Two weeks ago the Dutch bureau of tourism and congresses and the Dutch Cycle platform announced 2014 as the year of the bicycle. Behind windmills, tulips and Amsterdam, tourists find cycling one of the most attractive things in the Netherlands. As the website states:
Cycling strengthens the brand Holland. Our Holland Image Survey shows that over 40% of international tourists call ‘bicycle country the Netherlands’ as a positive attribute. Additionally almost 30% of international tourists cycle during the holidays in Netherlands. For more than 11% it is even the main activity in the Netherlands. Therefore we use cycling in all our themes next year. By promoting the unique cycling opportunities on an international scale, we entice foreign tourists to an (extra) stay in the Netherlands.
And indeed, the Netherlands have great opportunities to offer for tourists. As a Dutchman I can fully agree that cycling is a very enjoyable way to move in the country. For example, last week I made a one day ride with my daughter to my parents in law. We started at home in Driebergen and cycled to Amersfoort, took the train* to Meppel and cycled all the way through the province of Drenthe and a little part of Friesland. In the end we made 96 kilometers, most on rural roads and segregated cycle paths. I was fantastic to be outside for the whole day and to be with my daughter. She also enjoyed it very much, and even wanted to add some extra kilometers in the evening to get the bicycle computer at 100. She is used to cycling holidays, in the summer time we visit other countries to go for camping.
Is leisure cycling accessible for tourists in Netherlands?
Back at home I wondered how foreign visitors would value the Dutch infrastructure of leisure cycling. Not the hardware of bicycle tracks and signposts themself, it is my job to care for infrastructure and compared to other countries,the Netherlands have the best bicycle infrastructure of the world. But how do visitors evaluate the software and orgware that makes it possible to enjoy the Netherlands on a bike? How are visitors persuaded to get on a bike, is it convenient to rent a bike and how are they treated by local shops that are most of the time depending of residents? I don’t have a clue, but by occasion I had an interesting insight.
Ina from Belarus questioned a few weeks ago on LinkedIn how to find a recreational route between The Hague and Rotterdam. She was for a congress in The Hague and wanted to have a ride to Rotterdam on her free day. I informed her about the route planner of the Dutch Cyclist Union and gave some options to rent a bike in The Hague. Today she wrote she had a good time, as expected:
I’m writing to thank you once again for your tips on cycling in the NL. I’m back home now and can reflect on my experience – first of all, riding a bike in Holland feels absolutely natural. There is no feel of novelty around it, no-one gazes at you and we liked how both pedestrian and drivers seem to almost beware of cyclists. As a consequence, it seems that cyclists do not mind the traffic rules much – at least in the Hague – no-one really waits for the lights to change to green, and people cross in all directions as long as there are no cars coming (sometimes even with the cars coming).
The infrastructure is something I envy of course. We cycled to Delft to Maasdijk to the Hook of Holland and back to the Hague, enjoyed every bit of it and the trail was clearly marked and there were so many options depending on whether we wanted to enjoy the route or get somewhere fast.
The last part of the trail – through the dunes – was fabulous, even through it was a little hilly.
So the cycling itself was very good, but before we had some e-mail conversation to explain all the options of the route planner, Dutch cycling behavior and bike rentals. I am interested to know how other visitors handle these issues and if the Dutch bureau of tourism and congresses evaluates the experiences of visitors.
*Bicycles are allowed on the train except of the rush hours in the period September-June. Bicycle fares cost € 6,-for a one day ticket, you don’t have to make a reservation, but there is limited space, on most long distance trains only 4 bicycles per train unit are allowed. Busses don’t take bicycles in the Netherlands, in Amsterdam and Rotterdam bringing your bike is allowed on the metro system. The public transport system itself is easy and reliable, but the fare structure and payment method are awkward for tourists.