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Biking the Amstel River

One of the first things you might notice as a visitor to Amsterdam is that bikes are everywhere, and there is no shortage of places to see and visit by bicycle. This is also true for the Amstel River – which runs right through the centre of this historical and beautiful city – and offers an interesting, relaxing and scenic way to see Amsterdam.

In fact, it is from this river that Amsterdam got its name. (The river got its name from the term “Aeme-stelle,” an old Dutch term meaning “water-area.”)  The river is also responsible for naming one of Holland’s most popular beverages: Amstel Beer, which was originally established in 1870 near the river itself.

[caption id="attachment_119" align="alignnone" width="560"]The busy Amstel River in Amsterdam The busy Amstel River in Amsterdam.[/caption]

Much like the Seine, the vibrant Amstel River has been a source of inspiration for some of the world’s most famous artists, including Rembrandt and Aert van der Neer, among others.

Over time, the Amstel River has also become an important cultural and social gathering place for locals and visitors. After all, near the banks of this river is where you’ll find some of the city’s most popular cafes, bars and attractions – including the Stopera, one of Amsterdam’s most important buildings. The Stopera is home to City Hall and the Dutch National Opera & Ballet.

[caption id="attachment_117" align="alignnone" width="560"]The Hermitage Musem in Amsterdam The bike path along the Amstel passes the Hermitage Museum in Amsterdam.[/caption]

The river is also home to an array of concerts, rowing races and the Canal Parade, the city’s yearly floating gay pride parade.

You can start your own self-guided bike tour at most any point along the river or at any of the three bridges that cross the Amstel: Magere Brug, Blauwbrug, Hoge Sluis and Berlagebrug.

[caption id="attachment_118" align="alignnone" width="560"]A bridge along the busy Amstel River in Amsterdam, NL. A bridge along the busy Amstel River in Amsterdam, NL.[/caption]

Heading away from the city centre and biking south of the A10 Highway, you’ll find Amsterdam’s bustle soon giving way to a scenic countryside setting with many opportunities to rest, take in some sights and grab a refreshing drink along the way.

En route, stop in for a beer and a bite to eat on the outskirts of Amsterdam at the Klein Kalfje – a pretty red-bricked building with a bright and comfortable outdoor seating area.  This popular local hangout sits on the west side of the river, and is known for its impressive menu and lively scene.

From here, it’s a quick two-minute ride to the historic windmill De Riekermolen, also situated on the west side of the river near Amstel Park.  Dating back to 1636, the windmill was used in a bygone era for draining a nearby parcel of land. Visit the site on Saturdays and Sundays between the hours of 12:00 to 17:00 from May through September, and you can catch it spin (provided there is enough wind, naturally).  Near the windmill, you’ll also find a statue of the famous Dutch painter Rembrandt, whose sketches were inspired by the area’s scenic setting.

[caption id="attachment_120" align="alignnone" width="560"]The Riekermolen Windmill near the Amstel River The Riekermolen Windmill near the Amstel River[/caption]

Before circling back, be sure to stop at De Zwaag – another pretty windmill on the east side of the Amstel River.  To get here, head south to the bridge at Ouder-Amstel, cross the river and then come back along the east side of the river.  Once you’ve taken your self-guided tour around De Zwaag, continue north of the A10 Highway until you once again reach Amsterdam’s city centre.

Of course, this is just one of many bike routes to help you explore Amsterdam and the Amstel River. For an alternate route along the river, try exploring the Ronde Hoep.

Top 3 Bike Day Trips Outside of Amsterdam

Many visitors to Amsterdam rent a bicycle to explore the city but very few venture beyond the city centre and make it out into the picturesque Dutch countryside. With such flat terrain, it is quite easy to plan a day trip to nearby towns or tourist attractions from Amsterdam.

When planning a day trip on the bike from Amsterdam, some things to consider bringing include:

  • A map or directions so you can find your way
  • Water to drink and food to eat as there can be long distances between finding any places to eat
  • A light rain jacket as the weather around Amsterdam is notorious for changing quickly.

You should also be in reasonably good physical condition. The routes are quite flat and generally the only challenge is the wind resistance, which can be quite strong if you have to bike into the wind.

The follow are 3 recommended  bike day trips that start near Amsterdam Central train station and return to that point. You can begin the routes from other points along the route that are most convenient for you.

Zaanse Schans

[caption id="attachment_80" align="alignnone" width="560"]Windmills at Zanse Schans Windmills at Zanse Schans[/caption]

The windmills at Zaanse Schans are one of the most popular tourist destinations in The Netherlands. Situated along the Zaan River, the bike route requires riding outside of the Amsterdam city area, taking a free ferry across the IJ (pronounced “eye”), and riding through the town of Zaandam. The direct route from central Amsterdam is about 30km roundtrip by bike. A longer route of 45km to Zaanse Schans can be down that loops through the polders, land reclaimed from the sea, before reaching Zaanse Schans, then passing through the small towns of Westzaan and Nauerra before heading back to Amsterdam.


[caption id="attachment_79" align="alignnone" width="560"]The Muiderslot castle near Amsterdam The Muiderslot castle near Amsterdam[/caption]

Amsterdam’s castle, known as Muiderslot, is located at the mouth of the Vecht River, southeast of the city centre in the town of Muiden. The 40km bike route from the Central Station area can be done in about 5 hours roundtrip, not including stops at the castle or any other attractions. The route follows the scenic Amsterdam-Rhine Canal before heading into the countryside and reaching the town of Muiden. After visiting the castle, the route continues south along the east side of the Vecht River to the town of Weesp before returning to Amsterdam through the scenic Diemerbos, a forested area built in the 1990’s.

Amstel Ronde Hoeproute

[caption id="attachment_78" align="alignnone" width="560"]Boats along the Amstel River in Amsterdam Boats along the Amstel River in Amsterdam[/caption]

One of Amsterdam’s most iconic rivers, the Amstel River (not the beer) flows through Holland, into the centre of the city. The 40km bike route known as the Amstel Ronde Hoeproute takes about 5 hours to ride and follows the Amstel out of Amsterdam, passing through Middelpolder park before crossing into the town of Ouderkerk aan de Amstel. The Rondehoep is a protected grassland area that is home to many different species of birds. The biking route loops around the Rondehoep before reaching the Amstel River and following it north, back into the city.

If you are looking to rent bicycles while in Amsterdam, you can see a list of bike rental shops or read about the details of renting a bike.