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Cycling in Holland

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Following on from my experience cycling in Belgium, Holland is arguably even more rewarding to explore on two wheels, such is the magnitude of the country’s cycling infrastructure. Whether you find yourself pedaling through remote countryside or amid the hustle and bustle of a major city, bikes commonly outnumber cars (and even people in Amsterdam), ensuring that cycling is a safe and speedy way to get from point to point, or attraction to attraction. My summer cycling tour took me through Holland and saw me pass through the likes of Rotterdam, Amsterdam, Utrecht and Nijmegen, and I firmly believe that exploring the country by bicycle is one of the best ways to spend a holiday in Holland.

Cycling around Rotterdam

The first stop of my cycling adventure through Holland was Rotterdam and its surrounding area. The flat landscapes are ideal cycling conditions, ensuring that making up large distances in short times are easy for even inexperienced cyclists. The countryside to the south of Rotterdam is sparse and isolated but beautiful, dotted with windmills, farms and canals leading up to the city itself.

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Rotterdam is an interesting city, presenting a lot of modern architecture and intriguing art galleries. For those spending their holidays in Amsterdam, Rotterdam is just a short train journey away and it is easy to transport your bikes on board if you fancy cycling around the city. One of my favourite destinations in easy cycling distance of Rotterdam is Kinderdijk, and specifically the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Kinderdijk Windmills. In 1740 19 windmills were built around the area for drainage purposes, and today these mills comprise the largest concentration of old windmills in the country. Shame it was raining so much when I was there!

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Cycling in Amsterdam

There are more bicycles than inhabitants in the city of Amsterdam, so it comes as no surprise that the city is practically built for cyclists. Holidays in Amsterdam are best enjoyed on two wheels as it allows you the ease of travelling from attraction to attraction safely and quickly. Cycle lanes are found throughout the city and bike rental is readily available and very reasonably priced.

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There’s no better way to spend a mild morning or warm evening than cycling alongside the pretty canals of the UNESCO World Heritage Site Canal Ring and the beautiful old architecture of the Old Centre – one of the largest in Europe. The Jordaan neighbourhood is another pleasant place to cycle, filled with lots of hip bars and aromatic eateries that will inevitably lure you into their charms.

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Cycling in Utrecht

A pretty little city set just to the south-east of the capital Amsterdam, Utrecht is predominantly a student city, home to one of the country’s most prominent universities. This lends to Utrecht’s vibrant and artistic identity, enjoyed by tourists and locals alike. Many people leave Utrecht feeling even more charmed than they did when they left Amsterdam, perhaps due to the fact there are less tourists and more of an authentic vibe around the city.

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While Utrecht may have less iconic sites than Amsterdam, there are still a number of impressive landmarks to encounter while languidly pedaling around the cobbled streets. Dom Church is among the most memorable, towering above the city and the Oudegracht canal below, while the City Hall is another unique building worth a spot or two on your camera.

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Cycling in Nijmegen

The final stop on my cycling tour in the Netherlands was the city of Nijmegen, located in the south-east of the country and just a short ride from the border with Germany where my European trip continued. The cycle from Utrecht to Nijmegen is the perfect reminder of how efficient the Netherlands’ cycling infrastructure is. I spent much of the day’s ride about 30 metres from a busy motorway on my own cycling path – often moving faster than the gridlocked traffic!

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The compact centre of Nijmegen is another great place to explore by bike, with striking squares and eye-catching landmarks, such as the buildings bordering the Grote Markt, well worth a visit. Nijmegen is also known for its WWII history and its marvellous bridge, famous for the Operation Market Garden offensive.

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If cycling isn’t really your thing, you can still visit the wonderful Netherlands with Great Escapes, in addition to many other fascinating European destinations.

If you’d like to learn more about my cycling adventures around Europe, you can read more on my blog.


