The Netherlands is rightly known as ‘the land of bicycles’: around 15 million Dutch people regularly travel by bicycle and there are an estimated 12 million cycles in use. The popularity of cycling is perhaps mainly due to the country’s geography: distances between the cities are short and the countryside is almost totally flat, except for a few rolling hills in the east and south (the highest of which is a mere 321m/1053ft). Not surprisingly, cycling facilities are outstanding and there are approximately 17,000km (10,625 miles) of special cycling lanes and paths available. Detailed cycling maps (recommended) can be obtained for every province from local tourist information offices; as well as indicating cycling routes and tracks, the maps provide route descriptions and guides. Cycling lanes are recognizable by a round blue sign with a white bicycle in the middle. Most itineraries are circular routes, starting and ending at the same place. The province of Gelderland has the highest number of marked cycling routes. Landscapes vary from spectacular dunes (on the Duinroute in the north of the country) to wilderness and forests (on the route across the Hoge Veluwe nature reserve in the Gelderland Valley). Long-distance routes (such as the 270km-/169mile-North Sea route LF1 between the Belgian border and the northern Dutch town of Den Helder) are also available. Bicycles can be hired virtually everywhere and a list of local hire companies is available from The Netherlands Board of Tourism (see General Info section). The Netherlands Railways also offer bike-rental vouchers, which can be bought at railway ticket offices. Vouchers can be used at bicycle depots at over 100 train stations throughout the country. Over 300 stations offer the facility to take bicycles onto the train. The classic Dutch upright single-speed hub-brake bicycle is the most frequent, but other types of bicycles (including mountain bikes, children’s bicycles and tandems) are also available. Use your international cell phone rentals to reserve a bike.
In The Netherlands, walking holidays are also very popular; the 300km- (188mile-) long coast has a number of scenic walks through sand dunes and nature reserves. Visitors can obtain maps with walking routes from the Foundation for Long Distance Walks (Stitching Lange-Afstand-Wandelpadsen), PO Box 846, 3800 AV Amersfoort (tel: (33) 465 3660; fax: (33) 465 4377). Visitors can also join the annual six-day walking event (beginning of August), where participants walk from Hook of Holland to Den Helder. At Wadden Sea National Park (Europe’s largest continuous national park), there is also the opportunity to take part in various types of mud walking trips on the bottom of the Wadden sea, whose shallows fall dry at low tide.
The Dutch coast on the western shore is well suited and well equipped for all types of watersports, including swimming and windsurfing. Sailing is popular on Friesland Lakes, the Ijsselmeer, Loosdrechtse Plassen (south of Amsterdam) and Veerse Meer. Boats can be hired without difficulty in most places. Touring Holland’s canals and rivers is popular. Catamaran sailing and parachuting is possible on the islands of Ameland and Texel. Water-skiing is not permitted on inland lakes. Fishing is popular throughout the country, but while no license is needed for sea fishing, inland fishing licenses are required and are available at local post offices.
A visit to one of the famous Dutch flower markets is recommended. The best ones are in Amsterdam (where the famous Bloemenmarkt along the Singel canal is a major tourist attraction), Delft and Utrecht. Dutch flower bulbs are available for sale but it is essential to make sure the vendor sells them with an official export certificate. The most popular Dutch flowers are tulips and daffodils. There are also various colorful flower parades (corso), notably the Bollenstreek flower parade (the country’s biggest). Many parades display spectacular flower ‘floats’ made of hyacinths, daffodils and daliahs. The Floriade, held every 10 years in The Netherlands, is one of the world’s most famous flower exhibitions. Last held in 2002 (from mid-April to mid-October), the city of Haarlemmermeer hosted this prestigious horticultural event. Visitors may also visit one of the country’s unique flower auctions, such as the ones in Aalsmeer (easy to reach from Amsterdam) and the ‘Flower Auction Holland’ near The Hague and Rotterdam in the Westland. The country’s traditional cheese market is held in Alkmaar, every Friday from 1000-1200, from mid-April to mid-September. Use your Netherlands cellular phone rentals to easily keep track of market hours.