Cycling in Amsterdam: the Basics

Cycling in Amsterdam: the Basics

If you’re planning a trip to the Amsterdam, chances are you’re going to want to hop on a bike. The Dutch capital famously has more cycles than residents, and over half of all journeys in the city centre are done on two wheels (source). In short, cycling in Amsterdam is like riding a red double-decker in London – you should try it at least once.

But while riding a bike is one of the best things to do in Amsterdam and a great way to get immersed in the local culture, it can be daunting, particularly for first-time visitors. I still remember the first time I tried out my boyfriend’s cycle on a busy bike lane near the Dam Square – I was terrified! A few weeks later, when we went to get me a bike of my own, he had to ride it home from the store as I was still feeling overwhelmed by the chaos that is the traffic of central Amsterdam. This despite the fact that I really enjoy cycling and even have my own bike in London (though that’s a whole other story!).

Slowly but surely, I’ve become more familiar and comfortable with the city and its cycling culture, and you can now find me on my red Jopo almost every day (when I am in Amsterdam, that is). In this post, I’ll share the basics of what I’ve learnt and what I think you should know before you start pedalling around Amsterdam.

[This post is the first in my three-part guide to cycling in Amsterdam. Next time, I’ll share some more in-depth tricks and rules for a safer, more pleasant cycling experience. This will be followed by a guide to the best cycling trips in and around Amsterdam, so stay tuned!]

Where can you ride a bike in Amsterdam?

Cyclists can use all roads that have a speed limit of 30km/h or under (that’s 90% of the roads in the capital). Roads with higher speed restrictions will often have separate bike paths or lanes, though it’s not always mandatory to use them.

Stay off the motorways (there’s only one in the city anyway) and, more importantly, the pavement and other pedestrian areas. You might see some cyclists breaking this rule, but they are putting others into danger and risk getting a fine. Be smart, don’t be like them.

Cycling in Amsterdam is great fun

Other rules to follow?

Cycle on the right side of the road, stop at red lights and ensure that your bike has a working bell. Helmets are not mandatory, and almost no one wears them.

Shy cyclist? Here’s how to get started.

  • Avoid the rush hours (the city is often at its most beautiful outside of them anyway).
  • Avoid the most central locations – the area around the Central Station can be particularly difficult to navigate due to the sheer volume of cyclists passing through.
  • Parks provide a great, car-free environment to hone your cycling skills in – try Vondelpark near the centre or Westerpark in the West.
  • Don’t go faster than you’re comfortable with – people can overtake you if they want.
  • Remember that it’s completely OK to wear a helmet if you want to wear one. Don’t give in to peer pressure – we’re not in kindergarten here, right?
  • Last but not least, keep in mind that sometimes shy cyclists make the best cyclists. 🙂

Confident cyclist? You’ll love cycling in Amsterdam.

Cycling is easier in Amsterdam than in almost any big city that I’ve been to. The infrastructure is great; the car drivers, while not perfect, are much better aware of cyclists than their peers in, say, London. Having said this, here comes the but

Amsterdam is not a cyclist’s dream come true

Amsterdam is known as the biking capital of the world, but it’s not as bicycle-friendly as many other Dutch towns. In fact, I know people who love cycling in Netherlands but are terrified to hop on their bikes in the capital. This is partly down to the sheer number of people in Amsterdam and the way that the city was constructed – there simply isn’t enough room for cars, mopeds, cyclists and pedestrians on the narrow medieval back lanes. In my experience, however, cycling in Amsterdam would be much safer and much more fun if everyone bothered to follow the rules. This brings us to the next point…

Don’t do as the Dutch do

There’s plenty to love about the cycling culture in the Netherlands, but you need not spend more than fifteen minutes in Amsterdam to witness some very irresponsible cycling. Whether it’s jumping the red light, taking a shortcut through the sidewalk or overtaking others when it’s unsafe to do so, there are many things that (some) locals do but you shouldn’t.  Needless to say, this sort of behaviour is not limited to Amsterdamians – tourists are also common culprits – or the Dutch. There are jerks in every country, the two-wheeled ones are simply more visible here because there are more cyclists on the roads in general (which in itself is a wonderful thing).

That’s the point to take away from this – cycling is wonderful. It has heaps of benefits for those who cycle – it’s fun, it’s a great way to get around the city, it helps you keep in shape – and for the society: as an alternative to cars, cycling protects the environment, saves space and reduces greenhouse emissions. Let’s try our best to make it as safe and as rewarding as it can be, for as many people as possible.

Here we are – now you’re all set to climb on your fiets! Next time, I’ll share some more in-depth tips for better and safer cycling experience, so remember to check back soon (follow Studying in the World on Facebook, Bloglovin and Instagram to get notified of the post). If you have any questions, leave them in the comment box below, and I’ll include them in the next post. I’d also love to hear from those of you who already have experience of cycling in Amsterdam – did you find it difficult at first? What tips do you have for those just starting out?



11 thoughts on “Cycling in Amsterdam: the Basics”

  • Fab advice. I went to Amsterdam and Rotterdam as a child a few times and loved seeing all the bicycles there, I was amazed that there was a separate path just for bikes, we need that in the UK

    • I agree – we really need more SAFE bike paths in the UK! I have a bike in London but I rarely use it for commuting because it simply doesn’t feel very safe or smart. Such a shame!

  • Love your post. I’m not an expert cyclist at all, but I love the ease of taking my bike places instead of the car and having to search for parking. Biking in Amsterdam seems pretty overwhelming. I bet I’d need some time to get adjusted 🙂

    • Thank you Stephanie, I’m very glad to hear you liked it! I definitely needed some time to get adjusted – I sometimes feel like I’m still adjusting hehe – but it can be so nice that it’s worth it! 🙂

  • I had no idea the Dutch were so relaxed about the road rules on bikes! I think I would be a bit intimidated cycling but you’ve such great tips here that it would make me feel a little more confident.

  • Cycling in Amsterdam takes some getting used to, but really it isn’t all that bad! The chaos is actually quite organized – people tend to follow certain unwritten rules even if it looks like they’re breaking every rule possible. I find tourists with no or limited biking experience the most hazardous thing you can encounter in central Amsterdam. My tip for everyone, on wheels or not, is to pay attention!

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