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Cycling in Belgium

One of the best ways to explore Belgium is on two wheels. The flat landscapes, superb canal pathways and close proximity of major attractions ensure that cycling during your holidays in Belgium is an ideal way of discovering the country. This is exactly what I did during my latest trip to Belgium where I biked between the beautiful cities of Ypres, Ghent and Bruges.

Cycling in Ypres

The first city of my five-day cycling tour of Belgium was Ypres, a beautiful old city built around a grand central marketplace adorned with splendid buildings. Ypres is perhaps best known as the location for intense fighting during WWI, with countless tourists visiting the city every year to embark on battlefield tours.

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Cycling along the canal into the city saw me pass a number of war cemeteries and memorials, including the Essex Farm Cemetery where I encountered a memorial to John McCrae, the writer of the iconic In Flanders Field poem. The most poignant landmark for reflection is the beautiful Menin Gate. Every day at 8pm a service is held beneath the gate in memory of the fallen WWI soldiers whose graves remain unknown. The Last Post Ceremony, as it is called, was played out for the 30,000th time in July 2015.

Beyond the scars of war, the city was a thrilling place to cycle. As I bobbed around on the cobbles I absorbed the beauty of the magnificent Cloth Hall, stopping for refreshment in the form of a Belgian beer in the marketplace. The following day I began my cycle to Ghent.

Ieper: De lakenhallen Foto Tijl Capoen

Image credit: Tiji Capoen

Cycling in Ghent

To the northeast of Ypres is the marvellous medieval city of Ghent. Admittedly the ride from Ypres to Ghent takes a long time, with the distance between the two cities around 90 km, but I encountered some great stops along the way. Kortrijk and Waregem presented pleasant locations for me to take a break every couple of hours, and these could easily be incorporated into a three-day ride to Ghent. The ride didn’t feel long, hugging a great network of canal cycle paths, ensuring that avoiding traffic was never a factor of the ride.

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The city of Ghent itself was equally appealing. I stayed just outside of the city’s Begijnhof, and it was wonderful cycling around these practically-deserted streets and admiring the medieval architecture. I followed the network of canals next, discovering some fantastic views throughout the city, one of the best coming in the form of the Gravensteen castle.

It is the city centre that forms the jewel in Ghent’s crown however. Home to an unrivalled range of landmarks and attractions, including the striking Saint Nicholas’ Church and the towering Belfry from where you can enjoy unprecedented views of the city.

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Image credit: Emi Cristea

Cycling in Bruges

The ride from Ghent to Bruges is one of the simplest in the country, following a straight river pathway west along flat countryside for around 45km. The only hitch is the wind, with notorious headwinds slowing the progress of those cycling from east to west. The prize at the end of the ride makes it worth it though, with incredible Bruges awaiting you with its wonderfully-preserved old town.

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Image credit: Jan Darthet

The core of Bruges’ old town has little traffic, making cycling one of the best ways to explore the highlights of the city. I started in the Grote Markt, grabbing a beer in a bar set on the outside ring which allowed me to sit and admire the stunning Belfry as it chimed away in the sunshine. The neighbouring square is called Burg Square, home to the grand City Hall and the Basilica of the Holy Blood, and was another highlight of my visit. The Church of Our Lady and its grounds were one of the final places I cycled to (with a tourist agenda), before spending the rest of the day sampling some more of the city’s highlights.

These mainly consisted of chocolate, beer and waffles, serving as my fuel for the next day’s cycle into the Netherlands. There are a range of great chocolate shops and beer cafes, but I opted for Dumon Chocolatier and ‘t Brugs Beertje respectively. I also took a tour of the city’s brewery, De Halve Maan, and sipped a few of their beers in the brewery bar. It’s safe to say I was wheeling my bicycle back to my accommodation that evening.

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Image credit: Jiang_liu

Even if you’re not keen on cycling, you can visit all of these wonderful destinations with Great Escapes, as well as several other alluring destinations across Europe.

If you’d like to read more about my European cycling adventure, you can find further details and stories on my blog.