Looking for a different way to explore the Netherlands? Two of the best ways to see the highlights of Holland are by bike and boat. Why? Boats give you access to sights you’d never be able to see by land as they travel through the waterways throughout the country. And bikes let you cover more ground than walking while still getting you up close to the all the main highlights of Holland. Here are 14 must-sees by boat and bike in the Netherlands:
1. Explore Museumplein, the cultural heart of Amsterdam.
Did you know Amsterdam is one of the most bike-friendly cities in the world? It ranks anywhere from first to third thanks to its flat streets and amount of rentable bikes (over 800,000!). So it makes sense that it’s the perfect place to start your bike tour of Holland.
Art-lovers rejoice! Three spectacular museums are located around the Museumplein, or Museum Quarter. Stop by Rijksmuseum, which is as beautiful on the outside as the paintings are on the inside, for a look at the National Gallery. Stedelijk Museum features modern art by such famous artists as Pablo Picasso and Andy Warhol. Impressionist Vincent Van Gogh has an entire museum dedicated to his works (as well as a few other impressionist contemporaries). See over 200 of his paintings as well as 500 drawings in the gallery.
Getting peckish? Jump off your bike for a quick stop at a raw herring cart. Yes, you read that correctly… raw! The small fish has been a Dutch delicacy for over 600 years. The herring is frozen, then covered in salt for a few days to add flavor. You’re on vacation, so live a little! Take a bite of the flavorful fish for a true Dutch experience.
2. Pedal through the picturesque fishing villages of Waterland.
Just outside Amsterdam lies the charming countryside of The Netherlands. Tulips, windmills, and farmlands abound amongst the fields and waterways. This idyllic landscape is your cycling scenery for the day. Waterland, a wetland region with several picturesque villages and port towns near the IJsselmeer, is your destination.
One of the most famous villages is Edam which is known for its cheese covered in red wax, but there is much more to see during your visit. Cycle around the old city center for historical sites like the medieval St. Nicholas Church and colonial Town Hall. As you ride by the carillon, you may hear the bells ringing. You have a good chance because they ring every 15 minutes!
Marken used to be an island, and nowadays it’s a peninsula with very characteristic, cultural features. The colorful buildings make you feel as though you’ve stepped back in time. Continue on your journey to Marker Museum where costumes from the 16th century are on display.
You will also visit the fishing village of Volendam. Volendam is the ideal tourist town. Souvenir shops are on every street, as are restaurants, cafes, and bars. Volendam Museum holds an interesting display of images like windmills and the Statue of Liberty made from cigar bands.
3. Enjoy a picnic of fruit and famous Edam cheese along the shores of Lake IJsselmeer.
So which body of water are the villages of Waterland on? That would be Lake IJsselmeer, a closed-off inland bay. Long ago, the lake was a part of the Zuiderzee, an incursion of the North Sea, which frequently flooded Holland throughout the first millennium. Finally, in the 1930s, the Dutch were able to push the “Southern Sea” back, and closed off the North Sea for good. The Afsluitdijk, which was constructed between 1927 and 1932 is a causeway that runs between the North Holland province and the Friesland province, and played a key part in the damming of the Zuiderzee. It’s possible to cycle from one end of the causeway to the other, enjoying the wonderful views of IJsselmeer along the way.
As you cycle around the lake’s shores, take time to have a picnic lunch, including the famous Edam cheese. With a good amount of farms and cows near the city, Edam cheese became an export in the Middle Ages. The semi-hard cheese lasts a long time, so it survived well on long voyages. These days, the cheese is served worldwide, including in the Yucatan of Mexico.
4. Visit Muiderslot, the 14th century medieval castle of the Duke of Bavaria.
Ever wished you could visit one of the castles in a Disney movie? Muiderslot comes pretty close. Surrounded by bright green grass and grand gardens, the exterior alone is breathtaking. (It even has a moat!)
The castle is now a museum, decorated inside as it would have been during the 17th century. Learn about the history of the castle and those who lived there as well as view a collection of arms and armor from the medieval time.
Muiderslot isn’t the only castle to see in the Netherlands. In fact, the entire country is known for its amazing castles.
5. Wander the historical center of Weesp and photograph its wonderful windmills and forts.
On the River Vecht lies Weesp, one of 14 fortified towns in Holland. When you ride into Weesp, you’ll immediately notice the battlements and fortifications throughout the city. The historic city center is protected by numerous interwoven canals. Three traditional windmills are within Weesp, along with many buildings dating back to the 17th and 18th centuries. Be sure to check out the awe-inspiring Ossenmarkt and Issenmeer forts. The old town hall has been transformed into a municipal museum, featuring many 18th century porcelain pieces.
Jump back on your bike for a ride through the Naardermeer area, the Netherlands’ first nature preserve. With much of the preserve being wetlands, birdwatching is a popular activity. Look out for purple herons, gray geese, and a variety of ducks and other waterfowl. Water lilies float upon the marshes and reeds line the shores, providing a picturesque ride.
