pro camera on my last biking excursion in Amsterdam in April of 2013.
A great way to save money when you visit Amsterdam is the Amsterdam Pass. This pass includes hop on-hop off bus and boat tours, entrance to the major museums, the Heineken Experience, and bike rentals.