6. Shop for silver in the charming workshops along the canals in Schoonhoven.
Holland’s “Silver City” doesn’t disappoint. Silver and goldsmiths create beautiful works with their precious metals you can purchase in Schoonhoven. Looking for something special to take home? Odds are good you will find something here.
If buying silver isn’t enough, check out the Netherlands Silver Museum at Schoonhoven for works of art and the history of silver in the region. Ornate jewelry, teapots, candlesticks, and other works of craftsmanship line the walls and halls of the museum, making all who visit wish they had their own collection of Schoonhoven silver back home.
7. Explore the Hanseatic towns along the Rhine valley.
Cruise along the flat cycle ways of the Rhine Valley and admire the beauty of its tributary, the Ijssel River. It has been deemed as the most beloved route by cyclists in the Netherlands. Along the way you will find the fascinating Hanseatic towns that flourished during the middle ages when the Ijssel River was one of the most important trade routes of Europe. Within these towns you’ll find fishing harbors, forts, castles, and museums galore.
Around the Rhine Valley you’ll also find the lakes, woods and moorlands of the Veluwe National Park, which is a hotspot for many other outdoors activities, such as swimming, surfing and fishing.
8. You can’t visit Holland without seeing the 19 windmills of Kinderdijk.
Seriously, what is more Dutch than windmills? And how cool would it be to see 19 at one time?! At Kinderdijk, not only can you see them, you can cycle by them. And you don’t want to miss out on this UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The windmills aren’t just there to look pretty (although they are!). For ages, windmills have helped keep the land dry and provided places for agricultural use. Along with dykes, canals, reservoirs, and pumping stations, the windmills will forever be a staple in Holland.
9. Check out the cheese weighing house in Gouda, the cheese capital of Holland.
Chances are you’ve been pronouncing Gouda wrong your entire life. It’s much more dramatic than “goo-da”—the Dutch have a guttural “G” sound in front of a soft “H.” Add in an “ow” and finally the “da,” and you’ve learned the correct pronunciation of Holland’s most famous cheese.
Gouda, the cheese’s namesake, is a city in South Holland and home to the famous cheese, stroopwafels, candles and its 15th century town hall. Many of the buildings in Gouda are from medieval times, making them marvelous to look at. Ride to the historic market square (where you can also find the town hall) for a chance to buy your own wheel of Gouda.
10. Bike through the fields and farms in the Green Heart of Holland.
Want a deep dive into Dutch culture and discover more highlights of Holland? Ride through the Green Heart of Holland, a rich, emerald landscape with windmills, farms, cows, cheese, and traditional crafts. Pastoral villages and leisure lakes dot the rolling, green hills. Feel free to partake in your favorite water sport at these recreational bodies of water (sailing is a particular favorite!). Or just bike around the area for a beautiful ride.
Stop by one of the villages to sample the local cheeses or purchase a craft to take home. Life is peaceful here, so peaceful in fact, you may never want to leave.
11. More windmills? Don’t miss the Molenmuseum De Valk in Leiden, the birthplace of Rembrandt.
Ever wanted to know what the inside of a windmill looks like? Then check out the Molenmuseum de Valk, a seven-story windmill-turned museum in Leiden. The top of the windmill overlooks Leiden, providing picturesque views. Each of the floors have their own exhibits, including Delft pottery, artifacts from when the windmill was working, and living quarters.
While in Leiden, be sure to cycle past many buildings to see the wall poems. Since 1992, over 100 poems have been hand painted onto the walls of buildings throughout the city. The poems are written in their original language and are by many different authors including Shakespeare, e.e. cummings, and Langston Hughes.
12. Where else can you visit a cheese and clog farm?
Travel back to the 18th and 19th centuries and discover the clog warehouse, cheese factory and bakery museum of the Zaanse Schans. This unique part of the Netherlands is dotted with wooden houses, mills, barns and workshops.
Learn how the cheese is made, starting with the cow’s milk. Then head over to the clog factory to see how antique machines made the clogs. You can even help out! Don’t leave without a visit to the gift shop for your very own pair of wooden clogs.
13. Take a canal cruise through Amsterdam’s UNESCO-protected canal belt.
Just like windmills, canals serve Holland by draining the land of water, allowing for population growth. And canals were an important part of why Amsterdam’s population flourished during the Middle Ages. Goods and merchants easily flowed through the city from the sea port to make their sales and trades. Soon, many people from around the world lived in Amsterdam.
These days, the canals still are significant. They are a UNESCO World Heritage Site and provide an amazing way to see the city. Plus they still help keep the surrounding lands free of excess water.
14. What’s a visit to Holland without seeing the tulips?
Before leaving the Netherlands, take time to stop and smell the tulips. The iconic flower actually arrived in the 16th century from Turkey, but they have long since been associated with the Dutch. Tulips were so popular in the 17th century, they were actually used as currency.
Throughout the spring, tulips bloom across the country in many different varieties and colors. Tulip festivals and markets pop up, as well, to celebrate the curvaceous blossom. Don’t miss out on the chance to take a selfie amongst Holland’s most famous flower!
Discover the wonders of Holland…
Picturing yourself exploring a windmill? How about eating delicious wheels of cheese? We’d love to show you the highlights of Holland by bike and boat.